my coworker self-published an X-rated book and won’t stop promoting it at work

A reader writes:

One of my coworkers wrote his first book! We are so excited for him and realize that even if it is self-published, it’s a huge accomplishment. He actually gave out free copies to everyone in our department and all of management.

I can ignore the quality of the writing of the book, but what I (and now the rest of the office) can’t ignore is that it is incredibly sexually explicit. It invents euphemisms that are as awkward as they are confusing while describing activities I would not normally advise discussing with your boss. It’s become office gossip enough that several of my coworkers read it aloud to each other during lunch for a good laugh. Certain foods have been henceforth “banned” from our department as a result of some particularly memorable passages. If he’s out of the office, he is no longer mentioned without a joke about his book following, which is a shame since he’s probably one of the nicest people I know.

I hoped the book would become old news, but he is REALLY promoting it. We’re talking emails about book-signing events, telling everyone about how it’s going to be turned into a TV show and a play and maybe a movie, and other things for which etiquette demands congratulations but everyone knows will never happen.

I feel like this is going to blow up. If any of our (very conservative) bosses who received a copy of the book actually read it, if he ever finds out what other people have been saying, or if any of our bosses found out the level of ridicule he’s been subject to (behind his back), there will be problems. Management for our department runs pretty hot and cold. Usually it’s entirely hands-off until a situation reaches the tipping point and it turns into the Spanish Inquisition (except we’re usually expecting it).

I’m pretty junior, and I don’t think it’s my place to tell him (or really anyone else) to stop talking about it. Do you have a suggestion for how to get out of these potentially damaging bash-fests? Is there a rinse-and-repeat phrase to shut down the negative (but so tempting) discussions that’s not overly formal? I’d also appreciate any advice on keeping my mouth shut (if you can’t say anything nice and all that), a skill I’m developing as part of my Stay Employed plan.

Side information: As far as I know, it was not written on company time, and he sends out promotional emails at most once a week only to coworkers he knows personally (so it’s not excessive). The promotion is more amusing than bothersome.

Oh jeez. Your coworker may be an incredibly nice person, but he has terrible judgment.

Pushing sexual content on his coworkers would be bad enough, but coupled with the extreme enthusiasm for his own self-published work (a TV show and a play and a movie, huh?) … I’m cringing over here and I don’t even know the guy.

If you were his manager, I’d suggest that you tell him to stop promoting it at work because of the distraction factor. But you’re not; you’re just a bystander, and there’s not really much you can do if it does end up blowing up on him. I suppose that if you’re reasonably close to him, you could consider saying something like, “Have you thought about whether (conservative bosses) might feel uncomfortable with the sexual content, particularly for something being promoted in the office?” Hell, you could even say, “You know, it’s pretty sexual content for something being promoted at work.” (Of course, the real time for someone to step in was before he passed out copies to everyone at work, but that ship has sailed, which isn’t your fault.)

As for your coworkers joking around about it, there’s not much you can really do there either. You should certainly decline to participate in any mocking of him yourself, of course, and when you hear it come up, you could say something like “I’m worried we’ve taken this too far” or “I don’t feel right joking about this” or “I’m worried he’d be really hurt if he heard this.”

But yeah, when one of your coworkers prints up erotica and hands it out at the office, and then keeps talking about it in bizarrely self-aggrandizing ways, there’s not a whole lot of clean-up that you can do on his behalf as a coworker.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 225 comments… read them below }

  1. Jill-be-Nimble*

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I was having a super-cranky Monday and needed a laugh.

  2. Jill-be-Nimble*

    Oy! Posted before reading the whole thing. That is cringe-worthy. Sounds like it’s your colleague’s not-so-subtle way of propelling his career to the next level? (And by that I mean, making sure that he doesn’t have this job and will have lots of time to focus on his writing.) AAM is right that giving it to the conservative bosses is a huge lapse in judgement.

  3. Jamie*

    Uhm…I know it’s not the point but I really need to know which foods were banned.

    Because…just wow.

    Seriously – unless your management team is comprised soley of ostriches who medaled in head burying in sand in the Flightless Bird Olympics they will catch wind of this and deal with it. In the mean time keep your mouth shut and head down.

    It sucks when nice people make such colossal blunders, but it happens and they have to take their consequences the same as the rest of us. And distributing sexually explicit material is often a one way ticket to unemployment.

    I’m actually surprised you don’t have anyone on staff who was offended by it to the point of making it an issue. I’ve never worked anywhere where there wasn’t at least one person who would have been very upset to have been exposed to anything PG rated, much less this.

    1. Bryan*

      Maybe the person who wrote in about getting their co-worker to stop bringing in junk food should use this letter as advice.

    2. Lamington*

      Jamie there’s a Youtube video called “50 shades of chicken” that is hilarious. It is baking a chicken with a very interesting voiceover.

      1. Jamie*

        As I was reading your comment someone buzzed my phone to let me know there was chicken in the kitchen.

        Now I’m afraid of the inappropriateness lunch. :)

      2. LizNYC*

        My friend has this cookbook! And the chicken recipes are delicious, actually, but the story that’s weaved throughout is hilarious.

      3. Jessica (the celt)*

        Patrick Stewart? That’s just perfect for the voice over!

        Is there such a thing as inappropriate chicken? ;)

    3. Zahra*

      Bananas and cucumbers are the most likely culprits. I’ve such a gutter mind that cleaning any carrots, cucumbers, etc. under the water makes me think of x-rated stuff. And don’t get me started on the c… uh, plastic wrap around English Cucumbers.

      1. fposte*

        That’s what I was thinking–anything that could be used in a condom demonstration.

      2. Celeste*

        I’m going with zucchini. Everyone always likes to boast about the biggest one they ever saw.

    4. OP*

      I’m going to plead the fifth out of fear of incriminating myself, because it’s not something obviously phallic or euphemistic.

      Our department is pretty young on average, and no one (that I know of) got offended.

    5. Vicki*

      I’m guessing bananas, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and peanut butter. And possibly honey and soda crackers.

  4. Anonylicious*

    For some reason this story sounds really familiar, and I’m not sure if it’s just deja vu or if I’ve heard *another* tale of a person pushing their self-published erotica onto their coworkers.

    If it’s two instances, I’m now waiting for Forbes or similar to post about this new trend that’s sweeping workplaces across the nation. I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame it on Millenials.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP originally posted it in an open thread, and I loved it so much that I asked if she’d submit it as a stand-alone question.

      1. Anonylicious*

        Oh, good. I’m not sure if I’m more relieved that there’s not two of these guys running around, or that my brain isn’t manufacturing stories like these on its own.

      1. Artemesia*

        Didn’t Lynn Cheney write a salacious novel? And I know a couple of TV personalities have. So not just you Millenials.

        This guy sounds terminally clueless to be pushing this in a potentially conservative workplace.

        1. TK*

          Lynne Cheney (who has a Ph.D. in 19th-century British literature!) wrote a paperback Western novel called Sisters about very close female friends in the 19th-century that a lot of people think has some pretty strong lesbian overtones. But I don’t think it’s explicit in any way. It’s been of print for a long time, but you can still find expensive copies online, according to Wikipedia.

    2. Noelle*

      I’ve posted about a similar situation in open threads from a job I had years ago. My boss was writing a “novel” that had many graphic sex scenes in it. He would make me proof read his chapters for him. It sounds like it was probably less risque than this scenario (there was no food involved, thankfully), but editing stuff like this for your boss really ups the awkwardness level.

      1. Worker Bee*

        Am I the only one who thinks of the Teen Movie “10 things I hate about you” where the director is writing her (very) sexual novel, instead of giving the student her attention, when they were send to her? And one student actually helped in some form..
        Just like this situation, so wrong on so many levels….

        1. Anonathon*

          Hah! I was just about to say the same thing. (I really, really enjoy that movie …)

      2. Liz in a Library*

        I also used to have a boss who wrote his explicit novel at work. I’m now insanely thankful that he never asked me to proofread.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          Wow, so this might actually be really common.

          At OldJob I discovered livejournal erotica set in my workplace thanks to our Google Alerts. No characters based on real people so far as I could tell, thank goodness.

