A promise: ain’t gonna do it

The news has been full of stories recently about misbehavior by authors.

1. Buying rave book reviews.

In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.

Says one of these paid reviewers: “‘There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read,’ she said. ‘But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills.'”

2. Buying Twitter followers.

Some authors want to make themselves look popular. They’ll buy 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 followers to give themselves the appearance of public heft. These “followers” are generally fake. They’re artificially generated profiles for people who don’t exist. Granted, authors aren’t the only ones who do this. Recently it was reported that Cisco Systems’ Chief Technology Officer, Padmasree Warrior, had more than half a million fake followers. Some executives are, effectively, creating armies of imaginary acolytes to bolster their résumés. A huge Twitter following is touted as a measure of respect, influence and clout. Of course, if all the followers are fake, nobody’s actually listening to what these people have to say. It’s as if they’ve lined up hundreds of thousands of Peeps to stare blankly while they declaim to numb air.

3. Sock puppetry.

Stephen Leather, who churns outs ebook and paperback thrillers, boasted at last month’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival: “As soon as my book is out I’m on Facebook and Twitter several times a day talking about it. I’ll go on to several forums, the well-known forums, and post there under my name and under various other names and various other characters. You build up this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself.”

Sock-puppetgate has mutated into something darker and nastier since then (you can read about it from Jeremy Duns and Steve Mosby). But the basic point is: authors pretending to be other people, giving themselves great reviews — and sometimes giving other authors terrible reviews — is dishonest.

They call it marketing. It’s not. It’s lying to readers.

And I promise: I don’t do any of these things. And I won’t.

10 responses to “A promise: ain’t gonna do it

  1. Thanks for writing this, Meg. I’m finding it all very depressing, and am currently having my mind boggled on Facebook by a couple of people who are not only arguing that paying for reviews is fine, but also that I’m a villain for criticizing it. Amazing.

  2. Jeremy: Given that self-published authors can struggle mightily to get their works reviewed in legitimate outlets, I can see certain situations where paying for a reviewer’s time (a real reviewer, who actually reads the work all the way through) and a publication’s space, might be justifiable. But those situations would require a truckload of caveats, starting with full disclosure that the author has paid for the review.

    Paying a review factory to churn out raves written by people who haven’t even read the book — that’s plain sleazy.

    (Edited for clarity.)

  3. I’ve also heard of authors and “reviewers” who understand how the Amazon algorithm works and manipulate it to boost or torpedo a book’s sales. I can usually tell after reading a few reviews of the same book which reviewers have really read it and are making an honest effort. Then there’s the movie review trick, editing “This one takes the prize!” out of “I’ve seen some real stinkers, but…”

  4. I think I’d prefer to have an audience of actual peeps – I’d have something to eat after all that declaiming has helped me to work up an appetite. 😉

    I think this is all part of a larger problem. In many ways, we’ve accepted across the board that fictions (which, when not properly designated as such, are more properly known as lies) are an acceptable way of advancing in the world and of neutralizing anyone who would call you out as a liar. We see this in everything from banking to politics to PR with all of its individual hydra heads. It’s okay to lie. And it’s not really “lying”. It’s just the way things work in a world no longer inhibited by pesky moral concerns. If you call out the liars then you are either a tiresome “hater” (or *impractical* “do-gooder”) or just one half of an equivocation. After all, there’s no “truth” anymore, right?

    Thanks, Meg and Mr. Duns, for doing your part in going against the wave of untruth. “Lying for a living,” indeed. No, that would be the people who have lost sight of the difference between truth and fiction.

  5. With you all the way Meg! Quality over Quantity. Best!

  6. Man! That blows my mind, way sleazy! I too understand that self published authors might have to resort to paying someone to review their book, and I understand wanting to be paid to review books to some degree as it’s a lot of work, but buying fake reviews is taking it too far in the wrong direction. And buying twitter and fb followers and creating multiple accounts in order to hype yourself and your book on forums…… wow, that’s more than a little disgusting and disappointing! And at the same time I am strangely disappointed at myself for being so surprised at this.

  7. If anyone’s interested the panel event at which Stephen Leather admitted to sock puppetry has just been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. I think this should work internationally (but haven’t tried yet): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01m5nqm/Front_Row_The_ebook_debate_threat_or_opportunity/

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