Welcome back to another edition of Am I the (Literary) Asshole, the only advice column that asks you to take everything you read here with a grain of salt (and by that, I mean you should definitely have a margarita). Nothing like a little citrus to get the brain juiced up and to keep the scurvy at bay! Hey, I’m just looking out for your well-being, champ.
So let’s grab a frosty pitcher and lean directly into happy hour vibes. Happier hour? Happiest hour in my heart. Two-for-one is a hell of a deal, so why not go for three? We’ve got a trio of burning questions to tantalize our tastebuds today, so we might as well get started. There’s no time like the present, am I right? Wouldn’t want our drinks to melt. Nothing worse than a watered-down marg.
On your marks, get set, drink!
1) I have a debut coming out and despite two decades in the book-business meeting literary glitterati (litterati, if you will), I have zero confidence in getting decent blurbs/buzz. How do I alleviate the guilt over squandering the precious resource of author goodwill? Also, how do I deal with the anxiety of waiting for responses? Finally, how do I get those sweet, sweet blurbs?
There’s no hope of prying free the inevitable writer-guilt that comes from asking for blurbs. It’s like buying clothes and getting home only to realize that the security tags are still attached; you can’t get rid of them on your own without damaging something important. You’re right, it sucks asking other people for a moment of their precious, limited time. And if you’re a nice person who doesn’t like to put any additional stress on writers who are probably out asking for their own blurbs, your guilt is going to feel especially overwhelming.
My dear debut, let’s put things into perspective. You’re not alone in your plight. So I’ll ask you to consider how you react when someone asks you for a favor. It’s likely that even if the request comes at a bad time, you’re not likely to feel aggravated or bothered by the ask (unless they’ve done it in an especially obnoxious way—I won’t elaborate, but we all know the kind of shitty “ask” I’m talking about; “more of a comment than a question” vibes, IYKYK).
If the person asking does so nicely, you’ll respond nicely in kind. Part of moving through the publishing landscape requires lending hands in support and sometimes putting out our own hands for help. Occasionally we can provide our time and offer a blurb, and other times we can’t. Those are the breaks, kid.
All you can do is ask politely and see what happens. You’ll get some blurbs, I promise. Not all of them, but some. As for dealing with all that awful waiting? You’ll just have to suffer through it. I wish I could give you a magic potion to make it all go down a little easier. Oh wait, I do have a magic potion! It’s called a margarita.
Let’s all have another glass and slide on down to the next question in our salty queue!
2) To attract followers must you first become a follower?
This is giving “if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it” vibes, and you know what? I’m here for it. Let’s get the short answer out of the way: who the hell knows? When it comes to social media, there’s no right way to do anything. Many of us have no clue what we’re doing other than running the risk of losing an entire day to memes that no one in our actual lives outside of the Lord’s Internet knows anything about (30-50 feral margaritas, etc). As for the longer answer, it seems that people can only speak for themselves when it comes to fiddling around on social media. For our purposes today, I’ll simply explain what I do on Online™:
Goof around with friends and post things that I like.
That’s pretty much it. For me, “attracting” followers is a concept that is inherently flawed. Because in order to attract a large contingent of individuals, one risks a few things:
1.) Becoming the dreaded Main Character (and hey, after 30-50 feral margaritas, who wouldn’t be)
2.) Having a really bad, boring time
Honestly, who wants to spend their extremely limited free time making content that they don’t care about? We’re writers and artists, we’re supposed to be making stuff that we actually do like (look at me, pretending I don’t spend plenty of sleepless nights hating my own work LOL; do as I say, not as I do).
So my two cents—or two sips, if you will—is that you should follow the people you find fun and cool on social media and only post the stuff that feels most interesting to you. Stop caring about follower counts. You’re never gonna get any of that time back, buddy. Pretending otherwise is a lost cause. Life’s too short for a bad margarita.
Let’s finish out strong (that’s right, pour an extra shot of tequila in that third drink)—onto our last question!
3) An old friend of mine, who is a talented and well-connected editor and essayist who got me some important early breaks, sent me a draft of their labor-of-love novel. It is terrible and kind of problematic (in an “ugh, what poor taste” kind of way, not in a “this person is racist” kind of way). So far my response has been to not say anything about it at all and in fact we haven’t been in touch since they sent it six months ago. Am I required to offer either fake praise or constructive criticism? Can we both just pretend this never happened?
I’m tipsy enough that I shuddered reading this question. Almost makes me wish I was sober (almost, but not quite)! Because let’s face it, we’ve all been in some variation of this particular boat, haven’t we? Sometimes people we care about—people we trust implicitly when it comes to writing and craft—can inevitably make some very bad art.
All this to say: I’m going to answer this in a roundabout way and cross my fingers and hope for the best.
The first route you could take? Just keep doing what you’re already doing. You could ghost the hell out of this situation, dear reader, and it’s possible that things would turn out fine. This old friend of yours might already know that the thing they made is rusty and needs plenty of elbow grease. At this point, they also might understand you are not their reader. Because that’s a possibility too, isn’t it? The book simply isn’t for you. Everyone likes different things. That’s what makes art fun.
Here’s another point: if they haven’t brought it up to you yet—and it’s already been six months—then they probably already know what you think about it. If I give a friend some work and I don’t ever hear back about it, I’m going to assume that it probably wasn’t their cup of Twisted Tea and simply move on. Will I send them something again? Probably not. But that’s also okay! There are plenty of other readers out there in the margarita seas.
I’ll also say this, because it’s a definite possibility: maybe they assumed you never found the time to read it! Everyone in publishing and writing is slammed with advanced copies, books stacked haphazardly all over our homes. It’s possible they think you never got around to it. And they’re probably fine with that, too.
The real question, I think, is what will happen if (and I think this is a very big if) they finally decide to bring all this up to you. And sure, it’s possible that they will. I would ask you to consider how strongly you feel about this friendship. If it’s one you really want to preserve, I’d be careful how you respond. Some people take harsh criticism well and even welcome it. Other people? Not so much. And hey, nobody is going to react well to “I think your work stinks.”
So, if they do ask you about it, have some questions on hand—not criticism. Questions help things move forward. What do they see this book doing? What is their favorite thing about the book? What do they think needs the most work? Etc, etc. A simple “how is your writing going” can do a lot when it comes to moving things in a positive direction. And hey, if that doesn’t work, just get them drunk.
Thanks for joining me, friends. Time for me to toddle off and find a snack.
And remember to send me your anonymous questions HERE! I’ll do my damndest to answer them (and I’ll try not to drip margarita on them, but no promises).
Are you worried you’re the literary asshole? Ask Kristen via email at AskKristen@lithub.com, or anonymously here.