      3. Mallory*

        I have to proof read for my boss all the time. Thank god he hasn’t made me proof any sex scenes!

  5. BCW*

    This is interesting. Who knows, it could be the next 50 shades of Gray (which I have never read). Granted I haven’t read the book in question, but I mean, I think the co-workers are being more immature. They are all adults, yet it sounds like they are acting like pre-teens that saw their first nudie magazine. Maybe he shouldn’t be pushing it on people excessively, but I mean, he got published. Good for him. If it was a super religious book, would people have this same problem? Probably not. If you don’t like it, don’t read it, but to ridicule this guy behind his back is just tacky.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, he didn’t actually “get published.” He self-published, which anyone can do; it’s literally buying a printing of your book (it doesn’t include the normal things that come along with traditional publishing, like distribution anywhere or an indication that you met some bar of quality).

      And yeah, I’d say distributing a religious tome to your coworkers would be really inappropriate too!

      1. BCW*

        Thats fair. However I think if people were ridiculing him for being super religious that people would think that was worse. But the fact that he is into crazy sexual stuff makes it ok?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think it’s that he’s into crazy sexual stuff — I think it’s that he finds it appropriate to highlight sexual stuff at work that’s at issue here :)

        2. BOMA*

          Well, we’ve had people write in to AAM in the past about coworkers/bosses pushing their religion on other people, and people were almost universally in agreement that THAT wasn’t acceptable either. I think the response is pretty similar.

          1. fposte*

            I think there is one difference that matters, though, which is that people don’t find it as giggle-worthy to picture their co-workers praying as they do picturing their co-workers experimenting sexually with food.

      2. Nerdling*

        I agree! I’d be just as annoyed to have copies of The Watchtower or the next “Left Behind” on my desk as poorly written porn. Neither sex nor religion belongs in the workplace. In fact, in mine, distribution of religious texts is expressly forbidden. I assume porn is not only because I don’t work with this guy.

        As far as being published goes, any yahoo with a computer can get self-published. The quality of the writing doesn’t factor into the equation in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Check out Amazon’s list of self-published e-books for confirmation (and then weep for your lost brain cells).

        1. Chinook*

          “I’d be just as annoyed to have copies of The Watchtower or the next “Left Behind” on my desk as poorly written porn.”

          Does that mean you would have no problem with well written porn being left on your desk? Or how about porn disguised as a book about a time traveller who ends up back in the highlands of Scotland?

          1. Mallory*

            Or how about porn disguised as a book about a time traveller who ends up back in the highlands of Scotland?

            Leave that one on my desk — if it’s well written. ;-)

          2. KerryOwl*

            I have never read the Highlander series, but I have read the reviews on Goodreads, and I can’t imagine the book itself can possibly be more entertaining. Good lord do I love reading people complain about terrible books!

            1. GH*

              Do you mean “Outlander”? I haven’t read it, but I’m pretty sure that’s the premise. The “Highlander” series is something else.

              1. NW Cat Lady*

                The “Outlander” series certainly has its fair share of sex scenes, but the books aren’t porn, and they’re well researched and written (and yes, I cannot wait for the next one to FINALLY be released in 35 days).

                I don’t know what the “Highlander” series is, but now I’m curious….

                1. Heather*

                  Except for the part about people complaining about terrible books – whether you like the story or not, you can’t deny that Diana G. can write.

            1. Camellia*

              Hah! Saw that on Fallon, had to buy to read and it turns out they actually did a decent job with the plot! I’ve certainly read worse.

          3. Nerdling*

            I’d be slightly more pleased to have well-written porn (or porn disguised as a book about a time traveler who ends up back in the highlands of Scotland) than poorly-written porn. :D

      3. Cat*

        Though I think the 50 Shades of Grey woman also self-published at first, and it is one of the great tragedies of the world that none of her co-workers ever wrote to you for advice.

        1. Hous*

          Sadly, I think it owes a lot of its early success to the people who liked it back when it was Twilight fanfic, so there was probably only so much coworkers could have done to put a stop to that one.

        2. Jamie*

          Did she distribute it at work, though? If not then what she does on her own time isn’t a coworker issue.

          But if she did, then there are two people out there with the same lapse in judgement.

          1. Cat*

            I don’t know, but even if she didn’t and is totally blameless there is still a definite etiquette question to be asked about “how do I acknowledge my co-worker’s crazy success while not dwelling on the fact that (a) her book is mostly porn; and (b) it is terrible.”

            1. Jamie*

              I wouldn’t find that questionable at all – there is nothing that says you need to acknowledge someone’s success outside the office. Or if you did, you can congratulate them on whatever while being vague and not touching on content.

              And maybe it’s just my industry, but I can’t imagine that if someone wrote something that blew up like that and was being made into a major movie – and I’m assuming there is some bank that comes with that – that they’d still be hauling their cookies into the office for 8.5 hours of meetings and invoices.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  I have a few friends who are published authors (one with two series of rather popular books) and writing is their full-time job. BUT…it took awhile to get there. Doesn’t pay much until you hit a certain level of success and it can take many years, if ever, to get to that level.

              1. Cat*

                I suspect you’re right, but there’d be an awkward and weird transitional period where the person is everywhere in the media but isn’t yet sure it’s going to stick and thus isn’t comfortable quitting their day job. Or at least I imagine that occurring.

              2. Chinook*

                “I can’t imagine that if someone wrote something that blew up like that and was being made into a major movie – and I’m assuming there is some bank that comes with that.”

                I have been a Diana Gabaldon fan for decades and she often writes of the tribulations of getting her series turned into a movie or tv series. Despite her fan base, it took 20 years and 3 or 4 kicks at the can by different production companies before anything happenned with it. she also admits that she was amazingly lucky that a publisher bought her book on spec because she wrote it as a hobby with no intention of publishing it. She has quit her day job, but not her husband, and I suspect that is only because her rabid fans would send her money through the mail if said day job took even a minute away from her finishing her next book (they have been known to send her rolls of toilet paper when word leaked out that she had to take a break to take care of basic household shopping.)

                1. Anna*

                  I have a friend whose book she wrote with her husband was optioned by J.J. Abrams’ company and she’s still working full time. Optioned (and they’ve hired writers for the screenplay) is no guarantee of anything, including another book being optioned.

                2. Heather*

                  She has quit her day job, but not her husband

                  That would be an extreme request even for the most rabid fans ;)

        3. Sunflower*

          I’ve read my fair share of bad books but if there is one book that I truly wish I could get the time back for reading, it was 50 shades of grey.

          1. Jamie*

            You know what’s weird about this? I know 3 people who read it, having said the excerpts were awful, solely because everyone was talking about it and didn’t enjoy the read.

            And I’m talking adults who are giving into peer pressure to read things they don’t enjoy because they don’t want to be left out.

            I haven’t read it, but lest anyone think I’m some kind of literary snob too good for such things I re-read the whole Dollenganger series by VC Andrews recently and enjoyed every badly written hyperbolic over the top minute of it.

            (Except If There be Thorns. It’s not humanly possible to enjoy a book that is simultaneously written far below the average adults intellectual level and so convoluted that you’d need a detailed spreadsheet on plot points to avoid getting lost. Seriously, either I’m too stupid for that book (not likely) or it really was hard to follow. And I still need someone to explain to me was the kid a psychopath or just lost in his fantasy? And what the HELL about the beds and picnic basket in the attic…just drop that bombshell and walk away? Seriously if there was ever a plot point that needed resolution it was THAT.)

            Wow – someone yell digression (had to toss in a Catcher in the Rye reference to prove I’ve something of substance.)

            Anyway, for a book everyone claims to hate I know a whole lot of people who have read it.

            1. cecilhungry*

              Eh, I will definitely always read the latest best-seller “omg this book is the best thing I’ve ever read!!!!” Even/especially if it’s bad. I’ve read Twilight (all of ’em), Da Vinci Code, Girl w/ the Dragon Tattoo, 50 Shades…

              I hate saying “I HEAR it’s terrible.” I like to point to specific passages that are awful (such as the fact that Ana, as an English major in the 21st century owns an iPod but no computer and is SHOCKED and AMAZED when someone tells her she now has an email address. I MEAN PLEASE). If you haven’t read the books, fans can just tune out your complaints. I like to explain that I gave up and threw the second book across the room when Ana–a woman fresh out of college who has worked as an intern for 2 months most of which she spent emailing her boyfriend and taking 2 hour lunch breaks–become Editor-in-Chief of a publishing house.

