This week Naomi Blackburn continues her “Authors Gone Wild” column with a post on sabotage! Juvenile tactics and book bashing have no place in the literary world, Naomi warns. In Authors Gone Wild, she’ll discuss author etiquette, bad behaviors that rankle both readers and reviewers, and she’ll offer some positive alternative behaviors to get your books noticed.
Naomi is founder of the Goodreads group Sisterhood of the Traveling Books, as well as the Nordic Noir group, dedicated to discussing Scandinavian mysteries. This year, Goodreads ranked her at # 11 on their top reviewer list, in both the U.S. and in the world (2011 rankings). As a reviewer, Naomi is brilliant, insightful, and, as she puts it, “brutally honest.”
Please feel free to leave questions for Naomi, as well as any suggestions you may have for future posts. I hope you enjoy the column!
Authors Gone Wild: What Goes Around Comes Around: Sabotaging the Work of Others
by Naomi Blackburn
Last year, a writer sent me a frantic email. She had written a fantastic piece of fiction, based on occurrences in her life while she was living in London. Let’s just say that the better chunk of these incidents would make a sailor blush – the drugs and alcohol flowed freely and she was in love with an unavailable, game playing, addicted-to-anything-one-could-be-addicted-to boyfriend.
Anyhow, back to my story, she emailed me frantically saying she had received word that a ‘publisher,’ who was actually the basis for the ‘boyfriend’ character and, in reality, was a totally dysfunctional, highly addicted and very married man, had made plans with a couple of his publishing buddies to bash the living daylights out of her book. Did I say that this was really a very loose memoir, written as a piece of fiction with NO identification as to who the real players were??
My response to her was to ignore it. I thought this ‘stupidity’ would be covered up by the extremely high ratings coming in for the book, plus the fact that 2 national women’s magazines had put it on their must-read list. Now, he ended up coming to his senses and he didn’t do it.
But it got me to thinking and then this business of sabotaging authors for one’s own purposes really started to agitate me. Readers depend on reviews to assess the big world of books. Books come at us in every format known to mankind with the exception of hypnosis. There has to be a way to determine the TRUE quality of a book. When authors resort to juvenile tactics, bashing books based on competition or childish games, the readers are stuck in the middle!
Do authors think readers don’t notice this behavior? If their answer is ‘yes,’ then they are wrong. There are posts on both Goodreads and Amazon on authors behaving badly. One of the bad behaviors concerns authors bashing others’ books for no purpose other than putting down a competitor.
I wonder if authors who do this know how it reflects on them. In my research (I swear I need to get a life!) I have seen authors actually ATTACH THEIR REAL NAME to a poor review and poorly written review of a competitor’s work. Some do go incognito; however, it is still pretty obvious who wrote the negative review, why it was written and what the agenda was. I once saw an author bash another author’s book on mathematics. Yes, this was an academic doing this! I made it a point to let the bashing academic know that it actually reflected on his own work rather than that of the author whose book he felt justified in bashing.
I have a few questions for authors who resort to bashing their competitors’ books:
A. Why do you feel that this is appropriate?
B. What would you do if another author did this to you? Would you cry, ‘Foul’?
C. Are you so insecure about your own work that you feel it cannot stand up to competition? By writing drive-by reviews, you are stating that you are.
I can’t remember where I read this story, but I thought it was interesting and I have taken it to heart. One new author went around leaving drive-by reviews for authors whose books she felt were competition to hers. Her publisher, who knew nothing about her actions, sent her book for review to a pretty popular author who happened to have been a victim of this author’s rip-apart reviews. Can you guess what happened??? Yep, the popular author wrote a STINGING REVIEW!!! I am reminded of the old adage: WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND!!!
About Naomi Blackburn
Naomi is a book reviewer and founder of the Goodreads group Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, as well as the Nordic Noir group, dedicated to discussing Scandinavian mystery writers. Goodreads ranks her #29 on their top reviewer list for the U.S. and #35 globally of all time. This year, she topped the list at #11 for both U.S. and global reviewers. She is also on the Goodreads list as the #46 top reader in the United States (2011 rankings).
When she’s not reading, she loves to cook and bake for her family and friends and to all around entertain! Although she loves wine, she loves to play with various liquors and considers herself to be quite the mixologist! She loves to putter around her house and play with things in it, as well. She recently started a food blog called The Pub and Grub Forum, dedicated to making and reviewing food and drink recipes, and she even throws in a couple of her own concoctions! Finally, she loves to scuba dive, play golf, travel and hike/bike. She’d love to relocate to an area where she could do all this stuff 24/7/365!!!
