4 October 2012 - 1:28 pm

Sock puppets and cheap tricks

Sock puppetting: the act of creating alternate identities on websites for the purposes of giving yourself good reviews and/or slamming your competition.

The issue of unscrupulous authors gaming review systems to pump their own work has come up a few times recently. Simply put: I’m disgusted.

I value honesty very highly.

As a writer, I value feedback on my work. I read reviews with trepidation but I don’t seek to interfere; the only way that feedback is of any value is if it’s honest and uninfluenced. Where I can, I try to learn from it and address it in the future.

I want to know I’ve earned my own kudos. I don’t want to pump it up artificially, because I’m proud of my work. If it can’t stand on its own and do well under its own merits, I’d like to know, so I can produce something that can.

So I don’t go onto websites and give my own books ratings. Not even websites where I have a login and can do it easily! It’s cheating. It’s cheap. I’m not good at boasting and I think it would only reflect badly on me.

Some writers do it and that’s their choice. They don’t try to hide it. I can deal with that; at least they’re open about it, and I sympathise with the desire to nudge the publicity of a book.

However, some go above and beyond just rating their own work highly. Some create anonymous identities (multiple on the same site!) to post glowing reviews and give themselves 5-star ratings. They fake up a following, a readership, and good reviews and ratings, in order to suck in unsuspecting readers and sell books. They paper their work with lies. Sometimes, they don’t even do it well.

Some writers do it themselves, like RJ Ellory was caught doing recently. Others pay for a review service to do it for them, like John Locke did in his efforts to sell a million books so he could sell a book called How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months.

(An IndieReader post recently said that it’s common practice to ‘pay’ for reviews, and I can see where this writer is coming from. However, I’d like to point out the difference between bribing reviewers with free books/goodies/whatever in the hopes of a review, and outright purchasing a slew of good reviews. One allows that the review might not be 5-star or favourable, depending on the actual quality of the book/preference of the reviewer; the other does not. It’s the latter that really irks me.)

I get that it’s a marketing ploy. I understand how marketing works. I still think these kinds of actions are despicable.

It’s also horribly lazy. Instead of making up good reviews, why don’t they try to write something that would earn them? Use other kinds of marketing to get people to read it, and then see what kinds of reviews come back? Are we really saying that good reviews are more important than good writing?

On top of that, I have to add that using those fake identities to slam the competition is reprehensible and cowardly. (This is also what RJ Ellory is reported to have done.) Seriously, you’re not happy with putting yourself on a pedestal, so you have to tear others down? And you won’t even do it to their face? Wow.

Writers who employ these tactics make us all look bad. I’m so glad that a group of published writers got together to kick Ellory’s ass (in text, of course). And that other writers I know are equally as dismissive of these types of tactics as I am.

Indie authors, in particular, get slammed by accusations of these kinds of tactics. Self-published authors are already looked down upon by others in the industry and this only makes the stigma worse. They’re not doing any of us any favours.

So, to all you cheaters out there: please stop. It’s sad and you’re spoiling it for the rest of us who are trying to make our way honestly in this business.

To the other published writers out there, indie or otherwise, who are doing the right thing: stay strong and ignore those who wish they could write something worthy of real praise. I know I intend to.

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