Assassins and Missed Opportunities

By Mike MacLean

Sundays are typically slow for the Poisoned Pen bookstore. But not when Bestselling thriller writer Barry Eisler is in town. Barry_03

Promoting his newest novel Requiem for an Assassin, Eisler spoke to a pretty good-sized crowd, all of us John Rain fans. I’ve been to two appearances by Mr. E, and neither time did he disappoint. Eisler speaks with wit and enthusiasm, and as much as any author I’ve met, he seems truly happy to meet and greet his fans.

According to Eisler…

His next novel will be a stand-alone thriller.

He might someday write a Rain prequel, where the origin of Rain’s code of conduct is revealed.

He has considered writing novels centering on other characters from the John Rain world… Dox the former Marine sniper and Delilah the sexy Mossad operative.

Everyone from Ken Watanabe to Keanu Reeves has been mentioned to play the role of Rain on the big screen. Eisler kind of warmed to the idea of John Cusack.

Along with hearing a tallented writer speak, I got a first-hand lesson in missed opportunaties.

While waiting in line to get Requiem signed, a buddy of mine ambled over with a copy of The Deadly Bride in one hand and a pen in the other. He wanted me to sign my story. I, of course, replied, “Oh man, don’t do this to me.”

Now, I could lie. I could say I didn’t want to John Hancock the book because it would appear hackish, like I was gloming off a best seller’s signing to promote my own work. But the truth is, a few people in line were watching us, and I felt embarresed.

I never liked being the center of attention. Among friends, drinking a few beers, I can tell stories with the best of them. But those are friends. The people watching us at the Poisoned Pen were strangers.

On the drive home, I realized I’d missed an opportunity. If I had signed my friend’s copy of The Deadly Bride maybe one of the people in line would’ve been curious enough to ask about it. Maybe they would’ve bought a copy. Maybe they would’ve told their friends about it. And their friends would check out my website, then check out Murderati. Then they’d buy Pari’s book, or Alex’s or…

It could happen.

I’m a good writer; I don’t feel arogant saying that. But there are tons of good writers out there. If I’m at a convention cocktail party, how’s my writing going to grab the attention of the agent, the editor, the movie producer?

I’m lightyears away from worying about public appearances. But if I really want to cut out a space for myself in this industy, I know I’ve got to start embracing my inner extrovert. The question is, how?

Thanks again to Barry Eisler for a nice afternoon at the bookshop, and a great read to take home.

12 thoughts on “Assassins and Missed Opportunities

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    Oh, sweetie, you should have signed it! No big deal this time – but you’re right to learn from the missed opportunity. (And of all people Barry would have been totally cool with you signing your story in his line!)

    I’m no introvert but it was startling to me how much attention I started to get as an author even before my first book come out. The author/reader relationship is really very intimate and you need to embrace the fact that people are going to crowd around you and want to talk to you. Maybe if you keep the focus on the work and not you it will be easier for you to take to the limelight. But you’re really going to have to get used to it – it’s a huge part of the job.

    One secret I’ve discovered – most readers really want to talk about how THEY felt about the book, or often their own dreams of writing, and if you just ask a question or two suddenly the focus is on them – they’re thrilled and you can just be a writer again, observing and recording. 😉

  2. Lisa

    Mike — I’m a long way from the publicity process myself, but there’s an article in the June Writer’s Digest about social moths becoming social butterflies that speaks directly to the introvert-on-tour situation. It’s interesting and pretty helpful. One of the suggestions I liked best was to keep unrelated social contact to a minumum the days of big events — don’t go have lunch with your three extrovert friends the day of a signing, for example, to save your energy for when you’ll need it. Effective in plenty of situations, publicity tour or not.

    For the record, I (also an introvert) would have done exactly what you did — and probably not recognized it for the missed opportunity it was. Like Elizabeth Bennett told Mr. Darcy, being social takes practice…

  3. Mike MacLean


    I like the idea of turning the tables on someone, asking them questions. Great advice. Thanks. And thanks also for yesterday’s post. Very informative for us newbies.


