In literature, a sockpuppet is when an author creates a false, online personality and uses it to write glowing reviews of his work, or unfavourable reviews of his competitors’ books. As an author, I find this practice loathsome and repulsive. As a reader, I’m (as my kids would say) totally grossed out.
Writers have a reputation for being charming eccentrics or fascinating tortured souls. Fair enough – there’s lots of examples of both kicking around. But never have we described as liars, cheats and scoundrels … until this sockpuppet nonsense started to creep up. I won’t say this practice is widespread – thankfully the majority of authors were taught the difference between right and wrong – but it has happened often enough to give the profession a black eye. Check out this article from The Guardian.
Even John Grisham bought 1,000 copies of his first book “A Time to Kill” in 1989, and gave them away. Yet, he considers his mistake to be giving away books that are now worth $4,000. The fact that he falsely inflated his original sales figures doesn’t seem to bother him at all. Lawyers.
Are we really so desperate to sell a few books that we’re willing to jeopardize our integrity? Geez, I hope not. The publishing industry is struggling enough as it is without authors muddying the waters.
Here’s my advice to writers looking to become best-selling authors: study the craft, work hard and produce a well-written book. Readers are clever people. If you’re good at what you do, they’ll find you and give you genuine praise.
My advice to readers: disregard online book reviews. An author has about 500 words to hook you (free sample downloads are available for ebooks). So scan the first couple of pages of a book and decide for yourself whether you like what you’re reading.
Enough of the sockpuppetry. Let’s raise the bar of our profession a little higher.