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Welcome back to the drunkest advice column on the internet! If you are new here, this is Am I the literary asshole?a place where all questions are welcome and advice is handed out like a fine wine from a box – plentiful and inexpensive. I’m Kristen Arnett and I’ve never had a can of beer I didn’t like. Today we have a fantastic lineup of questions, so I say let’s get our drinks ready and get right to it.

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Today I thought it would be nice to listen to the gossip—which, let’s be honest, is giving us brunch vibes—and order a huge carafe of mimosas to enjoy with our breakfast (carbs are scientifically proven to soak up alcohol; I’m the scientist who proved it). So, let’s grab a plate of eggs Benedict with a side of hash browns and make a double spicy bloody, because the tea is piping hot.

1) Hi. I had a well-received debut that made quite a splash (sold well, got critical acclaim, was nominated for awards, etc.). That book was available at local B&N, airports, and all the indie bookstores in my area… except one that I’d been buying from for years. (And it wasn’t because they hadn’t heard of it. To preempt any questions about that, I’m not a known asshole or racist or anything, and the book doesn’t contain any controversial content.) That hurt me, but regardless, I continued to buy books there and elsewhere.

About a year later, I was contacted (by a publicist) to host another author’s launch, and it happened to be at the same bookstore. I was happy to do it, and the event went well, but when I got there, I was embarrassed that they didn’t have my book in stock for the event. I’ve hosted several events at other bookstores, and everything always ended up being sold, and there were book signings for me and the author of the launch afterward. So I just got kicked out after the event. It’s very likely that I’ll continue to be asked to host events (there are only a limited number of local authors, and only a limited number who like to host or are good at it). AITLA, when I respond to a question with “Will my book be in stock too?” or “I can only offer free hosting if my book also sells”? That sounds cheesy, but I’ll do free work for you too.

There’s a LOT of explaining to do here: First of all, congratulations on a stunning debut! That’s not an easy thing to achieve. Sold well! Critical acclaim! Award nominations! I must admit that even though these questions are supposed to be anonymous (and in case anyone questions that – they really are, I have no idea who’s sending me them), I’m still racking my brain trying to figure out who you are… But since I can’t, and this column and its advice should focus on your broader question rather than your identity, I’ll skip ahead to the next part of your letter.

You are a frequent flier at your local indie publisher and your book is not being sold there. This is an interesting dilemma because, based on the information you provided, the people who work there should know who you are – if you are indeed a regular customer – which means you would have met all the staff and they would make that connection. Aside from the fact that they should know you because you come by all the time, it is also interesting to note that a local indie publisher would not have a book that meets all the criteria you listed above (Selling well! Critical acclaim! Award nominations!). Usually, the combination of these three factors means that a bookstore is likely to carry that book, regardless of where the author is from.

If you are asked to moderate an event in the future, feel free to ask for your book to be on hand. It’s a perfectly normal question that anyone would ask!

I’m not a bookseller, but I’ve done many events in bookstores (for my own books as well as presenting for other authors) and I believe it’s common practice for both parties’ books to be in stock at author events. Complications can arise: maybe the book wasn’t in stock, or the bookstore is a very small operation that simply can’t cover the costs of the author and presenter for the event. It could be that the event was too short notice and the bookstore wasn’t able to get your book in before the event. These things happen.

But again, this is all pure speculation on my part. I have no way of knowing what is going on in the minds of the booksellers beyond what you have told me. It is possible that you actually do not go that often (often is a difficult word; once a week is often for some people, for others “often” can mean once every six months). It is also possible that there was an unpleasant interaction between you and the booksellers, even if you did not realize at the time that the interaction was bad. This too is pure speculation. I have no way of knowing.

What I may I’d like to say this: if you’re asked to host an event in the future, it’s perfectly fine to ask that your book be in stock. It’s a perfectly normal thing that anyone would ask for! No one will think you’re an asshole if you ask them to stock your book for an event. However, I would caution you to rethink your tone when speaking to the booksellers. Everyone who works in the book industry is overworked, trying very hard, and basically throwing everything together on a shoestring budget.

The world of publishing and writing is hard on everyone, and booksellers are our lifeblood—we desperately need them; they’re some of the people I love best—so it’s important to remember to be kind. Show compassion and, most of all, patience. The fact that you end your letter by announcing that you’re doing pro bono work for the bookstore is…not exactly the best takeaway here. In this special community, we all do good things for each other. I’m sure you’ve had a pretty nice tour if your book sold well, meaning other authors have done that “pro bono work” for you. We’re writers; we support each other. This isn’t work, this is love.

But yes, if you’re asked to moderate, ask if your book is available to order! Easy, no problem. It’s also perfectly fine for your publishing team to contact the bookstore on your behalf to avoid any stock issues. Take yourself out of the equation completely and make your life easier.

Another round for the table? We shovel French toast and French 75’s into our bellies and then move on to the next question:

2) Am I a literary asshole because I think it is completely tasteless for an editor to publish his own work in his literary magazine, no matter how small the magazine is?

That’s an interesting question because, once again, I wonder which magazine you’re referring to and also who the editor is. But whatever! We’re going to go back to being purely speculative – speculative fiction, speculative drunken advice, why not, after three mimosas everything feels a bit weird, doesn’t it?

I’m not sure I find it distasteful for an editor to publish in their own publication. Perhaps that’s partly because many editors of publications often publish their work on their own websites. My own wife does that for Autostraddle, where she’s the managing editor. Editors here at Literary Hub publish their work on the website. These publications need content on a daily basis; so it makes sense that editors contribute to it. And the editors are all great writers! I want to read their work!

However, reading between the lines of your brief question, perhaps you mean a small literary print magazine where an editor might publish his own fiction or essay work if there is only room for a few applicants per issue? In that case, I can understand your frustration. It would be annoying to submit work to a magazine like that, knowing that they only accept a few pieces per issue, and then see that one of those spots is taken by someone associated with the magazine. I still don’t know if I would call something like that tasteless. Annoying, yes; tasteless, no.

Small magazines are usually run by a handful of people. Sometimes two or three people at most. And most of the time, those editors aren’t paid with money – they’re compensated with the joy of putting a magazine together. So do I envy them putting their own work into their own magazine if they’re the ones running it? No, I don’t.

But I understand your frustration, my dear author. And it is okay for You to think it’s in bad taste! To each his own. Just find another magazine to read. The great thing about the literary world is that there are about a million different places you can send your work to instead!

I think we have time for one more round of drinks before we have to ask for the bill. Here is our third and final question:

3) Every time I sit down to write, I black out and panic because I think no one wants to read my smug nonsense. Sometimes I see that some 21-year-old nepo baby got a great book deal and I turn green with envy because they accomplished what I want to accomplish. How can 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 and best – is to tell you that at the end of the day, you are You. When you sit down to make something, I challenge you to try to forget everyone else but yourself. And if you’re having a hard time writing the first few pages, remember that it’s OK to make something messy. It’s for your eyes only! It’s for your taste! Book deals, awards, and achievements are all great, but art doesn’t start with those. It starts with you and the page and a story you want to tell. It starts with you and your words. Forget everyone and everything else. Forget that nepo baby! Get comfortable being a fan of your own work, and then see how things go from there.

Brunch is over, friends, and I need to go home and sleep it all off. Join us next time when we’ll read more of your anonymous questions and I’ll 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 scurvy away,



Worried you’re the literary asshole? Ask Kristen via email at [email protected] or anonymously here.

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