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Sock-puppet reviews condemned by authors everywhere

Last Thursday, on our Facebook page, we posted a link from GalleyCat explaining fake Amazon review charts and how to spot them.

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 Guardian and The Bookseller described the denunciation of sock-puppetry from other authors, of which a large group (see below) have signed up to a group statement condemning the practice.

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.”

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Four self-published books on the NY Times eBook Bestseller List!

As Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, has said, “We knew this day was coming.”

An article in the Guardian on Thursday announced that four self-published authors had made it to the New York Times eBook Bestseller list.

The highest-ranking self-published author on the 5 August NYT chart is Colleen Hoover, whose ebook Slammed comes in in eighth place, ahead of by established bestsellers I, Michael Bennett by James Patterson (#11) and Criminal by Karin Slaughter (#21). Hoover, who self-published Slammed seven months ago and has just signed a traditional book deal with Simon & Schuster, also has her second novel, Point of Retreat, in 18th place on the NYT chart.

Bella Andre has three self-published romance novels in the chart: If You Were Mine in 22nd place, Can’t Help Falling in Love in 23rd, and I Only Have Eyes For You in 24th. The 25-title chart is dominated, as it has been for much of the summer, by EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy – itself originally published as fan fiction.

Smashwords has worked with all four authors to publish or distribute their eBooks, and its founder Mark Coker has outlined what all this success means:

It’s a big deal to see a single Smashwords author on the New York Times Bestseller list, let alone four in one week. A year ago, it was unheard of. A year from now, it’ll be more commonplace.
These worlds [of independent and traditional publishing] are complementary to each other.  Success in one world feeds success in the other.  Authors who participate in both worlds will become more valuable to publishers, but also more expensive to sign.  That’s good for authors.
If you think these successful romance authors are random flukes, or the beneficiaries of a passing fad, you’re underestimating them.  These authors are the future.  Learn from them.
The indie movement has gone mainstream with romance authors, and it’s transforming the lives of writers for the better. […] The future of book publishing is brighter than ever for those authors who place themselves on the right side of history.  Authors who delay their embrace of indie publishing will find themselves sidelined by those who have already seen the light.

It’s up and up for self-publishing!

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Irish Writers Centre Publishing Seminar, July 7th 2012











Last weekend, the Irish Writers Centre held a full-day Publishing Seminar. The event featured talks from industry experts such as the Editorial Director with Hachette Ireland, Ciara Doorley; the Publicity Director of Penguin Ireland, Cliona Lewis; Literary Agent with Walsh Communications, Emma Walsh; the CEO of ePub Direct, Gareth Cuddy; and novelist Arlene Hunt.

The Writers’ Centre run a very good blog right here, and posted about the Seminar’s events for anyone, like me, who was unfortunately unable to attend.

According to Mary Russell, one of the attendees, the many topics of the seminar included the impact of the current  recession — in layman’s terms, it means, “less advertising revenue for newsapapers and therefore fewer pages, therefore fewer book/writer features and fewer reviews.” The arts are usually hardest hit in an economic downturn, but with news like this from the Irish Times, it is not time yet for dismay — and this recession is not the first. Even Ezra Pound maintained that, “If a nation’s literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays.” Literature and the arts are integral to a nation’s independence and security. I cannot imagine the Irish writers, groups, festivals and readers allowing their culture to atrophy. We’re too proud of it, and rightly so: four Nobel Laureates in Literature,  three Man Booker Prize-winners and more than ten shortlisted, and writers like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and W.B. Yeats who each shaped the course of literary history and continue to influence contemporary writers — why wouldn’t we be proud?

Gareth Cuddy, CEO of ePub Direct, gave a PPP (purchasing power parity) at the seminar by announcing that eBooks sell at around £5.59 per copy. Compare that to a typical £7.99-£12.99 (usually €13.99+ in Ireland) for a paperback, and the boost in Kindle sales is surprising only in considering that it hasn’t already taken over the market. However, the debate between readers of eBooks vs paperbacks is still ongoing, as can be seen in this article from the New York Times. What is striking about eBooks is the open opportunity they give to authors who want to self-publish. Discussions surrounding eBooks inevitably include a discussion about the virtues of self-publishing,  an issue already raised by the Alliance of Independent Authors on Facebook this week, which prompted some interesting feedback.

Emma Walsh, Literary Agent with Walsh Communications, explained at the seminar that it takes about four months to hear from a publisher after sample three chapters have been submitted. She only has four people on her books.

Conversely, Arlene Hunt, after she got her first book published, decided to set up small publishing company in order to self-publish her work, plus two books by other writers every year. The result was Portnoy Publishing, and the venture got a boost when Arlene and her husband got an order for 170,000 football-related books.

While I did not have the chance to attend the Seminar myself, the various blog posts and reports, especially from the wonderful resource that is the Writers’ Centre blog, emphasised the significance placed on having regular updates and insights into this industry that is so rapidly changing. Self-publishing is one of the new developments of the change, but as the Centre’s blog outlines so well, the important thing is to ‘Just. Keep. Going.’

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