Do you know Rachel Held Evans? If not, you should.

She’s a barrel of laughs.

A good laugh with Rachel Held Evans

A good laugh with Rachel Held Evans. Photo credit: Jessica Hostetler.

She’s also a bestselling author and a courageous leader among Christian Feminists online. She’s helped many people bridge between faith and doubt. Read this blog post about World Vision and see how much energy (over 600 comments) she generates! My respect for her has only increased after I met her on March 19 at Eastern Mennonite University.

Rachel is also a memoir and book marketing pro. Less than half my age, she teaches me. When I heard she was coming to my alma mater, right down the street from my house, I knew I had to be there.

If you are an avid reader, if you are a writer, you look forward to events like this one that give you an opportunity to meet a favorite author — or maybe just a famous one who becomes a favorite after the event.

After Rachel’s visit I created a check list of a dozen activities I did before and after the event. It’s easy to forget networking skills when caught up in the excitement of the moment.

I figured that if I needed to remind myself of how to help the writer, the sponsoring institution, and myself, perhaps these simple strategies might help my readers also. I also want to get better at serving authors and readers through this blog, so I’m hoping you will improve the list after you read it.

I’m about to go on another tour myself, and though I’m not a star like Rachel, the list below might help me know how to act and how to ask for help when I’m the speaker.

The List: A Dozen Ways to Connect

1. Check out the pre-event publicity. Help spread the word on social media. I used Facebook.

2. Twitter comes in handy before, during, and after the presentation. If you have an account, share a few pithy quotes. Retweet others.

3. After the presentation, ask a question. It doesn’t have to be profound, just sincere.

4. Buy the book!

5. Get in the line.

Rachel Held Evans, Andrea Schrock Wenger, and Blush

Enjoying conversation when I reached my turn in line. Andrea Schrock Wenger (left) was the host. Photo credit: Jessica Hostetler

6. Pay keen attention when others talk to the author.

You can learn a lot from an author about how she listens to her fans. Some clearly want to dispatch with the task as quickly as possible. Rachel Held Evans focuses on the person in front of her, not on the length of the line. People in the line don’t grow restless. They know they will get Rachel’s full attention when their turn comes.

7. Photo op? Of course. Offer to take photos for others in line also. Good chance to deepen friendships with readers as you wait in line. If you’re lucky, a good photographer you offer to help, will help you. Thanks, Jessica Hostetler!

Getting my copy of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Getting my copy of A Year of Biblical Womanhood autographed. Photo credit: Jessica Hostetler

8. Follow up. Thank her for the visit in Tweet form. Feel a little thrill when she replies or favorites the  tweet.

9. Follow up. Offer a guest post.

10. Write a blog post about the event such as this one.

 If I had been thinking further ahead, I would have asked to interview her on my blog!

11. Tweet a link to her it as a way to say thank you one more time for her mission in the world. Only another writer knows how lonely the journey can be. I think I will also tweet some of my laugh lines from A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

12. And then leave her alone. She’s an introvert. And she’s got another book to write!

How can you improve this list? Can you tell a story of what it was like to meet a famous author? I’d love to listen!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Laurie Buchanan on April 2, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Shirley – Your blogs have become my “go to” Writer’s Resource Gold Mine!

    THANK YOU for your generosity. I appreciate YOU!

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks so much, Laurie. Your Tuesdays with Laurie has become my weekly jolt of joy. So glad we have connected. Thank you for sending a tweet to Rachel even before I got to it. Third party endorsement. 🙂

  2. Laurie Gray on April 2, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite YA authors Laurie Halse Anderson at the ALA in Chicago last summer and againat the PLA in Indy last month. My mother was with me in Chicago and held a place for me in line while I was doing my own book signing. When Laurie went to sign my copy of Speak, she complimented my mother on spelling my name correctly, and I introduced her tonmy mom and got a picture of the three of us together. When I met her again in Indy she remembered me and said, “Tell your mom I said hi.”

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Very impressive on many levels, Laurie. Let’s begin with the fact that you were signing books at the ALA yourself! Congratulations.

      And it sounds like Laurie Halse Anderson “got you” right away as you “got her” by reading her books. I love it that she remembered you after just one short meeting.

      And, finally, your mom. How great that you could be together at an event so huge as ALA.

      All best as you continue to write, connect, publish, and share your wisdom with the world.

