I’ve never been one for keeping up with current affairs. I rarely watch the news, I hate radio stations that play anything younger than thirty years old, and I have no desire to watch 99% of television shows that aim to keep me up to date with “what’s cool”…but I do like to keep up to date with all writing related news. Even then I’m still a bit slack and I only stumble across the more interesting stories because they are being passed around the internet faster than that oh so funny “Ham Cat” video. So it was only by accident I stumbled across the latest buzz in the writing world…sock puppetry!
No, not that kind (I was sad too).
A Sock Puppet (in internet terms) is “an online identity used for purposes of deception”.
You’re probably all aware that not everyone on the internet speaks the truth or adheres to moral guidelines…SHOCK HORROR! But what you might not know is that some authors (even successful and thriving ones) use multiple accounts to give themselves raving reviews. Not content with a little bit of ego masturbation, they also use these accounts to rip other author’s books to pieces.
It’s simple, you create a new email address, use this to create a new Amazon account and hey presto you can act as a fictional reader and blow your own trumpet without anyone suspecting a thing.
Expect not all authors get away with it.
I’m not going to mention names. Mainly because if I do I’ll feel like I have to chuck in my twopence worth for each case, but also because just typing the words “sock puppet writer” into Google at the moment brings up a myriad of relevant stories. Go on, give it a try.
But what exactly are they hoping this will do for them? Double sales? Put them at the front of the bookstore? Get them that elusive film deal? Let’s face it, even if people did listen to Amazon reviews (and I suspect most don’t), then it’s not going to do that much good faking the odd review here and there. What’s the best they can hope for? An extra 100 sales? An extra 1000?? Pfft, I doubt it but let’s take 250 as a BEST CASE SCENARIO (I’ve capitalised ‘best case scenario’ because it’s actually a ‘yeah, fucking right scenario’ but I’m being generous for “scientific” purposes – read on).
Let’s try the dishonest method first:
SOCK PUPPETRY METHOD – The author takes the time to set up some extra Amazon accounts. It’s a bit of a pain in the arse at first because if he’s doing it ‘properly’ then he’ll need to set up a new email address for each fake Amazon account. Now to bash out the reviews, not as simple as it sounds. He’ll need to make sure that the reviews are written in different styles, at different times, that he’s logged into the right account for each review, and ensure that he reviews enough other books to avoid the appearance of favouritism…all in order to avoid suspicion from fellow reviewers and authors. These are all things that have tripped up naughty authors in the past.
Now at this time the author (the actual author on his actual author account) may be tempted to reply to the favorable fake reviews. This is also a popular technique as you can enter into a dialogue where you choose the questions AND the answers AND even reactions from a second fake account.
Pwhoar! It’s like having a threesome with yourself!
SOCK PUPPETRY OUTCOME – Now let’s pretend you got the extremely generous 250 extra sales figure that I mentioned before. Obviously you won’t get this on the basis of just one review. You’ll have to do maybe ten or twenty before you start to see anything changing…and that’s if it works at all! Let’s face it how often will ten or twenty reviews affect sales that much? Maybe if they were all from verified famous author accounts? But even then people have a pretty good idea whether they’re going to by a book or not, reviews be damned. For the sake of science though, let’s pretend they DID get 250 extra book sales. Congratulations, well done you writing stud muffin you! Not only did you get to blow your own trumpet (without having to have any ribs removed) you get that warm fuzzy feeling inside that comes from lying to your readers and abusing their trust.
And for what? A tiny percentage of 250 sales? The book will still have to pass merit in order to retain any readers that this pathetic ruse brought in.
But you know what else would generate more sales?
Showing some damn interest in your readers.
Why not poke your head above the parapet once in a while and engage in some marketing. Now before I get shot down for suggesting writers don’t market their work…I’m talking to the dick muffins who think deceiving their audience is a good sales technique.
I don’t know about you but if I’m choosing a book to read, I might use Amazon as a quick and easy tool for browsing thousands of books. I’ll pick a category, or use the ‘you may also like’ feature and then search for some plots that grab my attention. Then I might have a quick look at the reviews. If there are three-hundred 1-star reviews then I might think something is iffy with the book, but to tell the truth I’ll probably pop down to Waterstones next lunch break, flick through the book, and make a judgement for myself.
If I see the book has three-hundred 5-star reviews then I’ll probably think something is iffy with the reviewers…Waterstones, lunch break, judgement. You get the picture.
So not only are fake reviews demeaning to your readers, they’re not even that effective.
On to the ‘one-to-one’ technique:
CHUMMY MARKETING METHOD – Interact with your existing reader base, ask them what THEY want and see what they are willing to do in return. You could offer a signed book if they spread word of your new novel, or a free ebook for every retweet, etc. Make them do the work for you, but in a way that will have them doing it with a smile on their face. You could offer a signed collection of all your books, but the competition rules state you have to prove they bought another one of your books. Sales increase and people are thrilled at the chance of winning such a great prize. Not only that, if they lose then they will take it as no big loss. They knew it was a competition and they knew there was a pretty big chance they wouldn’t win. There’s no bitterness on the reader’s behalf, which means they still like you. They like you…they REALLY like you!
CHUMMY MARKETING OUTCOME – Sorry, I’ll have to be honest here. This technique isn’t always hugely successful. I know, sad times right? The truth is you probably won’t get anywhere near 250 extra sales from a quick bout of social marketing. It’s an on-going process and you’re going to have a run a fair number of competitions and incentives before you see a dramatic rise in sales. BUT (and it’s a big but) you won’t be lying to the people supporting your career. You won’t be pissing all over your co-workers. And most importantly you won’t be acting like a giant douchebag. What you will be doing is slowly spreading the word that you’re a pretty decent author, both in terms of writing and just being a generally nice guy. You see when you’re not acting like a douche people might not go out of their way to praise you but they definitely won’t go out of their way to slate you. You’ll build up praise nice and slowly without the fear of people suddenly finding out you use underhanded methods to ensure a higher profit margin.
And when you think about it, the sock puppetry method doesn’t even make sense!
If I enjoy a certain genre or style of writing, I don’t finish a book and think “oh, bugger, that was so-and-so’s last book. I guess I’ll have to convert to romance novels now.” Nope, I rush out and try and find as many like-minded authors as possible. Reading one horror/thriller/crime author doesn’t mean I won’t read the rest…in fact it means I’m more likely to get hooked and want more! So what the hell is point in slagging off an author when the very act of them being read may make readers seek you out?? It’s a lose-lose scenario.
Stop working against fellow authors and instead embrace them as an extended family. You’ll be amazed at what some of them will do for you if they consider you a friend (and no it doesn’t involve blowing your trumpet…well not in that way at least).