This week Naomi Blackburn continues her “Authors Gone Wild” column with ‘A Tale of Two Authors’ – and what a tale!

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: A Tale of Two Authors

by Naomi Blackburn

Naomi BlackburnMy reputation for doing this series is starting to get around and people are starting to send me examples of authors behaving badly as well as examples of angel authors! The story I am going to tell you today came from an article posted on an independent book site and recently forwarded to me. Links have also been posted on Sisterhood of the Traveling Book by Shay, one of our members.

As I read the article, my initial snickering at the author’s childish behavior turned to shock and then to horror. Finally, it turned to downright anger. This author’s post, presented as an advice column, was about responding to negative reviews; she referred to this as ‘customer service,’ and used business development as her basis for doing so.

Now, working in business development, I tend to pop up whenever I hear that term. As I searched this woman’s credentials, nowhere did I see any mention of business experience nor even, minimally, any continued education in this area. Not even a book on Customer Service, grabbed off Amazon, was mentioned. Nah, instead I got to read about her being raised as a military brat, the place where she has lived since birth, and let’s not forget the two dachshunds she calls her children. Plus, I got to read about a rant she’d had with Hyatt Hotels, which made her look like a spoiled brat, ending with the Hyatt just trying to get her out of the hotel!

For readers who are not familiar with my background, I hold an MBA and, for 12 years, have worked in the field of business development, strategic planning and marketing at a corporate level. For 10 years, I have coached and mentored sales/marketing people and I have even educated operations teams on business development ‘thought processes’ (yes, scary as it is, you can ALWAYS tell who works in sales/marketing by our quirky, often sarcastic, but charming personalities!).

This author in question encouraged her readers to stop thinking as an author and start thinking as a business person. She also encouraged authors to think of their readers as customers. I agree with her to a point-a reader who buys your book is a customer-and will continue to speak on this in later posts. However, if a business person did what this woman advocated in her article, I would be trying to figure a way to strangle her in her sleep for the damage she was causing the business, thus creating more work for me to clean up!

Just a few tidbits of what she encouraged her readers to do (in my own words):

  • Get a 1- or 2-star review? Bully and berate the reader until they change it! In other words, throw a temper tantrum because someone hurt your feelings because they didn’t like your book.
  • Get into a debate-the author even admits to having had heated debates-about the review until the reviewer tires and takes down the review or changes it.

Now, she did go on to say that her rants often fall on deaf ears. Good for those reviewers who did not give in to this child throwing herself on the floor kicking and screaming.

RantingTo the author who says to treat publishing as a business and argue with your customers, well here is how that works out: BUSINESS OWNERS WHO RANT AND RAVE AT THEIR CUSTOMERS DO NOT STAY IN BUSINESS FOR LONG! In fact, one study found that, on average, if a customer has a negative experience with a business, that person tells 25 people about it. If they have a positive experience, they tell only 1 person. What really had my blood boiling and my head exploding is that she honestly had the GALL to call what she does customer service. This individual, who clearly has no concept as to what ‘customer service’ actually is, uses the term flippantly to justify abhorrent behavior.

At the end of the blog, this author compared the Hyatt’s giving her a $200 bar credit (personally, that would make me go HMMMM??) to the fact that, as a result of her ranting and raving, reviewers changed their book reviews. A critical question for her: Did they buy another one of your books? Did it occur to you that maybe they simply changed the review to shut you up-because they are not invested in you as an author, so changing the review was not a big deal?

Anyone who truly understands business recognizes that a business person’s goal is to sell their product, in this case their book. What this author is advising is far more dangerous than simply leaving the 1- or 2-star review alone. What’s more, the lower review would have also given those 4- and 5-star reviews that authors love so much a bunch more credibility.

Just as I thought I’d have a conniption fit, I clicked on the second link sent to me, a post by author Stacia Kane ( I am supplying the link to Stacia’s post because I’m including quotes; she makes some really good points that I didn’t want to paraphrase. Granted, the language may be a bit graphic (my poor virgin eyes), but the message is dead on!

‘The first problem, of course, is that reviews are for readers, not authors. The problem is that authors need to stay the fuck out of it and leave readers the hell alone.’

‘So in her mind,” Stacia goes on, ‘a victory for customer service is bullying and manipulating readers into giving her what she wants, regardless of how they feel about it or the fact that they may have simply done so because it wasn’t worth arguing with her anymore. In her mind, a victory for customer service is manipulating potential readers into thinking her book is better than it is. You guys, this makes me so angry I can hardly type. You all know what I think of authors who attempt to game Amazon reviews/ratings, remember? (Hint: They are scumbags.) In her mind, it’s a total win when a reader finally gives in to her pushiness and demands and does what she wants. Sure, that sounds like great customer service-except that it doesn’t remotely. Puh-leez.’

‘This woman, again, insists that responding to reviews is just ‘good customer service.’ She tries briefly to couch this in the idea that she feels bad when people spend money on her work and it fails to entertain them.’

Right on, Stacia! Thank you!

I recently coined a new term: ‘Like beauty, a book’s value is in the eye of the beholder.’

To any author reading this spotlight series: I can assure you that, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, YOU WILL GET A NEGATIVE REVIEW, MAYBE EVEN SEVERAL. It is okay. I can’t say this enough times. You will survive it. Just remember: a few negative reviews give all those 4 and 5 stars more credibility.

How you react to less than stellar reviews can kill your credibility in the click of a mouse! No less than 5 members of STB who read the column by the first author stated that they have put the author on their ‘NEVER TO BE READ’ list. Those were the members who spoke up. About the same number of members talked glowingly about Ms. Kane and her books.

As an author, whose advice would you want to follow?


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.