      And it has not escaped me that two Lauries, spelled correctly, have started off this conversation. Hope you visit each other’s spaces.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on April 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Shirley, I met you through your blog, but not yet in person. You are helping me get my writing juices flowing by your memoir hints online and by the 100 day comments before your book publication. I love your memoir “Blush”. Thanks for your example!

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      Elfrieda, I hope we meet in person some day. And I greatly admire what you are doing. May all the stories be told — especially yours. And perhaps you will have occasions like the one above in which you can tap into the wisdom and encouragement of other writers. I hope so!

  4. Janet Oberholtzer on April 2, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Great post!
    Wonderful list on how to connect. And also like the last few lines, because that is so true.

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      Janet, it was fun to discover that you, an online friend, were part of the “village” that created A Year of Biblical Womanhood. As women who wore coverings in our youth, we especially identify with Rachel’s chapter on coverings.

      And yes, we need to know when to connect and when to let go. Gelassenheit!

  5. Andrea Wenger on April 2, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Shirley, this is a thoughtful post! Thanks for sharing in our fun in hosting Rachel at EMU. I appreciated your help with pre-event publicity, the thoughtful question you asked during Q&A, and now, this follow up post, which I will Tweet and share on Facebook. You didn’t mention in this post the value of giving a signed copy of your own book to the author too!

    I also noticed, how Rachel was very present with every person in line. In addition, she focused thoughtfully on every question in the Q&A… sincere, genuine, unrushed. It was a gift to our community.

    Since leaving campus Rachel has been on a whirlwind as you mentioned. Yesterday she was invited to post a blog for CNN. We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to build a relationship with her… and I imagine she would welcome our prayers as she juggles so many demands and competing voices, both supportive and critical.

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Andrea, it was fun to help support the publicity for this event from the outside. You did such a good job from within the marketing and communication department at EMU, and it was fun to tag-team with you.

      I was so honored that you chose to give two alumni Mennonite memoirs (Ted Swartz’s Laughter is Sacred Space and Blush) to Rachel as part of her goodie bag from EMU.

      And thanks for mentioning the enormous pressure Rachel is now under after the reversal of the World Vision anti-discrimination policy. She is indeed in my prayers. I don’t expect she has time to read this blog post. She has such an important role to play in the cacophony. I loved the ending to her CNN piece: “I’m ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.” May she find strength.

  6. JB Miller on April 2, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    When I met Phil Yancey in a book signing line I mentioned how life changing is book “What’s so Amazing about Grace” was to a family member. He seemed touched and very engaged. I imagine authors like to hear specifics about their writings.

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      JB, such a good point about specificity and impact. I think everyone wants to know this about their lives and work. When we describe just one moment of change instigated by another, we are agents of grace. Authors are especially touched when it’s clear that what they have struggled to put on the page has mattered in a specific way to a specific person.

      You have the gift of giving a meaningful, heartfelt compliment. I know. 🙂

    • Marian Beaman on April 2, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      Hi, JB. I have not met Philip Yancey, but I have read the book you cite and also his Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? I always thought a guy with a fluffy head of hair like his must be a nice person. Your comment confirms my impression.

  7. Dorit Sasson on April 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    What an informative post!
    I haven’t heard of Rachel Held Evans!
    This goes to show that marketing in just as much an in-person thing as an online thing and it’s possible for both online and offline personalities to meet and merge – maybe even in the middle. It sounds as if she’s making ripples and waves!

    Dorit Sasson
    Giving Voice to Your Story

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      Dorit, you make a great new point about on- and offline relationships. Book tours these days are such great opportunities for people who know someone in person to become acquainted with the work, the friends, the blogs, not only of their own “real life” friends but also of the people who have incited their laughter, reflections, and tears online.

      I’m coming to understand and appreciate the fact that marketing is just another name for relationships and that online and offline, what we all crave is connection.

      Thanks for stopping by. Come back again!

  8. Marian Beaman on April 2, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Your lists are so valuable and offer tantalizing morsels of wisdom for all readers and writers. I have come to conclude that reading and writing are age-free (ageless?) zones. Almost all of my role models and mentors are younger than I which makes the trade of wisdom so appealing.

    I can’t think of any other tips to add, but I can tic off two in the case of Rachel Held Evans: #4 (Read the book) and # 10, (I did write a blog post about Rachel and her book) published on the day she appeared at EMU. From the photos you display, the author’s persona and her live personality match. I love her honesty, her vulnerability, and humor, which combined with her amazing scholarship–a winning combination.

