S. J. Dudley & Friends for NorWesCon NeoFan 1995 used by permission
You've read all of their books, bought all of their tapes, stood in line at the autograph session for hours to get their signature on your program book You know the names of their wife and children, even their pets and you've been dying for the chance to talk to them. Now they are sitting at the restaurant table next to you, and suddenly you can't think of a thing to say.
Sound familiar? Well, it's happened to all of us at one time or another.
There are only a few things you need to remember to avoid putting your foot in your mouth.
The first and most important is that Pros are people too. They're not godlike sources of wit and wisdom, just ordinary people who have put their talents to work and gained some recognition for them. Writing is their job, and, like most people who do well at a job, it is probably a job they love most of the time and complain about some aspects of some of the time.
The second thing to remember is that the rules of polite behavior always apply. Pay attention to the situation you find yourself in. Is your favorite Pro busily scarfing something to eat before running off to another panel? Are they deeply involved in a conversation with another person? Are they walking briskly through the hall laden with papers and obviously going somewhere? If so, then this is probably not a good tlme for a conversation although in the latter case you can offer to help carry stuff, open doors or press the elevator button.
OK, none of these apply. The Pro is just sitting in the restaurant or bar, leisurely having lunch or a drink. Walk up to their table and say, "Excuse me, do you have a minute to talk?" If they say something like 'not right now,' answer, "OK, sorry to intrude, I'll try to catch you later," and leave. If they say yes, introduce yourself: "My name is: (Use your real name. Fan names sound unprofessional)" Then find some kind of conversation opener such as "I really like your work." or "The panel you were on really brought up a lot of interesting ideas." Most people like to be complimented when the sentiment is sincere. Be polite, but not obsequious. Remember that simpering idiots are a dime a dozen.
If your program book says "no photos or autographs except during scheduled appearances" do NOT ask for one now. If not, then go ahead and ask if they would mind if you got an autograph or took their picture. Have your pen and/or camera ready, but not in their face. If a particular work of a Pro has affected you strongly go ahead and say so. Writers and actors especially like to know when they have succeeded in their work. If you've learned something talk about that. "I didn't know until I read or heard you speak about blank" is a good conversation starter. Don't just plop yourself down unless invited to join them and keep your conversation brief. These folks are BUSY and the few minutes alone are generally treasured. Remember that the market on boorishness has already been cornered. Use your best company manners.
Here are some things NOT to talk about.
- An idea for a story you plan to write someday. (especially if you said the same thing a year or two ago.)
- The idea for the story you wish he or she would write. (Other than questioning if there is going to be a sequel to a particular work)
- Your desperate pleas for their advice on how to get published. (There are usually panels on this subject at the convention)
- Will you read my manuscript? (He or she hasn't got time.)
- The fanzine story you wrote using their characters.
- Asking permission to use their characters or universe in a fanzine story. if you want to do this, then ASK for a mailing address so you can send them a letter, then write them and ASK politely. Include an outline of what you want to do and some info on the fanzine such as how many are printed and that no one makes money off of these things. (Generally zines are sold for the cost of printing and postage and have less than 200 subscribers.)
- Your life story. (If you want someone to hear about what a Creep your boss is you'll have to pay for a bartender, a shrink, a hairdresser or a hooker.)
- The other pros you've met. He probably knows them better than you do.
- The questions that they get asked all the time on TV talk shows and panels.
- Your fannish activities, or anything that you've already told him.
OK, so now you know what to say, how do you find an opportune time to say it? Here are some tips on the better ways and places to meet a Pro.
- Check the program book for their schedule. if there is a panel with a gap in time following it you might want to try catching them when it is over.
- Catch them between panels and ask when a good time to talk for a few minutes would be.
- Be prepared to get up early. The Pros generally do. They have panels as early as 9 am. Don't expect to find them out wandering the halls in the wee hours of the morning. (Although there are some notable exceptions.)
- Using their schedule as a guide, check the hotel restaurant and bar on a regular basis.
- Slip them a written invitation to your room party. They may be too busy to attend, but then again, they may not.
- Hang out in Hospitality on Saturday night. Most pros at least stop by to see who's there and to say hello to their fans.
- Spot them in the lobby and TRY BRIBERY. Wait 'til they finish talking to whoever and offer to buy them lunch, a drink or a cup of coffee. You may have to wait until they finish some interminable discussion, but it will be worthwhile.
Remember to listen to what this person has to say. You've gone to a lot of trouble to hear it. Good luck.
Courtesy of the Klingon Diplomatic Corps - I.C.B.