Each week I’ll be donating $50 to the charity of a blogger’s choice as part of the “Read, Write, Give” drive. You can also see previous charities and bloggers featured and check out the Pinterest board.
This week, Naomi Blackburn from A Book and A Review (and also The Author CEO here) is supporting Dogs on Deployment. You can read more about them after her interview.
I’ve often said that book bloggers are the “Fairy Godmothers and Godfathers” of the literary world – and I really believe it. Therefore, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview some of these wonderful bloggers and shed a little light on why they undertake this epic labors of love!
This week’s interview is with Naomi Blackburn. 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.’ She runs A Book and A Review, along with The Pub and Grub Forum.
Interview with Naomi Blackburn: A Book and A Review
Could you please tell us about yourself?
I currently live in a town of 400 people about 2 hours outside of Chicago and have been married to my husband, Pat, for almost 25 years and we have a 23 year old, Jonathon. I have worked in the field of healthcare business development, strategic planning and sales for the last 12 year and 5 years ago decided to work as an independent contractor while earning my MBA. At this time, I am in the process of starting up 2 very small businesses focused on assisting indie published authors develop business plans for promotion of their novels, as well as a review and promotional company targeted towards libraries and independent book sellers. My passions and hobbies include reading (duh), cooking, mixology, golf, travel and scuba diving.
You’re the founder of Sisterhood of the Traveling Books and Nordic Noir. Please tell us more about these Goodreads groups and how you came to start them?
Sisterhood of the Traveling Book was founded by both Kelly Anderson and me to offer Indie published authors and publishers a resource for gathering reviews for their novels. It is required that members who sign up for books are required to not only post reviews on Goodreads, but Amazon, as well. A large number of our members have book blogs, as well, so most reviews are reviewed on their blogs. I met Terri through Sisterhood, as she is one of our author members. Kelly and I serve not only as founders, but also as moderators to the group at this time and brought in a 3rd moderator, Sue Dyer as the group has continued to grow. Sisterhood of the Traveling Book is being maintained at no more than 400 members so that we can maintain the closeness of members and author members.
The Nordic Noir group was founded by me and Dee Fisher because of our love for the Nordic Noir genre. It allows lovers of the books of these dynamic authors and even having the authors join as members and talk about their books. It is really a blast. I have even been exposed to authors I never knew existed through this group. I am thrilled that this is a genre that is becoming more and more translated due to their growing popularity in English speaking countries!
You are one of the highest ranked reviewers on Goodreads. What do you enjoy most about reviewing books?
I love when authors or readers let me know that my reviews have helped, liked or influenced them in some way. When I am trusted by an author to review their works or someone has said that they have benefitted from my review, it lets me know that I have helped them.
You are also passionate about food. Any favorite recipes you would like to share?
I write a food blog called The Pub and Grub Forum. This blog was actually my entry into the blogging world. I missed writing about books so much though and actually felt like I was missing a limb by not writing about books that A Book and A Review was born. Each blog meets a little need in me!
I am so excited because one of my newest assignments has been to supply another author, whom I adore, recipes for a weekly segment on her website. I thoroughly enjoy investigating new recipes that I think her readers would enjoy.
One of my top recipes pulled from my blog is below.
Sticky Chicken Breasts
5 bone in chicken with skin (can also use legs and/or thighs)
1 cup ketchup
1 cup honey
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1) Preheat oven to 350.
2) In a sauce pan, combine ketchup, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, and garlic powder over medium heat.
3) Bring it just to a boil while stirring. Remove from heat.
4) Arrange chicken pieces in 9×13 dish. Pour entire amount of sauce over chicken, turning pieces with tongs to coat.
5) Place in oven, uncovered, for 90 minutes, turning after 45 minutes.
6) Fifteen minutes before cooking time is up, flip pieces once more and baste with sauce.
7) Serve with rice and sauce.
When reviewing, do you often find real gems? What, for you, says a book is a gem?
I find a lot of gems. I love books that suck me in and leave me with a warm cozy feeling or ones that suck me in for emotional reasons. I have had some couldn’t put down horror or mystery thrillers as well. A gem for me is something that engages me not only emotionally but in thought as well. If I find myself having an emotional reaction to a character/book: it is normally a 5 star review from me.
