The Sock Puppets of the Literary World

There has been a lot of talk lately about a number of sock puppets that have been infiltrating Amazon and other book sites near you. To those who haven’t heard, the situation is basically as such: a number of authors including R.J. Ellory, Sam Millar, John Locke and Stephen Leather have been creating fake accounts (a.k.a. sock puppets) to give themselves glowing 5-star reviews, while also bashing some other authors along the way, or else offering payment in exchange for positive reviews.

There has also been talk of a reviewer by the name of Todd Rutherford, who raked in money by selling marketing reviews to those who would buy them at a high price, and this basically launched a discussion regarding what’s ethical and what’s not. Can one still request reviews? When is the line crossed?

In promoting my book, Puppet Parade, I sought out many book reviewer blogs offering them a free digital copy of my book in exchange for an honest review. No monetary transactions were conducted. Is that unethical? Nope. The key things you have to pay attention to here is that the reviewer did not ask for payment – which applies to most honest reviewers – and I did not ask for any sugar-coated reviews. Another thing to note is that it’s never okay to post reviews or give ratings to your own book, because you’re too close to your work to ever be in a position to judge… not to mention how much you would be discredited if someone caught you out.

There’s just no telling how many identities one might have!

Before you contact a reviewer about your book, make sure that they do NOT accept payment for the reviews they post. I cannot stress that enough. An author-reviewer relationship that involves money does not seem completely honest, because the reviewer might feel compelled to say nice things about the book if only to placate the author and prevent them from suing them or something like that.  But then what does the reviewer get out of this? A free book, of course! It could be in digital form or paperback form, but the fact still remains that the reviewer would be getting a free book that they might’ve had to pay for otherwise.

Submitting your book for an honest review is kinda like putting your neck out there; someone might try to chop it off. As an author, I know that nothing would make me happier than receiving flattering reviews all the time, but then I’d only be deluding myself. Even the most popular books have their share of negative reviews and people who dislike them, so why should my book be exempt? As much as it may pain me to acknowledge this, there are probably many people out there who will dislike my book. I just need to accept the bad reviews with a grain of salt and try to learn something from them.

What do you think of this whole sock puppet business? Have you ever paid for a review? Would you sign your name here?

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20 thoughts on “The Sock Puppets of the Literary World

  1. If I see a book on Amazon and it has all five star reviews I won’t buy it. Nothing is that perfect and frankly I think it smells a bit fishy.

    I’ve never paid for a review (what a waste of time and money) because bad reviews may tell you where you’re going wrong in your work (having said that I’ve never had a ‘bad’ review – touch wood!) I would be horrified if I got a ‘bad’ review and then found out it was one of these fakes :( ( I can’t find an emoticon for an angry face)

    I think all this crap that’s going on is really giving indie authors a bad name and that makes me very cranky indeed.

    I’m going off now to have a look at those authors and know one thing for sure – I’ll never buy any of their books.

    Great post – thanks for sharing :)

    • It is a bit suspicious when all the reviews are five stars, isn’t it? Makes you wonder what was up.
      Actually, it happens sometimes on Goodreads. Some people just submit bogus ratings (not reviews) without even reading the story, and that’s rather upsetting. Also you’re right about it being bad for us indie authors. =[
      Thank you for your comment! I’m glad you like it.

    • katyasozaeva says:

      May I just point out….? Stephen Leather did not use sock puppet accounts to leave reviews for himself or anyone else. He used sock puppets in the various fora to had “discussions” about his book. Still not really ethical, but not on the same level as those using said accounts to leave reviews. Just don’t want to see him tarred with the same brush…

  2. Great post, thank you for sharing the information.
    I agree with you and Dianne, I think paying for reviews is a bad idea as they aren’t true. What is the point of paying someone to review it when you know it will just be a 5* review? You may as well do it yourself!

    I haven’t published a book yet but I know I would be upset with a bad review but I understand you can’t please everyone and they will hopefully be constructive & would help me learn and grow as a writer – I’d hate to keep getting 5* reviews as I wouldn’t believe them, so why should a reader?!
    :)

    • And that’s exactly what those authors are doing. Instead of paying someone for reviews, they’re going and giving themselves extremely flattering reviews.
      Constructive criticism is the best; it really helps you spot your weaknesses so you may improve in later books! =]

  3. I agree. Reviews should be honest and come from real people. If people start paying for reviews, then the reader is being deceived. It is sad that nowadays we are not even sure if the review is an honest one or not. It would be a shame if this trend spreads. This would also damage the trust on the readers.

    • It’s also harming indie authors quite a lot, because those writers I mentioned are all self-published. I would hate to think how the publishing industry looks at indies now. =[

  4. I’ve never paid for a review…I’ve never even asked for one. I did get one that was a personal attack masked as a review. The reviewer called herself “Doc,” but I knew right away who it was. No Amazon profile, no other reviews, and a username that lacked imagination–it was obvious!

  5. ktelega says:

    I have a great admiration for honest reviewers who will take the time to write what they think of my book. Some are kind enough to post the review on multiple websites. Since I’ve never paid for a review, their opinions are all the more valuable.

  6. Yes, I did read about this. I have read a few books that frankly had to have either family or sock puppets pumping up the reviews. They simply were not good enough to have all those stars.

  7. I disagree with being suspicious of books that get mostly favorable reviews. Before I purchased the YA novel, Anna and the French Kiss from B&N, I read the reviews and was quite surprised over the fact that almost all the reviews were positive. I read it and loved it, so I believe it’s possible for the situation to be legit.

    • Well… that depends! I usually rely on Goodreads for reviews, rather than the reviews on B&N or Amazon, because usually it has more reviews. I looked up Anna and the French Kiss on GR, and it did have some negative reviews there.

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