She holds an MBA and has 12 years of experience in healthcare business development. Currently, she works as a healthcare consultant/independent contractor in the areas of business development and marketing.
Naomi – You've opened my eyes! I didn't know this was being done. I did have one ridiculous review from a disgruntled RELATIVE but that's it. Thank you.
Thanks, Kathy…It is more prevalent than you think!
Thank you for visiting Kathy! I think this is why I love Naomi's column so much – it's such an eye-opener!
It is astounding to me that any author would think bashing the book of another could benefit them in any way. Not only because of the karmic aspect of the action, but because it is unlikely that any single author could really pose much competition. There are simply far too many available to take the place of the fallen. Mutual support goes so much farther. Having said that, it should be remembered that even as authors there will be books that aren't liked and seen as deserving of a poor review. But in such inflammatory environments it can feel dangerous to express honest discontent. One runs the risk of being seen as a basher or becoming the victim of a revenge review.
These are fantastic points Sadie! Reviewers should feel able to express their genuine discontent. In a way, the fake reviews only serve to take attention away from genuine, useful feedback that can help authors!
Sadie..I always tell authors that I work with to welcome those 1 to 2 star critical (not drive by) reviews with open arms, whoever writes them. First, they help you to learn things that maybe you missed in writing the book. For example, I know an author who made a serious mistake in her story that a reader picked up on that Beta readers and an editor didn’t pick up on. Second, they give credence to your 4 and 5 star reviews.
I like to say that Drive by reviews are reflective of the reviewer, fellow author or incompetent reviewer, UNTIL the author responds. The second the author responds, I see the focus change to confronting the author.
I love all the comments from you guys re: mutual support. Being in indie and self-pub area, authors don’t have the big bucks that is seen in the big marketing houses. Therefore, in my opinion, networking, as I see going on now, is key.
I just responded to an Amazon review in which the author attacked a 3 star review and told the woman to NEVER purchase her books again. I actually thought the review the woman did was quite nice, but she had some criticisms. My comment to the author at one point was “that she had shot herself in the foot with her attacking behaviors. That there are reviewers/bloggers who troll Amazon, Goodreads, etc for ABB (authors behaving badly) and that she just gave them the ammunition.” The same rule applies to doing drive bys on competitor’s works.
My credo is that the universe has enough for everyone, no need for a zero-sum game. I also find it a lot less stressful to move through my day with that thought in mind.
I couldn't agree more Laura! Thank you so much for visiting!
Naomi: enlightening post. It is amazing that anyone would do this, let alone other authors. I don’t understand what they’re thinking. Other authors are not their competition-their own writing is. Readers will gobble up any book that is good, especially if it fits into their comfortable reading zone.
Do these bashers think readers are stupid? A reader can see through a fake ‘bad review’ just like they can the fake ‘good reviews.’ There is no substance to them. I noticed this last week. I don’t remember the book, but it had @ 30 reviews, 28 of which were 4 & 5 star. It had one well-written 3-star review, and then a single 1-star that barely hid the vitriol. I think to anyone it was obvious that whoever wrote the 1-star had motives beyond the review.
But your advice is sound for authors. If you get one of those, you have to ignore it. Readers will sort it out.
Exactly, Laura…thanks! One of my favorite sayings which can be applied to all situations is that "cream is going to rise to the top!"
Thanks for your comments.
I know for me, I always take it back to the author “basher”. Terri just recently sent me the story of a NY Times best selling author complaining re: the Indie movement cutting into her profits. I emailed Terri back and told her that, esp with this author, it didn’t shock me. Also, I have had the opportunity to send Terri a number of examples where authors or their psuedonyms have bashed another author. You nailed it, though..there are bloggers and reviewers, such as myself, that “patrol” Amazon searching for these “authors” and make it a point to call them on their actions. Hopefully one day, we won’t have to, but I doubt it. That is why I always ask myself those 3 questions when I come across an author or a family member who participates in a drive by review. In my humble opinion, competing authors can actually support one another versus “fight” with one another.
Great post, terrific comments. I think that the use of slam-reviews is just another form of bullying, and that this behaviour derives from insecurity…I can't say that I'm charitable enough to feel sorry for them. :-)
Spot on, Lynette! Spot on! Thanks for your reply.
I've read many books that I just didn't care for but I can't imagine ranting and raving about it like it was some personal offense! My goodness, if evey book I read was written the same way I would be bored out of my mind and why would I want to pick up a book and read it if it was just like all the others? That's just my two cents worth.
Hi mamabunny13 – you're right of course! The great tragedy is that in many cases these 'reviewers' haven't even read the books in question. I completely agree – there's no place for ranting and raving in reviews.