    Your final question: Can you tell a story of what it was like to meet a famous author? I have an autographed copy of “How Does a Poem Mean?” signed by John Ciardi. Did I meet him at Darmstatter’s in Lancaster? I don’t remember as I was a mere child–ha! Though you don’t consider yourself famous as yet, I met you in October, an occasion I do remember fondly.

  9. shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Marian, I remember our in-person meeting with great fondness also. Your warm presence is just like your online persona — fun, funny, and wise.

    Once we reach a certain age, we are always learning from the young I guess. And I’m glad you mentioned Rachel’s scholarship, one of the most impressive things about the book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She did enough research in theology. cultural theory, and history to earn a PhD — just in that one book.

    A John Ciardi autograph, now that’s a treasure!

  10. Melodie Davis on April 2, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Your last tip is likely the best one! (Leave her alone after you’ve done the above.) You bring a great angle here–as always. A “famous” author I met in the last two years was Brian McLaren and he was happily genuine and seemed to enjoy the conversation as I interviewed him for a radio program.

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Yes, Melodie. Writers are a strange breed — even the ones, like Rachel, who are products of the internet and social media. Introversion is our natural bent. Silence is necessary, and the biggest enemy of writing well is distraction.

      Brian McLaren would be wonderful to talk to, based on what I have observed online. Never met him. Lucky you!

  11. Victoria Noe on April 2, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I’ve done pretty much all of these things (except taking pictures – trust me, no one wants me taking pictures of important moments). I haven’t blogged about going to a book signing (though I have posted on FB and tweeted about it).

    There are writers I’ve followed online before I met them IRL. I met one recently at a reading/signing and he inscribed my copy of his book “to my Facebook buddy”. I’ve met others in real life before following them online. What’s important is to keep up a genuine, sincere connection. Some of them have become very dear and important friends.

    I will keep all these tips in mind!

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      Ha, Viki. I’ll bet you can take a better picture than you give yourself credit for. And you seem to have found ways to connect with authors you met online also.

      Pretty amazing world we live in. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing this post.

  12. Joan on April 2, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Shirley, You just keep doing wonderful things. Your list is great and a wonderful reference for me as I wend my through this book publishing thing I’ve gotten myself into. You’re a SuperStar!

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Well now, Joan. We both know that isn’t true, but it’s nice for you to say so.

      I’m enjoying being your beta reader. Back to the manuscript!

  13. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on April 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    I went to a book talk with Thomas Moore, whose book CARE OF THE SOUL opened my eyes to parts of myself that I had tended to belittle. Mr Moore has studied Greek and Hebrew on his own and done a personal translation of the gospels. He said he does not use the word “truth” in his books. I had my hand up with a question, wanting to ask how he translated the saying of Jesus in John’s Gospel: I am the way and the truth and the life. It was very odd to me that Mr Moore answered my question before I asked it. So, I put my hand down and did not speak to him until I got him to sign my book. Most of the interchange involved him pausing, with his head down over my book, then writing “To Dolores–Be an ordinary mystic,” then writing his name in huge illegible letters in his newest book (A RELIGION OF ONE’S OWN). I felt like our interchange was mostly nonverbal.

    Meanwhile I’m looking forward to getting your signature in BLUSH, while on your book tour–on July 4. And, sharing some spoken words and thoughts.

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      What an interesting story, Dolores. I look forward to hearing more about it when we get together in July.

      It would be interesting to compare notes on inscriptions. I remember that Madeleine L’Engle wrote “Be a namer!” for our son Anthony in the front of his copy of The Wind in the Door.

  14. Tina Fariss Barbour on April 2, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Shirley, you always inspire me! I read your posts like this one and I just want to share and write and be a part of the reading and writing community. Thank you.

    About 20 years ago I had the privilege of going to a reading by Mary Oliver. She was writer in residence at Sweet Briar College at the time. After the reading, people crowded around her. I was able to briefly speak to her. I was on awe, but I managed to tell her how much her poetry meant to me.

    • shirleyhs on April 2, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      Our literary heroes make us shyer than we ordinarily are, don’t they, Tina? Especially when we are young. Good for you for managing to get words out.

      I’m so glad this post makes you want to be part of the reading and writing community. You already are! An important part.

