Beating Back the Crowds at My LibraryThing Author Chat

Author Mike Markel

by Mike Markel

A lot of people have been coming up to me on the street, asking me how my Author Chat on LibraryThing went. Well, not actually a lot of people. In fact, nobody. But that’s the good thing about social media tools: instead of just muttering to yourself like a crazy person you can broadcast your mutterings without feeling quite so crazy, although to be honest I think it means you’re crazier or at least more pathetic.

So, I went on to do an Author Chat, which would last a week. My first novel, Big Sick Heart, a police procedural, had recently been published. Also doing an Author Chat at the same time was Samantha Bruce-Benjamin, author of The Art of Devotion, which the critics were calling a haunting debut novel that evokes an age of elegance and grace. I didn’t like any of those words, mostly because I never hear them used in connection with me.

But I was not happy, because this high-toned other author, whose book was well reviewed on LibraryThing, was obviously going to wipe the floor with me. She was going to have legions of readers stopping by to chat with her, leaving me like that Pink Floyd character sadly asking “Is there anybody out there?”

An Author Chat, however, like life, is not a competition. So what if she’s more talented, more respected, and more popular? We’re all God’s children with our own special gifts. (However, if you need further evidence of God’s whimsy, take a look at her photo on Amazon. Don’t take a look at mine.) So I talked myself into being happy that the good people at LibraryThing had given me an opportunity to do an Author Chat.

On the first day, one person stopped by to chat. He hadn’t read Big Sick Heart, so we had little to chat about, but I decided to pretend that this was an author reading, in which most of the people in the audience have not read the book. The one person in my audience asked me a couple of reasonable questions (about why the protagonist, Detective Karen Seagate, is female, and why I set the book in Montana). I answered the questions politely and informatively and ended by describing the seventeen different contests, offers, guarantees, and other desperate pleas for attention that my publisher and I had set up, all of which would enable you literally to make a profit by simply reading and disliking my book.

I was feeling pretty good that on my first day on Author Chat, someone had stopped by. That was Monday. Then came Tuesday. Then came Wednesday. (I won’t bore you by naming the rest of the days. You get the point.)

By the end of the week, I was feeling pretty bad that only one person had stopped by. I decided to grind in the misery by looking to see how Ms. Benjamin-Bruce was doing. I steeled myself to see screens full of adulation and excited interchange. But all I saw was a pleasant hello from the author:

“I am very excited to discuss my novel, THE ART OF DEVOTION, with all of you. I look forward to hearing your questions!

Best wishes, Samantha.”

What? Nobody has stopped by to chat with her, but a person had chatted with me? To hell with the idea that an Author Chat is not a competition. Of course it is, and I was winning, 1-0. I was feeling pretty good.

But my childish attitude soon made me feel pretty bad. I decided to act like an adult. Since it seemed acceptable to visit an author even if you haven’t read her book, I decided to visit her. I sent the following message:

“Ms. Bruce-Benjamin-
I’m sitting at the next booth in the Author Chat pavilion, waiting for people to stop by and chat with me about my mystery, Big Sick Heart.
I hope you don’t mind my stopping by to ask a couple of questions about your title (I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read your book–the reviews on LT are very positive).
1. Does “devotion” have a religious connotation, as well as one or more secular connotations?
2. Does “art” have a sense of artificial, or of a practice that is so ingrained or self-referential that it is somehow disconnected from its original impulse?
My feelings won’t be hurt if you suggest I return to my own booth.
Mike Markel.”

You’ll notice right away two positive things about my message. First, I didn’t mention anything about her appearance. (Did you look at her photo yet? You really should.) Second, I didn’t mention that nobody had stopped by to chat with her. That would have been churlish. Admittedly, my questions had the whiff of Mediocre English Grad Student (maybe I’m revealing too much), but at least I had made the effort. So I was feeling pretty good.

Can you write the last paragraph of my little story? Of course you can. Ms. Benjamin-Bruce never did reply to my post. When I ended my post to her with the sentence “My feelings won’t be hurt if you suggest I return to my own booth,” I was lying. My feelings would have been hurt.

But not as much as they were that she simply ignored me.

So I’m feeling pretty bad.

Note: like many pre-famous novelists, Mike Markel has written a sequel, Deviations, which is available from Amazon. He would love to hear from you. But he isn’t getting his hopes up.

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39 thoughts on “Beating Back the Crowds at My LibraryThing Author Chat”

    1. I think the trick is to realize that, from a cosmic perspective, it makes perfect sense that not everyone wants to read about my two fictional detectives. I’m kind of fond of them, but I’m biased.

  1. Thank you for sharing these details with us, Mike. It helps to know how these kinds of incidents (non-events) impact our fellow authors.

    When my first ‘big’ book reading/signing was scheduled right here, downtown, in my favorite bookstore, no one knew at the time that the first presidential debate would take place on that night. I wasn’t expected much of a turn-out, and managed to shrug off disappointment. As it turned out, every chair was filled. No one left in the middle of the reading, which actually does happen in this town fairly often.

    I had some good questions from the audience, signed and sold several books, came home and watched the re-run of Obama vs. Romney and went into a deep depression. Do I care more about the results of this election than I do about my book sales? Apparently! We writers care deeply about the strangest things.

