My Local Indie Won’t Stock My Buzzy Debut and I’m Pissed: Am I the Literary Asshole?


Welcome back to the drunkest advice column on the internet! If you’re new here, this is Am I the Literary Asshole?, a place where all questions are welcome and the advice is dispensed like a fine boxed wine—plentiful and cheap. I’m Kristen Arnett and I’ve never met a can of beer I didn’t like. Today we’ve got a fantastic assortment of questions lined up, so I say let’s ready our drinks and get straight down to business.

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Today I thought it would be nice to lean into the gossip—which is frankly giving off brunch vibes—and order a humongous carafe of mimosas to enjoy with our breakfast food (carbs are scientifically proven to soak up alcohol; it’s me, I’m the scientist who proved it). So, let’s grab a platter of eggs benedict with a side of hash browns and make my spicy bloody a double, because the tea is piping hot.

1) Hi. I had a buzzy debut that made a reasonable splash (sold well, critical acclaim, award noms, etc.) This book was available at the local B&N, airports, and all my local indie bookstores… except for one, which I had frequented for years as a shopper. (And this was not because they didn’t hear about it. To anticipate questions about that, I’m not a known asshole or racist or anything nor does the book contain controversial content). This hurt my feelings, but whatever, I continued to shop there and elsewhere for books.

Maybe a year or so later I was contacted (by a publicist) to host another author’s launch and it happened to be at this same bookstore. I was glad to do it and the event went well, but when I got there I was embarrassed to see that they were not stocking my book for the event. I’ve hosted several events at other bookstores and they always ended up selling and having signings for both me and the launch author afterwards. So I just scurried out of there once the event ended. It is very likely that I will continue to be asked to host events (there’s only so many local authors and only so many that like or are good at hosting). AITLA if, when asked, I respond “will my book be stocked as well?” or “I can only provide free hosting if my book will be sold as well”? It sounds gauche but also… I’m doing free labor for you.

There is A LOT to unpack here: First of all, congrats on a buzzy debut! That’s no easy thing to accomplish. Sold well! Critical acclaim! Award noms! I have to admit, even though these questions are supposed to be anonymous (and if anyone is questioning that fact—they truly are, I have no idea who sends me anything), I’m still sitting here racking my brain trying to figure out who you are… But since I can’t, and this column and its advice should be focused on your broader question versus your identity, I’ll slip into the next part of your letter.

You’re a frequent flyer at your local indie and they don’t sell your book. This is an interesting conundrum, because from the information you’ve provided, people who work there should know who you are—if you are, in fact, a regular—that means you would have gotten to know all the employees and they would make that connection. Despite the fact they should know you because you come in all the time, it’s also interesting to note that a local indie wouldn’t have a book that includes all the criteria that you’ve mentioned above (Sold well! Critical acclaim! Award noms!). Usually the potent combination of those three factors means that a bookstore would probably carry that book, no matter where the author is from.

If they ask you to moderate an event in the future, it’s perfectly fine to request that they have your book on hand. That’s a normal thing that anyone would ask about!

I am not a bookseller, but I have done plenty of events at bookstores (for my own books as well as moderating events for other writers), and I believe it’s general practice for the books of both parties to be on-hand for author events. Complications can crop up: perhaps the book was out of stock, or the bookstore is a very small operation that simply can’t cover the costs of both event writer and moderator. It could be that the event was too last minute and the bookstore couldn’t manage to get your book in before the event occurred. Shit happens.

But again, this is all purely speculation on my part. I can’t know what’s going on in the heads of the booksellers aside from what you’ve told me. It’s possible that you don’t actually go in all that often (often is a tricky word; once a week to some people might be often, to others “often” might mean once every six months). It’s also possible that a sour interaction occurred between you and booksellers, even if you didn’t clock that the interaction was a bad one at the time. Again, purely speculation. I can’t know.

