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Defending Sock Puppets and Fake Book Reviews

September 9, 2012
English: A photograph of a sock puppet made by me.

The problem with sock puppets is that you often don’t know whom that hand belongs to or where that hand has been. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is full of people who get rewarded for being fakes.  LeBron James fake falls during NBA games, and his opponents get called for personal fouls.  Women who get paid a lot of money in certain entertainment industries have fake body parts.  Reality shows use fake conflict to draw in viewers.  And on the internet, authors create fake identities (sometimes called “sock puppets”) to say great things about themselves and their own writing.

But authors who create fake sock puppet identities to brag about themselves better not get caught.

British author R.J. Ellory (of whom I had not heard before this controversy arose) has admitted to creating fake identities to write positive reviews for his books.  Even worse, he wrote fake negative reviews for books written by his competitors (more information here).   Unfortunately for him, he got busted before he admitted to it, and now he’s being rewarded with mockery and a bunch of 1-star reviews on Amazon for his own books.

Despite the outrage directed at Ellory, I don’t have a huge problem with sock puppets.  One of the reasons to go online is to be kind of deceptive, to take on a personality that you don’t have (or can’t get away with) in real life, to say things you can’t normally say (without losing friends or getting fired).

If I wanted to tell lame jokes to people I actually know, I would, but I don’t want to.  Instead, I do it on the internet.  So creating an online identity that doesn’t quite match my real personality makes sense.

But writing fake book reviews?

THE SOCK PUPPET RULES

Sometimes it’s okay for authors to write a fake 5-star review of their own books.  A first time self-published author who writes a book that nobody reads should be allowed to fake one (and only one) 5-star review.  Every self-published book should have one 5-star review, just for the effort it takes to put the book out there.  A self-published book looks lonely with no reviews, and even one (fake) positive review can change the way a book appears on Amazon (or any other online book store).  So the one-time sock puppet has its purpose.

But sock puppet identities can be taken too far.  An author shouldn’t need to create more than one sock puppet identity.  And a sock puppet shouldn’t be used to harm other people.  And that’s what R.J. Ellory did wrong.  He should have just written one fake positive review for each of his own books.  And he should have left other authors alone.

PAYING FOR FAKE REVIEWS

John Locke, a guy who (probably) has written (too) many e-books (for them to be any good) admits that he has paid others to write positive reviews for his digital books.  That sounds like a waste of money (even if the high number of fake 5-star reviews encouraged people to purchase his books).  He could have at least been (dis)honest enough to write his own fake reviews and save himself some cash.

Then again, he might have been smart to not write the fake reviews himself.  A problem with writing your own reviews is that you have to be careful not to use the same writing style or repeat the same errors in your reviews.  If you write “This book was grate!” in several reviews, even the most gullible of potential readers may notice.  If you accidentally write, “My book was great!” then you’re really screwed.  I’m tempted to write my own fake review, but I’d probably accidentally put thoughts in parentheses or write a lame joke to give it all away.

THE ONE TIME IT’S OKAY TO SOCK PUPPET A NEGATIVE REVIEW

Leaving a 1-star review for other authors seems tacky, but it’s justified if the (victimized) author is a jerk.  For example, a couple years ago, my wife got hit on by a (kind of) celebrity author at a book signing.  The photo of the event shows the semi-celebrity author leering at my wife with his hand near an inappropriate location with my wife appearing a bit uncomfortable.  In this instance, a 1-star review would be justified, even if the celebrity author’s book was good (which it wasn’t).

The only reason I didn’t leave a 1-star review was because the celebrity author has good taste in women.

OH GOD, NOT A PETITION!

The worst part of this sock puppet controversy (not REALLY the worst part) is that authors have begun a petition to demand an end to deceptive online reviews.  A petition?  Egads, petitions are more annoying than sock puppet identities.  I’d write a fake 1-star review of The Bible before I’d sign a petition calling for an end to fake 1-star reviews.

God, when I mention writing a 1-star review of The Bible, you know that I really wouldn’t do it, right?  Right?

Hello?

REAL REVIEWS BY REAL PEOPLE vs. FAKE REVIEWS BY FAKE PEOPLE

Fake online reviews don’t bother me because I don’t trust real reviews anymore.  I stopped relying on book reviews when Stephen King wrote a positive review of Justin Cronin’s novel The Passage a couple year’s ago.  After being sorely disappointed in it, I vowed never to trust a book review again, even ones written by real people.  I also vowed to 1-star every book Stephen King has ever written (yes, every single one of them!), but then I saw the thousands of 5-stars (even for the books that didn’t deserve them) he has, and I realized that my attempt at vengeance would be pointless.

But the outrage I feel remains.  If I can’t trust a book review by Stephen King, whose book review can I trust?

*****

Sock puppet or not, you could be the first to review The Writing Prompt!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

6 Comments
  1. An extremely funny post, even if I don’t agree with all of it. You do make some very valid points though. And congrats on having a hot wife.

  2. Does this mean all my one star reviews for books I’ve hated will come back to bite me when I am enormously famous. Oh dear.
    Great post 🙂

    • I think you’ll be okay. I get the impression that you actually read the books before leaving a one-star review… unless you crossed a really bitter author.

  3. rhykah permalink

    Thanks for being informative, humorous, and still serious at the same time, somewhat of a rarity in today’s plethora of writers! ;3

    Actually, I hadn’t heard of R.J. Ellory before, but I’m not sure how I feel about him. Going through so much trouble to make his writing /seem/ desirable? Seems awful sad. I do wonder if his books are well written?

    I do agree with your view on it though. You’re always going to meet dishonest people on the internet. I sure lie from time to time, maybe not to the same degree, but every once in a while nonetheless.

  4. Nice post 🙂 I can understand that it’s all part of the online game, but authors should at least be aware of what will happen if they get caught. These days, especially with the glut of e-books, reviews are all people have to go by when determining whether something is worth the time/money.

  5. Judy permalink

    I’ve also learned I don’t enjoy the same movies that the so-called critics enjoy.

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