Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Column: The Business of Writing: The CLM (Career-Limiting Move) by Linda Rohrbough

Back when I was a technology reporter, the rumor was Bill Gates’ e-mail address was known to every employee at Microsoft. But to e-mail Bill without an extremely good reason was known as a CLM – a career-limiting move. There are CLMs available to everyone, however, and writers are no exception.

Most recently, I watched a doozie CLM when a first-time novelist posted on a loop a long rant about an unfavorable review she received on Amazon.com. She got a bunch of writers stirred up to go after the reviewer.

The author listed all the things she did to get the reviewer’s one-star mention of her book pulled. But Amazon refused to do it. It’s important to note the review was of a first novel that’s received all kinds of attention, including a video trailer pre-release from the publisher. Plus Amazon had over thirty five-star reviews of the book the first week it was out.

Just for grins, I looked up the one-star reviewer. She’d done 830 other reviews, was in the top 500 of reviewers with Amazon, has two college degrees, a number of medical disorders including scoliosis, and a strong following. Oh boy. Talk about a CLM.

I got on the loop and posted the reviewer’s credentials, then I said short and sweet my advice would be to thank the reviewer. I didn’t say this on the loop, but not only is this the right thing to do, it’s a smart business move. If a reviewer with a following gets a thank you from an author, they might consider looking at the next book that author writes. If they get a bunch of flack from the author and his/her friends, you think they’ll review that author’s books again? And as they say, even bad publicity is still publicity.

But it gets worse. This little Amazon controversy I was telling you about reached the ears of the publisher. So this writer got on the loop, thanked everyone for their support, but asked that they please stop going after the reviewer and Amazon. Further, she turned around to blame the people on the loop by saying her publisher insinuated she was behind some of the ugly comments aimed at the reviewer.

In my opinion, that insinuation was true. If she had only complained to her circle of friends, and kept it off a public loop, her publisher might not even know there’s a one-star review on Amazon.com.

I was concerned this author’s first book may be her last. But I heard she got another contract. She got lucky, in my humble opinion.

After watching that whole drama play out, I took away five things.

First, everyone is not going to like every book. Eat, Pray, Love, the national best-seller by Elizabeth Gilbert, last time I checked had over 2,500 Amazon.com reviews with 560 one-star reviews. In fact, I took a look at several best-sellers and all had some one-star reviews.

Second, it’s important to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. When I was a reporter, I had people clamoring at me every day to look at their product or review their book. It got old fast, and I was being paid. Can I tell you how many thank yous I got? Maybe one in a hundred.

Third, maybe there is improvement to be made. I got some very harsh but useful reviews in college when I was a sophomore invited by the professors into the graduate-level creative writing courses. The graduate students made no secret they resented my presence as an undergrad, so they never pulled their punches. And no one has ever been meaner than that, before or since.

Fourth, I want to be prepared to accept some adversity and respond in a way that leaves the door open for further success. Do I dread a poor review? You bet. But I also want to be smart and not limit myself.

Fifth, I never hear my best-selling friends talk about their bad reviews. And I mean never. Talking about bad reviews is about the same as telling an agent you’re querying about all the other agents who have rejected your book. Not a smart move.

Overall, I’d say there are lots of CLMs in this business. And fighting with a book reviewer is near the top of the list. I said all this because I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else. With my new book out, I want to set realistic expectations, focus on the good, and have a plan in place to handle myself and the situation when things don’t go the way I’d like. I hope sharing my plan has helped you.

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." An iPhone App of her popular three-step formula workshop for writers, “Pitch Your Book,” is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website: www.LindaRohrbough.com.

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