News

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.

Comments: Scroll down for the latest comments and to have your say

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I would like to start by saying that 'sock-puppet people', are really sad 'I want to be an author' writers who have no idea how to write an entertaining story, so they write about others, making comments that they don't back up with their name or author pseudonym. I know a few of them; they are mostly on Authonomy and Bookrix.
As for me critiquing an author and his work: I've never met the man, nor have I seen him performing on TV or the stage, but after reading Mark Billingham's fourth detective story, I was very disappointed, as it was quoted as a 'best seller'. (I haven’t read works by the other authors mentioned here.)
The book started off slowly, and the main character seemed to be more concerned with his personal problems than the job at hand.
I'd bought a crime thriller that was really a social drama.
Not only that, the character spoke like a New York cop with regular 'cut-off sentences'; what the American's pass off as American Grammar.
I was, to say the least, bored as well as frustrated, so I gave the book away to someone I didn't particularly like.
I read somewhere that best-seller authors 'let it slide' after their first novels, well this is true here as this one was on a real helter-skelter ride. Now I stay clear of 'best-seller' authors, especially those in the New York Times.

Dear Mark, I hope this reaches you and helps you to think about entertaining new readers and not just your fans.

On the author help sight where I am a moderator/interviewer/author we aim to help the good writers and the not-so-good writers to achieve excellence by any means we can, and one of them is not putting them down but lifting them up.
My name is William Stephen Taylor, I’m a short story writer and my pseudonym is T. J. Edison. I have self-published my e-books on Amazon, they aren't anything special, as I suffer from dyslexia, but I do try to entertain my readers.

Thomas. (User name.)

The Bat says:
Maybe Amazon, and other on-line sites, should only accept reviews for books that they actually sold to the reviewer - that way, authors would have to buy their own book in order to review it...and, even worse, buy their rivals' books too!!!

This type of behavior reminds me of the cheating scandals at some American universities and colleges. It just occurred at Harvard as well. Maybe it is the times we live in where people feel anything goes.

It is so very disappointing to see to what lengths people will go to in order to promote themselves and injure others for the sake of a handful of rice.

What those who engage in this type of behavior don't often understand until they are outed is how damaging it is for them professionally. Those that engage in this type of behavior will be outed eventually no matter what they believe. These types of activities don't stay secret for very long.

Readers will move on and the author(s) who engage in such practices will pay a heavy price as confidence in their work will disappear and their reputations will suffer forever.

Robert Gottlieb
Chairman
Trident Media Group, LLC
www.tridentmediagroup.com
See us on Facebook

I review quite a lot of books on Amazon but I don't buy most of them there, I try to get them from local shops - so if Amazon only allowed reviews of products bought from them it more or less finish my reviewing.

The Bat says: "Amazon Customer Review" - the clue is in the name -
why on earth would they want any one else's opinion. (They probably favour positive reviews anyway: they are trying to sell the books after all).

The point isn't whether you bought the book from Amazon. That's easy to arrange. Didn't one of the review-for-sale operations encourage their reviewers to buy the books? The point is whether it's an honest, genuine review - or perhaps I should say, an honest reviewer. You can generally tell this quite quickly if you look at the reviewer's history.

I don't think Az "favour" positive reviews - there's no mechanism to do that unless they refused to publish negative ones. There are other reasons why you may see more positive reviews: if you're reviewing for fun, won't you tend to choose books you think you will like?

I may also be a culprit when it comes to "unpublished autors uploading on amazon". I have no choice though. I, like every author, good, not so good or terrible, want one thing and that is to be published.
There are many scams out there, writing contests and author support sites that end up with glowing comments, but, and its a big BUT. They "suggest" some editing before "publication". Yes, the old POD scam.
I feel sorry for those poor authors who fall into this trap, and I feel nothing but contempt for POD publishers.
The only way to succeed today is to get a name in the publishing world. The only honest people around are the "free contest" organisers. At the moment I know of only one (sci-fi-fantasy)that has replied to my application. They accepted my story for judging and turned the next one down, I don't know the results from the third submission (four per annum) or the results of the others after judging until the end of this month. The site is WotF, yes, the scientoligy people. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not waving the scientoligy flag, but they are at least doing something to help beginner authors. There's prize money involved as well as the opportunity of being published in a paper book, but you have to travel to the USA and stay there for a week to benefit (through exposure) and you will have the opportunity to chat with well-known authors.

I'm still waiting on the other competitions.

I saw Ray Bradbury's video on youtube and I'm following his advice. "Do not start off by writing a novel, write short stories".
And my advice is: "Keep it simple stupid and trust your reader, show characterisation, don't tell".
And most important of all, if you receive criticism then take heed of it and if somebody trashes you, don't worry; as the man said: "Shit happens".

