01.01.70 | Scott Pack
A great deal has been written recently about the sock puppet scandal involving crime writers R J Ellory and Stephen Leather, and possibly others, who used fake online identities to promote their own work and, in Ellory’s case, hatchet jobs of books by other authors. Many have suspected that this sort of thing has been going on for some time but it took the dogged detective work of another crime writer, Jeremy Duns, to prove it.
But that’s as much of a recap as I want to bother with here. What has really fascinated me is the reaction once the story broke.
After he was rumbled R J Ellory did issue an apology—if not a particularly strident one. Compared to Stephen Leather, however, Ellory is positively self-flagellating in his response. As far as I can tell Leather is completely oblivious to the fact that he has done anything wrong at all.
Of course, depending on your point of view you can find unsavoury practices throughout our industry. Some are outraged that authors with the same agent praise each other’s books in the end of year round-ups; others still recoil at the notion that retailers charge for shelf space (D J Taylor once claimed these were no better than bribes); there are claims that the retailers’ book charts are ‘fixed’; that small publishers cannot get their books reviewed in the broadsheets; that self-published authors are discriminated against by the major prizes. Each of these can be argued for and against—is sock puppetry any different?
It will be interesting to see what impact these revelations have on the future careers of the authors concerned. It may all end up as a brief storm in a literary teacup or it could have a more long-term impact. Early indications are that fans of Ellory and Leather are quick to forgive, with Ellory in particular receiving many messages of support online. Whether their fellow crime writers will be quite so understanding remains to be seen. I’d be fascinated to see if any quotes appear on the next books by either author, for example.
If being found out is perceived as a career damaging or threatening revelation then it surely will discourage most authors from even thinking about it in future, won’t it? I suspect that quite a few people have spent the few weeks frantically deleting fake accounts and Amazon reviews and, useful though it may have been to expose them too, this is ultimately a good thing. Hopefully a repugnant practice has now been killed off.