The whole debate began when the New York Times wrote an article on August 25th this year exposing the ‘book reviewers for hire’ industry. How do authors get away this? Essentially, “The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews.”
Just two days ago, the Bookseller reported that writers including crime writer RJ Ellory, John Locke and Stephen Leather all admitted to giving their own work 5-star reviews and slamming rival authors on Amazon — a practice damningly referred to as ‘sock puppetry’. The Guardian reported the practice in more detail.
The entire controversy was heightened after Ellory was exposed by rival penman Jeremy Duns on Twitter. Ellory’s publisher, Orion, declined to comment.
On its website, the Crime Writers Association states: “The CWA feels [sock puppetry] is unfair to authors and also to the readers who are so supportive of the crime genre. […] At present we don’t know how widespread the practice is. However we will be taking steps to set up a membership code of ethics, and considering if other steps may be necessary from us as an authors’ organisation.”
The group statement from the authors states:
“These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large. […] Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving, can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author, however devious, can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?”
The signatories are: Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, N J Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Adèle Geras, Joanne Harris, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Peter James, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, S J Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Neil White and Laura Wilson.
These authors warn that Ellory, Stephen Leather and John Locke have all made use of “sock-puppet” or paid for reviews. They state: “These are just three cases of abuse we know about. Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well. We the undersigned unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics.”