Patrick Rothfuss Is a Rock Star

IMG_3727I’m currently wrapping up the first draft of my Kickstarter book to send to my agent and editor. I’ve been too busy trying to finish the text to think about what will happen after the book comes out, which could include a short book tour.

So when I went to a book reading, signing, and Q&A for bestselling fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss tonight, the idea of the book tour was fully on my mind. Especially because Rothfuss is a bit of an anomaly. Few writers in any genre or field would attract 300+ people on a Monday night to the Barnes & Noble in Fenton, Missouri.

As I waited with a friend for Rothfuss to arrive among the throngs of people, I posed the question of the impact of Rothfuss’ look and personality on his popularity. In this day and age, it seems that most authors need more than just a good story to earn the eternal loyalty of fanboys everywhere.

I’ve seen this on Kickstarter–not really in terms of “fanboys,” but rather in terms of backers who follow and support specific creators time after time because they believe in what they’re doing and trust them.

The question about Rothfuss’ bearded, everyman look compared to his personality was quickly answered. Because of the setup of the bookstore and the sheer number of people, I was stuck behind a solid bookcase for the reading and Q&A. Within minutes, with only his booming voice to connect to, Rothfuss had charmed the pants off me. His look might accent his personality, but there’s no question in my mind that a big reason people show up to hear Rothfuss speak is because they know how entertaining he is.

Despite the poor vantage point, it was by far the best reading I’ve ever attended, mostly because Rothfuss didn’t spend much time reading. Instead, he spent the bulk of the hour answering questions. And he didn’t just answer them, as a lot of the questions seemed like the same boilerplate questions he’s been asked a thousand times–he told stories, rambling tales that were only tangentially related to the original questions. My favorite was a question about his impression of fame, the answer for which started with a few examples of fan encounters, turned into a story about sultry proposition, and ended in an awesome lesson about feminism.

By the end of the night, I realized that drawing people to a book signing like a rock star isn’t really about the writing, the look, or the personality. It’s about being really, really entertaining. Of course, that’s related to those three categories, especially the writing part (we read books to be entertained), but it manifests in a completely different way in person. The best writer can be really boring in person.

My hat’s off to Rothfuss for coming to the St. Louis area to entertain us tonight. I have a lot to learn about talking to groups people if I ever want to get close to that level of attention.

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