Guest Speaker: 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. A top 1% 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 is also the publisher at IndiePicks Magazine, a librarian reviewed source focusing on indie imprints, small/medium press, nontraditionally published authors & indie studio film/music.
Maria: Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Maria Dismondy. Welcome back to another Creative Marketing interview. I am the founder and publisher of Cardinal Rule Press, you can see our little logo in the background, and we publish children’s picture books. One of the things I’ve discovered as founder of the company is the importance of marketing, so if you’re tuning in right now, today is actually going to be focused on the book industry. Typically the last few interviews were a very general marketing, but as an author, pay attention, if you’re tuning in as someone who is selling a service or some other type of product, I’m sure you can learn something today that will help you to be useful in your industry.
Welcome, Naomi Blackburn. How are you today?
Naomi: I am fantastic and thrilled to be here.
Maria: Naomi has a wonderful, very unique background. She actually is in healthcare. She has an MBA and she kind of stumbled upon the book industry. Tell us a little bit about what you do in the book industry.
Naomi: When I started off, I am an avid, avid book reader. I love books. I read more books than I watch TV. I was introduced to Goodreads, probably the worst thing that ever happened in my life, and was able to connect with a lot of great authors, different things like that and had the opportunity, had started a group called sisterhood of the travelling book. We were a book review site, book review club, and were able to meet other authors, new authors, and all kinds of good stuff and had an opportunity to write a column for an author friend of mine. It was originally called Authors Behaving Badly. We basically talked a little bit about other and good reads, how not to irk readers and all that good stuff. We really wanted to put a more positive spin on it so it became The Author CEO.
At some point, The Author CEO had spun off into my company. I continued writing and went into a consulting type of role with authors, how they could sell more books, different things along that line. Teaching them how to write business plans which is really critical. An author is a small business and it’s really critical that they treat their books that way.
Maria: I’m so glad you’re saying that. I’ve heard so many… so many clients that I bring on and they say, ‘writing is my hobby, I’m not a business person.’ If you want to be a published author, you have to treat it as a small business. You truly do.
Naomi: Yes. You are putting a ton of money into the book and when you put money into something, most people don’t do it just to, say, there’s money, flush down the toilet or there’s money that goes out the window. You’re looking to get something back from, and especially, it is expensive. What was the last going rate of $11,000 to bring a book, that’s done correctly, to bring a book to market?
Maria: Absolutely. When I first self-published, I started with a publishing company and then I self-published, it was $13,000 the first time, so that’s a lot of money.
Naomi, you were doing all of these while working full-time.
Naomi: Yes. I’m a healthcare executive, I’m in healthcare administration. So, it was doing all of that and basically what I had found is, I continued on because I was also president of my friends’ group, my libraries friends’ group and at that point had started to get know libraries and different things like that and talking to libraries about why were they not bring in the self-published books and things like that and no credible review source and different things like. So, really, my idea for IndiePicks magazine had launched from that. Basically, IndiePicks magazine is a review magazine. The editor in chief will always be a librarian who has editorial experience, different things along that line and then to be any type of writer in the magazine with the exception of people who are already writing in columns but anyone who’s doing any type of review, different things along that line, they have to be a librarian, a librarian who writes a blog and has review experience.
Maria: So, you have several people on your team as far as editing and submitting these reviews to the magazine.
Naomi: Right. We have an editor in chief who comes from a library background or who will come from a library background always and then we have 12 reviewers who are all librarians.
How we wanted IndiePicks to be different, because what we were hearing from the librarians is that even though there are sources out there who are book reviews for IndiePicks, because the author has to purchase those reviews, that they were no longer was Goodreads or it was Amazon, different things along that line, there was no credible review source out there. So, when our business model was initially set up, it was initially set up that we were only focusing on the libraries. What I wanted to say to the libraries was, ‘your own industry is reviewing these books’ to give them that credibility and things like that, and so, that’s kind of where we are. Now, we had set it up with the book page model, I love the magazine book page so I was going to use their model.
Maria: … what page is an entity of publishers weekly.
Naomi: Right. I absolutely love them to pieces and basically wanted to do a magazine that was along that line and what we had found was that we were really going crazy with the subscriptions. We were doing well with the subscriptions but what we were finding was that the librarians were using it more as a reference tool which is beautiful, but our model was not sustainable under that. So, basically what we’re looking is that we are now revamping our model and then we’re going to be heading into relaunch hopefully by the end of the year. I’m thinking January 2019. That’s exactly when I want to launch.
Maria: So those of you, if you are tuning in and you are a published author and you come from an Indie press or a self-published background, correct.
Naomi: Right. It is anything, any Indie outside of the big 5: Amazon, independent publishing houses – small, medium and large, self-published. Now we do have criteria that the author needs to meet or that the publishing house needs to meet and that is they 1) have to be edited, there has to be a professional editor that has been involved in that book and we do check the reference, and there needs to be a cover designer that has been brought in the place because when we look at that a person has taken that stop to bring in those two people, those two vendors or those two designers, that they are considering themselves to be professionals and not the hobbyist like you were just saying.
