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.

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