Monday, May 19, 2008

When BSP is a bad thing

By Donna Andrews

The other day I was at an event sponsored by a writing-related organization. (Maybe it wasn't SinC. Maybe it was MWA. Or RWA. Or a local writing outfit. I'm not telling. Let's call it RISC, for Really Impressive Scribbler's Club.) Anyway, this particular RISC meeting was well attended. Most of the people there were writers--published or aspiring--along with a few avid readers and a few friends and significant others of writers. The meal was edible to tasty, the speaker was excellent, and most of the attendees had a great time.

Most. Not all. I had a great time, myself, but then, I lucked out. I didn't sit at Boris Sharpe-Payne's table.

You all know Boris. He started coming to the RISC meetings a month or so before his first book came out. Came out, I should add, from a major publisher, to decent reviews. He's personable, well-spoken, apparently on his way to success.

Only one problem. Boris's a really gung-ho promoter. He seems to have forgotten how NOT to promote. No off switch. No volume control. And no sense of when his listeners have had enough.

Everyone at Boris's table heard all about his latest book, all his fabulous reviews, how fabulously long the lines have been at his signings, what a fabulous blurb so-and-so gave him, how fabulously many books he sold at his last signing, and how close his agent is to making a fabulous movie deal. They also got an earful about how fabulous his publicist is, how fabulous his panel was at the last convention, and a few coy hints about what his next fabulous work will be.

Boris had a fabulous time at the meeting. The rest of the people at his table were testing the edges on the table knives by the end of the meal--though I don't know whether they were contemplating seppuku or a reenactment of Murder on the Orient Express.

Of course, it could be worse. There's Boris's sister, Brynhilda Sharpe-Payne. She's been known to show up at other people's signings and start selling her own books in the back of the room. Brynhilda doesn't get asked out much these days.

Part of being an effective self-promoter is to know when to BSP and when to shut up. A savvy self-promoter would have looked around the table at the RISC meeting and asked himself, "Why are these people here?" And unless his name was, say, Agatha Christie or Dashiell Hammett, the answer probably wasn't "To hear me talk about my books for an hour." RISC members come to see old friends and meet new ones . . . to network with fellow writing professionals . . . to hear the speaker . . . to learn about the business and craft of writing . . . and yes, to learn about new books by fellow RISC members. So no one would fault Brynhilda or Boris if they said a couple of sentences about their books and offered their tablemates a bookmark.

But after that, if I were Boris or Brynhilda, I hope I'd have the good sense to put the BSP on hold for the rest of the event. They could talk to the other people at their table. Ask them about their lives--including their writing. If someone asked for information or advice, they could offer it--if they have any expertise in the area. They could participate in whatever conversations their tablemates are having. (But if their contribution invariably starts with "Well, in my books . . ." watch out, Boris and Brynhilda, you're BSPing again.)

Are you wincing as you read this? I confess, I'm wincing as I write it. I can remember moments when I, too, was a Sharpe-Payne. I hope I'm having fewer such moments these days. Too many of us have learned that mantra "Never pass up an opportunity to self-promote!" I'm working on learning a new one. "In every situation, consider whether it's possible and appropriate to self-promote." Sometimes less is more. Sometimes any BSP is too much.

You don't agree? Fine; then I'm sure you'd love to sit at the Sharpe-Paynes' table next month. Trust me, there are plenty of empty places.

Donna Andrews is the SinC Chapter Liaison.


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Truly funny! Thanks for being our conscience..

Pauline B Jones said...

I've met Boris and Brynhilda! Only thing to do is kill them...fictionally.

Kim said...

Great post. The irony being that BSP rarely sells to me, while the way an author interacts with others in places such as mystery lists - their "real" voice - often does attract me to their books, as it did with Donna herself on another list (to my eternal gratitude - my 2 absolute favorites of her books are so high on my it's been a really rough week and I need a laugh comfort read list that they're approaching canonization).

Sheila Connolly said...

It's such a fine line to walk. You want to talk about your "babies" but you don't want to gush. You're never quite sure if people are asking you about your book(s) because they really care, or they're just being polite. How much is too much?

We spend far too much time alone in a room talking to the cat. Somebody should be kind and shut us up when we go on too long in public. They'd be doing everyone a favor.

Carla said...

Oh, Donna, if we could only send this to the BSPer in question. . . Perhaps anonymously?

I can but dream. . .


Hallie said...

Terrific post, Donna. You've said what most of us have felt many times over. To be fair, it's often a first-time author so thrilled and tickled to be at the table that they've temporarily lost their marbles.

