An open letter about author behavior

This weekend has seen more revelations about authors committing sock puppetry — in some cases not only posting glowing reviews of their own works, but hiding behind fake identities to slam the books of perceived rivals. (See here, here, here, and here.) Now a number of other writers are taking a stand against this behavior.

I’m pleased to put my name to the letter below.

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. British author Stephen Leather recently admitted that he used fake identities online to promote his work. The American bestseller John Locke has revealed he has paid for reviews of his books. The British author RJ Ellory has now confessed to posting flattering reviews of his own work and to using assumed names to attack other authors perceived to be his rivals.

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.

But the only lasting solution is for readers to take possession of the process. The internet belongs to us all. 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?

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, SJ 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, Laura Wilson.

UPDATE: If you’re an “author, reader, agent or publisher or, well anybody who loves books,” you can now add your name to this statement at

23 responses to “An open letter about author behavior

  1. Morte power to your proverbial elbow…..

  2. Yes – add my name. Hannah Dennison.

  3. Add my name, please!!! AJ Bradley

  4. You can certainly add my name. Writing bad reviews of other authors’ work is so low, I lack words to describe it. And I never lack words.

  5. YES! Add my name! Ditto what LJ Sellers said…

  6. Add my name please. It is an appalling abuse of a system which gives readers a voice.

  7. Signed!

  8. Thanks, everybody. Keep signing!

    The writers who composed the letter are working on a way to add signatures directly to it – I’ll keep you posted. The more people who sign, and agree, the stronger we can make the community of readers and authors.

  9. And please add me.

  10. Add my name Elizabeth Cathers. How silly! And thanks for giving me an excuse to rant:

  11. Please add my name. Lee Goldberg.
    And also add the name of my sock-puppet, Flint Westwood, who thinks everything I write is a masterpiece that has changed the course of American literature, culture and sexuality.

  12. is there a place to sign directly?

  13. Happy to have my name included. Sad about the circumstances. Angry about the necessity.

  14. UPDATE: You can now add your signature to the letter at

  15. But what difference does it make, as long as authors are producing glowing reviews for their friends’ books (or other authors from the same publishing house) sight unseen (or in contrast to actual opinions)?

    • jdleav: Your comment deserves a long response, and probably its own blog post. But in short:

      (1) What authors? What evidence can you provide, beyond a naked assertion? I’m not saying it never happens, just that leveling a blanket accusation against “authors” is insufficient.

      (2) I have never provided a review for a book “sight unseen.” I have never been asked to do so by a friend or a publisher.

      (3) I think reviews should be provided honestly, based on opinions formed after reading a book in its entirety. I say this publicly and discourage anybody else from providing reviews based on a partial reading of any book, or from providing reviews without reading a book at all.

      (4) Saying, “What difference does it make?” becomes self-defeating. It says, “If you can’t solve all problems, don’t bother trying to solve any.” The open letter is the start of a conversation. It addresses a problem that has recently come to light. Let’s take this as step one in a process meant to reduce dishonesty in reviewing.

  16. Pingback: 2012: the blog year in review | lying for a living

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