Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Fake Reviews

Whoa. How did it get to be Friday already?

It’s been about two months since author Stephen Leather dropped the news that he used sock puppets to create buzz about his work (it’s buried deep). Since Leather’s admission, there have been at least three other cases of authors being outed for employing sock puppets. We’ve also seen a New York Times article about a man who made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling reviews, and, perhaps even worse, the story of a well-known author who in not content with posting five-star reviews of his own books, he also has to tear down the work of others.

In each case, the news has been met with outrage in the writing community. The Absolute Write ‘authors behaving badly’ sections fills up faster than a Red Lobster on ‘All You Can Eat Shrimp’ night. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of bloggers have weighed in, almost universally condemning these actions, and rightly so. It rigs the system against the men and women who are trying to build an audience with quality books and hard, honest work. It tilts the playing field.

But what will be the long-term outcome of this scandal on the Sock Puppetmasters? If you follow the threads on AW, and the comments in the blog posts, you would believe they will never sell another book so long as they live. “Add Author X to my Do Not Read pile” posts sprout like weeds. These authors get tied to the whipping post for a public flogging, and then…what?

It’s too soon to tell for sure what will happen to Leather, Ellory, John Locke, and the other Sock Puppetmasters, but here’s what I think: Nothing. Outside the outraged community of fellow authors, there will be no repercussions for them. Why? Because I don’t believe the book-buying public really cares. In the grand scheme of things, buying reviews, writing your own reviews, even sniping at fellow authors while hiding behind fake accounts, that’s small potatoes. We’re a society that shrugs off far bigger lies; we accept, even expect, it. We elect liars and cheats to the most powerful offices in the world; who cares about a writer being less than honest? As long as he’s not breaking the law or doing anything really sick, most people will shrug it off. And they’ll shrug it off in particular if the person can write a good story (I’ve never read any of the authors in question, so I can’t speak to that).

Please note I in no way condone this behavior. It’s cheating. It’s slimy. It hurts authors who are trying to make it honestly, and I won’t do it myself. I just don’t believe it will really impact sales all that much, but time will tell. What do you think?

———-

Two other things: Last week, Lisa L. Regan–an honest author who will not fake reviews when Finding Claire Fletcher comes out in December–tagged me in The Next Big Thing. When I read Lisa’s entry, the questions sounded awfully familiar, and rightly so: they were the same ones I answered back in August, when Nancy S. Thompson–an honest author who will not fake reviews when The Mistaken comes out next month–conferred on me the Be Inspired Bloghop Meme! Since I’ve already answered the questions, and I have no new WiP to plug, here’s the link to August’s post. Thanks, Lisa!

Finally, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a deadicated Deadhead, and can’t resist posting boring videos of what was one of the most boring bands to watch. Here’s another one. On this day in 1978, the Dead played the first of three shows at a little theater tucked away at the foot of the pyramids, in the shadow of the Sphinx, in the Egyptian desert. True to form, the Dead were typically erratic. “We played terrible,” said Garcia a few years later. But they did get some good performances. Here’s one:


That’s about it for me, for now. Hope you’ve all had a nice week, and have a great weekend.

9 Responses

  1. It's really pretty appalling what reviews can bring out in other authors. I think the other thing that some of these authors are trying to accomplish is getting attention at almost any cost. Fake reviews draw outrage which draws attention. Even though the fake reviews draw bad attention–it is still attention. It puts them in the limelight. I'm still not condoning it, I'm just saying. I would bet most people in the writing community know who John Locke is and yet I have a friend named Abigail Dawalt who self-published and she is honest and does not fake reviews and I would bet know one knows who she is. Interesting and really kind of sad how that works. Also sad is that I think you're right. Readers don't care about juiced or fake reviews. They just want a good book. I think what it comes down to is your integrity–are you willing to compromise it to sell a book?

    You're so right though that this society will accept just about anything–compared to some other infamous things that have happened in this country, I doubt fake book reviews would even be a blip on the ethical radar!

  2. I think–and I'm no expert in how the reviews work–the real damage is not so much people saying, "Whoa, another five-star review for Author X! I must buy his book!" I believe the real damage is the number of reviews boosts the visibility of the page, so his book turns up as a 'suggested item', etc., etc. Locke wasn't just buying 5-stars, he bought 3-stars. It was the volume that was important. I suspect a lot of people don't pay as much attention to the reviews when choosing books as we'd like to believe, but the visibility, that's priceless.

    And yes, I think there may well be some who pick fights and do bad things based on the precept, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." (I don't believe that one myself, but it seems to have worked for Paris Hilton).

  3. I think you make a great point. When the fuss dies down, who will really care?

    I do, but I'm only a tiny fish in a big ocean. I guess principles are just personal.

  4. What's really sad is I'm not surprised. Funny that people feel the need to do that, especially people who already have huge followings.

  5. Established authors will continue to thrive because they have fans who love their books. The consensus seemed to be that most readers don't really care about reviews anyway. It's just a matter of ranking for visibility's sake. I guess that just cheats other authors out of their rightful place on the charts.

  6. I heard about this, and have to agree. Other writers might remember and care, but for the most part I can't think that many readers will honestly never buy a book by these authors again. But time will tell.

  7. And that's where the damage is done, the visibility. I agree with you, my impression, based on anecdotal evidence, that most people don't pay that much attention to reviews. Locke specifically didn't pump up his books with all five-star reviews (though he didn't pay for 1- and 2-stars), he just pumped them up with numbers. It pushes everyone else down.

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