  15. April Yamasaki on April 2, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Shirley, I wish I could have been in the line up with you! This is a great post – helpful tips, thoughtful, and with your always generous spirit. All the best as you prepare for your next tour 🙂

    • shirleyhs on April 3, 2014 at 7:17 am

      April, thanks for commenting. I’m so excited about meeting you in Canada this summer and possibly doing a speaking event WITH you! Yippee.

  16. Kathleen Pooler on April 3, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Shirley, these book tour tips from your “lived experience” are gold nuggets, the kind you can’t find in a book. So I guess you’ll have to publish the book about all these gold nuggets of marketing! Wonderful post, as usual. It made me wish I was standing in line with you. And any day with laughter is a good day. 🙂

    • shirleyhs on April 3, 2014 at 7:21 am

      Kathy, I’m so glad you see gold in them thar hills. 🙂

      I’m a teacher and learner by nature, just like you are a nurse and a teacher and learner.

      You must have many occasions to meet authors with your location on the east coast. Lucky you.

      Wishing you much laughter in springtime!

  17. Carol Bodensteiner on April 3, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Terrific list, Shirley. I’m particularly fond of Tip 3 – Ask a question. The very best book talks I do happen when the audience is engaged and asking questions. Then I go off script, and anything can happen.

    • shirleyhs on April 3, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Oh Carol, glad you mentioned that one. I too love the Q and A time, whether of my own talks or the ones I attend like the one above. Yes. That’s where the magic happens. And often I get ideas for blog posts while I ask or answer a question. You can only answer the questions you know about. And if one person has a question, often scores of others do also!

  18. Ryan Robinson on April 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I’m jealous. Rachel is probably third on the list of authors I’d love to meet, after Sarah Bessey and Greg Boyd (that one there’s a slim chance of since he does come to preach at the production site of our church occasionally).

    I met Rick Warren at Urbana ’06. I generally liked and still like Rick so appreciated it, but the friend I was with was so ridiculously excited and she led the way in our encounter. She got a photo with him and talked for a minute, and then we mentioned to him that our church was starting the 40 Days of Purpose. I was holding my video camera, intending to ask him to say something to the church, but he quickly put the two together on his own and volunteered. When we launched the program we were able to show about 2 minutes of Rick talking to us. Sure it was clear he had a pretty rehearsed line, but it was still a great touch for him to volunteer to pause the line for us to film it. Combine that with how he responded to #RickWarrenTips and that’s why I really like the guy even though I’d disagree with some of his theological perspective.

    • shirleyhs on April 3, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      So good to see your comment, Ryan. It’s good to be reminded of the potential for excess in these matters. It seems that the culture of celebrity has infected writers about religion and spirituality as much as any other group of writers. Your friend’s enthusiasm was fortunately met by an experienced author who knew how to take advantage of the opportunity for both you and himself by assessing the situation accurately, giving you two minutes of his time. I have to confess ignorance on #RickWarrenTips. A Twitter hashtag, I presume. Looks like it hasn’t been active lately. Is it something you started?

    • Ryan Robinson on April 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      About a year or year and a half ago, I think, Rick tweeted something like “Churches: buy land as soon as you can but delay building as long as you can. Can’t explain all the reasons here.” Somebody grabbed a hold of it and started #RickWarrenTips with similar ambiguous advice ending with “Can’t explain all the reasons here.” They really covered pretty much every domain possible, not just church leadership. A few hours later Rick came back online, saw the trend, and responded as perfectly as anyone could: he started tweeting out his own #RickWarrenTips complete with hashtag, probably a couple dozen of them. This was before I had a job so I honestly spent about 3 hours reading #RickWarrenTips that day.

      Many celebrity pastors don’t really pay much attention to how people are tweeting about and to them. Which I do somewhat understand as they are plenty busy enough. But Rick not only engaged with the trend, he actually joined in making fun of himself. He’s the bestselling American author of all time – at least he was back when I read Purpose Driven – but came across as surprisingly down-to-Earth, humble, and connected with his followers/fans, much like he conveyed in that encounter at Urbana.

  19. shirleyhs on April 4, 2014 at 9:10 am

    I read The Purpose-Driven Life at the same time I read The Cloud of Unknowing. 🙂 How’s that for keeping a foot in two worlds? Actually, I think they are the same world. It’s our ground that makes the difference.

    Thanks for coming back to explain. Fascinating.

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