Someone posted a photo on my Facebook one day. It was a sign that stated ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; a non-reader only one.’ I absolutely love that and I feel that way whenever I have read ‘a gem’.
You must get hundreds, if not thousands, of review requests every month. How do you handle all the requests?
My blog is still relatively new, but I have found that I have had to ‘shelve’ review requests until I know that I can get them done in a timely manner. I really don’t like reviews to hang out there more than 2 months. I have found that in letting the authors know this that they are appreciative of it. When it comes time, they can decide if they would like me to still review their book.
What, for you, is the most important quality in a book?
Story line, Story line, Story line! You can normally tell if someone has thought out the story line or if they haven’t put in due diligence into the overall production of their book. Editing would be a really close second though!
Do you find a difference in the quality of traditionally and self-published books? If so, what are the major differences?
Believe it or not, I don’t. On that note, I do have to say that I have come across multiple SP books that have the feeling that the author woke up in the morning and spit out a book, but I have had the same feeling with traditional published books, as well.
Do you feel there is a stigma against self-published writers? If so, do you feel it’s deserved? Why or why not?
Yes I do. I feel in some ways it is deserved and in some ways it is not. Unfortunately, because SP/IP is still so new the general ‘public’ and the publishing industry look for reasons to shoot it down. I like to say that the first example is of closed minded readers that may or may not come around. The latter is due to fear of competition and their market is no longer guaranteed. While some in the SP industry show outrage at these authors’ behaviors, I tend to laugh because of the transparency of it. Unfortunately, unlike the traditional publishing industry, there are SP authors who either just throw books on the market with the belief that they can make changes/editing at a later date or authors who don’t know or don’t follow professional behavior standards. Unfortunately, this tends to reflect on all SP authors.
For indie authors in particular, getting reviewed is one of the biggest challenges. Do you have any advice?
I have lots of advice. I will be going into depth with The Author CEO. Key points would include, research who you want to review your book. When you approach the reviewer, please be professional. Do a more formal email that is personalized and that you have actually researched the reviewer’s blog. Make sure any supporting documentation is done professionally as well. I like to say ‘Image is everything’ and ‘You never get a chance to make a second impression.’ Second, don’t debate with the reviewer when the review is posted, particularly if it isn’t favorable or as favorable as you expected. I always use the example of Christine Nolfi’s blog when speaking with authors regarding book reviews. I think her advice is dead on!
Are there things authors do that make you say, wait, don’t do that? OR maybe that turn you off altogether?
Being founder of STB and a book reviewer, the biggest thing that I have come across in speaking with book reviewers that will quickly kill an author’s reputation is ‘fighting’ with book reviewers, even if the reviewer is doing a ‘drive by’. I always say a drive by book reviewer always reflects on the book reviewer UNTIL the author responds. There are so many choices out there these days with books that in order to keep some sense of sanity, readers look for reasons to ‘mark’ authors off their potential reading lists.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I think the biggest thing I would like to add is to present yourself as a professional. I know I sound like a broken record, but READERS ARE WATCHING! Present yourself in an unprofessional manner and they will call you to the carpet on it.
You nominated Dogs on Deployment as your charity to support today. Can you tell us why?
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge supporter of our military and I can’t say enough about pets. This organization places military pets in foster homes while their human companions are on deployment in locations where pets are not allowed.
Naomi Blackburn, owner of The Author CEO, a consultation firm dedicated to helping independent authors navigate the development of strategic business plans and the marketing world, holds an MBA and has worked in the field of business development, sales and consulting for 12 years. A former social worker, she has 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.
Naomi’s post is in support of Dogs on Deployment
Dogs on Deployment was founded by husband and wife, Shawn and Alisa Johnson, who serve in the US Navy and US Marine Corps respectively. They started Dogs on Deployment in June 2011. As a dual-military family, the founders have been in situations where they needed a program like Dogs on Deployment. Alisa had orders to move to Quantico, Virginia where she was to attend six months of military training. At the same time, Shawn, was to be deployed. Neither could care for their beloved dog, JD. They were lucky enough to have family to rely on, but recognized the need for a program which would help others who found themselves in a similar situation. Thus, Dogs on Deployment was born.