Debut Author Lesson: How to be a professional when you want to fangirl

There will come a moment in your career when you will meet your writing idol. This may happen more than once, but at least once, you will meet someone for whom it is impossible to deny the urge to be a fan. A giant squeeing fan.

But you also want to be professional.

Here are the thoughts I offer for consideration to balance these two things.

First remember that the author you admire once stood in your shoes. Impossible to believe, I know, but consider that once upon a time, no one had read Ender’s Game, or The Sandman, or Lincoln’s Dreams.  That’s right. There was a point when no one knew who Connie Willis was, besides her friends. So the author that you want to squee at, knows exactly what it is like to be you, the debut author.

Next, recall how weird it feels for you when people you don’t know admit to having read your work and liking it. It creates a social imbalance. We are used to being able to return a compliment and in this case, it is not possible. They liked your book? Great! But you can’t compliment them back because you haven’t read anything of theirs, and that feels awkward. That does not go away as one publishes more books. The author in question might become more skilled at accepting the compliment, but there’s still that awkwardness. You don’t want to start a professional relationship with awkwardness.

So is the choice to say nothing?

No. But you don’t open the conversation as the fan, because that will set the social dynamic between you and your hero-writer.

When you meet the author you idolize:

  1. Approach them the same way you would any other person you meet at a convention.
  2. Keep your professional game face on for the first day. This is about first impressions. It is better to be viewed, in this context, as a colleague than as a fan. Authors develop defensive strategies to cope with fans, even if they aren’t aware of it. You don’t want to engage those in your direction.
  3. Later, after they have you established in their brains as another author you can step over to fan.
  4. Sign post that you are going to change roles. “May I take a moment to fan girl at you?”
  5. Be very specific in your compliments and don’t go on too long. “I liked your book” is too vague. “I think you’re one of the best 1st person writers out there. The way you use handle it made me understand what that voice could really do,” is specific.
  6. Have an exit strategy so that you can step back across into professional colleague. I am sometimes blatant. “Thank you for indulging me. I promise I won’t do that again,” and then I talk about the weather.

Can you ask them to sign something? Of course. They know what it’s like to be you.

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2 thoughts on “Debut Author Lesson: How to be a professional when you want to fangirl”

  1. Thank you so much for posting this now, before I go and stick my foot in it at Worldcon in August. I’ve always struggled when trying to navigate these sorts of situations. Worse, I find myself grappling with impostor syndrome any time I meet any writer I respect and admire. Embracing fangirl behavior becomes a sort of avoidance mechanism for coping with that, I think, though not a very good one, and ultimately problematic for all the reasons you listed above. I had recognized the problem, but not the solution. So again, thank you.

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