              So yeah, I’m gonna read books I think I’m going to hate, so that I have a basis to talk about them. Plus, my rage is my main source of energy (I got a boost just typing a comment about 50SoG).

              1. CA Anon*

                I read the Twilight series so I could talk to a 12 year old family friend (and her mother) about why it wasn’t romantic and what common signs of domestic violence are. It had the unintended consequence of allowing me to play the game “Horrify the Twilight Noob” with a friend. We would explain the stranger plot points to people unfamiliar with the series. So much fun…

                1. Ruffingit*

                  Twilight was full of domestic violence themes and poor writing (those eyes, those beautiful eyes one million times) in the first 50 pages. I made it to 120 pages and I couldn’t read anymore.

                2. Windchime*

                  I stopped reading Twilight when the glittering vampires started playing baseball in the moonlight. I just couldn’t do it any more.

              2. LD*

                I would describe it as Harlequin Romance with sex. It’s got all the basic elements, innocent/naïve young girl (not woman, girl) in rather needy circumstances, meets wealthy, brooding handsome older man. Both, against their better judgment, cannot seem to avoid one another and after several frustrating encounters, misadventures, and trials are overcome by “love/lust” and live happily ever after. Blech.

            2. Sunflower*

              I heard it was good from friends and I thought there would be a lot more psychological elements to the book. I thought the book would explore more of why they were the way they were but it didn’t delve deep enough into that- they did a bit for his character but not hers. I’m probably different from other people in that I like books that are more realistic or don’t always have the happy ending. If these 2 were in a relationship IRL, no way it would have worked out.

              I think I was really pissed because I heard it awesome so I pushed through the first one really quickly, even though I knew after about 50 pages that it was terrible and I thought I should stop reading. Then I slowlyyy made it through the second one and finally never even cracked the third. Also I bought the whole set and was biter about contributing $30 to such a terrible book.

              1. College Career Counselor*

                +1 for the unintentionally funny typo (“was biter”) about vampire books!

            3. Xay*

              There are a lot of books I will read just to give them a shot and I love fun, fluffy pulp books (I’ll see your VC Andrews and raise you Lace and Lace 2). But my Goodreads list has a shelf for books I threw across the room and didn’t finish – including Twilight and 50 Shades.

            4. Office Mercenary*

              I don’t want to give ELJ my money so I’ve read about 5 or 6 different chapter by chapter summaries of it with excerpts so I think I know the series pretty well without having read it. By far my favorite is Jenny Trout’s blog; she’s a professional romance novelist who is a sub in her private life, so she has plenty of things to say about the terrible writing, the book’s demonization of BDSM, ableism, sexism, classism, and racism. Plus she’s just hilarious and her blog is awesome.

              1. cecilhungry*

                Yep! I know what happens in the last two books because of Jenny Trout! She is hilarious. I really did give up at the Ana-becomes-EiC part. I read the first one for book club, when we realized we’d spent most of a meeting hating on the book but none of us had read it. The meeting that we read it for was possibly one of my all-time favorites. There was a lot of righteous ire.

            5. Elizabeth West*

              Cathy put them in the attic in case someone found out about her and Chris. When Chris found them, he went ballistic because he didn’t want them to do to their kids what was done to them. You must have missed that part, because it was in there.

              She died not long after starting Garden of Shadows, I think, and Andrew Neiderman (who wrote that horribly bizarre gothic novel Pin) finished it.

              I gave up after the Casteel stuff because it just got too stupid. But I did enjoy My Sweet Audrina, probably because Vera was so disgustingly awful.

          2. Mallory*

            I’ve read 50 Shade of Gray, and if there’s a book I wish I could unread, it is some true crime novel that I read back in the 90’s (can’t remember the title) in which the word “ersatz” was overused (and misused) to such an extent that I hope I never see it again as long as I live.

            Years later, my boss wanted me to read an article written by a professor for whom he was writing a tenure and promotion review, because he wanted me to craft a paragraph for him about how egregiously she overused a particular word. My word-overuse PTSD from the previous book kicked in, and I objected vociferously to his making me read it. I wrote the paragraph for him based upon my memory alone of how excruciating that kind of writing is for the reader.

          3. Sarah*

            Okay, only on the internet (where no one can see me blush) will I admit I kinda enjoyed the 50 Shades series. I mean the writing was horrible and the plot was stupid, but I found it um entertaining…

      4. Nom de Plume*

        Actually, self-publishing isn’t at all what it used to be. When done properly, it does involve distribution of ebooks to all the major retailers and it can involve print distribution too. It’s not just about buying a book from a vanity press. I’m not sure which version the OP’s coworker is doing, but it’s not fair to paint the whole thing with the same brush. I’m a self-published author, and a lot of my colleagues are NYT bestsellers. I’m “only” USA Today but I do all right for myself. ;)

        Granted, there is no guarantor of quality in self-published books, but the same can be said of many traditionally published books as well. Particularly in genre fiction, especially erotica and erotic romance, where “quality” can be extremely subjective.

        I’m not sure that the fact that it’s self-published should be relevant, but I suspect it’s at least part of the reason why people feel comfortable making fun of it. Which is unfortunate, really.

        1. fposte*

          It is, however, about an absence of editorial triage and guidance, and that’s a big difference. It doesn’t mean the book’s automatically crap, but it does mean that there are basic standards it didn’t have to meet–and most that I see don’t.

          We’re talking a novice writer and a fiction manuscript. Those two are a very bad combination without guidance, and self-publishing is significant there.

          1. Jamie*

            That’s exactly what I was trying to say below about the QC controls in publishing.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Unfortunately, it still has a bad reputation because of the dreck that slips through, and a lot of POD publishers are crooks. Now maybe that will change in time, and maybe more quality control measures will happen in the industry. I’m going to wait and see and keep trying the regular way before I decide on that.

          1. Nom de Plume*

            Most readers don’t know or care about the difference, though, and that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me as long as people read and enjoy my books. :)

            I only do POD through CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s company, so I trust them. No upfront costs (except ordering your own proofs if you want to). The majority of my sales are eBooks published through their Kindle Direct Publishing platform (also free to publish). Other booksellers have their own platforms too. I’m veering towards going off-topic, and I can’t recall the rules for posting contact info off the top of my head, but I’d love to talk more about my industry with anyone who’s interested.

            1. Persephone Mulberry*

              I’m interested! I have a colleague who is considering publishing a (nonfiction, industry relevant) book and has asked me to help her research her publishing options. You can reach me at fjionna at gmail dot com.

              **I’m also hoping to pick Alison’s brain on this at some point, too. ;)

            2. Golden Yeti*

              Ditto here. I’ve toyed with the idea of a book for years (haven’t gotten so far as which format), so learning more about the different options would be great info to have.

          2. fposte*

            Interestingly, there’s at least one traditional and highly respectable publisher in my field who’s POD. However, he’s always been an innovator, and it works because his reputation was behind him.

        3. Rev.*

          Nom, I’m with you on this one. I’ve self-pubbed two books now, and working on a third. I take what I do seriously, and it’s a shame that most people have a negative opinion of SP books. Personally, I think it’s due to a long-held stranglehold that traditional publishing has had on the industry; I think that traditional publishing has more than its share of “dreck” too.

          I wonder what William Shakespeare could have done with a PC?

          It probably will take a combination of time and quality offerings by self-pubbers before the snob reflex toward SP changes. It’s also appropriate to note here that many traditional publishing authors suffered multiple rejections before being picked up by their houses (J.K. Rowling comes to mind; the Harry Potter concept was rejected 8 times before becoming…well, Harry Potter. Tyler Perry is another example.)

          Now, as far as the question posed by the OP?

          Erotica, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder; is it possible for some of us AAM-ites to behold what was published? I’m sure a select committee could be formed to give this manuscript a fair and impartial editorial viewing? Then we can decide whether or not the OP is correct in his assessment of the situation, or is merely behaving in what we might say is a puritanical manner.

