Three days ago, a person I didn't know came up to me, held out three one dollar bills (US) and wanted to pay me to download his self published books from Amazon.
This all took place at the local dog park where I take Girlie!Dog (as seen here in this video). And I'm mostly social there, but I like that one can find a bench or picnic table to oneself and it's not seen as rude to crack open a book (or in my case the old e-reader we have) and not make conversation with other dog owners mulling around.
So there I was, happily playing a word game on the e-reader, minding my own business. I turned to look around to check on Girlie!Dog and make sure she was okay and playing nicely. From behind me came this middle aged, gray haired white dude with a weird kind of smile on his face, holding three dollars in his hand. He came to me and hovered over me from behind as I sat on the bench, looking down at the e-reader in my hands.
Here's my first word of warning, especially to you white dudes out there. There's this thing white men do where they seem to think they're being charming, persuasive and engaging when really they're just crowding into your space and cornering you.
As a woman, even in a crowded dog park surrounded by other dog owners that I'm on friendly terms on, that still freaks me out.
If you're a white dude, for the love of all that is holy, never approach a woman (of ANY color) from behind like that. It's stalkerish and makes it clear that you don't respect or have a clue about personal space or how not to be threatening. Well, that or you don't care. And unfortunately us ladies don't really have a way to tell the clueless from the cold blooded sociopaths among you. So, either organize amongst yourselves and decide to wear signs or knock it off.
Also, be aware that a lot of you think you're a lot more charismatic and charming than you actually are. There's a kind of arrogance and unpleasantness that white men seem totally unaware of. It's the type where they're not so much being charming as trying too hard and thinking they're succeeding because you can't possibly be smart or savvy enough for it not to work. Throw in a dash of someone with a far too high opinion of themselves who seems to think they're special, creative, and original and it makes for an unfun encounter.
Thus, without saying hi, without introducing himself, without so much as an "excuse me", this white dude who I didn't know put the money in my face and said, "I want to pay you to download something for me.".
At first, I thought maybe he was someone who knew just enough about the internet to know nothing and maybe he thought I could download a free ebook for him and somehow send it to him or something. I looked up, feeling crowded and shy and suddenly wishing my dog was there, and just said, "Umm, beg pardon?"
"You can download books on that, right? I have three books, they're just ninety-nine cents a piece, you can download them on Amazon. I just want the numbers. Here's three dollars, just go download them, you don't even have to read them."
At which point, I tried very gracefully to refuse his money and say that if he'd just tell me the titles of his books, I'd give them a look on my own and if I liked them, I could write him a good review. I tried a few times to say, "No, no, not necessary at all. Please, put your money away."
But he insisted and kept leaning forward over the back of the bench towards me. It occurred to me at that moment that his posture was not all that different from the posture that many of the dogs take when they act dominant over another dog during. Except the dogs were just playing and were taking turns chewing and jumping on each other.
This guy just kept trying to press in on me.
So, I took his money. At which point he tried to reach for my e-reader to tell me how to download the book right then and there.
Not being a particularly socially gifted person, and one with a lot of anxiety when it comes to interacting with people I don't already know, I was sitting stunned and rather on edge. I wanted him to go the fuck away, but I didn't know how to say it because in my head there's this gigantic mental wall entitled "Don't be rude, don't cause a scene, don't make a fuss, don't be a bitch" and it's been built up brick by brick since I was a tiny girl by a society that doesn't think I deserve boundaries or space of my own.
Thus, instead of just telling him, "Dude, I want to read my book, drink my diet coke and not be bothered. Fuck off, smarmy, creepy asshole", I kept trying to find nice, subtle ways to end the conversation while continuing to participate in it when I just wanted to run away, hide under something, snuggle Girlie Dog and make distressed noises until the icky feeling went away.
Eventually after trying to be nice and talking with him with the hopes he'd recognize that I was deeply uncomfortable and didn't even know his damn name, just the titles of his books (which were so generic as to be impossible to single out on Amazon. I bet at least ten other books had those titles). He told me all about how he'd had a publisher in Canada, but he'd left them to go to another one, but then that publisher hadn't done what he wanted with his books so he "fired" his editor and went into business for himself.
I even thought maybe the old, "Hey, I'm a writer too, read my stuff!" trick would work and he'd not want to do it and go away, but he called my damn bluff and read the first two pages of the manuscript that Husband Man test formatted for me on the kindle and offered me the world's most condescending, insincere, "You're a very good writer" when he handed it back.