I actually think the same is true of panels. I hate being on with an author who uses every question pitched by the moderator to talk on and on and on about THE NEW BOOK and wave it about a few more times. This does not make people want to buy that book, and it makes your fellow panelists want to kick you under the table.

On the other hand, none of us would be out there (often on our own dime) unless we had a book to sell. It's a tricky needle to thread.

Judy Clemens said...

"Fabulous" blog, Donna! : )

Anonymous said...

Great post, Donna,
I did wince. I certainly can forgive a Boris early in his career because there's a certain puppy dog quality and gushing enthusiasm at the beginning. However, it does get tiring to be around people who don't have that off-switch.

Thanks for writing this.


nancy martin said...

Oh, so true, Donna!

Is anyone else sick of the panel format at conventions? Those authorized venues for BSP rarely have anything fresh for the audience to enjoy.

Arkansas Cyndi said...

Oh Nancy - SO true.

Donna - LMAO here. I have "dined" with the Sharpe-Paine Sibs! There is an author I know (who will remain nameless) who is known to be "overly pushy" when it comes to talking about her books. For example, chapter member posts "My grandmother just died." This unnamed author will respond with, "I am so sorry about your grandmother. Maybe reading my latest book HOW TO KILL YOUR HUSBAND" would help get your mind off your sorrow." I swear!

New to your site. Waving to Nancy!

Marianne said...

Great post, Donna. :-D

Gotta laugh. I've been on the receiving end of those types of conversations from a published author. This one is Australian, a friend, and several books into his successful publishing career with a major NY publisher. Unfortunately, he doesn't know when to shut up. He can be arrogant to the unpublished, and equally condescending to the frequently published, and then moans to me when no one, particularly other authors, will talk to him anymore. He is very much like BSP, but is so insecure that he more often than not works both of his Ph.Ds into the first five minutes of any conversation. :-D

A writer friend of mine, who also knows him, laughingly refers to the 'big,hot, throbbing Ph.Ds of doom'. :-D

PS: Waiting reasonably patiently for the new Meg Langslow book! Haven't chewed down ALL of my fingernails yet.

Neil Plakcy said...

Boris really doesn't know when to shut up, does he? I was at a conference where he took over the panel. When it was Anna Authoress's turn to speak, he grabbed Anna's book, held it up to the audience, and exhorted them to buy it. Buy it! Buy it now! Or you are all horrible people!

I'm assuming he kept on doing that, because I ducked out at that point, to go be a horrible person at another panel.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Great post! I've come up with a standard throwback when I meet someone whose needle is stuck in the BSP groove. I inject a brief comment while he/she takes a breath, then say, "But back to you." It invariably blows over their head, but I enjoy my private little snicker.

E. Lucas-Taylor said...

So true and so funny...sort of. There is sure to be one in every crowd.

The only thing I would add to this blog is the 15-50 line email tag-line that screams out EVERYthing the author has written, done, sneezed upon and dreamed up as their author identity when they can't grab you by the hair at a meeting. Keep it simple stupid…anything over 3 lines in an email tag is boring and I don’t need to read it on ALL email posts sent to me. Links I can appreciate. I won't mention any names either.

Leigh said...

Educational AND funny. You may have helped same me from being Boris.

Maggie Toussaint said...

A very insightful post, Donna. I've been at booksignings with BSPs who grab any poor soul who happens by, talk their ears off, all the while holding them by the arm, until the poor sucker is desperate enough to buy a book to get away from this rabid person. Word quickly got out about the rabid author at this particular B&N and everyone gave us a wide berth. That was the worst signing ever, and it nearly put me off of panel signings.


dorothyoz said...

Loved your witty comments..
You use humor to communicate the truth in a most effective way !

Might I suggest you also write a column about

This is a discussion leader who is an I Can Only Discuss Control Queen --
She implies she has always been right and there's no room to learn from each other- you have to learn it from her.

This particular character wants to control all conversation to written comments. You must wait your turn to talk and only when she deems you are worthy.

Avoid Mrs. Worthy. She wants you to show up in a month for her written review of your writing.

"By the way," says Mrs. Worthy,
"you must follow my rules. I am not responsible for you not being able to follow them."

The Queen changes the rules at whim. That's what queens do...

Sara Paretsky said...

Please don't forget how often Boris tells you he's "humbled" by the n+1 good mentions!

Camille Minichino said...

One other characteristic of Boris and his sister: they're always looking past you to see if someone other than you might be more important to their career.
Thankfully, there often is, and they're on their way.

I feel a character coming on. thanks, Donna.