On sock puppets, or why Indies should worry about fake reviews…


Sock_puppet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s almost enough to make me feel grateful for my bad reviews. (Hey! I said ‘almost’!) Why? Because in this age of sock puppets and paid reviews they give legitimacy to my good ones. (No, I really don’t need people to give me bad reviews, they tend to happen by themselves! Just like my good ones.) Isn’t it sad that I feel that need, though? Now, thanks to the sock puppeteers and fake reviews, unfortunately I do. Too many good reviews will now be suspect, no matter how legitimate they are. I already cringe a little when readers use my name in reviews because to some people it will seem as if I know them when I don’t – but worse, I like that my readers feel so familiar with me that they call me by name.

So what’s a sock puppet, you ask? It’s a pseudonym, a pen name, a fake name under which an author will give him or herself a glowing review. Some people have a bunch of them.

It’s not as if it’s a new thing. Myself and another admin in the author’s group we’re part of have run into this sort of thing before. We’ve heard rumors in the past about writers padding their reviews, and there was a case last year on one book site where a writer encouraged her fans to badmouth other writers in her category so their rankings would go down while hers went up. In one of the book groups we had a writer whose alter ego gave her own book a glowing review. There are like/tag/review groups that give each other good marks, even if they haven’t read the books. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have participated in Facebook author page likes – but I also don’t like a page where the sample makes it clear the writer’s grasp of English isn’t what it should be.)

What’s sad is that it’s all a cheat – those reviews weren’t earned by the quality of the work, so it’s all a lie. Like the woman who gives her beloved a love potion, she’s never sure she’s loved for herself. You begin to understand why some writers seem so desperate.

What’s worse is that some of the names caught up in this scandal are not little ones, some of these writers have sold millions of books. They didn’t need to do this. One of them was often held up to Indie authors as someone to emulate. A couple were people I and many others respected. To add insult to injury, at least one of them also gave undeserved negative reviews to other authors. Knowing how much it stings when I find a bad review on one of my books, I can’t imagine how a writer could face themselves after attacking someone else’s work.

Some justify their actions  with the old chestnut ‘everyone is doing it’ – the same excuse people use to make the playing field more level for them and harder for everyone else. Like taking performance enhancing drugs. For that they took away Lance Armstrong’s medals. There’s no equivalent in writing. Even some of their fans don’t see anything wrong with it.

A number of well-respected writers – several of which I’m also fans of – have come out to condemn this practice, which belies the notion that ‘everyone is doing it’. I’m proud of them for doing it.

It’s even more important for us as Indie writers to hold the line against this sort of thing. Why? Because we’re held to a different standard, and given how some Indie/Self published writers behave – bad grammar, endless spamming – it’s almost expected of us. If you doubt me, read this – http://fakeplasticsouks.blogspot.com/2012/09/fake-book-reviews-confession.html. Key line – You’d expect this from self-published authors.

I know there were a few people who thought I was and are a little sanctimonious on the issue of like/tags/reviews, but this is the reason why. Some will argue that there will always be cheats, and they’re right. However, it’s still a choice. We can either take the high road or the low road. If we want to join the big leagues then we have to act like it. I’d rather follow in the company of authors like Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and Val McDermid.



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Valerie Douglas is a prolific writer and genre-crosser, much to the delight of her fans. She reads and writes classic fantasy, romance, suspense, and as V.J. Devereaux, erotic romance. Who knows what will pop up down the road!

Happily married, she’s companion to two dogs, three cats and an African clawed frog named Hopper who delights in tormenting the cats from his tank.

Valerie Douglas is the co-founder and one of the administrators of the 12,000+ member Indie Author Group – supporting writers around the world.
Visit her blog at Valerie Douglas, Author at Large

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