(Story-Time!) Unsolicited Advice: When to Give It & When to Back the Hell Off
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Something equal parts amusing and annoying happened to me (and no, it’s not the hit-and-run fender-bender). This is Stitches related (but it touches on a broader issue), and I’m also making a neat announcement about my website and forthcoming Etsy store at the end of this post!
I live in a decent-sized New England city, and we have a lot of different shopping options, including a nice downtown and several big-box stores that are either here or in neighboring areas less than fifteen minutes away. Of course, you can also order literally anything you want online from Amazon or another retailer - including books! That being said, I love a good bookstore, and before the one downtown closed I used to go there at least twice a year to browse their collection.
Over the summer, a new bookstore opened in town, and I wasn’t aware of it until recently. Unlike the previous bookstore, it isn’t downtown, but instead is in a nondescript old house converted into retail space (as many houses on the “main drag” in New England towns have been since time immemorial). The retail space is on the first floor, broken up into three or four rooms with no real rhyme or reason in mind, and it hosts a small selection of titles. For the sake of my privacy I’m not going to refer to the store or the owner by name; from here the store will be “Bookstore” and the owner will be “Owner” or “They/Them”.
I went to Bookstore at the beginning of November with a paperback copy of Stitches for the owner to read some of before they decided if they wanted copies to sell in Bookstore. I thought this was a little strange, because all the previous bookstores I’d dealt with (and there are a lot!) had someone look over the book while I was standing there and decided if they wanted to stock it or not. However, I thought maybe Owner was either taking their limited floor space into consideration or they thoroughly vet what they stock - plagiarism is a big problem in the self-publishing community. Cut to Small Business Saturday (in case you aren’t from the US, it’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving), when I stop by Bookstore with a friend of mine to see if they have anything new and find out if Owner likes the book - at this point, it’s important to note that they’ve had the book for about two weeks. I ask Owner if they’re enjoying the book, and they say yes and they’ll get in touch in with an answer re: stocking Stitches. I buy a cool nonfiction book because I felt like it, and I leave.
Fast-forward to a couple of days ago (another ten days or so later), and I get a message from Owner telling me they’ve finished the book and want me to come in to discuss it. Two things about this are odd: first of all, I was under the impression that Owner was going to read a few chapters of the book, not the whole thing - and second, shouldn’t you tell me if you want to stock it so I know whether to bring more copies or not? Again, all my experiences with other shops make this one weird, but I go along with it because it’s a local place and I want to make a good impression.
Yesterday arrives, and I go over to Bookstore. I bring a few copies of Stitches with me because I’m unsure what the tone of this meeting is going to be. When I get to Bookstore there are no customers, and Owner is in the middle of a project. I wait a couple of minutes, and then Owner requests that we sit down to chat. I want to stress how strange this whole situation is in comparison to my dealings with several other bookstores, and that from this moment on I have no idea what to expect.
The spacing between both paragraphs and lines in my book is “too wide”. When I mention that it’s the exact spacing Amazon tells you to use for the best outcome in a printed book, Owner insists they talked to some “publisher friends” who agreed it was too wide. Related point: because the spacing is “too wide”, Stitches is also “too thick”. The paperback version is 363 pages long and about an inch thick; I own multiple paperbacks of that size and thickness.
Owner tells me they think because I mention a lot of street names in my descriptions of Boston I’m providing unnecessary information to the reader. “If someone from Los Angeles or New York read this, it would mean nothing to them!” (Need I remind you: Bookstore is in a mid-sized city in New England. Why are you concerned about readers in big cities? That’s my problem, not yours.)
Owner was confused about the Mass Art Murderer’s motivation. When I explained in detail what it was and pointed out that what I said appears in a particular chapter, they said, “Oh. Must’ve been too subtle.” Funny, nobody else I’ve talked to about the book or who has left a review thought that.
I think it’s worth mentioning that I embrace constructive criticism, and that I’m never offended if someone doesn’t like my work. I love nothing more than when someone reads my work and tells me both what was good and what could use improvement… when I ask them to do that. What offended me in this case was that Owner thought they were in a position to give me a lecture on publishing like we were an editor and their client, instead of a bookstore owner and an author. Owner took it upon themselves to lecture me on what they didn’t like about my book… and didn’t tell me one thing they did like. It would’ve saved both of us time and me some aggravation if Owner had simply told me my book wasn’t a good fit for the store and handed it back, but instead they went out of their way to give me unsolicited “advice” about my work. That’s not cool.
I have several theories, ranging from Owner not liking the LGBT community (there are no books with LGBT characters in their store, and there is a market for that in my city) to the possibility that Owner’s last-ditch attempt at not offending me had a grain of truth to it: Bookstore is full of mystery/thriller/horror type books at the moment and Owner doesn’t want to take on any more. But my point is this: don’t offer someone what you view as advice without asking them if they want it. That whole conversation was a waste of time and made Owner look and sound like a pretentious douche. Again, if Owner had simply told me they didn’t like my book and given it back, I wouldn’t have been nearly as pissed as I was. I will not be returning to Bookstore, nor will I direct anyone there to buy anything - not because they didn’t want to sell my book (for whatever reason) but because I can’t stand people who take it upon themselves to put other people down.
BTW, on a completely unrelated note, I’m excited to announce something upcoming in 2019! It's my website (samanthasimard.com), which I plan on getting up and running with all kinds of fun Stitches related stuff!