Maria: Yes. For those who are tuning in, when we are talking about creative marketing, this is key because Naomi, I am sure you’ve heard from librarians… I know I’ve heard from librarians, I actually saw this, witnessed this with my own two eyes, walking into our public library and what was the children’s librarian doing, she was sitting there and she was reading a review magazine. This is where the librarians look in order to purchase books for their library.
Naomi: I’ve had librarians who have been like, ‘please, please, please, please tell me that you are relaunching.’ I get two to three things a week just going, please tell me and me going, ‘it’s coming back, don’t worry.’ We just have to look at what model is going to be sustainable not only for the authors but for the librarians as well.
Maria: And you know what Naomi, Amazon relaunched their model as far as reviews go just a few years ago so I think what you’re doing is a really smart thing. Amazon had to make sure that they had credible reviewers and they put a system in place so that there wasn’t the spam happening and they want family members reviewing for each other, so this is a smart thing that you are doing.
Those of you tuning in, this interview should really bring home the importance to you spending time 4 to 6 months before your book goes to print is typically when you want to be looking for review sites very much ahead of time before publication, submitting to different review publications and IndiePicks will be one to look into at the of the year.
Naomi: Right. Our thing is with us is, we are making sure that those authors, the publishing houses, that they aren’t paying for those reviews. One, because just for us, if you are author, if you have taken it seriously, because you don’t have the traditional five publishing logo and the spinier book, it’s not a reason to be punished.
The other thing is because I truly believed that in reading, (I read 300 books a year), some of the best work that I’ve seen come out has come out of the Indies. We’re not seeing the ticky, you know, what I called, the saying from the 60s (and no, I’m not that old), and the ticky-techie houses and different things along that line is that there’s a lot of great books and we don’t want to see them punished because they have simply to me, gone a different publishing route, which to me is it’s more courageous to go that route than to send your book off and send sell the rights and different things like that.
Maria: Yes, and I have to tell you, one of our viewers right now, Annie Martin said, ‘300 books a year! Bows to you’, and I have to tell you, my goad this year is 50 books and I was like, this is a lot, and I’m just so impressed! You are an avid book reader, which means Naomi, that you are in the top 1% of Goodreads’ top reviewers. That is amazing.
Can we kind of pop into talking a little bit about how to get over on Goodreads? You mentioned a publication that you had put out about authors making some bad choices with bad etiquette, I would love for you tell us what are you still seeing as bad etiquette so that those authors and those in the industry that are tuning in can ‘avoid’ making those same mistakes.
Naomi: My number one, everybody gets bad reviews. The Bible has 1-star reviews on Goodreads, so, everybody gets bad reviews. I have saying, ‘a bad review is like the sun coming up the next day. Expect it.’ Expect it and move one.
I had written 1-star reviews. Because I’m also a reviewer, I’ve written 1-star reviews. I’m not talking about the drama queen, look at me, how badly I can write down or rip up this author apart, different things like that.
Maria: Those are the people who are having a bad day and they’re taking it out on something that they shouldn’t.
Naomi: Yes, or that’s how they get their kicks, different things along that line. There are people out there. They’re out. But I am in a much more serious camp when I’m writing a bad review. I’m not even calling it a bad review. When I’m writing a 1-star review, there are things to be learned from that review. I have friends, I have a lot of reviewer friends, and we take the time to really sit there and say, ‘Why did we have this reaction to this book’ and I can give you a perfect example. I had a friend, and this is actually what started The Author CEO, I had a friend that loved this man’s work, absolutely loved his work. He had written a book… it was very early in my reviewing, I had such a visceral review to this book. I was like, ‘there is no way this character would have done this’, just different thinks like that, that I just ripped the book apart. And he was very quiet, he handled it very professionally, and I was looking at how some of my friends were reviewing it, and they were reviewing it, 4-star and 5-star and I’m like going, ‘what am I missing?’ and I’ve reached out to some of them and the one taught me such a lesson, he goes, ‘Naomi, the fact that you had that visceral of a reaction to that book says everything.’ I’ve sat there and it was like, ‘oh my God, he’s right’ and I’ve changed it to a 4-star review. I was still really [inaudible 15:19] he did that with a character but I changed it to a 4-star review. The author reached out to me and he was like, ‘Alright, what happened?’ and I sat there and I explained my situation and he said, ‘Do me a favor, can you write that?’ and that’s what I did. I wrote up what my reaction was to the book. If he would’ve been thin-skinned, if he would have a reaction and he would’ve blown up and different things like that, it would’ve been really bad. You know, where I had a chance to think about it, I had a chance to digest it and then to come back. There are people that who are reviewing books and that’s how they get their keeps, by causing the drama, different things along that line, there’s nothing you can do about those people.
