“I’m not a businessman, I’m a BUSINESS, man.”
-Jay Z, Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix), Late Registration (Kanye West Album), (2005)
I call this post “The Art of Losing Sales” because it was inspired by an author cutting the monkey fool in a Goodreads thread. Unbeknownst to that author, I had just decided to buy some books by him. After watching him cut up online, I decided my money was better in my pocket as I no longer trusted the author’s brand (or behavior). I mistakenly told the author that he had lost a sale due to unprofessional commentary and he informed me that he wasn’t a “business person” or a “professional” but a writer! and an artist! who wasn’t bound by the horrible nature of business.
I’ve been watching Goodreads implode lately. Mostly just reading the threads without commenting as I’m weaning myself off of the site. I think there’s something…different and somewhat enlightening about reading the commentary without the intention of commenting myself. I feel that it makes me think more – pay more attention to how I feel about the subject instead of what I feel about a subject…if that makes any sense (in the area of think, not speak).
So, I’ve been reading a lot at GR without actually commenting. It’s worked well for me so far.
I was recently reading a thread about a rather controversial Goodreads topic: Should authors comment on reviews about their own books and should reader-reviewers have the option to disallow author comments on those reviews. This is a subject that gets a lot of Goodreads members rather…emotional. There’s a long and rather trifling history about author comments on GR reviews so the subject gives both readers and authors the feels about this subject.
My opinion: I agree with some parts of both sides of the argument. I do think that author commentary can stifle discussion quite often but I’ve also seen author commentary foster discussion. Honestly, it all depends on the personality of the author. Some authors can and do maintain a high level of interaction with readers while still being professional and keeping their “author mystique.” Other authors completely lose their shit at the first hint of any type of dissenting opinion and/or critical commentary. It makes sense – we’re all human.
But the topic made me think…
Why don’t all authors think of themselves as a business and a brand? The name on the front of the book IS the brand (and happens to be the name of the author). Do (some) authors not realize that – like Jay-Z quoted above – if a consumer does not like a brand they will not support that brand? Each and every author is their own brand, like Jay-Z…or Michael Jordan.
In this discussion I’m using two such big names as an example BECAUSE they are big names and their name is their brand. Michael Jordan has a clothing/shoe empire as well as ownership in a basketball team. Jay-Z produces music and videos, makes music and videos, has a clothing line, a shoe line, and serves as an agent to both musicians and sports figures. Both of these wildly successful men wear many hats – but the primary hat is also their primary brand: their identity. If talking sports and you say “#23” everyone knows you’re talking about Michael Jordan. If Michael Jordon does something I [dislike/don’t agree with/am offended by] then I would boycott Michael Jordan. This would include all things branded with his identity. That boycott list could include sneakers, clothing, Nike, Jordan’s several car dealerships, Jordan’s several restaurants/bars and The Charlotte
Bobcats Hornets (including the team’s logo items). This is well-known consumer behavior called voting with your wallet. In addition to not giving Jordan any of my money, I would talk to all my friends and try to keep them from spending money which would eventually flow to Jordan, too.
Let’s move this idea of branding and consumer boycotting to publishing.
In the past there was a pretty significant distance between the reader and the author – readers would buy, read and discuss; authors would write (and get paid). Now authors and readers mingle like desperate singles at a club, colliding with each other beneath the flashing lights. Authors no longer only write [and publish] books in isolation, they now have the option of social media. Social media allows for rather…close contact between individuals and groups. It removes barriers and thus sometimes people forget if they are having a private or a public conversation. Social media has helped professionals connect with their target audience(s) but specifically branded professionals sometimes forget (or fail to even realize) that the viewing public may not agree with their actions/words and decide to boycott them.
Some authors feel they are owed something…their sister/mother/brother loved their book, the rest of the world MUST or they are “bad people” or “spiteful” or a myriad of other insults that all boil down to, “You must love me. Or Else.” And the Or Else has been – time and time again – shown to be at the detriment of the reader: from [public] arguments with an author at best to the doxxing of readers (including photo, real name, and information about the readers’ family) at worst.
This insanity has not assisted authors in the least: authors in general and self-published authors (SPAs) specifically are all tarred when a Badly Behaving Author (BBA) throws a fit. Readers have become antsy, nervous. Now a lot of readers have stopped reviewing (there goes those necessary consumer reviews) and a lot of reader-reviewers have stopped accepting review requests from self-published authors (which equals less book discoverability for SPAs). There are tons of reasons (whether due to poor writing, poor storytelling, shenanigans aimed at gaming the system, public complaints about their audience or outright meltdowns) why large groups of readers are turned off by these “Or Else” authors but the bottom line is this: a lack of trust in that author’s brand.
Other authors are…amazing! They are kind, considerate and extremely professional. They look at their writings as their work…because that’s what it is. It is the medium by which they make (or hope to make) their income. These are the authors whom most of us see as “successful.” Quite often these are also the authors who realize that their very name is a brand. It’s how Nora Roberts goes from being just a romance author to THE auto-buy Romance Author (an auto-buy author is an author who you trust so much that you are willing to buy their work sight unseen). It’s the reason J.K. Rowling tried to hide her identity with a pen name when she changed genres and why readers say they are reading an Ilona Andrews book vs. saying they are reading a Kate Daniels book.
And this is where I start to run out of steam, lol. After a brief period of time, I no longer care why some authors can’t understand that they are a brand. I just stop reading them (or never pick them up) and move on. My To Be Read-Owned (TBR-owned) list is amazingly long…I could go decades without buying a new book. One great example of an author not realizing that they are a brand happened just as I was thinking about shelving this opinion piece (it’s not like I have a huge readership, lol).
As I mentioned earlier, I peruse a lot of Goodreads threads without commenting. I saw an author (in one of my preferred sub-genres, no less!) make some extremely factually incorrect statements about copyright and the internet in a Goodreads Feedback* thread. Her comment was taken to task by several members until she admitted she was giving out incorrect information. It should have ended there. But instead the author informs the group that she’s drunk posting – then accuses random people of “hate campaigning” (AKA boycotting) her for marking her books as “do no read” (DNR) even as other members pleaded with her to stop posting while drunk. Instead of stopping the author proceeds to break the cardinal rule of the Feedback group: You are NOT allowed to link or name any member in the Feedback threads. If there is a technical problem with an author or book – that can be mentioned. If it is anything else – anything – you cannot identify the member (this information can only be given privately to GR staff). Period. No links, no names. No names, no links. But this author did name and link members because she was angry a member who had not commented DNR’d her book and she wanted to name and shame that member, no matter the rules (and she was reminded). Sadly, I just added her to my “Do Not Read” (DNR) list.
The Art of Losing Sales…
*Goodreads Feedback Group is the largest group at Goodreads. For every thread that has people actually commenting, there are usually thousands more members who only read and do not comment. GR does not allow member identification or links for that reason – it can cause a horrible backlash against the person identified.