Live to write, write to live.

Thomas.

I would like to start by saying that 'sock-puppet people', are really sad 'I want to be an author' writers who have no idea how to write an entertaining story, so they write about others, making comments that they don't back up with their name or author pseudonym. I know a few of them; they are mostly on Authonomy and Bookrix.
As for me critiquing an author and his work: I've never met the man, nor have I seen him performing on TV or the stage, but after reading Mark Billingham's fourth detective story, I was very disappointed, as it was quoted as a 'best seller'. (I haven’t read works by the other authors mentioned here.)
The book started off slowly, and the main character seemed to be more concerned with his personal problems than the job at hand.
I'd bought a crime thriller that was really a social drama.
Not only that, the character spoke like a New York cop with regular 'cut-off sentences'; what the American's pass off as American Grammar.
I was, to say the least, bored as well as frustrated, so I gave the book away to someone I didn't particularly like.
I read somewhere that best-seller authors 'let it slide' after their first novels, well this is true here as this one was on a real helter-skelter ride. Now I stay clear of 'best-seller' authors, especially those in the New York Times.

Dear Mark, I hope this reaches you and helps you to think about entertaining new readers and not just your fans.

On the author help sight where I am a moderator/interviewer/author we aim to help the good writers and the not-so-good writers to achieve excellence by any means we can, and one of them is not putting them down but lifting them up.
My name is William Stephen Taylor, I’m a short story writer and my pseudonym is T. J. Edison. I have self-published my e-books on Amazon, they aren't anything special, as I suffer from dyslexia, but I do try to entertain my readers.

Thomas. (User name.)

The Bat says:
Maybe Amazon, and other on-line sites, should only accept reviews for books that they actually sold to the reviewer - that way, authors would have to buy their own book in order to review it...and, even worse, buy their rivals' books too!!!

I review quite a lot of books on Amazon but I don't buy most of them there, I try to get them from local shops - so if Amazon only allowed reviews of products bought from them it more or less finish my reviewing.

This type of behavior reminds me of the cheating scandals at some American universities and colleges. It just occurred at Harvard as well. Maybe it is the times we live in where people feel anything goes.

It is so very disappointing to see to what lengths people will go to in order to promote themselves and injure others for the sake of a handful of rice.

What those who engage in this type of behavior don't often understand until they are outed is how damaging it is for them professionally. Those that engage in this type of behavior will be outed eventually no matter what they believe. These types of activities don't stay secret for very long.

Readers will move on and the author(s) who engage in such practices will pay a heavy price as confidence in their work will disappear and their reputations will suffer forever.

Robert Gottlieb
Chairman
Trident Media Group, LLC
www.tridentmediagroup.com
See us on Facebook

The Bat says: "Amazon Customer Review" - the clue is in the name -
why on earth would they want any one else's opinion. (They probably favour positive reviews anyway: they are trying to sell the books after all).

The point isn't whether you bought the book from Amazon. That's easy to arrange. Didn't one of the review-for-sale operations encourage their reviewers to buy the books? The point is whether it's an honest, genuine review - or perhaps I should say, an honest reviewer. You can generally tell this quite quickly if you look at the reviewer's history.

I don't think Az "favour" positive reviews - there's no mechanism to do that unless they refused to publish negative ones. There are other reasons why you may see more positive reviews: if you're reviewing for fun, won't you tend to choose books you think you will like?

I may also be a culprit when it comes to "unpublished autors uploading on amazon". I have no choice though. I, like every author, good, not so good or terrible, want one thing and that is to be published.
There are many scams out there, writing contests and author support sites that end up with glowing comments, but, and its a big BUT. They "suggest" some editing before "publication". Yes, the old POD scam.
I feel sorry for those poor authors who fall into this trap, and I feel nothing but contempt for POD publishers.
The only way to succeed today is to get a name in the publishing world. The only honest people around are the "free contest" organisers. At the moment I know of only one (sci-fi-fantasy)that has replied to my application. They accepted my story for judging and turned the next one down, I don't know the results from the third submission (four per annum) or the results of the others after judging until the end of this month. The site is WotF, yes, the scientoligy people. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not waving the scientoligy flag, but they are at least doing something to help beginner authors. There's prize money involved as well as the opportunity of being published in a paper book, but you have to travel to the USA and stay there for a week to benefit (through exposure) and you will have the opportunity to chat with well-known authors.

I'm still waiting on the other competitions.

I saw Ray Bradbury's video on youtube and I'm following his advice. "Do not start off by writing a novel, write short stories".
And my advice is: "Keep it simple stupid and trust your reader, show characterisation, don't tell".
And most important of all, if you receive criticism then take heed of it and if somebody trashes you, don't worry; as the man said: "Shit happens".

Live to write, write to live.

Thomas.