    It’s good to know I’m not the only one on the Introvert boat. Thanks.

    Sorry for the short answers today. Very, very little sleep last night.

  4. pari

    First of all, Mike, don’t worry about the short answers . . .

    I’m sitting here feeling guilty for not attending Barry’s signing here in ABQ last night. It was family time AND that’s sacrosanct.

    Missed opportunity? Well, yeah, it was. But, you know what? There will be others and you WON’T miss them.

    We’re trained that humility is a good thing and it is. But, at some point you realize that you write for an audience and that that audience wants to celebrate with you. It’s a good feeling once you allow it to seep in.

    Alex’s suggestion to turn the conversation back onto the admirer is absolutely right on. Ask if he or she writes? What he or she likes to read . . . etc. and you’ll feel more at ease and the person will remember you quite fondly.

    BTW: Hope C. Clark has written a book that I recommend quite a bit called THE SHY WRITER. It’s really useful for true introverts.

  5. Karen Olson

    You should’ve signed it. Shyness doesn’t get writers far in this business.

    I went to hear Harlan Coben speak about his latest, THE WOODS, a couple of months ago. I’d meet him once at Bcon Chicago, and do you know that when I approached him to have him sign my book, he actually remembered me by name? And then he told everyone in line that I was a local mystery author and they should buy my book. I actually sold one, thanks to him. That was classy of him, and also an example of how supportive this mystery community is.

    So the next time, just sign the book and thank the reader for buying it.

  6. JT Ellison

    Mike, you’ll find that you adopt a certain kind of persona when you’re in public. It’s the “author” mode, and it will take practice. But you’ll get it.

    I like what Pari said, the readers are there to celebrate with you. THAT nails the feeling on the head. If you look at it like that (and forever more, I will) you’ll never have any problems, shy or not.

    It’s your work and by damn, you should be proud of it. The most savvy authors on the circuit know the difference between being proud of their work and bragging on themselves. I’ve met you. I have zero doubt which category you’re going to fall into.

    And Mr. E is on my doggie doo list for skipping Nashville on this tour : )

  7. Louise Ure

    Hi Mike,

    I’m back from my Arizona sojourn. (Thanks for keeping the weather under 110 for me.)

    Alex’s advice above is dead on.

    And I remember gleefully the first time someone asked me to sign a copy of my book. the sensation was right up there with seeing it in the window of a bookstore for the first time.

    Take pleasure in it, Mr. Shy.

  8. Stacey Cochran

    A touching story, Mike. Thanks for sharing.

    Isn’t it pretty much accepted that writers (at least published ones) shy away from the spotlight like this, though?

    I, on the other hand, would have been happy to sign and probably would have left the line to show the guy where my other books in the PP are shelved. (which is probably part of why I’m still in the self-published ranks).

    Your reaction is much more commendable, Mike, given the situation.


  9. Barry Eisler

    Mike, it was great seeing you there and thanks again for coming. Hey, you should have signed your book! I’d sign one of mine at yours, you know…

    Thanks too for the kind words and looking forward to seeing you at Tfest.


  10. simon

    The thing about writing. It makes you do things out of your nature. I thought I could write in relative seclusion, because like you, I don’t like a lot of personal attention. It never occurs to me that I have to literally sing for my supper by speaking in public or promoting myself.

    The thing to remember is to be professional. You don’t try to steal anyone light, but if you’re called upon to sign a book, or answer a question, just do it with grace.


  11. Mike MacLean

    Good advice all around; thanks guys.

    And thanks to Barry Eisler for dropping in. As much as I’d love to be at this year’s thriller fest, it’s just not going to happen, not with the new addition. Maybe 2008.

  12. spyscribbler

    With all the workshops around, I really wish someone would give a workshop on interacting with readers. It sure would help! I feel so helpless, and I only do emails from my anonymous pseudonym.

    I would’ve been blushing up a storm, Mike. Just today I was hissing at DH over a little tiny essay, “Don’t tell anyone! For God’s sake, don’t tell anyone!”

    I’m guessing it’s a process. We can improve, right?


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