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A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Sock Puppeteers

What are writers to do?  It is tough enough out there, without competing against the sock puppeteers.

You ask, what the heck are sock puppeteers, anyway?

There is an eye opening article here: RJ Ellory, Author, Caught Writing Fake Amazon Reviews For Books

Sock puppeteers are the people who put up fake reviews. It can be done by opening accounts in other names and putting up great reviews of your own work--to bolster ratings. Or, a puppeteer can tear down another author's rating by leaving bad reviews and bad ratings. 

From the article:

"One of the United Kingdom's most successful thriller writers, Stephen Leather, also admitted to sock-puppeting and claimed the practice is commonplace.

“I’ll go on to several forums … and post there, under my own name and under various other names and various other characters," Leather disclosed at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, according to the Telelgraph. "You build this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself … I have friends who are sockpuppets … One person on their own, difficult to create a buzz. If you’ve got ten friends, and they’ve got friends, and you can get them all as one creating a buzz, then hopefully you’ll be all right."

Uh oh. How many lines are being crossed?  I've seen Twitter accounts that I know are all owned by one person.  At first I didn't catch on. I was amazed that an author could have such devout fans.

In the article, it states that perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I don't want to sound like the naive idiot who will never sell a book due to a stringent code of ethics..but this does beg the question:  How much are we willing to compromise for the sake of selling books? 

Obviously, trashing another author's work is wrong on all accounts.  And I would not have even thought about the rest had it not been for Stephen Leather's admission.  He's talking forums--not Amazon reviews. And I've seen the Twitter accounts in action.  I actually think that the Twitter accounts are a good marketing approach.  But, even there, perhaps lines are being crossed...

I think the sock puppeteering  on Amazon is wrong.  And "shill reviews" as I call them, are never a good idea. 

On forums...as Leather did, wrong when you are misrepresenting identity as being different individuals. If it is disclosed as a marketing ploy, it's just advertising from then on. 

With the practice so widespread, how do you feel about multiple accounts for the sake of publicity?  Regarding the practice, what are your ideas of right and wrong?

Leave me a comment. I don't bite. Heck...I don't even yell. :-)


  1. From Twitter:

    Karen Jones Gowen ‏@KarenGowen

    @Teresa_Willow Hey I know, how about actually spending all that puppet time writing more books? Great post!

    Dr Veronica Anderson ‏@DrVeronicaEyeMD

    @Teresa_Willow There are always people who scam the system.

  2. Well, I personally think it's distasteful. I have probably gone about this whole thing the wrong way, because I got so excited about finally publishing, I didn't remember I'd need to market. No platform built, no preview copies for readers to review...none of that. But, I've felt like I'm a little snowball at the top of a hill. I'm small now, but as I roll down the hill I gather snow, snow that sticks, and real folks who read my book and enjoy it, will tell others. Will I make a million? Nope, probably not. But, will I continue to market my book honestly and professionally. That's just my humble little two cents worth.

  3. Oh Millie, I know what you mean. No matter how we tackle building our platforms, it seems like we are laways running behind.

    I think you have a wonderfully healthy perspective of what you want your book to do. Entertain--yes. Make a million--maybe not. But, we are all in this together--it is bad form to tear down someone else.

    I guess some people have to learn that the best way to the top is not knocking other people down to use for them steps. :-)

    Thanks for visiting! And for the follow. I got you back. :-)

  4. For me, that is just a logistical nightmare. Not to mention unethical. I've bought books in the past based on 'glowing' reviews and realized after the first chapter that either A... those reviews were written by friends, or B... those reviews were written by the author themselves. Because there's no way something so poorly written and edited could garner 20 five star buzz. I've grown savvy and have begun reading the peek inside option. It's just too easy to be fooled now. :(

    I get excited every time I get a real review, yes, it's slow going waiting for real readers to give me reviews... but at least I know I haven't orchestrated to give myself a ton of undeserved 4's and 5's.

    The whole practice disgusts me and makes me sad quite frankly. There's so many readers now that are distrustful of an Indie book if it's got too high a rating. I read a fantastic book the other week, the book's been out since '11 and has over 20 reviews, none of which are 3's. I nearly passed over the book because I started wondering if those reviews were bogus. Then I sampled it, downloaded it seconds later, and fell in love. It's just too bad that writers feel the need to do this. Let your books stand on their own merits, if it's good, you'll find your audience withour resorting to trickery.

    *shrug* Just me. :)

    1. Well said, Marie. The rating system is dicey, at best. I've come to assume that almost every writer has some friends and family who will put up a five star review for a book that, ahem, is actually less than a five star book. In all fairness, though, sometimes friends and family aren't actually doing it as a shill. They perhaps aren't regular readers--and can't believe that someone they know and love has written a book and they really think it is all that. I know, as an unpublished writer, when it comes to family and friends alpha reading my books? It happens. And I've yet to have one of them tell me that a story is lousy. They rave. THAT doesn't mean my books are actually rave-worthy. But it does mean that they think it is and they would leave such a review from their hearts--not from their heads. That leads me to believe that you really can't trust the first dozen or so reviews (at least). So,directed at your comment about buying books in the past... I too have seen this phenomenon. I like to hear about a book word of mouth, or see 50 reviews before I judge it as something I want to read. BUT, I read indies all the time and quite often find gems among them.

      Haha...I guess it's hard enough without dealing with the trickery. :-)

      Thanks for visiting and weighing in, Marie. You've brought up some valid points. :-)

  5. Great post, very thought provoking, even if I am late to the party!

    I'm not published yet, but I like to think that I've got better standards than opening multiple accounts to praise myself. I've got a sense of dignity.

    I want to publish to move other people, to change them even in small ways, to make them think about themselves and the world around them. So, it's kind of a no-brainer that I want to hear from those people.

    Besides, omg, I talk to myself all day long anyway! What the heck would I want to do it online for??

    If I opened accounts in my characters' names and started conversations about my book with me, I hope someone would do an intervention. That's a serious signal that I need to step away from the computer, the book, the characters, all of that for a while and figure out what the heck went wrong with my moral compass. I'm just sayin'.

    1. Love this comment, Owly! "Besides, omg, I talk to myself all day long anyway! What the heck would I want to do it online for??" Too funny.

      "I want to publish to move other people, to change them even in small ways, to make them think about themselves and the world around them. So, it's kind of a no-brainer that I want to hear from those people. " You're book has such a wonderful goal! And it's all wrapped up in that great story. :-)

      Thanks for visiting and weighing in! :-)