What I can tell you is this: if they ask you to moderate an event in the future, it’s perfectly fine to request that they have your book on hand. That’s a normal thing that anyone would ask about! Nobody is going to think you’re an asshole for asking them to stock your book for an event. However, I would caution you to consider your tone when you talk to the booksellers. Everyone who works in books is overworked, trying very hard, and basically throwing things together on a shoestring budget.

The publishing and writing world is hard for everyone, and booksellers are our lifeblood—we need them desperately; they are some of my very favorite people in the world—so it’s important to remember to be kind. Have empathy and most of all patience. The fact that you end your letter by announcing that you’re doing free labor for the bookstore is… not the greatest takeaway here. We are all performing acts of kindness for each other in this particular community. I’m sure that if your book sold well that you had a pretty nice tour, which means that other authors did this “free labor” for you. We’re writers; we support each other. That’s not labor, that’s love.

But yes, if you’re asked to moderate, ask about having your book ordered! Easy, no sweat. It’s also completely fine to have your publishing team reach out on your behalf and contact that bookstore about stocking issues. Take yourself out of the equation entirely and make your life easier.

Another round for the table? Let’s load up on French toast and French 75’s and slip into our next question:

2) Am I the literary asshole for thinking it’s wildly tacky for an editor to publish their own work in their literary magazine, no matter how small the magazine is?

This is an interesting question because, once again, I am wondering which magazine you’re referencing and also wondering about the editor. But no matter! We will once again proceed on purely speculative grounds—speculative fiction, speculative drunken advice, why not, everything starts to feel a little weird once you’re three mimosas in, am I right?

I’m not sure that I think it’s tacky for an editor to publish in their own publication. Perhaps part of that is the fact that many editors at publications often publish work at their own sites. My own wife does this for Autostraddle, where she is the managing editor. Editors here at Literary Hub have their work published on the site. These publications need daily content; it makes sense that editors would contribute. And the editors are all great writers! I want to read their work!

However, reading between the lines of your short question, perhaps you mean a tiny literary print journal where an editor might publish their own fiction or essay work when there’s only room for a few applicants per issue? In this case, I can understand your frustration. It would be annoying to submit work to a journal like this, knowing that they only take a couple pieces per issue, and then see that one of those spaces was taken by someone who is affiliated with the magazine. I still don’t know that I’d call this kind of thing tacky. Irritating, yes; tasteless, no.

Small magazines are usually run by a bare handful of people. Sometimes two or three people, tops. And most of the time, those editors aren’t paid in money—rather, they’re compensated with the joy of putting together a magazine. So, do I begrudge them putting their own work into their own magazine when they’re the ones that run it? No, I do not.

But I understand your frustration, my dear writer. And it’s okay for you to think it’s tacky! To each their own. Simply choose a different journal to read. The great thing about the literary world is there are about a million different places for you to submit work to instead!

I think we’ve got time for one more round of drinks before we need to ask for the check. Here’s our third and final question:

3) Every time I sit down to write, my mind draws a blank and I panic, thinking no one would possibly want to read my self-indulgent BS. Other times I see some 21-year-old nepo baby has gotten a sweet book deal and I go green with envy that they’ve been able to accomplish what I want to. How do I get over myself and just start doing the damn thing?

This is a feeling that many writers experience throughout their careers. I think the short and sweet answer—and the simplest, best one—is to tell you that at the end of the day, you need to write for you. When you sit down to make something, I urge you to try and forget about anyone else but yourself. And if it’s hard to get those first pages out, remember that it’s okay to make something messy. It’s for your eyes only! It’s for your taste! Book deals and awards and accomplishments are all great, but the art doesn’t start with that. It starts with you and the page and a story to tell. It starts with you and your words. Forget everyone and everything else. Forget that nepo baby! Get comfortable with being a fan of your own work, and then see how things move from there.

Brunch is over, friends, and I need to get home and sleep all this off. Join me next time where we’ll read more of your anonymous questions and I try to answer them before my brain shuts down from too many bloody marys.

And send me your anonymous questions!!

A mimosa a day keeps the scurvy away,

Dad

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Are you worried you’re the literary asshole? Ask Kristen via email at AskKristen@lithub.com, or anonymously here.



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