This week The Author CEO Naomi Blackburn talks about the importance of accepting reviews with respect and good grace.
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!
The Author CEO: Authors Tempted to Lash Out at Reviewers: Don’t Be a Jerk
by Naomi Blackburn
I had planned to talk about price point this week, but after an unfortunate incident with an author I feel the need to put my reviewer hat back on.
This past week, I reviewed a book for a publisher through Netgalley. Due to issues with Netgalley upgrades, the book disappeared from my shelves. I didn’t want the glitch to be an excuse not to review the book and I felt it only right to follow up with the publisher regarding my review. Through my personal email account, I sent a note with links to all the places where I’d posted the review.
I had given this book a rating of 3.5 stars on my blog and 3 stars on Goodreads and Amazon. I identified Goodreads’ friends who had given the book higher ratings, but pointed out critical issues related to the lax writing in parts of the book. Soon after-imagine my surprise!-I got an astoundingly unprofessional, condescending, instigating, snarky email from the author, enraged that I had rounded down my 3.5-star-review to 3 stars rather than rounding it up to 4 stars. The author, who’d totally missed the point of my critique, insulted my reading capabilities, alluding to his low opinion of my intelligence (or lack thereof).
As my standard protocol to warn other readers of potential unprofessional behavior they may be subjected to, I immediately changed my review to a 1-star rating that included a deep explanation of why I was doing so. Author John Doe responded by attacking me again, once again contacting me via my personal email address. I responded immediately with a warning: if I received one more email from him, I would report him to Goodreads, Netgalley, and Amazon for abuse of a reviewer.
His response? Yep, another denigrating e-mail.
I have to admit, my immediate response was irritation and frustration. I received his messages at work, while being pulled in many directions, forced to deal with an author who had misused my PRIVATE account, which I’d used good faith to fulfill what I considered a contract with his publisher-which, it turned out, was him.
As I was driving home, incredibly tired, stuck in typical Chicago gridlock, I had this conversation with myself: What the hell am I doing? Am I making any impact? Are Indie authors so selfish that they don’t give a rat’s behind about those authors around them, who, when they act like babies, are lumped into the same group?
This experience left me very saddened. ANY ONE who has known me for a second knows that I am passionate about books and authors. I don’t care where the book comes from-indie or traditional publishing. Just make sure I am always within reach of a book. My love of books reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Love Comes Softly. In the movie, Marty Claridge, played by Katherine Heigel, responds to her step-daughter, who can’t read. The step-daughter says, ‘Reading ain’t no adventure.’ Marty replies, ‘Once you can read you can have any adventure you’ve ever dreamed of.’
When I got home, I seriously considered putting aside everything related to book reviewing. I’d simply focus on reading for enjoyment. Then I opened up the mailbox for my blog, ‘A Book and A Review.’ I am not a religious person, but I am a pretty spiritual one. Among the messages was an email from Giacomo “Jim” Giammetto. Last month, I had reviewed Jim’s DYNAMIC book MURDER TAKES TIME
Naomi: I wanted to tell you that I sent you a book, but I do not expect a review. I sent it as a “thank you” for taking the time to review my other book. I did not sign it either, as I know you donate your books to the library, which I think is magnificent. I have always given mine to Goodwill. If you do find time to read it, I hope you enjoy it.
His message, particularly the line in which he thanked me for taking the time to review his previous book,reminded me why I do what I do. My faith in humanity restored, I emailed Jim, told him what had occurred and let him know how much his email had meant to me. Jim responded with an email that, again, gives serious food for thought. I am copying a couple points verbatim to help readers grasp the importance of what he stated.
Not much infuriates me more than what that person did. It not only makes a bad name for authors, but it ruins the relationships between authors and honest, professional reviewers like yourself.
I have the utmost respect for what you do and how honest you are. That honesty means a lot to many authors.
I often have fellow authors ask me to read their books and review them. They say they want honesty. In many cases I’m not comfortable posting a review (if it’s less than 3 stars) and in those cases I will write to them personally and tell them as diplomatically as I can what I didn’t care for and thoughts on how it might be improved. This almost always leads to those authors never speaking to me again. It makes me want to quit doing this, but just as I’m thinking that, I’ll remember the few who wrote back and thanked me, and then made changes based on some of what I suggested. That makes it all worthwhile.
I can tell you that there are authors, like me, who read your reviews and those of others, and use them to learn from. If you mention something in a review of another person’s work, I’ll read it and think…do I do that? I better check.
On that note, it is time for me to put my business hat back on and discuss the lessons from this incident.
1) Unless one only gives their books to family and friends, chance are not everyone will adore your novels and you will receive critical reviews. It is imperative that authors thicken their skins and learn to accept critical comments in a review. Once an author responds emotionally, all reasonable actions go out the window. Normally, once an author lashes out, the dialogue only goes downhill from there.
2) Do not be so greedy about stars. Focus on what is written in the review. As long as the review is not a drive-by, focus on what can be learned from any critical advice that’s given. This gentleman went from 3.5 stars to a 1 star review because he chose to be disrespectful to me over ½ a star-plus I added critical comments that I had withheld from my original review.
3) Don’t argue with reviewers. Again, a review is the opinion of the reviewer. It doesn’t become the author’s problem until (s)he responds to it. This applies to all reviews, including drive-by reviews.
4) Remember that authors need reviewers. Reviewers don’t need authors. A reviewer can walk into the local library or bookstore, or log onto an online bookseller and grab a book to review. When it comes to reviewers, authors don’t have a similar option. When reviewers review books, most, like me, do it out of passion for the written word. That passion can quickly dissolve when the reviewer is not treated with respect.
Thanks for sticking around for this longer-than-usual post. In August, Terri and I participated in a radio talk show on Authors Behaving Badly. On the show, we discussed authors’ mistreatment of bloggers and reviewers. The 2-plus-hour talk show could be summarized by one statement:
DON’T BE A JERK!
About Naomi Blackburn
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: Another excellent post. I'm honored you included me in it. You made many excellent points but one stands out for me, and I hope the message is not lost on other authors:
"Do not be so greedy about stars. Focus on what is written in the review."
You are so right about that. An author can learn more from reading the critical points of reviews than they can from all other feedback combined. The important thing about that, is it allows authors to not only make changes to their existing book, but more importantly, it allows them to avoid making the same mistakes in future books. Reviewers comments are gold mines waiting to be harvested.
Thanks again, Naomi, for your wonderful post. I look forward to the next one.
And thank you, Terri, for always providing your readers with great content.
Thanks Jim!! Thanks for not knowing how much you gave me a kick in the butt that night!
Thanks, Naomi. I'd like to share an experience I had that backs up your point. A reviewer gave my book two stars and plenty of critical words, but they were very thoughtful words. Mostly they centered around his impression that the Amazon summary I had posted was misleading. Sure, it stung, but I was determined to stay professional. I changed the summary because the last thing I want to do is mislead, and thanked the reviewer for helping me improve. Then, to my surprise, he upped his stars to four and removed the critical words that no longer applied.
This reminds me of a discussion on Big Al's Books and Pals blog last year. He gave a poor review to a book and the author responded with outrage. Others commented supporting Big Al and the entire discussion escalated to a ridiculous level. It would have been funny if it hadn't been so embarrassing for other indie authors. Naomi's points are well-taken. If an author does not develop a thick skin, they can wind up humiliating themselves.
KathleenValentine Thanks, Kathleen. I remember that and that Big Al was actually a sarcastic jerk in his comments. Yet the one who walked away stung was the author.
@Mary Jeddore Blakney