The author community thrives on story, and sometimes those stories are amplified into a crisis – whether real or perceived.
The disappearance of reviews, a change in the algorithm, a drop in book sales, a trademark filed on a common word. These are all forms of crisis that indie authors have been concerned about in the last year.
But change is the only constant, and there will always be more to navigate. In today's article, Chris Syme explains how we can manage crisis in a more effective way.
When we hear the term crisis management, we think of newsworthy events and scandals. Something everyone hears about. Something that makes a splash in the news.
But in reality, a crisis is any event that has the potential for negative impact. And when we use this definition, it’s much easier to separate out events that need to be ignored. Yes, ignoring is a viable response to a negative event.
But how do we know what to ignore and what to respond to?
Indie authors encounter potential crises regularly.
When you run your own business, you are responsible for dealing with whatever comes along to threaten your hard work. Authors can implement four simple steps to deal with this unpleasant side of being a solo entrepreneur: listen, engage, evaluate and respond.
Listen and engage are the pieces that help prevent a crisis. Evaluate and respond help you handle any potential problems.
The most challenging piece of crisis management for most authors is the evaluation process. How do I know if I should respond or ignore what’s going on?
The first and most important step in the process of evaluation is learning to evaluate the threat level. What is the potential of the event to disrupt my business?
To keep it simple, I use three threat levels: one, two and three with one being the least threatening.
Level One Threat
Most level one threats can be handled in the context of normal daily operations and resources such as email, social media channels, and blogs.
Examples of a level one threat might include: reviews vanishing from Amazon, another author giving you a bad review on Goodreads, a reviewer leaving a bad review on your Facebook page, a reader calling you out for grammar or editing errors in your book.
Level Two Threat
Requires you to contact a company or entity about information that is threatening to your business platform and requires an action such as filing a complaint, filling out a form, or contacting someone directly via Messenger or email.
Examples of a level two threat include: Someone has set up a Twitter profile pretending to be you, receiving an email from Amazon asking you to validate the ownership of one of your books someone else is claiming ownership to, books disappearing from an online bookstore, or losing access to your Facebook page. All these require action on your part.
Level Three Threat
Has the potential to impact your whole platform or business and may require outside help from a lawyer or PR specialist.
This also includes any crisis that involves a “swarm.” A swarm is an angry mob on social media that has been activated by an individual or organization designed to ruin someone’s reputation or business, or is designed to pressure the target to perform an action the mob deems important.
Examples of a level three threat include: “swarm attacks” on social media either instigated by another author, disgruntled readers, a political group, or an unknown source.
Level three may also include illegal actions you are accused of, either rightfully or wrongfully. It may also include something on the level of losing all your books on Amazon due to an algorithm irregularity that identifies you as a scammer.
Identifying the threat level is the first step toward gaining peace of mind in any crisis. If you are at level one, that’s something you can easily handle or just ignore.
Level two may require some research and time, so you’ll need to set aside time to do the work.
Level three means you may have to get some help.
But before you take any action, there is one more critical step to take:
Separate Fact From Fiction
A crisis can become like a game of operator. You remember that game we played as kids where we sit in a circle and somebody whispers something to the first person that has a couple specific things they need to remember? Everybody keeps whispering down the line and by the time the message gets to the last one in the circle, it never resembles the original. That is what can happen in a crisis.
Your first task after recognizing the level is to gird your loins and find out what’s really going on. In order to do this well, you need to adopt a bulldog attitude. Although bulldogs are friendly dogs, they are willful and tenacious when you try and take something away from them. They never let go.
You need to put aside your golden retriever personality and become a bulldog. Focused, tenacious, wise. Treat each incident as a business task. Never let your personal emotions play into the evaluation.
Just the Facts Ma’am
Let’s take a bad review as an elementary example. What is the truth in this scenario? Is it a bad review or is it a complaint about Amazon, the genre, a mistaken category? What is the reader calling out?
You need to run through a quick checklist and put the complaint in the proper setting.
- Is the reviewer being mean-spirited? Then leave it and forget about it. Mean people are not worth your time.
- Do they just not like the way you write or the book’s plot? No big deal—every book isn’t for everybody.
You get the idea. Put the complaint in the context of truth.
I do not coach authors to pay attention to bad reviews unless there is a pattern. The truth is, book reviews are not your property—they belong to the writer and the online bookstore.
I do coach writers to mine snippets from positive reviews for marketing purposes, but I encourage you to adopt a business attitude toward all your book reviews.
These two truths have helped me put book reviews in the proper perspective:
- Every book isn’t for everybody; I didn’t write a book for everybody.
- Everybody gets bad reviews—it goes with the territory. My books are no different from anyone else’s in that regard.
No matter what level of crisis you see coming, this is step one — find the facts, ditch the rest. Whether your crisis needs a response or needs to be ignored, you need to know how to evaluate the threat level before you can make that decision.
Have you had to deal with any crises – small or large – in your author business? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
To learn more about the four steps of crisis management, get up a copy of Chris’ new book, Crisis Management For Authors.
Chris is a 20-year veteran of the communications and marketing industry and is the founder of SMART Marketing For Authors Online Classes. She is a former university media relations and marketing professional. Her work on crisis management has been published in MSNBC Online, Sports Illustrated, Social Media Today, and numerous higher education journals.
Chris also co-hosts the popular Smarty Pants Book Marketing Podcast with her daughter, USA Today bestselling author R.L. (Becca) Syme. You can find out more on her website here and connect with her on Twitter @cksyme.
[Storm photo courtesy Josep Castells and Unsplash. Man with umbrella image courtesy JW and Unsplash.]
Dr Janelle Trees says
Thanks, Chris, for articulating and normalising some of our nightmares. I’ll have a look at your book.
Cristina G. says
That’s precisely what I think too about reviews.
We have no control over them, and the reviewers don’t care about our feelings, they care about theirs.
It’s not easy to read a review that is one word only “dull, dull, dull”, for example. But when it’s referred to your life (a dramatic memoir), the impact is catastrophic on the potential readers, but also on the author because it’s a real-life story.
That being said, as authors we have a lot to deal with, but if we think from a reader’s point of view, their life is not easy either.
As Chris Syme says: “Is the reviewer being mean-spirited? Then leave it and forget about it. Mean people are not worth your time.”
Interesting book and post.
Stephanie Danielson says
Great advice! Keeping things in context is a help and just the facts.
Amelia G says
I’m on a crisis of my own of some sort. I’m experiencing a deep resentment towards self-publishing due to my 1st novel not succeeding in a way the so-called “experts” said it would. It’s really disturbing, and it bothers me a lot. It’s a lot worse when I see indie authors with only one or two works, and they suddenly get like tons of followers, sign-ups, rave reviews, quit day jobs, etc. I can’t help but feel depressed, miserable, and above all else angry.
Joanna Penn says
I’ve written about this in The Successful Author Mindset. I call it ‘comparisonitis,’ you can read about it here: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/comparisonitis/
I’ve also talked about this in my interview with Amber Rae where we talk about making an ‘envy map’ and using it to fuel the next steps on the journey.
A first novel is very unlikely to succeed and there are very few indie authors with only one or two books who succeed. It took me 5 years of doing this part-time before I could leave my job, and 7 years before my income got back up to where I was when I started. You can read my timeline here: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/timeline/
Basically, it takes time and you need to write more books, learn about craft and also marketing and business.
There is no short cut, and that’s what I have been saying on this site for 10 years – but if you love writing and you are willing to learn, then success if possible, however you define it. https://www.thecreativepenn.com/definition-of-success/