For some odd reason I’m posing questions lately. This one popped into my head as I ran my finger down a to be read pile, to chose something, because my Peter Robinson crime novel has disappeared. And right there, is an answer. I like Mr. Robinson a great deal, as a person, and certainly as a writer. Would I buy books of his if he were nasty, egotistical, or standoffish? Yes. Because his work is too good to miss out just because a personality isn’t up to my standards. As a bookseller, there have been many authors who traveled through, signing, chatting, annoying, (occasionally). Some write beautifully, some don’t. Do I sell an author less fervently if said author’s personality was abominable? Maybe not consciously, but I’m sure I didn’t extoll his latest title anywhere near the intensity I would have had he, or she, been pleasant.
I would think that the casual reader doesn’t usually come in contact with their favorite authors. I remember the very first time I was at a signing, I was one of those dopey people who gush, “I’ve read all of your books”! That ‘s not something a writer hears every day, is it? Ugh. Two major, and I mean top notch, women writers were sitting next to one another and I nearly passed out from joy. It was the New York Book Fair that was held once a year on Fifth Ave, before 9/11 did away with the event. The slogan was, “New York is book country” and for that day you could believed it was. Sitting patiently behind a table signing paperbacks (something I realized later was pretty much a waste of their time) was Martha Grimes, bestselling author of the Pub/Richard Jury mysteries, and, eek! Ruth Rendell, a writer I worshiped from the time I picked up one title, back in the 70s. Timidly, I bought a book each–more than likely paperbacks, as buying a hard cover was unheard of at that financial moment in time. I remember standing in front of my idol, Ms. Rendell, and babbling something inane, with her deeply disapproving facial expression reflecting back at me. I felt intimidated a bit, a little stupid, a little less than. Later I found that she is like that with everyone–and it’s probably not disapproval, but reticence.
Ms. Grimes, on the other hand, was vivacious, friendly, grateful for a fan buying her book–and I never forgot that. Later, as manager of a bookstore and evan after my employer dissed her, I was happy to make a special effort to bring her in to sign stock. Did I stop buying and reading Rendell? Hell no! She is my favorite female author and there is no way I’d quit her books. The same boss, now former, claimed he would never collect another volume of her’s, and urged others to resist buying them. Rendell was promoting a title after 9/11 when she answered questions about the essence of evil, and when asked if the hijackers were evil, she replied, no. They believed the act was a righteous one. (I spent some time searching the net for quotes, but for some reason couldn’t find them-so take my generalizing with a dab of book salt.) I read the book that began the conversation, and I understand what she was trying to say— a woman does despicable things, however, she fervently believes she is defending herself. Do the acts make her evil if in her heart she absolutely believed she was doing the correct thing? She was mentally ill. Are men evil when violent if they believe themselves to be doing right? Does evil exist? This was the line of thinking she had, and wasn’t condoning any kind of act, simply giving her take on what constitutes evil. This boss went a little bonkers himself to declare such a dramatic course of action. So, I’m thinking that for him, yes, personality does affect reading and collecting habits.
Through the years I’ve met hundreds of mystery, crime fiction authors, and when selling, personalities did make a difference, only because I dealt with them a great deal and the way they conducted themselves during a drop in signing, or a formal one, could affect how I decided to conduct the next signing, or if there would even be a next signing. Certainly, I wasn’t going to waste money and time on a pain in the butt who probably wouldn’t sell much with or without my help. But what about those big name authors? Some were tolerated, stretched thin across my patience line. Their books were too valuable for me to take offense and and throw a hissy fit. So, yes, some big names would get away with sexism, crudeness, and rudeness.
And what about those authors who dislike me? Oh, there are some out there, lol, although I can modestly say that most I’ve come in contact with were very pleased with my work and personality. A couple are still not fans. Do I read them? Yes and no. One I do, because I find her writing compelling and excellent. The other no, because after the first title, I was no longer interested in the characters and situations. Neither has to do with their disliking me–on the contrary, the very fact that an author has made it clear they are not amused with me, the more I go out of my way to promote them.
Are authors like celebrities–their actions affect how you think about them? Is there a writer equivalent of Lindsey Lohan? The only author that comes to mind whose actions were news, is Patricia Cornwell. Her love triangle is not my business, and it wouldn’t affect my purchasing a book, if she could write, which she can’t. Or I should say, hasn’t been writing well for a long time. Plus, she refuses to sign in small independent bookstores, the very places that gave her the luxury of selling in chains. Now, if there’s ONE THING that will automatically put a writer on my crap list-it would be not signing in indies, while doing so in chain stores in the same vicinity. An author should never think they are so big as to ignore who put them where they are. P. D. James never has, at least not during my watch. James Patterson was always the kindest most generous fellow when it came to signing stock. And Michael Connelly is a saint among mystery indies, he not only signs at small stores, he makes it his business to remind people just how important they were to his success.
As a bookseller, or buyer out there–do you have any stories or instances where an author just ticked you off enough that you never read them again, or bothered to order books and sell them? Inquiring minds want to know.