I waited until The Author was properly settled, and then went up, introduced myself, flailed a bit, and said, with deep sincerity, "I've read everything."
Without missing a beat, and without laughing or otherwise tempering the statement, The Author replied, "No, you haven't."
It wasn't nicely said. It wasn't kindly said. It was just said, flatly and declaratively, like I would tell you to remove the dead rat from my kitchen table.
I was, to be absolutely honest, floored. The rest of the interaction was awkward and strained, and I walked away feeling utterly dismissed. I had been looking for a moment of connection with someone whose work had been enormously important to my life. I wound up wondering if I should have apologized for my enthusiasm, like I had somehow broken a rule. And that isn't how it's supposed to be.
I've been on both sides of this table. I've done signings where I was tired, where I had a headache, where my feet hurt so badly from pounding pavement all day that I just wanted to crawl back to my hotel room and die (guess which of these was at the San Diego Comic Convention). I know that sometimes, the last thing in the world you want is icepick enthusiasm drilling another hole in your head.
If you have come to see me, unless I am so sick that you're getting hand sanitizer with your signature, I feel that I should answer your enthusiasm with a smile, and say "thank you" until I turn blue in the face. I am my own person when I'm not behind an autographing table. I have likes and dislikes and opinions, and even my best friends in the whole world sometimes make me want to hit them with a shoe. I get grumpy, I get crabby, I threaten to ignite the biosphere. If you accost me on my way to the bathroom, I probably won't be all that charming. I'm a human being, not whatever creator/author construct you may have in your head. When I sit down behind a table and pick up a pen, that changes.
When I am seated behind an autographing table, you get to expect my attention (although how focused it is will be heavily influenced by how hard it is to spell your name). You get to tell me how much you loved (or hated) my most recent book, how much you loved (or hated) that plot twist, whatever it is you want. And yeah, if you tell me you're planning to murder me in an alley, I'll holler for security so fast that you'll believe my teenage scream queen dreams came true, but that's an extreme case.
I'm sure that I, and every author, will eventually cause a fan to walk around feeling the way I felt when I met one of my childhood idols. Sometimes the tired gets through; sometimes the cranky shows. But I am going to hold fast to that feeling, and do my best to remember that graciousness counts, especially when I'm behind that table. Because one harsh word changes everything.
(*Names withheld to protect the innocent, and because "oh oh oh it was THIS PERSON OVER HERE" is sort of counter to the point.)