While I was writing my latest book review, Fair Game by Stephen Leather I was cruising the net for images to put on my article. I came across a picture of Stephen that stated that he liked sock puppets. I glanced at the image and chuckled. I then found an image I liked and moved on.
I then moved off the Google page of images and the engine coughed up an article about the practise of Sock Puppetry. I was curious about this “new” thing that was going on in the world of literature.
Essentially, sock puppets is another term for trolling. Okay, the article did not call it that, nor did the other multitude of articles dealing with this practise. The explanation of sock puppetry is as follows:
” pseudonymous handles to post positive Amazon reviews of [sic] an author’s own books and one-star reviews of others.” *courtesy of the LA Times* Basically, “certain” authors are giving their published works 5 star reviews on Amazon (and presumably sites like Goodreads) and slating the competition.
It certainly sounds like trolling to me. Slating something someone else has done (usually on YouTube) and hiding behind a fake identity. The main difference of course is it that the sock puppet version of trolling is being done by someone with a vested interest is “cutting back” the competition.
Whether we like it or not, writing is a business. One that has become increasingly reliant on author participation directly related to sales. New authors (and even “established” ones) are having to resort to touting their wares beyond the “old-fashioned” route of book signings and interviews on local and national media stations.
New authors are having to go the ‘self publishing’ route or are striving to make a name for themselves in the ever-increasing tide of eBooks that are the “bread and butter” of the kindle world. The old-fashioned publishing world exists, of course it does, with its huge slush pile of rejected manuscripts and agents on the look out for a “new” published author.
As the eBook industry is gearing up, book reviews in newspapers and magazines are getting sparse. You can still find them of course, Reader’s Digest still has a monthly one, but, these are mostly for established writers well-known to the reading public. New authors do get a mention, sometimes.
So you are a writer and you’ve finished your book and , dammit, it’s good. You’ve got a ton of reject slips telling you so, it’s just that it’s not what the publisher needs right now. So you go the eBook route and self publish. It’s done more than you would think.
Now your book is published and out there for the world to read. It is unfortunately under-priced and the revenue coming in isn’t enough to buy a pint of bitter down the local pub. It needs some attention and a lot more positive notices so that readers want to try it out.
Now the under-pricing is impacting the sales of books in that they are driving the value of books down. As a consumer I applaud this, as a writer I am appalled. How can you make a living out of selling books that go for 99 pence a copy? I might have to work at MacDonald’s while I write in my spare time for the rest of my life.
But price matters aside (we won’t mention the “free” books) how do you drive readers to your works apart from relying on the medium that is selling your book?
Amazon has a section for reviews and has had for a long time. This system, set up for readers to say what they thought of their reading experience has always been open to “fake” reviews. It is part and parcel of a business that relies on “written word of mouth” to sell your stories.
Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Buchanan wrote in one of her autobiographical books that when she worked on a small newspaper in Florida she and a co-worker wrote “fake” inflammatory letters to the editor to get a reaction and drive their readership up. On a lesser note, editors use to also write to their own Playboy magazine with “sexual exploit” letters for a similar reason.
So could we accuse the award-winning Ms Buchanan of early sock puppetry? I don’t think so. Because no matter how we go about it, business is business. Sure it’s not the same as the old saying, ” In love and war…” There are laws and apart from a lot of authors all squealing because they got a poor review on Amazon from a fictitious fan, trolling is not illegal.
Unethical? Probably. Maybe.
Either way, it is the way business is being done in an environment that requires so much more author input into the sales of their books.
On a final note, who really pays attention to book reviews? I read them (always have) but most are written by book critics who have their own agendas. Just like internet sites like IGN and G4 are thinly disguised marketing tools, so are book critics. I do pay a bit of attention to fan reviews but they are opinion based and not a hard and fast picture of how good a book really is.
I can sympathise with the aggrieved authors who feel (quite rightly, I suppose) that they are being unfairly picked on, but…
I know that at least one author who has clawed his way up through electronic publishing to become a successful “traditionally” published writer has bucket loads of talent and writes one helluva good book. I think that if you are on the other side of the fence and are trying to become successful in your field you will do whatever you have to.
Success isn’t just a state of mind, it’s having the dedication to take advantage of any legal doors open to you. This war is going to go on for sometime to come. Just because a few authors have been caught with their fingers caught in the proverbial cookie jar doesn’t mean that the practise will stop.
- Sock Puppets (meandmybigmouth.typepad.com)
- Trollish sock puppet (excelsizeus.wordpress.com)
- “Sock puppets have no constitutional rights” – Attorney Ron Kuby (bookofjoe.com)
- My Reddit Experiment and the Troll Who Ended It (jamesschannep.com)
- Amazon removes book reviews by fellow authors (guardian.co.uk)
- Sock Puppets for Everyone! (theindieexchange.com)
- The Best Time To Be a Writer (leegoldberg.typepad.com)
- Fair Game by Stephen Leather…Spider’s Web (mikesfilmtalk.com)