          Of course, I’d be more than happy to screen it for you kind people and give you my report on it; y’all being so busy with other things and all. And, it goes without saying that my services would be gratis. It’s the least I could do…


    2. Jamie*

      Yes, I think people would absolutely have a problem with someone distributing and promoting a self-published religious book at work.

      The mocking wouldn’t be as funny.

      I don’t understand your point about them being adults. Yes, the mocking is immature – but “acting like pre-teens who just saw their first nudie magazine.” They are reacting to how wildly inappropriate it is to share this with co-workers, not curiosity.

      And it is wildly inappropriate and IMO a fire-able offense, and that has nothing to do with prudery. Most adults have sex lives and/or thoughts about sex. That doesn’t make it appropriate to share any of that with people you happen to work with.

      And he’s sending out promotional emails to the people he works with. This is X rated material which means he’s promoting pornography to co-workers. If this is from his work account that’s a big deal. If it’s from his personal account to others work emails which he has for work purposes it’s also a big deal. If it’s to personal friends he happens to work with, from his personal account to their personal accounts and it’s not discussed or distributed at work…that’s another story…but that’s not what’s happening.

      He’s incurring a liability for the company – I’m not saying it’s a slam dunk but multiple contacts about x rated material when you’re just trying to earn a living….it’s a lucky break he hasn’t already had people screaming to HR. Unchecked, this is a problem.

      1. BCW*

        Yeah, but which is worse? That he wrote it and told people or that they are reading it out loud at lunch and making fun of him? I’d go with the mocking thing being unprofessional and really just mean spirited. Regardless of the content, I just don’t see how people think thats ok.

        1. Sunflower*

          Hmm I’m not sure reading parts aloud in the lunch room count as reacting to how wildly inappropriate it is.

          In fact, it doesn’t sound like anyone in the office is offended by this. Everyone seems worried about conservative managers finding out but OP hasn’t mentioned anyone being offended. I’m not saying that it’s right to be throwing this stuff in people’s faces- regardless of the content of the book, he shouldn’t be wildly promoting it at work- but doesn’t sound like that is the issue. In fact, OP sounds most worried(understandably) about the guys feelings getting hurt.

        2. Jamie*

          I think they are both wildly inappropriate – no one wins this race to the bottom.

          On the one hand it’s cruel to be deliberately mocking and derisive about something someone is proud of having done. That’s not professional behavior.

          On the other hand nothing excuses passing out x-rated material at work like it’s Valentine’s Day in 3rd grade. I don’t think anyone is saying the mocking is okay – just that it’s understandable.

          People joke about sex (because most of us are still 12 in some ways) and people joke when they are uncomfortable. This combines the two in a perfect storm kinda way. No one wants to know what kind of sex their co-workers think or write about…and no one wants to have read the same sex scenes as everyone they work with. So it’s awkward – what do people do when things are awkward? Crack jokes and mocking how badly written it happens to be is a way to slightly divert the conversation from the explicitly creepy.

          No it’s not nice – but it’s definitely avoidable.

          Look, if I order pizza tonight and the pizza delivery guy makes a nasty comment about not wanting to sleep with me that’s on him and he’s shitty because who the heck asked him, I was just ordering pizza for my kids.

          But if I greeted him at the door naked and asked him to come in I should not be surprised by anything he said or that I was the talk of the pizza shop – because when you show way too much of yourself to other people in a business transaction you risk embarrassment.

          If you don’t want people talking about your personal stuff don’t put it out on the proverbial front porch. That said, if people do put their mock worthy stuff on their front porch others should do the decent thing and not make fun but rather kindly suggest they put that stuff away before someone called the HOA.

          1. Anna*

            I think we’re confusing sexually explicit and sexually suggestive. Based on your understanding, I wouldn’t even dare recommend a book to someone because it MIGHT have a passage in it that MIGHT be suggestive. I don’t think we’re talking about a creep pushing his Penthouse Letters on his coworkers, it sounds more along the lines of just about anything you can find in the romance aisle at B&N.

            1. Jamie*

              The OP said x rated – which is explicit. I wasn’t referring to merely suggestive.

    3. OP*

      So, to clarify, the book falls more into the romance classification than erotica. There are lots (and lots) of sex scenes but there is a “plot” outside of the sex.

      So, I’m actually going to agree that it would not have received the same reaction if it were a religious book, and here’s why. Pushing your religion on coworkers is uncomfortable and inappropriate, but generally, unless you are claiming to be Level 5 Laser Lotus or something, people won’t make fun of you for it. Even if you’re pushing poorly written tracts that have never been proofread, they would be more likely to complain to management than make fun.

      Pushing a book with this excessive amount of sexual content in it is so obviously inappropriate that it’s ridiculous, and making fun of someone’s poor understanding of pillow talk and physics is easier to justify (to ourselves) than joking about their deeply held spiritual beliefs. And once you start talking about one aspect of the book, it sort of opens the door for “Hey did you realize that every time he introduces a new character he uses first, middle and last names?” or “Wasn’t it funny that he spent an entire page talking about a throwaway character’s investment portfolio?”

      1. fposte*

        Oh, dear. That sounds like mocking this has really taken on a life of its own, and while I can understand why, I definitely agree with your feeling that it’s a problem.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Coworkers have too much time on their hands and too much space available in their thoughts.

          Some work places are like this. The author took a risk, put himself out there and stuff like this happens. Tabloids are filled with stuff that comes under the heading of “who cares?” This sounds like more of that.

          I think this says volumes about the type of people you work with, OP. As others said before, I agree, stay out of it and let the thing run its course. I guess I would do that by being ready with another subject to use as a distraction.

          Let’s say Jane starts talking about something in the book. If others are there you are off the hook- say nothing. If it is just you and Jane then say something like “Oh, yeah, someone else mentioned that, too. Hey, do you know anything about that tornado watch they were talking about on the news last night?”

          I have worked with people that would swear up and down I have ZERO ability to follow a conversation…. sigh.

      2. Nerdling*

        Yeah, that definitely sounds like a problem. I think about all you can do is to keep out of the conversations and try to change the subject when you can.

  6. Adam*

    Oh I feel bad for this guy. He probably really is nice but very naive. As someone who has had dreams of writing fiction myself, I imagine being proud of actually finishing something and now hoping to soak up the accolades is a common feeling. But you have got to know your audience. It doesn’t matter how bad your published work is. We can all point to well known books, movies, or whatever that are outright atrocious but still managed to make their way to the public. But actively promoting your work which could double as…erm…elicit reading material at work probably only flies socially or even professionally if you work at a store that sells “adult items” as it were…

  7. Celeste*

    It’s okay to have had enough.

    When the coworker keeps promoting it, you can ask to be taken off of his distribution. You don’t have to say why unless you want to, you can just say thanks for understanding.

    When the coworkers won’t let it go, I would either say I’ve got to get going, or if I can’t leave, I would say I’ve heard enough about that old thing, and introduce a new topic.

    If one person can walk away from this, then others might follow. Lead the way!

    1. LQ*

      I think this is a good angle to take with the coworkers. It’s old, it’s boring, it’s time for the next thing, let it go and move on.
      “Are you still talking about that?”

  8. Leah*

    Ick. The only suggestion I have is that when people bring it up that you say something along the lines of, “Ick. Can we talk about something else? I’m already having nightmares about this as it is. You see Game of Thrones (or any random watercooler topic) this week? ” in a light, playful tone. Sure, you’re not having actual nightmares but it makes the point without scolding your co-workers.

      1. A.*

        If the group’s response was to only talk about the crazy sex stuff on the show in graphic detail, that would be equally inappropriate as the guy handing out the porno book. But I’m guessing they would just discuss the general plot points (“OMG, _____ actually killed ____! Totally didn’t see that coming!”)

        1. nyxalinth*

          More shocking than the sex and that Whatzit killed Whozit would be “OMG So and So did NOT die!” :D I swear I’ve never seen such a kill-happy author, and I thought it was bad when J.K Rowling killed off some characters in pointless ways (literally dropped a rock on one, IIRC).

          Still good stories though!

      2. Adam*

        True dat. I came to the series late and the sexual stuff in the first episode is what struck me first and foremost (in a WTF?!? sort of way).

