I've said it before and I'll say it again: fans are assholes. Not all of them; not even the majority of them. But inevitably there's a bad one in every batch and they give the rest a bad name. There's nothing like giving up an evening, uncompensated, to go and provide free entertainment for a lot of mouth-breathers, only to have them approach you later for the express purpose of informing you that you did it wrong. That you were reading too fast or not loudly enough. Or your pronunciation of a certain word was wrong. Or your writing is too Victorian (dude, seriously?). I wish I were exaggerating but it happens Every. Fucking. Time.
I'm done. I'm not doing another appearance where I'm not selling stuff. Bimbos of the Death Sun portrayed Appin Dungannon as an egomaniacal asshole, but you have to develop rhino hide and a toxic personalty to hold your own against the placid slug consumers who think writer equals whore and you exist only to spoon-feed their fantasies.
I was raised that if someone invited you to dinner you ate what was put in front of you, without comment, and thanked the host for their efforts. I don't need praise but I'm done showing up to be insulted.
EDITED when I was in a calmer mood: I fully expect there will be people who read this post and think, "What an ungrateful cow, she's a writer, she's supposed to be glad people read her stuff and make herself available to fans and give advice to beginning writers and blah blah blah."
Sorry, but no. There are, in my opinion, several misconceptions in that viewpoint. Neal Stephenson wrote an excellent dissection of why writers should spend their time writing instead of attending conventions, and he is a much more eloquent and gracious person than I am; I recommend going and reading his piece instead of mine.
However, because I'm a narcissist and because part of being a writer is the hope that I can make myself understood, I'm going to try to explain where I'm coming from with my annoyance.
Primarily, my job is to write the book, and talk about the book in such a way that will encourage sales. I make no apologies for being a fan of my own work; I wouldn't have stuck it out through the years that it took to finish The Curse of Jacob Tracy if I didn't love the characters. So I love to talk about them with like-minded people.
To a certain extent, because I love the craft of writing, I also enjoy talking about it with like-minded folk. Where things start to get weird is where newbie writers come up and start demanding advice or help that they could get from literally tens of thousands of books and websites devoted to that subject. I am, of course, glad to talk about my experience, but there's nothing particularly special about my experience and it won't help anyone else in their particular situation.
I've run into this attitude from fans and other writers alike, that because I've "made it,"* I'm obligated to donate my time and attention to anyone who demands it. I find that mind-boggling.
Another thing I find surreal about public appearances are the number of readers who want to get close to authors just to tell them what they did wrong in the book. I'm not even talking about myself here, I'm thinking of people cussing out Charlaine Harris because Sookie ended up with the wrong guy. What is she supposed to go, call up the publisher and go, "Hey, we better recall all those copies, somebody didn't like the way I handled that character"? It's done, folks. Fait accompli. If you don't like it, go and find something you do like.
And by the way, the purpose of the online review is NOT to give feedback to the author, it's to let other readers know if they will enjoy the book or not.
There's another, unusual aspect to my public appearances that I'm going to address here, because it sometimes becomes awkward. I almost always go to shows in costume, for two reasons—one, a slightly gothy Victorian dress both draws the eye and telegraphs the mood of my fiction. People who are attracted to the scenery of my table—creepy western banner, occult paraphernalia, lady in a feathered hat—are probably going to enjoy the book I wrote.
The other reason I dress up is to create some distance between author-Holly and real-life Holly. I would hope that most attendees I meet at a show realize it's marketing, not reality. But there's an element of projection that goes on at fan conventions, which, even though I'm aware of it, still takes me by surprise. This element of Hey that creator stroked my inner fetish I now own a piece of them they must service me. I make it sound a little more sinister than it usually is, because most people would not act on such impulses of ownership in a prosecutable way, but some will. And many do it in small intrusive ways without realizing it.
Like, Hey can I have your email so I can send you some questions/my short story/a picture I drew of you.
And, I have this idea for a weird western too, how about I dictate it to you, you can write it and we'll split the profits. Or, Can I have a list of your research sources so I can write a book to compete with yours.
And, Hey, I'm a photographer, will you come model for me? (Nota bene: the correct way to ask this question is, Do you model? and if the answer is no, then leave it alone.)
I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said before. Just be careful out there.
*Incidentally I have not "made it" as a writer. I still work a day job, and probably will for the rest of my life. I had one book come out three years ago and it didn't even make enough to pay off my student loans. Not by a third. I'm struggling to finish the sequel because my day job is so demanding that I come home every day mentally exhausted from making complex decisions. I know many, many artists/writers who are in the same boat. I met a couple of guys this spring who won a freakin' Eisner award for one of their graphic novels, they are working on the sequel to a big-name fantasy project beloved by fans everywhere, and they still work full-time as baristas.