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Ms. Benjamin's Guide to Etiquette for the Polite Reader (and Author)

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As I prepare to embark upon that perilous -- and perilously rare -- adventure called the "book tour," Gentle Reader, I think it behooves us both to be reminded of our obligation to one another. Herewith, I propose these simple rules for governing our behavior at these most public, yet engagingly intimate, events.

Rule the first. Would you, as an invited guest, show up for dinner without bringing some thank you gift for the hostess? A bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers? Of course you would not! I think too highly of you, Gentle Reader, even to consider such a scenario!

So I hope you behave in a similar manner when attending a book signing. Purchasing a book from the bookstore so very kindly hosting the event is simply good manners. While I understand that some of you may already have purchased my own tome on something called an "eReader" -- heavens, what a concept! What will they think of next, a telephone that fits inside one's pocket? -- please consider buying some other Gentle Author's book at the bookstore in question. Bookstores do not operate on unicorns and rainbows, delightful as that might be to imagine. While I consider it vulgar to mention money, it is true that money is necessary to those pursuing a career in both writing, and selling, books.

Rule the second. Someone has just considerately informed me that yes, there are telephones that fit inside one's pocket. Heavens! Armed with this knowledge, I must request that these devices be quieted so that an ill-timed "ring" might not occur during my presentation.

Rule the third. Out of consideration to you, Gentle Reader, who has left the comfort of your cozy abode to brave the hazards of travel by horseless carriage, I make the following promise. I herewith pledge not to bore you by reading endless passages from my modest literary effort in a barely-audible monotone until you are forced to -- politely! -- shield your uncontrollable yawning. In fact, I will not read from my book at all, unless you suggest that I do.

Instead, I will plan a lively presentation intended to entertain and enlighten. I will rehearse until I can perform it without uncomfortable pauses and nervous clearing of the throat. I will endeavor to keep it short and sweet, as the youngsters today say; I will look you in the eye, speak up in a bright, energetic voice, and inject humor whenever possible. In short, I will give much time and consideration to my appearance before you, and rehearse and time it much like a thespian would do a play. (This reminds me of quite a humorous joke I was recently told, and which I share with you in the hope that you might find it amusing, as well. Query: How does one get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: Practice, practice, practice!)

After my well-rehearsed presentation, I will then eagerly answer any questions that you may ask, with the following exceptions:

I must regretfully decline to reveal how much money I earn, as I consider the discussion of remuneration distasteful.

While I may well rue the day I turned down such a potentially lucrative collaboration, I'm afraid I will be unable to ghostwrite your great uncle's memoir about his adventures in turnip farming. Although I'm sure it's absolutely riveting!

Sadly, due to constraints of luggage and time, I cannot read your own literary effort as represented by a teetering pile of pages reaching nearly to the ceiling, despite the fact that you have, at great inconvenience to yourself, brought it to the signing expressly for that purpose. Nor will I be able relay it to my editor or agent, even though I'm certain that this is, indeed, a decision I may someday regret.

In keeping with the general rules of decorum and good feeling, I'm afraid I cannot indulge in gossip about my fellow Gentle Authors, nor talk "smack" -- again, as I believe the youth today say -- about booksellers, publishers, or anyone else associated with the literary arts.

Rule the fourth: After we have finished sallying back and forth, I will happily personalize a copy of my own modest literary effort, although someone recently informed me that "eBay" is not a person. So I have cottoned on to that little scheme!

I will have dressed professionally, made good use of all the amenities of hygiene available to the modern hotel traveler, giving great consideration to the use of mouthwash, particularly if I have consumed spicy food earlier in the evening. I trust that you will do the same.

Rule the fifth: I will be delighted to pose for a daguerreotype with you! However, please do not do something I understand is called "Photoshop" to superimpose a bottle of spirits in my hand, and then "upload," as I believe it is called, this portrait to "the Internet or YouTube," which I think are the correct terms.

I so look forward to meeting all you Gentle Readers! We have much to learn from one another. I have always believed the literary person to be the best-rounded person in terms of knowledge and breadth of experience.

And now, I trust, you are the best-rounded in terms of etiquette, as well.

Gently nudged into the Internet era, Melanie Benjamin is about to go on tour for her latest novel, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB. For tour dates and information, please visit her at her website