Condemnation grows for sock puppet reviews

Authors including Lee Child, Mark Billingham, Joanne Harris, Charlie Higson and Tony Parsons have signed up to a group statement condemning sock puppetry, the practice of writing reviews pseudonymously to praise one's own work and criticise that of others.

The Society of Authors has also joined in the condemnation, calling it "dishonest and misleading."

The outcry follows the unmasking of crime writer R J Ellory as among those producing so-called "sock puppet" reviews for his own novels and those of other crime writers.

The group statement from the authors states: "These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large."

The authors warn that Ellory, Stephen Leather and John Locke have all made use of "sock-puppet" or paid for reviews. The authors state: "These are just three cases of abuse we know about. Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well. We the undersigned unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics."

They end by calling on readers to contribute to online reviewing."Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving,  can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author,  however devious,  can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?"

The signatories are: Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, N J Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Adèle Geras, Joanne Harris, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Peter James, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, S J Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Neil White and Laura Wilson.

Meanwhile SoA general secretary Nicola Solomon said: "We deplore the practice: not only because it is dishonest and misleading, but also because it is ultimately counter-productive: if buyers know they cannot trust some Amazon reviews, they won't trust any; so authors lose the opportunity to have new readers discover their books by bona fide word of mouth."

There have been multiple blog posts online today (3rd September) discussing the issue, including from authors Nick Harkaway and Claire McGowan.