The Dilemma of the Little-Known Author

Note: This a pre-Covid memory, so don’t be alarmed at the close proximity of strangers mentioned in this post. Remember those days when we weren’t afraid of breathing the same air?

“Hi, I’m Rae Ellen Lee, an internationally unknown author,” my friend says to the bicycle rider who has stopped to chat with us in a Utah canyon.

Rae Ellen Lee is a fellow author and artist, and she’s more forward and much funnier than I am, and I love this line. It cuts through the embarrassing back-and-forth that, for me, usually goes something like this:

Me: “I’m an author. I write mysteries and romantic suspense.”

Polite Stranger: “That’s great!” Then, peering at me with curiosity, “Would I have heard of you?”

Me (mortified): “Probably not. My publisher never promoted my books.” (Unsaid: And I’m obviously a total nincompoop when it comes to marketing, still true now even after I took back my rights and self-published.) “But here’s a card describing my books.” (Nervous laugh.) “Do me a favor and leave it in a public place.”

Sigh. It’s such a dilemma. How and when does a clueless introvert author make herself known to new readers? Personally, I avoid anyone who constantly hawks herself or her products; why would anyone appreciate that? But I don’t have a big family-and-friends network out there supporting me, and I can’t afford to advertise in expensive venues. I write outdoorsy animal lover mysteries and although many hikers and nature enthusiasts are big readers like me, we outdoorsy animal lover types don’t tend to sit around chatting on social media.

So when I pass up the opportunity to tell a friendly stranger that I’m an author, I never know whether to feel like I’m being just a nice normal person or some sort of expert self-defeating anti-preneur. So I generally say something only half the time and almost always end up feeling like a complete loser.

A couple of days after meeting the bicyclist, as I ride the shuttle from St. George to the Las Vegas airport, I chat with my very nice seatmate. We talk about Utah and other places we have visited, and after a while, she mentions that she reads constantly. Aha-an opening! I tell her I am a voracious reader, too. And then she says she likes mysteries. Feeling like a hunter with a deer in the crosshairs, I tell her I am a mystery author, pull out my card that describes my books, and hand it over. She says she’ll definitely look for my books.

Later, at the airport, I share a restaurant table with an interesting man from Germany who has been visiting all the western parks. I love Germans; they are such adventurers, and like me, many are enthusiastic about the American West, its culture and its beautiful wild places. We talk about places he visited on this trip (he flew to the Cook Islands, too!) and a bit about how Americans and Cook Islanders eat unhealthy diets and will pay for that in the long run, and briefly agree on how politics need to move away from the current all-about-the-profit mode to the work-for-the-common-good mode.

Close-up of magnifying glass focusing on two people

Of course, while we talk, I’m thinking, do I tell him I’m an author and three of my books are published in Germany? Would that be a typical it’s-all-about-me American move? Besides, he’d probably ask me the name of my books there, and my cards are all in English. I can’t even spell the German titles, let alone pronounce them. Nor could I cough up the name of the German publisher. So we part politely without exchanging names and wander off to catch our separate flights back home.

From now on, I’m borrowing Rae Ellen’s line: “Hi, I’m Pamela Beason, an internationally unknown author.”

And I’ll keep using it until a stranger says, “Oh, I know that name! I love your books!”

I really am an author! This is me signing books at Seattle Mystery Bookshop
I’m not lying. Really, I am an author. Here I am years ago, signing books at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, which, sadly, no longer exists. I have 13 novels in print and ebook forms today. Really!

6 thoughts on “The Dilemma of the Little-Known Author

  1. You have a lot of company. I’m well-known among authors mainly because I’ve been doing this a long time. I have my fans–but nothing like the big name authors.
    Doesn’t matter, I love writing.


  2. I know exactly how you feel, Pam. Telling someone I’m a writer feels like the worst social fail of all time. It’s embarrassing. If you ever figure out how to do this and not feel like a show-off, please let us know.


    1. I’ll let you know if I ever overcome this, Susan. Don’t hold your breath! So far, the only sort of successful strategy I’ve come up with is to ask people for help on plots or settings. I’ve actually gotten a few excellent ideas from strangers. But we all have to be prepared for the person who says “I don’t read fiction” or simply, “I don’t read.” Yikes!


  3. Great post, Pam! I’m the same way. My husband carried my card in his pocket because he has no qualms about starting up a conversation with people and saying, “My wife writes books. Here’s her card.” LOL

    I, like you, feel awkward telling people I write and what I write because it feels like I’m a car salesman.


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