Not saying my book is worth a damn, but it kind of put the cherry on top of the bullshit cake, yanno?
Eventually, finally, Girlie Dog wandered far enough afield that I could make the excuse to say I had to go get her back and leave the guy. With a feeling of relief, I went off, loved on my dog and then stayed close to some of the women I knew until I felt confident enough to leave, while praying I wouldn't run into that guy again.
Now, for those who might not understand what went wrong in this exchange, let me as both a woman, a reader, and a writer myself point it out for you:
1. When you're trying to persuade someone of something in a face-to-face exchange, you need to be extremely aware of power differentials and aware of how posture can immediately set a tone of dominance and submission. Do not, if you can help it, corner someone against a wall or a car or some kind of obstacle. Do not lean into their space. To not come up from behind them. Give them breathing room. I realize that cultural norms differ, but that's why you stay aware as best you can for people giving you signals that they're uncomfortable.
2. There's a time and a place to try to shill your books. A conference, great! During a conversation in which it's already come up, fine! An internet group or website specifically for that, yep! Your own blog/facebook/twitter, by all means! But at a dog park, the grocery store, church, etc? No. That's a shitty way to act. The world is not your advertising opportunity. Understand that when you're out there trying to get readers that you're engaging in a commercial act and we already live in a world where just about every surface you see out in public is covered with images or words trying to get us to spend our money on something so that somebody else can make profits.
These places where people go for purposes that clearly are not related to books is NOT where you advertise your latest novel. Now, this isn't to say you can't mention it if it comes up in conversation. (For instance, "Oh, what do you do?" "I'm a writer!" "Well, do you have anything published?" "Yes, I do..."). But don't be the one to bring it up out of the blue, and certainly don't LEAD with it in a conversation.
It turns you into nothing but a human pop-up who obviously doesn't value other people's time and space because you're forcing them to deal with you while they're trying to do other things. Like read a damn book or get some damn milk from the store or get out of church before traffic gets bad or whatever else.
3. And if you do see someone who looks like they might be thinking about books, or an opportunity to talk about your book in a non-annoying way might come up, there's a way to do it.
If this man had come up to me and simply said, "Hey, I saw you were reading an e-reader. What model is that? What kind of books do you like to read? Oh, you do like that genre, well, I just happen to be a writer and I've got a book out that's a (thriller/mystery/sf/romance/etc). It's called Best Novel Ever. You might want to check it out, you might like it. ...So, nice day we're having, right?...Which dog is yours?....Oh, she's really cute..."
You name drop and then you let the topic drop, okay? At least pretend that you came over to talk to me rather than just make yourself a human commercial I can't turn off. The briefer and less desperate, greedy, and ill advised you can make it, the better.
4. Never, ever, ever try to advertise your book or persuade me to download something for pay that you don't even care if I read. This tells me that you probably put even less care and creativity into your novel than you did your approach. Also, if you're paying people to download just to get numbers, you've defeated the purpose of publishing for profit. Money should be flowing TOWARDS you. Readers should come of their own accord. If you have to bribe people, you've done EVERYTHING wrong.
After I finally got away and kept my dog close to me because I felt a lot less rattled with a floppy eared puppy dog at my side, I got to my car and then I got mad.
I looked at that three dollars and it just pissed me off. It pissed me off that this guy had taken a good twenty minutes out of my life, cornered me, made me feel rather cornered, basically forced himself into my space, and had the nerve to expect that he could give me money to download his book, regardless of whether I would like it or even want to know about it.
So I decided that he was going to have to pay what I call "Get-A-Clue Tax". So I took his three dollars to the local bookstore and put it towards getting Nalini Singh's latest book because, well, her Guild Hunter series is my guilty pleasure. Not to mention that taking a clueless white dude's money and using it to buy a book by an awesome woman of color writer was the sweetest possible justice I could think of.
I also know at this point that there will be people who will tell me that I should've been more assertive and willing to tell someone to just fuck off.
Let me practice that assertiveness by telling you to fuck off. I shouldn't have to get assertive. I shouldn't have to constantly build myself up to be able to guard my space and cause unpleasantness. I shouldn't have to be on the defensive. It should be people like this guy who should respect my space and leave me be. So don't tell me to be more assertive. Tell jackasses like him not to be so creepy and awkward.
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