  9. Lamington*

    I feel sorry for the guy but not sorry enough to block his unrequested promotions. I would tell him nicely but firmly that his genre is not my cup of tea and I’m not interested on purchasing a book from him. We have the same problem with a coworker publishing a poetry book, but she only asked once and gave us a link so it was up to us to buy it.

  10. Sam*

    The reading out loud thing makes me think of a job a few years ago that had a lot of downtime (think ticket taker at amusement park). We all used to take turns reading out loud the dirty parts from the free romance novels we’d download on our kindle…

    Ah, memories.

    1. Sunflower*

      The summer 50 shades of grey came out we used to come home after the bars and read it out loud to each other. Come to think of it, we actually did that pretty much anytime we were bored so a lot of the time lol

  11. Jamie*

    Practical question, how does one have book signings for a self-published book?

    Do you just sit on your porch or what?

    1. Nerdling*

      You arrange a time either in your home or in a local bookstore where the employees just want to get people in the doors, even if it’s because of your potentially really awful prose, and then you spam the heck out of every single person you know via email, Twitter, Facebook, and any other method to try to convince them to attend. Not that I’ve been on the receiving end of this or anything…

      1. Jamie*

        Thanks – makes sense. Although not nearly as easy as my thought to print up about 100 pages of my emails at random, have them printed and bound, then sit on my couch and require my family to repeatedly as for my autograph.

          1. Jamie*

            Yeah – the one where my husband and I go back and forth about who is taking our youngest to the orthodontist…it’s a must read.

        1. anon~*

          OMG Jamie – I can’t stop laughing at the thought of making my family repeatedly come into the living room ask for my autograph. Thank you for making me laugh until I had tears running down my face!

      2. Rev.*

        Local libraries are a good place, too. I donated a copy of mine to a local library, and the local paper snapped a photo, and did a nice little article.

        “Local Author Donates New Book to Library.”

        It had a Mayberry kinda feel to it, but, hey, it’s all good.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Also restaurants and bars. I went to a self-published book party in a bar not that long ago.

    2. Adam*

      And the real fun part is that most self-published books these days are almost all digital from what I can see.

    3. fposte*

      And even with standard publications, author signings can be self-generated. I also used to go to swell the ranks for a friend who organized them for her bookstore when she was worried that nobody’d show.

      1. TL*

        That was probably the most heartbreaking part of working in a bookstore – the signings where only one or two or three people showed up.


        1. Sunflower*

          Maybe it’s just the recent downfall of physical book stores but I never know when book signings are happening. Even now I only see them if I follow the author on twitter!

          1. TL*

            Ours was pretty good about taking ads out in the local paper, putting up a bulletin board outside, and advertising them inside – the website had a very nice calendar (I still sadly stalk it some months, though I’m now thousands of miles away), and they’d pass out paper calendars.

            Most bookstores have an events calendar on their website, so once you find a store you like, just check their website every month.

    4. the gold digger*

      Here’s how it worked with a woman my husband, Primo, knows. She self published her book and brought it to the fundraiser Primo and I had at our house when Primo was running for the state house two years ago. She did not donate to the fundraiser (which is What is Done with fundraisers) and she did not bring any food or booze. What she did bring was her self published book, which she tried to sell to our guests.

      After she left, I told Primo I never wanted her in my house again.

      Which would have been the end of the story, but yesterday, she posted something on her facebook page announcing Primo’s run for Congress (oh yes – the campaign drama is starting again) and she included personal photos that Primo had put on his facebook page two years ago. I mean, photos of ME and OUR CATS. It is so creepy I can’t stand it. Who saves someone else’s personal photos on her own facebook page?

      She is not an asset to Primo’s campaign.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Ugh, whe sounds like a nightmare.

        Not quite the same, but my up-until-30-days-ago-estranged mother-in-law posts our personal photos on her page. I found out she posted our Halloween photo from ~5 years ago, which was weird. We were dressed as Dog & Beth from Dog the Bounty Hunter. My thought was the same: You DO NOT get to post other people’s pictures on your page.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          (I meant she posted it recently, which was even weirder. Not 5 years ago, when it may have been on my husband’s page.)

        2. Laura*

          OT: I had a former friend do this to me recently (emphasis on the former). I foster cats, and I had a mummy cat with 6 babies that all died of distemper within 5 days of each other. This person had taken cellphone snaps of the cats while they were healthy, and during/after their passings, she posted the pictures on Instagram with the accompanying “OMG SO SAD RIGHT NOW YOU WERE THE BEST CATS IN THE WORLD #RIP #LOVEYOU” etc.

          How glad I was that she got to make a public dinner party out of my grief.

  12. nep*

    Recently did an online training on sexual harassment in the workplace and related issues — all I can think of as I read OP’s note is hostile work environment. Yikes.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Yes, I’m a little surprised more people & Alison haven’t mentioned this. I work in construction, so there is always point made about *not* creating a hostile work environment. Not so much as a bikini-clad model calendar is allowed.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I didn’t raise it because it’s not clear that this rises to the legal standard for harassment (severe or pervasive), but also because it doesn’t seem like the major issue here.

  13. ClaireS*

    Top points for the “no on expects the Spanidh inquisition” reference. Brilliant!

  14. Poofeybug*

    Please let us not forget the funniest and amazing insight of all time about office management behavior: “Usually it’s entirely hands-off until a situation reaches the tipping point and it turns into the Spanish Inquisition”!

    Do we work in the same office? If so, c’mon over with this book because I didn’t get a copy.

  15. An-only for the moment*

    Regardless of his lack of judgement (I SO wish someone in a position to actually address this would write AAM), I feel pretty bad for this guy. Writing and self-publishing a book is a huge undertaking, so good for you for actively looking to step away from those ridiculing him, even if you don’t love the book or agree with his inappropriate promotional strategy. Stonefaced “wow” or “ouch” are oldie but goodies in stepping away from this behavior without condoning it with silence.

    A rule that’s been helping me with the mouth shutting is if you have to qualify it, don’t say it. There’s nary a ‘but,’ ‘maybe,’ or ‘I think’ to be had in my most successful workplace interactions. I don’t need a plethora of opinions at work. My partner still thinks I’m quite opinionated, but to anyone remotely connected to my job, the goal is to speak in facts whenever possible. Lots of weather talk, but it keeps me out of office politics and people generally think I’m nice. I don’t always succeed at keeping my opinions to myself, but facts are much less likely to be held against me and I’m less likely to wish them back into my mouth five seconds after I say them.

    1. OP*

      I think this is probably going to be the best way to go. While I can probably quell (or at least avoid) some of the more damaging talk around this book, I am going to have to adopt a long-term strategy. Apparently there are other books in line, including one about (plots somewhat altered to protect the innocent) psychic Alzheimer’s patients and another about ferrets with guns.

      I think restraint is one of those essential business skills that you don’t realize is necessary until you’re actually in the working world. It’s been a hard one for me, but there’s no time like the present to start practicing it.

      1. Jamie*

        I know you altered the plots, but if you ever write a book about ferrets with guns I need a copy of that.

        1. Office Mercenary*

          +1! I would love a story about psychic Alzheimer’s patients who save the world from armed ferret villains.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Are this his ideas or yours?
        If they are actually his ideas, I think this will eventually burn out. It will take time.
        People who refuse to keep discussing it will encourage that burn out to move along faster.

    1. OP*

      Interestingly enough, I was trying to figure out how to describe this book, and The Room is what came to mind as far as dialogue, pacing, subtlety, etc.

  16. Nom de Plume*

    This is a tough one for me. I write romance novels for a living and publish them independently, and when my coworkers found out (shortly before I quit my job to write full-time) they wouldn’t stop hounding me to know what my pen name was. What I write isn’t as explicit as 50 Shades, but it’s definitely not for kids. I finally relented and shared my pen name, and brought some copies of the book in for people who wanted to read it. Everyone raved about it and was very supportive, but who knows if people are making fun of me behind my back?