Maria: No, but you can learn something from the top reviewers who have something substantial to say about your book. I remember what my first book, there was someone who made a comment and it was like a 1 or 2-star review and he made a comment like, ‘you know, I think it’s really important that the children in your stories are solving the problems and that the parents are constantly hand-holding’ and I was like, ‘you know, you have something for that, like, here we’re expecting kids to go school and solve these big problems. I’m not at school with my children fixing it for them so I’ve always had it at the back of my mind for the following 8 books that I wrote, really making sure that my children are handling the problems, maybe reaching out to the grownups for advice but when it comes to the time where they need to make a decision, they’re making the decision because the grownups are at home and they’re at school. Really, I could learn and I think I became a better writer because of some of those reviews. Some of them, like you said were just obnoxious, but before I hang up my hat as a writer, because now I’m just publishing, I learned a lot from those.
So, number one is, I would say your first advice for bad etiquette would be not to react to the ones.
Naomi: Right, take what you need and leave the rest if there’s nothing to take from the review. But also be open to that, be open to those truly critical reviews. Don’t sit there and go, ‘there’s nothing for me to learn from that’ because you’re not going to grow as writer.
The next thing that I would say is that, and it’s not necessarily critical, it is how to network. Really get out there. Other authors, when you’re a self-published or small-published author or whatever, really get out there and network because there’s always somebody who has done it and people want to network. I have met so many authors…
Maria: It’s a lonely industry being writer. So connect. Connection is key.
Naomi: It is. Jump in to those Goodreads groups where there are author groups, jump in to those and really get to know those authors. I have friends who literally fly around the country or they are doing exactly what we’re doing or different things like that and they help each other. They’re doing, they’re figuring out social media search… they’re figuring it out. They’re talking about what worked, what didn’t work, different things along that line.
Maria: I’m sure when someone’s book comes out and you have that network, they’re going to be excited, they’re going to be your cheerleader, they’re going to get your book, they’re going to share your book on social media because you’ve taken the time to make those connections.
Naomi: … and you haven’t been jerk-ish, you haven’t looked at them as being the competitor, because, really, you’re in a market so there is competition but you’re also in a market where coming together and figuring it out because you’re all in the same pool, there are no [inaudible 19:29] out there that it’s going to work. So, as long as you play nice… I had a boss that once [inaudible 19:38] same with me. It was ‘play nice in the sandbox because you’ll never know who’s going to throw sand back.’
Maria: That’s good. You’re coming out with [inaudible 19:48]. It’s probably because you’re reading so many books.
Naomi: Yes, but I always tell people, and we were talking about something else when she came up with that but it was just kind of, I’ve always loved that and have always used that with authors, you know, play nice in the sandbox because you don’t know who’s going to throw sand back, or you’ll never know who’s going to build that sand castle with you.
Maria: Naomi, I love this conversation and you have mentioned that this was a publication, like if we wanted to go through all of the advice you have on bad etiquette for authors, is this a publication that we can Google and we can find or maybe I can post it in the comments as well?
Naomi: Yes, I am at authorceo.com, and this was the other little piece of advice I was going to find. My favorite is badredheadmedia.com, you can fine me there, and Indiepicksmag.com. Those are the biggest place to find me, and I’m Twitter @nblackburn01.
Maria: I will put the link definitely so we could find out more, like in The Author CEO you said you have a lot of advice there and feedback for authors, and just the importance, I think all of this goes back to the whole importance on networking and creative marketing. Creative marketing is thinking outside of the box and how you are going to get the word out into the world about your product, your service or your book, and one way that Naomi taught us was one, through reviews and through a review publication like IndiePicks mag and two, by playing nice. By playing nice as an author and being a good person, supporting others, and if you get a negative review, take a look at it, take what you can and to maybe help you to grow, and if it’s just ridiculous, leave it be and you don’t need to fight back. We should not be getting on the computer, well… blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I mean that’s only going to hurt I would believe your reputation.
Naomi: Right. Think of it this way. If you’re in a work environment, if you’re working for an employer and think of your actions that way, would your actions be tolerated if you were in that work environment? If it not, then don’t do it in your own business.
Maria: Absolutely, and if it is online, it stay online. It’s like in your digital footprint.
Naomi: Your behavior is your brand.
Maria: Your behavior is your brand. That is a really great note to end on today. Naomi, thank you so much for being with us today and being flexible for switching interview with me.
Naomi: Yes. Thank you. Don’t even worry about it. I’m happy and again I apologize, I’m like, crazy, crazy right now.
Maria: I just love that you took the time to share with all of our community so thank you very much.
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My name is Maria Dismondy. I am a children’s book author who also founded the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press.
Finding ways to market my messages is a passion of mine. I want to help you gain greater recognition of your brand, to generate new readers and improve your sales. Why? Because I love to GIVE and CONNECT and I truly believe we are all in this together!