This week Naomi Blackburn continues her “Authors Gone Wild” column with a personal tale: “Never Burn Bridges & Other Lessons” 

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: Never Burn Bridges & Other Lessons

by Naomi Blackburn

Naomi BlackburnA horrible thing happened to me this past week. The incident made me so angry that it drained all my energy for a chunk of the week. There is a reason I am sharing this with you, so please be patient with me!

I’d been called back for a final interview. The job combined several aspects of my career background, requiring me to wander into new territory, so I was particularly interested in this position. The first 3 interviews had gone spectacularly. The final interview consisted of two 1-hour interviews, the first in front of a panel of individuals, the second with two people. I had to drive 1 hour from the first to the second interview, so this wasn’t an easy task.

I walked into the final interview and almost immediately regretted it. The nurse executive I met with started the interview in a negative tone, barely even welcoming me to her office or hospital. She immediately dismissed the two contract positions I have held as an independent contractor. This was seconded by her cutting down my people skills, taking a comment out of context instead of listening to the reasoning behind my choosing a particular path (I felt it was more beneficial to the client paying my contract).

The final straw came when the system administrator, the hiring manager for this position, asked me to tell the nurse executive why I wanted to work for the organization. I explained that I had developed a rapport with the Chief Nursing Officer in one of their hospitals. I had received a call from the CNO asking me to assess a patient needing long-term vent placement. My organization happily obliged and we had accepted the patient.

Fast forward a couple of weeks: I get a call from the CNO telling me she was at the facility where we’d placed this patient, asking if I had time for lunch. This CNO had travelled TWO HOURS to check on her patient. I was impressed. I happened to know that serious nursing issues had occurred while this patient was in their hospital; the CNO had gotten involved and she had grown close to the family. She made the drive because she wanted to be sure her former patient had settled in so she could ‘close things out.’

Pretty spectacular in my mind!

The nurse executive’s response? ‘Hmmm, I wonder what the problem was?’ The implication, of course, was that questions about the care my employer was giving this woman had prompted the CNO to drive the distance to check on her. Now, I have to tell you, reader, although I have been gone from this long-term care company for five years, I am still incredibly loyal to the organization, the owner and the COO. It had taken me 4 months to make the decision to leave the company and venture out on my own, and because of their support I had become a sought-after healthcare business development professional.

After bashing a company she knew NOTHING about, the nurse executive looked at the other interviewer and, referring to the CNO who’d driven 4 hours to visit a patient, said, ‘Well, she is no longer with the company.’ (My immediate thought : No wonder!)

I wanted to go off on this woman. I literally had a dialogue going on in my head as to what I was going to say to her, making it impossible to focus on the questions being asked. There was absolutely NOTHING I could say to this woman that would not be twisted in a rude, condescending way. I was biting my tongue so hard that I couldn’t believe it wasn’t gushing blood. I kept reminding myself of a statement a mentor had made when I was a newbie. The statement has never left me: ‘Healthcare is a very small world. A lot of people you’d never think know each other do know one another. NEVER burn your bridges!’

So, why do I tell you this story? Because I understand what you’re going through!

Authors encounter people exactly like this nurse executive. Your encounters are public, often in the form of drive-by reviewers. You know drive-by reviewers: individuals who write scathing, antagonistic, rude, sarcastic reviews, which have little to do with the book itself. These so-called reviewers can get quite personal in their attacks; they have their own agenda, which they are hoping to pull you into!

However tempting it may be to let the reviewer have it, it’s in your best interest to ignore these people!

As I was preparing this post, Dianne, a member of Sisterhood, sent me a link to a Goodreads list, titled ‘Authors Throwing Tantrums.’ I was shocked to see a book that had been on my Kindle for a bit. So, I investigated. There was a drive-by reviewer on the author’s page; the reviewer admitted to not having read the book. And the author, rather than holding back as he should have, fed right into negativity by name calling and arguing with the reviewer in an almost ‘tit for tat’ manner. It was really sad.

What was his payback?? Every single book he has written was placed on this list! He has probably lost customers, as every time his books are pulled up on Goodreads, the fact that he is on this list comes up.

When Terri and I discussed my interview fiasco, she said that she thought it was worse that this drive-by had happened to me than if it had happened to an author. My comment back to her was, IT IS WORSE FOR THE AUTHOR. An author who deals with antagonistic reviewers in a public forum runs the risk of the dispute being found on an Internet database, as well as on numerous sites. I always say that a drive- by review looks like just that, a nasty drive-by – UNTIL an author engages, then it reflects on the author!

I can’t tell you how many times I have found links in my Goodreads’ mailbox or in my private email to authors fighting with reviewers. My drive-by occurred in a private office setting and I will never see her again (God willing!). I used my negative situation as a training tool for future interviews in this area, asking myself what I’d missed in my preparation for this interview, going through both interviews in my mind again and again, pulling out the smallest thing, so I don’t make the same mistakes again. In this day and age, with the Internet, authors don’t get do-overs!

So, what can you do instead of responding?

  • Contact your mentor or another author friend and vent. My first call after my poor husband was to a mentor of mine, who reminded me that this nurse wasn’t worth it. A great support system can never be overrated!
  • Vent out loud to yourself; say what you would like to say to this person. Type it out if the pounding of the keyboard helps you to get out your frustrations. JUST DON’T PUT IT IN THE PUBLIC FORUM!
  • Walk away from your computer until the feeling to respond passes.
  • Reread this post: keep it somewhere close if you have to!

So, as my mentor’s words about not ‘burning bridges’ with unprofessional behavior played in my ear the whole interview, let my words be the ones you hear in your ear when some antagonistic, incompetent reviewer leaves a stinging review, inviting you to an online brawl: THE PUBLISHING WORLD IS A VERY SMALL WORLD, PARTICULARLY IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET! THE AUTHOR ALWAYS COMES OUT LOOKING WORSE. ..

Is “debating” such a person worth the risk of losing book sales!?!


About Naomi Blackburn

Naomi Blackburn holds an MBA and has worked in the field of business development, consulting and sales for 12 years. A former social worker, she’s helped hundreds of clients meet their life goals. An avid reader and top Goodreads reviewer, she comes to the world of books from a reader/reviewer’s perspective. She strives to help authors achieve their goals by teaching them to think of themselves as CEO/entrepreneur of a small business and helping them negotiate the business side of selling books. She can be reached by email here.