    Books like 50 Shades have made this kind of thing a lot more mainstream, and the culture surrounding it might have made this guy think it was perfectly acceptable to do this kind of thing. I mean, from the sounds of it, he’s not inviting people to sex toy parties – he’s talking about promotion and exciting stuff surrounding his book, and it just so happens that his book has a lot of sexual content. It could be that he’s just oblivious, or it could be that some of his coworkers have left him with the impression that they’re interested in and supportive of his work, even if the content isn’t workplace-appropriate. Maybe he’s just tone-deaf, or maybe people are hiding their discomfort a little too well. He should be told gently, I guess, but I feel bad for the guy. Especially if workplace chatter has left him with the impression that his co-workers read and enjoy these kinds of books.

    Maybe he’s promoting it too aggressively for ANY book, but it’s hard to get a sense for that from the letter. It just sounds like a situation that’s spiraled out of control.

    P.S. I mentioned this briefly above, but I don’t think the fact that it’s “self-published” is relevant. Self-publishing is legitimate nowadays, and while it might make it easier to make fun of on its face, wouldn’t this behavior be just as bothersome if he had a publisher?

      1. Nom de Plume*

        Maybe – but it’s pretty difficult to judge from the post. A lot of traditionally-published romance now has scenes in it that I’d be embarrassed to talk about with my co-workers, unless I was already pretty comfortable with them! It’s just hard to tell if his book is really as over-the-top as the post makes it sound, or if his coworkers simply aren’t the right audience for it.

    1. Jamie*

      It would be just as bothersome if he had a publisher or if it was his blog with these stories that he’s promoting. And I don’t get the impression that people are mocking that it’s self-published, they are mocking the quality and subject matter.

      Books published through traditional publishers have been selected and their content vetted at least by someone, and you may find an off typo or two but having an editor clean up grammatical and spelling issues will make one at least read more professionally than one that was only proofed and edited by the author. I’m sure there is great self published stuff out there and we all know there are crappy books traditionally published – but there are built in QC controls with published as opposed to self-published.

      But I agree that it doesn’t matter in this instance, it’s the subject matter being distributed and promoted at work that is the issue – not the medium.

      1. Nom de Plume*

        I won’t get all political about my industry here, but you might actually be surprised by how little quality control goes into a lot of traditionally-published books. They might be proofed, but they are seldom edited anymore. Cuts are being made all across the industry, and comprehensive line-edits were one of the first things to go. Yes, someone besides the author has to green-light the book, but that seldom has anything to do with objective literary “quality” standards, particularly in genre fiction.

        Really, I think the fact that it’s technically POSSIBLE for someone to just publish a load of gibberish leads people to draw a lot of conclusions about self-publishing in general. But that’s really quite rare. The quality gap between traditionally-publisehd and self-published books, in my experience as a reader, is non-existent. I tend to prefer self-published books because they can follow storylines and explore ideas that publishers don’t see the value/marketability in – because so many of them are dinosaurs.

        It’s impossible to say for sure, but I’d bet people are a lot more comfortable making fun of his book because it’s self-published. Especially if he’s talking about potential movie deals, etc. All of that stuff sounds a lot more plausible if you have the appearance of legitimacy from a publisher, although in reality it’s still just as unlikely.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think this might depend on the publisher? When my book for managers was published a couple of years ago, there was a pretty significant editing process with the publisher.

          1. Nom de Plume*

            It definitely does, and I think it might be different for non-fiction too. But authors in my industry definitely don’t get much in the way of support, whether it’s comprehensive edits, or promotion, or anything along those lines. Romance can be a lot more churn-and-burn than some other genres.

            1. Ursula*

              My co-worker had a fiction ebook published by a small publisher last year and it went through a huge editing process. He would kvetch about it all the time. The primary editor was comma happy and drove him batty.

        2. Jamie*

          It’s the absence of any vetting process whatsoever that draws the distinction for many people. The analogies I can draw is to business.

          If someone is the CEO of a multimillion dollar business that says something about how professionally successful they are. People are vetted by their employers rising over the years or getting hired in against some very stiff competition. Some may be overrated, maybe some suck, but there was a process by which they got the chair.

          If someone is the CEO of their own multimillion dollar business I would say that might even be more impressive. A lot more personal financial risk involved and the stakes tend to be higher. Anyone can start a business, not just anyone can start and maintain a successful one. Anyone can self publish, but not just anyone can find a market and audience with a demand for their work.

          Just like I could open my own business today and name myself CEO, for no more than what it costs to get a tax ID. I don’t think one could argue that with no customers and no revenue that my title company should be viewed the same way as one that is successful. Anyone can open a business, anyone can self publish…it’s the actual achievements that separate the successful from the cringe worthy.

          It’s not disparaging to those who make a living being self employed or self published to acknowledge that people tend to give more weight to things which have been through some kind of vetting process as opposed to none.

          1. Nom de Plume*

            Sure, I don’t think it’s illogical to draw a distinction, but I also think there are a lot of assumptions and misunderstandings involved. I’m admittedly sensitive to it, since I have to deal with watching people cringe a little every time I tell them what I do for a living. But if you say “I’m self-employed, and the CEO of my own company” you simply WON’T – by and large – get the same reaction as “I’m a self-published author.” People have much more built-in prejudice against self-published books specifically, because they are thinking of shady POD books about the reptilian elite from the ’70s. It’s not JUST about the lack of vetting process, it’s about their experiences and beliefs, which are often outdated or based on unfair assumptions.

            1. Jamie*

              What you’re describing is very similar to the looks people give you when you tell them you’re an independent contractor in IT – many people consider that code for unemployed.

              I know a lot of people making a very nice living as independent IT contractors – far more successful financially than I will ever be working for an employer …but the vetting problem applies. It may be a low bar, but the assumption is that if a company hired you to do their IT you must know something. If you’re independent they don’t know if you are great and just prefer working for yourself (many do) or if you aren’t good enough to get hired, or anywhere on the spectrum in between.

              It applies to everything where there is no vetting process. What I’ve seen in independent IT contractors is they just accept this and either don’t bother with people judging them for sport and pony up references for potential new clients.

              In areas where you will inherently have geniuses lumped in with wannabes the geniuses just can’t take it personally or they’ll be miserable.

              Once you get past the superficial where people are judging you on your work other people’s opinions lose their weight.

              There are dogs out there with ribbons from dog shows proving that they are beautiful. If I said to you that my mutts who wouldn’t know what to do in a dog show except sniff hineys and try to find low lying human food were just as beautiful you might not believe me as readily – because those dogs with ribbons and have been vetted while mine have not.

              But once you met mine you’d know they were worthy of 1000 ribbons … it’s the same with this stuff. Let people think what they will and you don’t have to prove anything to them. Work and success will speak for itself to those who matter.

              1. Nom de Plume*

                That’s really interesting! I was self-employed before I was self-published and I never ran into the kind of prejudices that people have specifically against self-publishing. But it’s not a huge surprise that kind of thing goes on in a lot of industries.

                I could never go back to working for someone else now. Once you taste that freedom there’s no turning back. :) Now technically with a publisher I wouldn’t be working FOR someone else, but let’s just say they’d have to offer me a pretty incredible deal.

                I know of someone who turned away a publisher’s offer of over half a million in advance for a book, so she could self-publish instead. Now THAT is the action of somebody who really doesn’t care what anybody else thinks!

              2. anon-2*

                Sadly, “Independent IT Consultant” does OFTEN mean “unemployed” — but it does NOT mean *unemployable*.

                I attend professional trade shows as part of my job. Often at national conferences – where there is a substantial registration fee, and often travel to get to the site – there aren’t too many unemployed people. There are SOME who get a pass to the exhibit hall, and the post-conference receptions, but few unemployed show up.

                The local conferences – different story – I’d say I see perhaps 20-30 percent of the attendees are now “independent consultants”. These are low cost functions.

                The problem is – recruiting is largely prohibited at these trade shows and conferences , and for legitimate reasons.

                One, companies send their employees there to be educated – but NOT to be recruited away.

                Two – it’s an educational forum, and/or a professional conference – it’s not a job fair.

                I digress – I’m getting off-topic but hope it’s a contribution just the same. So – the BEST thing, I think, for someone who’s out – attend these conferences and CONTRIBUTE. If you get up and do a session on a topical subject – it IS an interview!

