Crimespree Editorial – Ethical behavior

I was wondering what to write about for this issue’s editorial.  A number of things had been rolling around in the empty spaces in my head when another case of Sock Puppetry popped up. Jeremy Duns has been taking the lead on a lot of this. He is the one who really put the nails in the coffin last spring when an author got busted for plagiarizing a LOT of thrillers in his book.

For those of you who don’t know what sock puppeting is, what it boils down to is creating false identities on line and using them to promote your own work, and most recently to discredit or hurt sales of other authors. The fake account are used to leave negative reviews for books by authors perceived as enemies or a threat. They also go to forums and bad mouth other authors. It started becoming news during Harrogate crime festival when author Stephen Leather bragged about doing it. As of this writing a few more cases have popped up, documented with proof that it is really happening. The new York Times also ran a piece on authors buying reviews and spotlighting a man named John Locke who ran a company selling reviews.

I am greatly bothered by this. And yes, the word ethics does play in here. The point of Amazon reviews is for regular folks to leave an honest opinion to help other readers pick books. Very soon into this grand experiment Harriet Klausner came along and became the #1 reviewer on Amazon. I very quickly made the assumption that she did not read all the books she reviews.  She claims to speed read, but even with speed reading no one can go through that many books in a week or year. And her reviews were often just rehashing of the jacket synopsis, and sometime stated things that were wrong as changes were made in the book but not jacket copy.

Reviews help sell books, and of course an author wants good reviews. Does having hundred of reviews on Amazon help make a book a best seller? I don’t think so, though I’m sure it does help sell some books, just not the giant numbers that would make it a best seller.

The new digital age has brought with it a new brand of self published author. No longer does a person with a manuscript need to hire a vanity press to “publish” their book for large amounts of cash, now they just load a file onto Amazon and say “I’m an author”. Some of these books are good, most are not. What happens after the book is available for download is that these self published authors read a few things on the internet and decide they need to do publicity to sell the book. The flood Twitter and Facebook with messages asking people to download their novel, they start going to forums and pimping their work.  Before long the idea of getting rich from this great book being out in the world hits the reality wall. Sales aren’t what they were expecting and they start to get nervous, or even desperate. And that’s when they start to show the unprofessional behavior that leads to acting out on the internet. Arguing with people about the merits of a book, taking bad reviews personally and lashing out. And buying reviews.

Being a published author means going through certain steps including finding an agent, getting an editor interested in the book and being edited for publication. It also means developing a tougher skin so you don’t freak out when you get a bad review.  It also is kind of unsaid that you will act in a professional manner. Acting like a spoiled kid who feels entitled or like a scorned lover is not the key to selling books. Nor is acting like a carnival huckster.

When I go to a restaurant I don’t care how good the food is, if I get treated like crap by a waiter who is a jerk I won’t go back. If I go to a store with great products rude sales people will send me elsewhere. So I don’t care how good your books are, if you act like an ass I won’t read your books.

This behavior is not limited to self published authors by any stretch. I’ve met people published by major houses who act like assholes. When I get their books I run them through a shredder, and I’m not kidding. I’ve met a lot of authors over the years and almost all of them are wonderful giving kind people. There are about 5 that I actively dislike because of their behavior. In short, if you act like an ass, I will treat you like an ass.

Buying reviews and using sock puppets to try and further your career as a writer is dishonest and disrespectful. If you are asking people to spend money on your books then you should be honest with them. And if you have negative things to say about someone else’s book then have the guts to put your own name on it. A review without the reviewers real name on it means nothing. If your opinion has value then your name should be on it.

If you can only get reviews by buying them then maybe your book just isn’t that good. Deal with it. If you can only make yourself feel better by sock puppeting and leaving negative things about others on the internet, naybe your time would be better spent getting therapy.

Hey, it’s pretty simple—BE NICE TO EACH OTHER!