Manage Your Brand – and Your Friends


As one of the great unwashed self-published writers, I’ve run across any number of blog posts, etc. that discuss the necessity of “managing your brand,” or acting professionally. Others might put it, “don’t be a douchebag,” which would be consistent with the theme of this post.

After enrolling Diary of a Small Fish in the KDP Select program, I chose to do a few days of free promotion last week, to see how it worked.

Things were going great – I had a huge open house party that was packed. Wall to wall. Code violation material. On day one, it cracked 6,000 downloads. The morning of the second day, I was smiling, thinking that we were in the middle of a pretty good party. Not that I was making money – it was open bar – but still, it’s nice to see people grabbing your free stuff with reckless abandon.

Then someone left a turd in the punchbowl.  It is this that I wish to discuss.

Let’s examine that quaint vernacular. This is an expression for the event that changes your smashing soiree into a potential disaster by leaving an unsavory calling card where everyone is likely to see it.

The precursor to the event was the appearance of a 2 star review on Amazon.  Here’s what the reviewer said:

I scanned the preview pages hoping the story would not be laced with gutter language and feeling pleased…until! Several pages in, the profanity started to fly. No thanks! I’m disappointed because I would have otherwise been very interested in the plot. I just don’t understand why some authors are unable to make their points without the dirtiest of expletives. Of course, dirty book-characters in reality probably would use dirty language, but just say, “He cursed a blue streak” or something more creative than a direct quote! 🙂 I only write this as a heads-up to others who like to avoid foul language whenever possible.

Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking, but don’t go there. This person has every right to his opinion, and I have no objection whatsoever to his leaving a 2 star review and a warning to others. I don’t agree with him, but my job isn’t to pick fights with readers.

In response to this review, an individual with whom I am acquainted through one of the many writers’ community websites left a comment that I think is fairly characterized as “abusive.” It called the person an “a-hole,” insulted his knowledge of narrative, and told him to “read a few novels.”

If you discover a turd in your punchbowl, you remove the punchbowl before anyone sees it, right?

So I messaged my “friend” and asked him to remove the comment. He wanted to argue about the rightness of his position, but right as he might have been, it is never, ever appropriate to abuse a reviewer. Not if it’s your book, and I would say ESPECIALLY not if it’s someone else’s. I insisted that he remove it, and he did.

But not before the reviewer returned for some punch. The abusive comment had been emailed to the reviewer (apparently he checked the box to receive notices).

In the meantime, a like-minded reader commented on the reviewer’s position, sharing his own distaste for vulgarity, and the reviewer shared the nature of the abusive comment he’d received. I’d gotten the punchbowl into the kitchen, but there were murmurs going through the living room. Fast thinking was required!

I had to confront the tried and true axiom that one never responds to a review. But I wasn’t really, was I? I was engaged in rehabilitation, necessitated by someone else’s intemperate meddling. I needed to disavow the abusive comment. So:

Hello LKD, I would like to thank you for your comment, and assure you that I have no problem with your criticism. When I saw the comment to which you refer, I chased down the offender and demanded that he delete it. There is no place for that here; you are entitled to your opinion. I’m sorry Diary of a Small Fish wasn’t for you, and wish you the best.

The discussion proceeded thereafter, which you can see here, and perhaps some will raise an eyebrow to my offering to “sanitize” the manuscript just for two readers – an idea I have since abandoned. But what it shows, I hope, is that sometimes a little extra effort can turn lemons into lemonade (We’ve had enough of the punchbowl metaphor, haven’t we?).

This is not a problem most traditionally published authors would worry about, is it? But self-published writers need to exercise more care in managing our brand – not just our own names, but also the “Self-published” brand itself. This requires that we not only treat reviewers with care and restraint, but that we police our overzealous friends and fans as well.

When it comes to managing your brand, all publicity is not good.

[As for the free promo experiment, the total 2-day download was 8,860, during which it reached #24 on the free list; and coming off the end of it, Diary’s paid rank has gone from 120k to 11k this morning. Now tell me how to keep it up!]


9 Responses to “Manage Your Brand – and Your Friends”

  1. I read the comments left on Amazon, and I’m concerned that in order to appease the conflict, you may have betrayed the story. The way I see it, if a story is meant to have sex or foul language, then it has it. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have put it in there, in the first place, right?

    We have a mutual friend who got several bad reviews because of a certain scene in her book, but she didn’t change it. If this reviewer didn’t like it, fine. but as an author, we can’t be writing two novels for every story. There has to be one story, and one only.

    • 2 Pete

      Well I decided against it – but after all, we’re free to make our own decisions on these matters. I don’t know if “we can’t be” anything is quite right.

  2. 3 Bill Kirton

    An enlightening post and further proof of what a civilised gentleman you are, Peter. For the record, I think your approach was the right one. Now I only wish I knew what “cursed a blue streak” means.

  3. I like the solution you offered – a link to a free short story that wouldn’t offend these readers’ sensibilities. Okay, so the rough language of Fish doesn’t meet their tastes, but you created a very positive reaction from those potential readers by how you responded to them. Everyone has different tastes, and I agree that attacking someone (reader, reviewer, another writer, anyone) who doesn’t want to read something with graphic scenes or language is completely out-of-bounds. As one of the commenters on the review said, some folks want tolerance for their points of view, but refuse to display any tolerance for those they disagree with. I’m not sure I’d rewrite a book to remove the offending language or scenes — that might open up a whole ‘nuther bucket of snakes — but I thought it was a gentlemanly gesture that led to a positive outcome. Well played, sir. Actually listening to and responding positively to readers who have criticism is a rare thing.

    • 6 Pete

      When I mentioned the possibility, I was intrigued with the idea that the profanity could be removed without affecting the story – but then the sex scenes were another matter, and there was no way I was going to monkey with them.

  4. Well done. As an author, I am glad you decided not to write the sanitized version, although I understand why you made the offer. My books are riddled with sex and swearing (the first word in DEVOUR is “Cocksucker!”) so I applaud you for understanding that this is not for everyone 🙂

    • 8 Pete

      Yes, Pav – I can see that your own angle would not work without the language. Mine might, but that’s for future consideration.

  5. It IS, in fact, a problem that traditionally published authors worry about. We have nightmares about it. Seriously. Because the truth is, no matter how you publish, family and friends take bad reviews badly. They think of us as people (fools) – people they love – and bad reviews (particularly those that take personal swipes at us or that they feel “miss the mark”) as attacks. They respond out of loyalty, forgetting that we are now, suddenly and to their minds inexplicably, not just a person but a brand. Meanwhile, readers who don’t know us suffer from their own delusion – that we can control everyone we know and love with an iron fist. Hm. Have these folks never been to a family wedding – you know the kind where grandpa get’s drunk and tells lewd stories despite everyone’s best attempts to stop him? The truth is, just as “negative” reviewers should not be castigated for their honestly held opinions, authors shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions and words of others in response. If we had that level of control over our fellow man (even the fellow men tied to us by bonds of family or friendship) we would use our powers to make our books bestsellers, or, perhaps, skip this writing thing altogether.

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