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              If if bothers you, I think you could probably head off some of that judgment by just adding a sentence about how you’ve been lucky to make a good living off of it, or something like that.

              1. Nom de Plume*

                Yes, I’ve done a bit of that – I’ve actually come up with a lot of clever wording to circumvent the phrase “self-published” completely. I find if I use that term at all, I get a lot of concerned questions about whether I have to pay up front, do I have to wire money to a Nigerian bank account to claim my royalties, etc. etc. :) It’s usually not bad, and mostly I enjoy talking about it with people, but sometimes I do long for a boring job where I could just give a one-word answer and move on to talking about the weather. (Not really, though…I love what I do, but sometimes all the explanations get exhausting! It was a relief when I met someone who had some experience with formatting ebooks and wanted to talk JUST about that the entire time, instead of my writing specifically. So much fun to get geeky and techy about stuff rather than trying to explain to a stranger that I wrote a book about a girl who falls in love with a werewolf – and yes, people like to read that…)

            3. Rev.*

              “… It’s not JUST about the lack of vetting process, it’s about their experiences and beliefs, which are often outdated or based on unfair assumptions…”

              +10. People have what I’ve heard referred to as the “expert bias.” We tend to get a majority of our opinions from who we accept as “experts,” regardless of their actual experience or expertise, or, more importantly, long-term success.

              A really good example of this is sports prognostication. Each year, the “experts” weigh in on which team will do what–at the end of the season, who actually turned out to be correct? Yet we continue to bet huge sums of money based on what our “expert” tells us, and swallow their opinions like BBQ.

        3. fposte*

          I work extensively with publishers and editors and I see everything published in my genre; I can assure you that there’s still a lot of editing going on and it’s a big part of what differentiates self-published from traditionally published books.

          There are sucky traditionally published books and decent self-published books, so I’m not going to say the former are always better than the latter. But the overall level of polish and quality remains on average considerably higher in the traditionally published books, because they don’t include the chancers with a dream but no talent. Self-published books include a lot of those.

          1. Nom de Plume*

            On the other hand, I don’t know a single self-published author who doesn’t put their book through several rounds of professional editing, proofing, and critique. It’s just not an across-the-board thing – which I guess was kinda my point.

            1. fposte*

              It’s one of those individual versus class things–I wouldn’t agree with a statement that self-published books are as good as traditionally published books, but I would certainly agree with a statement that a self-published book can be as good as a traditionally published book.

              1. Anna*

                I’ve read some really awful self-published books and some really awful traditionally published books (*cough*DaVinciCode*cough*). But one of the books I read last year that I loved and am looking forward to the sequel for was self-published. The author is using self-publishing because he looked at the state of YA lit and realized there aren’t any stories being published that represent who he was growing up. So he did it himself and it’s a great story. Basically, self-publishing is an option if you’re writing things the publishing industry don’t see as viable. Like almost anything featuring a Black kid as the protagonist.

      2. nyxalinth*

        Sturgeon’s Law is in full effect, published or no, I’m afraid!

        Someone ok’ed crap like ’50 Shades of Gray’, and meanwhile lots of good stuff doesn’t get published, because publishing is a business like any other. So if you write the Awesome Book of Awesome and everyone at the publishing house loves it, but the suits don’t think it will sell, then it will get rejected. And if someone writes Crappy McCrappy Novel of Doom, but if they think it will sell….

        I used to asked myself “Gee, Mr or Ms Book Critic, if it’s so bad, why did they publish it?’. The above is the reason why, usually.

        1. CC*

          There’s more than just whether a publishing house thinks it will sell regardless of quality — there are also different audiences for different types of books, and they consider that as well. Some people enjoy literary novels, others don’t. Doesn’t mean they’re bad. Some people enjoy romance, others don’t. Doesn’t mean they’re bad. Some people enjoy science fiction, thrillers, fantasy, mystery, you name it — and other people don’t.

          Doesn’t mean they’re inherently poor quality.

          Just means it’s not what you like.

          I didn’t like Game of Thrones. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, just means I don’t like it, and therefore will not bother to read or watch any more of it.

          Lots of people (including lots of critics) don’t make that distinction. I saw a movie critic lambasting a superhero movie by applying the conventions and mores of a serious drama and complaining when it didn’t fit. It was kind of ridiculous.

          1. nyxalinth*

            Oh, I know. I should have mentioned genre had to do with it to. So, amend my words to include the book being appropriate for the genre.

            1. CC*

              Even within a genre. Genres are big.

              (When I say I don’t like GoT, I should perhaps have mentioned that I like fantasy…)

        2. anon-2*

          Now – here’s where it’s important to note — something doesn’t have to necessarily be GOOD to get published. There just has to be a market for it. And there IS a big difference.

          Why do foul mouthed rap singers make more money than musicians at Symphony Hall?

          Why do intelligent news analysts find themselves on the bread line, while shock-jocks and right-wing kook radio hosts laugh all the way to the bank?

          It ain’t the quality – it’s what people will pay for.

      3. OP*

        “And I don’t get the impression that people are mocking that it’s self-published, they are mocking the quality and subject matter.”

        Absolutely. None of us really care that it’s self-published, because writing a book is impressive, period, end of story. Ultimately it’s the combination of bad writing and gratuitous sex scenes. If it were just poorly written, no one would care. If it had well-written sex scenes, there might be a remark or two, but it would die down. With their powers combined, you get something hilariously cringe-worthy.

    2. The IT Manager*

      “Self-published” makes it much, much more likely to be of a low quality with cringe worthy sentences and ackward and confusing euphemisms. Tell yourself all you want that a few self-published works have made to jumped to commercially published. There’s a good subset of self-published work that is just plain bad and that has had no editting. Commercially published works at least go through a very intense editing process.

      1. fposte*

        It’s also kind of like self-recommendation vs. manager recommendation. In traditional publishing, somebody else felt this book was an asset to their company. In self-publishing, I think this book is an asset to me. My belief about what an asset I am isn’t as convincing to others as my manager’s.

        1. Nom de Plume*

          It really depends on how personally attached you feel to your book, I suppose. I’m a businessperson and I’m interested in putting out a product that my readers want. I’m as qualified to judge that as anybody else, after a few years of writing, reading widely, and researching the industry and consumer trends/feedback.

          This guy might not have done that, but it’s also possible that he did. His coworkers aren’t necessarily experts on what those readers want. There are a lot of scenes in 50 Shades that are cringeworthy and laughable to a lot of people, and yet…

      2. Nom de Plume*

        Actually, traditionally published books are rarely edited in any comprehensive way. It’s been like that for several years now, as the industry looks for effective ways to cut costs.

        1. fposte*

          That’s simply not true. There may be genres where it’s more true, but there’s still a considerable amount of comprehensive editing in publishing.

          1. Nom de Plume*

            You’re right, I overstated it with bad terminology posted hastily. I’m actually heartened to hear so much about it still going on in this comment thread; from everything I’ve heard from authors I know, it sounded like comprehensive editing was basically dead. (Maybe it actually is in my genre, who knows.)

            1. KarenT*

              Have to agree with fposte on this one. I’ve worked in publishing my whole career and while cuts are definitely being made, editing, including line edits and substantive edits are still an integral part of the process. Now, I’ve only worked for the large publishing houses, so I could definitely see smaller publishers needing to cut back on these things to survive financially.

              1. Muriel Heslop*

                I work for a small niche publisher and we haven’t made any cuts and our editing is pretty comprehensive. There is a LOT of back and forth with authors.

        2. LMW*

          I feel like sometimes, especially with the books that get all the hype, the real polish comes in the first 60 pages (the ones that go in the proposal, that get trotted out and shared with the higher ups and marketing team), and then they often forget about it. And if it’s a series, the latter books don’t get the same attention as the first, because they are rushing to publish the next piece of the series. I’ve read so many books/series lately that start out promising and then I’m cringing by the end, thinking “Where the hell was their editor on this?”

        3. Robin*

          Definitely not true at my publishing house. I am sometimes amazed at what the editors find, or suggest, to make my book better.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Slightly O/T, but regarding your party-hosting comment. . .

      We have a car for sale, and some people brought us a deposit last week and the woman enclosed a couple business cards for her passion party consulting/hosting business. I was completely weirded out by that & glad when they backed out the next day.

