Whether it's live-streamed or in real life, there is an art to being a good attendee, writes Ruth Spencer
How to stand out without asking a cringeworthy question
There are two ways to quietly
stand out at an author talk. One is to be a superfan: if the author has merch, wear it prominently. If the author doesn't have merch, make your own. A T-shirt of the latest book cover is good, and you can sell them in the car park later; a tattoo of the author riding a dolphin is even better. Tweet a pic of the tattoo in advance, tagging not the author but the host of the talk. Hosts love to put authors in positions both flattering and awkward and they may even ask you to come to the stage. All it will cost is $300 for the tattoo. And your dignity.
The second is in the negative-attention-is-still-attention category: lean intently forward for the first 10 minutes, brow furrowed, hand poised over your lips. Then loudly sigh as you recline back in a despair of disappointed ennui. Your beloved author won't like you, but they'll be forced to notice you and may even nastily put you in a future book, which is a kind of triumph.
How to ask a question
If you already know the answer from seven printed interviews and a Reddit thread and just wanted to hear them speak to you, don't. If you don't know the answer but revealing that would make you look a bit thick, don't. If your question is funny but relies on perfect delivery and everyone hearing properly the first time, don't. If there's someone handing around a microphone, do calmly wait for it to arrive, but remember you'll then be very loud, so don't. Otherwise go for it (don't).
How to dress
This may be the only time your icon will ever see you. How would you like to be perceived? We're fortunate that this year, turtleneck sweaters and berets are back in fashion, so both male and female punters can cultivate an intellectual beatnik vibe by wearing French hats and covering their necks. Or assume an air of mystery by standing wistfully at the back in sunglasses, although the downside is that while your favourite author might see you, you may not be able to see them.
How to meet your favourite writer
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Pay for VIP seating, go to meet-and-greets, buy the new book and stand in the signing queue, get the tattoo. Those are the traditional ways. Networking is another – use all your contacts to get to know the PR person, host or (last resort) tech guy so you can wander casually up for a chat when the author is nearby. Scan Tinder, Grindr, Christian Mingle or anywhere your out-of-town author might be looking for company. Or there's the ever-popular fake fall, where you faint at their feet and hope they're kind enough to not step over you. Don't take it personally if they do, authors spend a lot of time alone and it's not because they like noticing people.
How to control yourself when you do
Take a deep breath, and maybe a beta blocker, to impress them with your calmly cerebral manner. Or not, actually. Gushingly let them know how deeply their work touched you, and cry a little bit while you take a selfie. Writers have put their hard work and passion on the bookshelf for the public to critique. If you love them they'll be grateful on some level, even if they're the curmudgeonly recluse type and can't show it. It's okay to not be okay. At least your tattoo is cool. Or not cool, depends on how the dolphin turned out.