Thursday, September 20, 2012

Return of the Sock Puppets

by Jaden Terrell

There's been quite the uproar of late about authors using "sock puppet" accounts to review their own books and, in some cases, to trash the books of their competitors. Other bestselling authors paid for positive reviews to raise their visibility on online bookstores, particularly Amazon. Both practices seem to me like clear violations of a reader's trust, though some might say it's a tough world out there, and that whatever an author can do to call attention to his or her work is A-okay. "It's just the way things are," they say, and "Everybody does it," and "All's fair in love an publishing."

Some have suggested that the recent scandals call the entire review process into question. I don't know. While it certainly makes me think a little homework might be necessary before I take a review at face value, I like to think the number (or at least the percentage) of people who post dishonest reviews is fairly small, and I would hope the number who would post negative reviews of competing titles is smaller still.

The discussion spread all over the internet, bringing out a number of responses criticizing authors for other behaviors like trading blurbs or reviews, and reviewing books by friends or books published by their own agents or publishers. For me, those lines are a lot grayer. After all, while I consider Tim Hallinan a friend, I was a fan of his books months before I met him. Does our current friendship negate the fact that I adore his books--and would adore them even if I'd never laid eyes on or exchanged an email with the man? How about Chester's books? I have always enjoyed them, so much so that I always buy three copies, one for myself, one for my mom, and one for my mother-in-law. Should I refuse to review a book I enjoy just because I happen to know the author?

What about author collectives, in which members of the collective like each others' books and collaborate to promote each others' work?

What are your thoughts on sock puppets? Buying reviews? How about reviewing books by people you know?


Mike Befeler, author of geezer-lit and paranormal mysteries said...

I think reviews by people you know are fine. I write reviews for authors I have met and enjoy reading. Pay for review goes over the line.
Mike Befeler

Jaden Terrell said...

I agree with you, Mike. In general, I think paying for reviews is a deliberate deception that subverts the process.

One possible exception I've seen is the Kirkus paid review. They're labeled differently so it's clear that they're the paid reviews, and from what I can tell, they're just as likely to be bad as good. The only difference between them and the "real" Kirkus reviews, as far as I can tell, is that the author has the option of not having a bad or lukewarm review posted.

There may be others that work the same way, but if so, I don't know what they are.