  17. The IT Manager*

    I once suffered through a very painful self-published draft of a novel. This author had expections for actual publication. He was actually proud of the fact that he incuded footnotes for his mass of info dumping in the beginning. And by the end of the novel it turned into some seemingly wish-fullfillment sex thing where the old guy gets to have lots and lots of sex with a willing and kinky young woman. So LW has my sympathies, but in my situation at least it wasn’t someone I knew from work. I sure as heck wanted to stop reading, but I felt obligated since I said I would.

    The author should not be using work emails to promote his books and should be giving them out at work. Only if he knows someone well enough to have their personal email and see them outside of work should a co-worker know about it.

        1. Kelly L.*

          There was a scathing column a few years ago about this type of book. I don’t want to google it while I’m at work, but I think it was called something like “Fond Memories of P**sy” and it’s total wish fulfillment.

  18. kay*

    I think the second instance of “sexual content ” in the post was suppose to be “sexually explicit”. I might just be reading it wrong.

  19. RMc*

    I think that since your bosses haven’t done anything about this (btw, how out of the loop are they?), just take it in stride and be grateful for a good laugh. Of course, don’t participate in mocking him behind his back, but he’s an adult–with terrible judgment–and it’s not your responsibility to do anything.

    A good Monday post! :-)

  20. Elizabeth West*

    Pushing sexual content on his coworkers would be bad enough, but coupled with the extreme enthusiasm for his own self-published work (a TV show and a play and a movie, huh?) … I’m cringing over here and I don’t even know the guy.

    Yeah, me too.

    (When not if!) I publish something, I may announce it and if people want to see it, I’ll send them a link to my blog (where no doubt I’ll be going on and on about it), or tell them where they can buy it if they’re interested. Other than that, it doesn’t belong at work no matter if it has sex in it or not.

    An online friend of mine nearly drove us crazy when he published an e-book with a small press. He hounded us with links and yelling “Buy it!” every five minutes so that I actually wrote in the notes for Current Work, “If this gets published, don’t do what Bob did!” At least, I won’t do that to my friends.

    1. Sunflower*

      This is my problem too. Not the content but the constant pushing of the book. I don’t care if you wrote a book that can cure cancer- send it once and say ‘hey I wrote a book, if you want to check it out here is where you can see it’ and then that’s it. Let people come to you if they want to find out more.

    2. LMW*

      I was so worried about pulling a Bob that I don’t think I pushed my book enough. I didn’t really ask friends or family to buy it…if they wanted a copy, I gave them one of mine. But then, my book was on an insanely narrow topic, so it had a limited audience anyway.
      But I get a little tired of my grad school friends constantly shilling their work to our grad school circle. Our alumni Facebook page is over 100 people now, and I can’t buy everyone’s book.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t have a problem with tweets, announcements on Facebook, and the like. I didn’t even mind it when he talked about it, because people (including me) were interested. It was the incessant “Yeah, we’re talking about X subject, but you should really just read my book! *link link link link link*”

        BTW I did finally buy it just to shut him up and read it. It wasn’t bad, though a genre I don’t typically read.

  21. Sunflower*

    I agree with Allison to not take part in mocking him and maybe mention to your co-workers that they shouldn’t be mocking him either. I’m sure if any on of them wrote a book and found out their coworkers were making fun of it that they wouldn’t feel too good about themselves. I’m sure he put a lot of effort into the book, regardless of the material inside so just please do what you can to not hurt the guys feelings.

    Is it possible that maybe your coworkers are giving off vibes that you are supporting his constant promotion and that’s why he keeps doing it?

  22. Eden*

    I’m cringing. So massively uncomfortable for everyone except Randy McSelfpublishedpants. I know I would not be able to look this co-worker in the eye! This is a situation though where I think the only thing to do is stand back and watch the trains crash.

    No one with that level of cluelessness will probably be sensitive to suggestions that this might not be appropriate in the workplace.

  23. bridget*

    FYI, Alison, I think I spot a typo. “Taking” instead of “talking” in the last paragraph.

  24. Poohbear McGriddles*

    Hang onto your cumquats, because when this story hits Broadway he’ll have the last laugh.

    1. Mallory*

      It’ll be baaaad like the musical that Bette Middler’s character starred in in “Beaches” — the “titsling” vs. “brassier” number . . .

  25. Annie O*

    Even after reading and re-reading the letter, I still can’t decide if this situation is “co-worker keeps pushing his crappy erotica on us and we’ve lost all decorum” or “the office has encouraged co-worker to promote his erotic book while simultaneously gossiping behind his back, and this situation is now spiraling out of control.”

    Sigh. Either way, the advice to the OP is the same: Don’t be a jerk. Specifically, don’t encourage or instigate gossip. Don’t lie to his face and talk trash behind his back. In fact, just back yourself from this weird situation; this is the kind of thing you don’t want to dirty yourself with.

  26. Jeanne*

    All I can think is eewwwww. I would be wondering if the “romance” scenes were giving us way too much information on his own interests. I don’t want to know that about coworkers.

    Your instincts are right in trying to stay out of the bashing and mocking. At some point, someone will go too far and get in trouble. You don’t want to be involved.

    If you’re the author and get fired, what do you say at your next interview for why you left your job? I can’t imagine.

  27. Jennifer*

    If I had a book published on any topic, I wouldn’t mention it at work for fear that it would interfere with my job. I cannot conceive of pimping my book of porn at my job allllll the time.

  28. Cath in Canada*

    This sounds almost as uncomfortable as when my friend’s ex-husband self-published a novel, and the character that was very obviously based on her was killed off in a rather horrible way…

    1. Jean*

      Um, aside from the minor detail that our society is already awash with depictions of horrible ways to kill people perhaps it’s cause for gratitude that the ex-husband confined himself to merely writing about his fantasies instead of actually enacting them.

      Yeeeesh. I can’t stand violence. Not a big fan of wall-to-wall sex scenes, either, but I’m almost always unhinged by stories in which people run around waving guns (or shooting them) at each other.

  29. Youth Services Librarian*

    There are logical reasons to self-publish, but this person sounds clueless about how marketing works and is acting pretty unprofessionally. This says to me that he falls into the “not one jot or tittle of my deathless prose shall be touched by any hands but mine” school. In which case, any comments to him would most likely be interpreted as personal attacks and probably elicit outraged “how dare you criticize the outpourings of my soul you are a cruel and worthless person why don’t you like meeeeee” reponses. I’d politely excuse myself from any mocking and maybe make a gentle push to get my coworkers to leave the subject alone, but definitely don’t say anything else otherwise.

    I once got a review request for a “small press” that published nothing but books about gerbils, illustrated by photographs of gerbils, featuring gerbils as protagonists. Alas, it wasn’t as amusing as it sounds….

  30. KireinaHito*

    Unless I read the book I can’t tell how erotic it really is, but I actually don’t see what is the problem here. The guy just published a book that happens to be sexually explicit (we don’t actually know HOW explicit it really is), gave copies to some colleagues of his and sent these colleagues (and not the entire office) a couple of e-mails about it. That’s it. Like if the book was about religion, or Roman History, or teapots, it really doesn’t matter as long as he’s otherwise professional, behaves correctly in an office environment and is a good worker.
    The adult and nice thing to do, instead of mocking him, would be just to tell him that the book is a little bit too explicit to talk about it in the office.

  31. Robin*

    I write for a small press and would never push my work onto my day-job co-workers. The stories aren’t explicit, they are “sweet” or Christian romances, but I still wouldn’t presume to ask them to buy copies (or read). In fact, on occasion if I hear one has bought a copy, I’m pleasantly surprised.

  32. anon-2*

    The term “X rated book” can be a matter of interpretation / mis-interpretation. Remember that “Catcher in the Rye” and even the unexpurgated version of the “Diary of Anne Frank” have been considered to be “porn” by some school districts.

    Now, putting that one aside – if the materials being distributed are, in fact, on the sexually oriented, prurient side — ALLOWING them to be dispensed in the office might be construed as being permissive toward sexual harassment.

    So, you managers out there — if someone’s really doing this on your watch – STOP IT as soon as you can.

Comments are closed.