    What I care about most, at this particular moment, is not wasting valuable time on internet distractions. The Information Highway has become an invasive monster, and I’m going to beat that dragon back, I swear!

  2. Wow! I’m feeling bad for you too! I guess I was thinking the pain wouldn’t run so deep if you actually couldn’t see that no one was there…but I was wrong 🙁 So sorry! I looked at their stats, though. It would seem that a majority of their interviews have had only 1 participant…if that makes you feel better?

    1. Jacqueline, I don’t really feel bad. Or, to be more precise, I don’t really feel that bad. I’m enjoying the fact that when I go out to dinner, I’m not interrupted by annoying fans.

  3. Well, you’re getting folks responding now! We’re out here. I have never heard of LibraryThing or whosit or whatever it is. Your experience reminded me of my one-and-only signing, which was near the Halloween candy in our grocery store. A couple of people stopped by, but most of them just stared at me as they went to the beer aisle. I can tell you, by the end of the hour, that candy was in definite peril…I did end up giving a book to one of the checkers, and she is one of my most avid fans now. (I did not have a Facebook author page at the time.)

    1. Rested, despite my many setbacks and meager success, I’m very glad I embarked on this. I’ve made some books that I think are pretty good, and I’ve met a lot of interesting people. Best of luck to all indies, amen.

  4. Rofl! Don’t be too hard on yourself… I think that many people don’t even know what an author chat is ( including me, I’m ashamed to say). Maybe that would be a good topic for this site! As for the competition thing, well regardless of how noble we want to be, it happens to everyone. We are all clamoring for a place in the wild west of Indies, but maybe if we each take a daily commitment to promote another authors work each day, the Indy world would be the new promised land…

  5. Thanks for sharing. I read once about a woman who had only one person show up at her book signing. It wasn’t her mother, it was a stranger. She married him.

  6. Do you have any idea, Mike, how many people feel better now? I can look back on the actual reading where 2 people turned up, the live radio interview where no-one called in and the total refusal of anyone to agree to be interviewed on my blog in a whole new light. Thanks a million. 🙂

    1. Carolyn, thanks for the kind words. I’ve made a conscious decision to see my “career” as a writer as being closer to comedy than to tragedy.

    1. Elena, so I clicked on your link and now I can’t stop thinking about Nathan’s hot dogs. (I grew up in NYC. Katz’s in lower Manhattan was my favorite.)

      1. Mmmm, a knish and a chocolate egg cream. Now Nathan’s has calorie counts next to each item…you don’t want to know what cheese fries are. Love connecting with a fellow New Yorker. Here in Virginia I don’t get to see many…

  7. Great post Mike, I love the humor you were able to find in all of this. As for our author friend, she missed a great opportunity to promote her book with your questions. You never know who comes by to look without leaving a response.

  8. Wonderful post, Mike. I don’t know much about the author chats either, not sure I could even do one. It was sad she missed out on another avenue to promote herself by responding to you. I am with you though…I had a book signing at the local grocery store who bought 20 copies of my book to sell. Anyway, I held it on Mother’s Day thinking they could by my romance to give to their mother who may like to read. Only sale I made that day was to a lady who shared my first name, I knew her because she and her husband played at the local bar, and they played the night I got married. The people who walked by and stared at me, some knew me, most did not, only wanted to purchase flowers, candy or cakes for their mother. I did get some to stop and take a look at it though. Best of luck to you.

  9. Jacqueline, thanks for your story. I think signings are probably best for authors who readers already know. Most of the stories I hear are like yours.

  10. Mike, Freaking awesome post. You touch so perfectly on the plight of being an Indie. Your humor and grace are what we all need to aspire to. That said, what I loved most about this post was how well it was written. You are a damn good writer. Better than most of us. You nailed the pathos and humor of your story perfectly with your words. My iPad is downloading Big Sick Heart as we speak. I will track you down on the Internet and follow the crap out of you as well.

    Here’s a kicker you may not know about. Your $3.99 Kindle edition of Big Sick Heart is ranked 99,123 in the paid Kindle Store. Ms. Bruce-Benjamin’s $11.99 Kindle Edition is ranked at 395,775. Her paperback is discounted from $15.00 to $5.52 and sits at 2,663,768. That’s pretty wild. Of course, your paperback at $14.99 is ranked worse (I hope you don’t mind me saying this) at 3,126,803. Whatever, right? I truly would buy Ms. Bruce-Benjamin’s Kindle version too, but not at more than twice the price of a paperback. Hmmm…

    Thanks for this post, regardless. Keep writing.

    1. I’m flattered that you liked this little piece. I should put myself in more humiliating situations; people seem to enjoy watching me squirm. Maybe that’s my niche.

      1. It wasn’t the squirming, it was your response to it. Brilliant all the way down the line.

        I would have just thrown my laptop up and down and gone off to tell my children for the millionth time, “Don’t become a writer!”

        1. I replace my laptops often, not when I’m frustrated that the world persists in ignoring me but when I read the latest from le Carre or Elmore Leonard or any one of a couple of dozen others who show me how much farther I need to go.

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