It's called "sock puppetry," the practice of creating fake accounts and pseudonyms in order to review your own work or to flame the works of others. Why do authors do this? Well, in this day and age of digital books and online marketing, it's brecome increasingly important to authors to have numerous reviews for their books. The algorithms on sites such as Amazon.com and GoodReads.com push those books with the most reviews and "Likes" in the face of browsers. You've seen it for yourself when scanning Amazon. "People who liked this title also like this." The more people that see it are likely to buy it and review it, which pushes it up higher and higher on the bestselling list. You can see how it feeds on itself (indeed, the New York Times bestseller list works the same way. People tend to buy from these lists having no other guide in which to chose books to read. And so they simply by from the list, perpetuating the books' placement on the list).
So, the more reviews the better. It was only a matter of time before some authors thought it to be a great marketing coup to cheat and create their own glowing reviews or to hire people to write them. What's wrong with this? After all, all's fair in love and war, and this is war! We're tyring to eke out a living here and anything that an author can do to boost his/her sales is fair game, right?
Maybe I'm just a sucker for the truth and maybe my character Crispin's chivalry has rubbed off on me. But I don't think it is fair. It's a huge cheat. It's one thing to manipulate reader's emotions when they immerse into your fiction. That's what they are supposed to experience. But it's quite another to manipulate the facts when they are deciding to use their hard-earned cash.
The Society of Authors has also joined in the condemnation, calling it "dishonest and misleading." According to the online magazine The Bookseller (I've added some of the links):
The authors warn that Ellory, Stephen Leather and John Locke have all made use of "sock-puppet" or paid for reviews. The (Society of) authors state: "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."
They end by calling on readers to contribute to online reviewing."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?"
The full story is here. As you can see, it's incredibly important for authors to get reviews. And I'm there, too, requesting (begging?) that readers consider writing reviews for their favorite authors. Never before have authors relied so heavily on such intimate particpation from readers. Sure, we always needed you to buy the book. But the make-or-break point seems to be diminshing. And sales have always been important, but the bean counters are in charge of publishers now, and there are no more breaks or giving authors a chance to build that fan base. And since publishers themselves do less promotion per author, authors must do their own promotion. That's why you see us so frequently on social media sites, entreating fans and readers to do this or that. In a way, you can see why some of these authors--and these are only the authors we know about--are desperate to boost sales. Who isn't? And it's grating to know that some of them, like Ellroy, have done so through less than stellar means. What of the rest of us?
We've always had gatekeepers of reviews, the industry magazines, for one, where professional reviewers pulled those books from the traditional publishers' lists and gave them ink. Maybe there still needs to be a gatekeeper of some sort.
What is your take on it? How would you feel as a reader knowing that many of those glowing reviews are faked? What should be done?