How to Not Be a Jerk at a Book Event

How to Not Be a Jerk at a Book Event

[image description: A row of people sitting in chairs taking notes on the notebooks in their laps. The photo is zoomed in so people are only shown from the neck down.]

I love going to book events and have been fortunate enough to attend many. But there was one that made me want to scream obscenities.

It wasn’t the author’s fault at all, but rather an obnoxious audience member.

Awhile back I was at a book event for Voices from the Rust Belt, an anthology compiled by Anne Trubek, who’s the creator of Belt, a Midwest-centric magazine and small press. She gave us some insight on the process of putting together the anthology and talked about the importance of highlighting voices from the Midwest, especially in the Trump era.

After her talk, the audience was invited to ask questions. Everything was going great for a handful of questions, then a guy in the back of the room raised his hand.

“Yeah, my question is will you be on my radio show?”

Now, let’s stop for a moment to take in the scene.

He’s asking this in front of a room full of people and putting Anne on the spot for a commitment to a media outlet that she knows nothing about. She doesn’t know this guy, doesn’t know anything about his radio show, and he’s expecting her to make a decision––a promise, rather––in front of a room full of her fans.

It was awkward.

She looked a little caught off guard but recovered quickly (much faster than I surely would have) and said “Maybe! Let’s talk after.”

She then attempted to move on to the next person, when the guy interrupted to then tell her about his radio show. He talked about his past guests and how many people tune in to listen and went on and on and ON for like 10 minutes.

At one point, my husband and I turned to each other and rolled our eyes. It was so obvious that this guy wanted to be self-serving and pimp his radio show in front of a crowd, even at the expense of totally disrespecting Anne.

She was handling it graciously, but I was mad on her behalf. I probably would’ve been too awkward to do anything but stand there if I’d been in her shoes.

Then after he went on his 10-minute plug, which was not only rude but totally monopolized the conversation and disrupted the flow of the Q&A, he asked her once again if she’d be on his radio show.

“Like I said, maybe!” she answered again. “We can talk after.”

Sensing he wasn’t getting anywhere, he finally shut up.

The event bounced back and I’m still glad I went, but talking to my friends in the audience afterward was telling. One friend greeted me and the first thing she said after hello and a hug was, “That fucking radio show guy was getting on my nerves!” Another greeted me later and said, “This was really fun but that dude with the radio show needs to learn how to read the room!”

And here’s the thing. Even if he’d had the most popular radio show in the world and truly wanted to help Anne spread the word about her awesome books and had nothing but love in his heart and a desire to shout her work from the rooftops, him trying to make her event all about him and his stupid radio show would’ve still been wrong. A Southerner would say he’s still a Friday turd at a Saturday market. It’s not cool to hijack an author’s event to plug your own stuff. If that’s what he wanted to do, he should’ve organized his own event where he was the star.

I think I was also floored because authors and publishing professionals occupy such a reverential space in my mind. I love books with my whole being and they’re literally the people that bring books to life and birth them from the press into this world. For someone to disrespect them is like slapping the face of a god.

Okay, I’m a little hyperbolic. But it wasn’t cool and I was about ready to punch the dude.

In short, how you avoid being a jerk at a book event is to not be like that guy.

Have you ever seen a veritable jerk at a book event? Tell me in the comments!

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I've got an essay up on Electric Literature!