I learned a new expression today: “sock puppet”, referring to authors who assume a false identity and use the internet to fake reviews praising their own work or slag that of their competitors. Orlando Figes was damned for this two years ago, a crime which I find odd because he is well-known and respected in his field and one can only suppose a weakness: a neediness for money or praise, or some other false reading of his true situation. Today’s criminal is R J Ellory, who has a greater excuse – at least in my eyes – because I’ve never heard of him.
The Great and the Good (or possibly the merely successful) have signed some sort of letter, condemning the practice. The Mediocre and Morally Challenged weren’t asked, and so you won’t find my signature basking in the sunlight of the others. For the record, I do condemn the practice, though I suspect my reasons are essentially masochistic rather than moral. If I don’t receive good reviews, I prefer to confront that fact starkly. More acutely, however, I feel embarrassed at my lack of savvy and imagination. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to parley my books into popularity by nefarious means. As King Lear said, when his daughters betrayed him: “D’oh!”
As it happens the reviews of my books have been almost entirely good, for which I am duly grateful. However, as the sock puppets prove, there has been a change in the basis of reviewing and nowadays it’s the vox populi that counts, and, if the populi won’t speak up, the sock puppet must do it for them.
My friend and fellow writer, Rosie Barnes, has chipped in with his useful pennyworth (The New Author, recommended by me ) explaining how one may drum up a readership in this age of the ebook. It sounds like hard work. I prefer to address a nice Womens’ Institute in the Lake District, face to face with smiles, cups of tea – and precious few sales, I suspect, though made up for by the fact that I also get to take my wife and cuddle her in the unfamiliar bed of a B&B, as we congratulate ourselves on our good fortune.
As a nod towards the sock puppets, I do encourage my friends (I’ll take a risk and use the plural) and anyone else who buys my books to post a review on Amazon, but overwhelmingly they don’t – not even the people who claim to like me. I sometimes wonder if they think I’ll be embarrassed by praise. Honestly I wouldn’t be. Indeed, I am so unembarrassed and good-natured that I welcome insincere flattery – positively encourage it. I can rise to the challenge.
Of course it’s possible my friends think my books are crap. But you’d think they’d have the decency to lie, wouldn’t you? At times there’s a shocking lack of dishonesty in ordinary life.