Re: Book signing
Jim, I agree with the others that your imagined approach isn't viable. I also understand the frustration that leads one to consider things like this.
I think it is important to know that established writers do sometimes help aspiring ones, however. The mistake people usually make is to approach at the wrong time and in the wrong way.
Any contact must first be about them and a genuine interest in their work. Sometimes you can get a rewarding discussion going--valuable in itself. Occasionally they'll get curious about you and if that happens, it can mean they're willing to help. But it takes time and you will miss all the wonderful things the author has to offer in other ways if you fixate on what they can do for you.
Think aboiut what you can do for them (like have an interesting discussion, in person or in writing, if they're game) and then see what happens. Don't be in a hurrry, pushy or even mention that you're also a writer unless they ask. Forget about yourself.
They may still decline to become friendly, but they're just people.
Re: Book signing
>>But I have NEVER, not once, offered to read a ms. or give an aspiring writer a personal referral to my agent. I suspect most writers would say the same.<<
Greg's right as well, however; I have helped out a few aspiring writers who approached me, first, because they enjoyed my work. I still don't critique their manuscripts, mind you, because my agent said she'd smack me if I did, but I've helped, I believe, in offering information.
You know what the absolute worst thing is? When somebody comes to a signing, or sends you an email, and it's painfully clear all they know about you is that you're published, or a bestseller, or otherwise somebody who might help THEM. I've gotten notes so generic they all but began Dear Author.
I mean, c'mon! If you're going to ask me for something, at least suck up a while first.
Re: Book signing
I honestly believe that if you were to check your dignity at the door, go completely shameless and do everything you can think of to get him to become your ally, it would get you exactly squat.
The reason you're not published is not because you need an "in." It's because you haven't yet produced a manuscript someone wants (or query letter that makes clear that you have).
I think it's good experience to go to signings, especially those of very successful authors. I think that being close to success can foster success -- help one develop a feel for it.
Go to the signing. Try not to let your fantasies embarrass you. (We all know the feeling.) Mumble the standard, "I really admire your work," then get back to the business of improving your own writing.
Re: Book signing
For what it's worth. . . . .
Last year, in our neighborhood newspaper, I saw that a local writer would be signing at B&N. I also discovered this "famous" writer; fifteen to twenty novels, books signings at all the major sellers, RWA member, blah, blah, blah, lives in the same development as I, and a few blocks away from my door.
Our paths had not crossed before, so I decided to stalk, uh. . . . I mean, visit her signing. I decided pounding on her residence door, having the police called to take me away, bonding out of jail, hiring a lawyer, etc., would not leave a good first impression. Of course, I had no idea of what to say, but I knew I did not want to be intrusive, rude, boring, or stupid—of which normally I can be all four.
Now I had to decide on if I was going to camp out in front of the B&N until she arrived. I checked with the manager, and they said, “Camping out in front of B&N was not allowed.”
Bummer! And what a bunch of party poopers.
I asked B&N if it was okay to arrive early, and the manager said that would be fine. My wife and I arrived about 6AM (they open at 10AM but I wanted a good spot) to find we were the only ones there. She, of course, said, “Told ya!”
Okay, seriously. We stopped by B&N, I introduced myself, and we had a nice conversation. Nothing prying and I did not ask her for her agent’s name. We spoke about genres; hers is mostly romance and mystery-- a genre I don't normally read nor enjoy. We talked about the business, in which she said, "don't quit your day job.”
I would not have traded the experience. She has been a speaker at my writer meetings, and has been very helpful. At our last meeting, she shared a ton of priceless information, and provided a bunch of handouts. Overall, I am very happy I approached her and we know have a nice professional relationship--although she has not read any of my manuscripts, and I have not asked. Not that I haven’t tried to discreetly drop of my m/s at her doorway, like the morning paper, but her dogs keep chasing me back over the fence.
Additionally, she is not the only professional writer I have had the opportunity to meet, and no, I am not a writer groupie. Our writing forum invites local writers all the time, and they come quite often. They don’t charge a fee, and we have a lot of fun. I have found that professional writers are normal, everyday people, just like you and me. ;-) Moreover, just like you and me, they will respect you as much as you respect them.
The bottom-line is to be normal and polite; let the conversation flow. There are no magic words.