Nearly every bookshop I went into in the States told me exactly the same thing: how much they all loved John Connolly. "Oh we had John here and he was marvellous!" "Oh, have you met John? He's so clever and funny!" "Oh John, we all loved him. He fixed our boiler with a paperclip and roll of Sellotape." "John auctioned off one of his own kidneys so we could go on a second honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas..." Which is kind of a hard act to follow. I'm saving up my kidneys in case I need to use them for something.
But it just goes to show that a good impression goes a long way in this business. I know a lot of people lament the fact that when you become a writer these days you've suddenly got to become a performing monkey at events and panels. Look at the writey people dance! I'm sure it's possible to get on in the world as a writer being a reclusive recluse, after all some big names do just that, but if you're not already internationally renowned how happy are your publishers going to be with you chucking on a headscarf, a pair of dark glasses and announcing "I want to be alone."
So a performing we will go... I really feel for people who hate doing panels and events -- not the ones who can't be arsed, but the ones who have a genuine terror of speaking in public -- because I actually enjoy it. I like getting up and making an idiot of myself (let's face it, there's no way in hell I'm going to come across as cool and sophisticated, so there's no point trying), especially if there's someone else sitting up there with me that I can bounce off.
I don't know about you, but if I'm sitting in the audience for one of these things I want to see a bunch of authors who look like they're enjoying themselves and having a laugh. I want to be entertained, not educated. Worthy, serious panels bore the arse off me. Which is a shame, because the people being worthy and serious might have written damn fine books, but it's unlikely I'll ever try them. And I know that makes me shallow, but tough: it's my time and my money, I'm only going to spend them if I think it's going to be worthwhile.
So, back to Mr Connolly -- according to everyone he's a very, very funny guy when he does his shtick. His books aren't (I know this because I have most of them: they tend towards the dark), but he is and the booksellers love him for it. And I'm willing to bet you a shiny new penny that new readers do to.
But we can't all be John Connolly: it wouldn't be hygienic, so the question is how to make the most of what we already have. To these ends She Who Must Be Entertained On A Daily Basis and I went to see a couple of stand-up comics when we were in Edinburgh for the book festival last week. One was a bloke we'd never heard of performing to thirty people in a small back room off a pub on the Grassmarket, the other a big-name American with about a thousand punters filling the Assembly Hall on George Street. Very different experiences.
Now I'm not saying we should all become stand-up comedians, any more than we should all stand in a wee hole and put on an Irish accent. But... actually, I haven't got a clue what it is I'm saying. This is more of a ramble than a thesis. I do know that I'd like to be a bit better at the panel and event malarkey, because I want to give the people who attend value for money.
Even if the freeloading buggers haven't paid anything.