It’s an honor to introduce my lovely friend Naomi Blackburn, co-moderator 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. As a reviewer, Naomi is brilliant, insightful, and, as she puts it, “brutally honest.” This post introduces her new column, “Authors Gone Wild.” Bad behavior spreads throughout the Internet on reader/reviewer threads, 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. 

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!

Naomi Blackburn

Authors Gone Wild: Book Review Ethics

by Naomi Blackburn

How do you decide what to read next? Do you keep to-be-read (TBR) lists you’d like to accomplish? Do you have stacks of books by your nightstand? Or do you go to several of the larger booksellers, such as, Barnes and Noble, etc., to see what looks good and purchase those with the highest ratings?

I must admit, one of the big ways I make my decisions is by using the last option. Once I purchased my Kindle and Nook, a whole new world of literature opened up to me. Mornings before work, with coffee cup in hand, I screen the freebies, which has opened up a whole new world of authors to me. Being an avid cook, I now have access to new cookbooks, some which have turned out to be real gems.

We no longer live in a world where the top publishing houses play judge and jury and spoon-feed consumers what they are going to read. As a result, in the world of self-publishers, Indie publishers (small presses), and even big publishing houses, competition for book reviews has reached a new level of fierceness.

One of the whispers going around Goodreads and Amazon has to do with the fabrication of reviews by friends or family of the author to prop up a book’s ratings, thus increasing its visibility. I had questioned this practice, but never put much thought into it. Until: I read and reviewed a book for the publisher through Netgalley.

The book had been released one day prior to my placing my review on Amazon. I was floored when I found that 8 reviews had already been written: all 5 stars, of course: calling it the best written book the reviewers had read. I could go on with the reviewers’ praise, but I won’t. None had identified as Netgalley reviewers, which is proper etiquette for reviewing a book through them, meaning 8 people had read the book the day it was released, thought it was greater than sliced bread, AND professed their love for the book on Amazon.

Needless to say, I was confused. In my typical inquisitive way, I investigated each reviewer’s history on Amazon. My mouth dropped. None of the reviewers had reviewed ANY other books for Amazon. I couldn’t believe that the reviewers had NO other books which had moved them enough to write a brief review. Recently, for the purpose of this article, I went back and reread the book’s reviews. Since I left my review, no one has added a review for the book and 90 percent of the reviewers have not written another review on Amazon. Things that make you go hmmm:

Anyway, my innocence gone, I started to search for other books and found that this type of review is prevalent on Amazon. I can say that I have come across this more often than not and, at this point, the old adage of ‘where there’s smoke, there is fire’ keeps coming to mind. It is very disconcerting.

My question is this: in the age of greater competition in the literary world, do ethics fly out the window?

It appears so. I have never been a fan of professional reviews from literary critics, who, for the most part, I consider to be blowhards and legends in their own mind. I prefer to get my reviews from hobby readers like myself. But, if authors are faking their reviews, is this possible anymore??

My Goodreads group, Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, does book reviews for authors and publishing houses to assist them in getting reviews for their books. I must note that we do not guarantee positive reviews. We do guarantee professional reviews-i.e. no abusive, attacking reviews allowed and if one is published, the reviewer is immediately ejected from traveling book rotation, or, as happened in one case, from the group. Luckily, both of these offenses were done only once, and by the same person.

Before a book is accepted into rotation, I have an ‘ethical review’ discussion with the author. I explain that periodic critical reviews of their works look more authentic than reviews that all state ‘best book I ever read.’ I can’t believe how many times I have run into issues with authors. I find myself constantly repeating that not everyone is going to love your book and that is okay. The example I give is wine. I must admit that I like wine. I compare wine to books with their complexities. I was once at a wine tasting and people were RAVING about the wine. I tried the wine and loathed it. I couldn’t figure out how multiple people could love a wine while the same wine made me want to gag. I was perplexed. I finally asked the vintner why this would happen. He looked at me and simply said, ‘Everyone has their own taste, what ‘tickles’ their taste buds; it is okay not to like the wine.’ The same rule applies with books.

I am not sure why authors are afraid of critical reviews. (Make note, I am not condoning abusive reviews. There is no place for abuse in literary reviews.) Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, currently has a 3.68 rating on Goodreads and a 4-star average on Amazon. This book is identified as ‘the little book which started the Civil War.’ Does a contemporary author really believe that his or her work is better than a book that has survived over 150 years? Just givin’ some food for thought!


About Naomi Blackburn

Naomi is a book reviewer and co-moderator 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.

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.