Saturday 20 September 2014

Your Forum Friends Suggest a Gathering

The situation: new thread appears suggesting a gathering.

Year feel: intrigue; excitement; nagging concern.

You log onto your favourite online book forum, only to find that a junior member has suggested a gathering. At first, this seems like a good idea – a chance to put names to faces, a little social fun, perhaps the chance to big up your book … However, do not forget that whilst you may talk to your forum buddies more often than to your local friends, they are still internet friends, with all the risks of meeting people on the internet.

Yes, Melody Lovemuffin may seem like a harmless young creative type with a charming sense of humour and a penchant for knitting, but for all you know, ‘Melody Lovemuffin’ could be the alias for a fifty-year-old ex-con who knows that his real name, ‘Skinhead Ironbutt’, won’t sell many romance novellas.

What if one of your internet friends is an author groupie? Such people trawl the net for authors and then groom them for private readings. They sometimes hunt in packs. Only last year, an organised gang of six groupies captured Matthew Drzymala and forced him to read a chapter of Bittersweet at knife point.

I’m not saying never meet your internet friends but do proceed with caution. Meet in a well-lit area. Do not consume much alcohol. Tell your friends where you’re planning to go. Make sure that you have a mobile signal. Under no circumstances should you agree to attend a booze-filled camping expedition in the middle of nowhere, no matter how appealing it might sound.

However, do not let your forum friends know that you have the slightest qualms about meeting them alone in a dark alley. Respond with optimism and excitement. Say, “Yay! I’d love to go on a vodka-fuelled caving expedition with you.” Then lay the groundwork for a family bereavement fib. Foreshadow with “My elderly Uncle Jimbob is very foolish.” This will add credibility when you later say, “Uncle Jimbob put his wet hand in the sandwich toaster whilst having a bath. I’m just gutted that I’ll miss the forum caving expedition because of his funeral.”

If, after much consideration and pepper spray acquisition, you decide that you will attend a forum gathering, then make sure that you are armed with plenty of promotional bookmarks.

Letting people know that you plan to market your book is a major faux pas. Remember: a totally splendid hotshot author must pretend that she is in it solely for the love of writing. Even if you need to feed seven kids, you must not admit that you have any financial interest in selling books. Therefore, you must pretend that you’re at a gathering purely for the love of gatherings. Empty your bag, crumple the edges of some bookmarks, and put your other belongings on top. That way, when somebody asks about your book you can say, “I might have one or two bookmarks kicking around in here.”

Similarly, remove the silver-plated fountain pen that you carry especially for giving autographs, and replace it with a cheap biro. That way, nobody will suspect that you are expecting to promote your book.

To get the most out of the gathering, identify your greatest rival among the group and buy him drinks. Hopefully, if he gets drunk too early he will disgrace himself automatically. If he’s one of those irritating buggers who just gets more and more sociable then nip into the loo and leave him a bad review comparing him to an illiterate hippo. Return to the gathering and subtly suggest that he checks his reviews on his smartphone (he will have a smartphone). Although many authors can perfect a graceful reaction to a negative review online, it is very hard to fake an elegant response to an illiterate hippo comment in person. Steam will come out of his ears as he rants and raves. If you’re lucky, he might smash a few items of furniture.

Once your main rival is down, it is time to shine. Refer to your phone for witticisms written earlier in the day, and reel them off as original thoughts. You will soon have your forum buddies eating books out of your hand.

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