Readers Are The Victims Of Bad Author Behavior

We’re all familiar with the recent spate of bad behavior by authors, right? Writers paying for false five-star reviews. Authors creating fake sock-puppet accounts (or “dick-puppets” as Blackmoore calls ’em) which they then use to pump up their own work, denigrate the work of others, and act as fake mouthpieces online. Then you have the response, where authors see that bad behavior and respond with their own, leaving one-star reviews as some kind of “Internet country justice.” We’re all clued in, I’m sure, by now.

My initial reaction to all of this was that it’s a bit inside baseball. It’s authors being dicky and tap-dancing on dubious ethical ground and waggling their penmonkey genitals about in an unpleasant display.

Except then I was online at Amazon (which already is notoriously assy in terms of filter and discoverability) and I was reading reviews and was suddenly struck by the horrifying notion —

I don’t know if these are real.

Suddenly I’m reading reviews with the same level of doubt and suspicion I reserve for reality television (we all realize that ‘House Hunters’ is a big lie, right?). It’s the same vibe I get when I go looking for reviews of restaurants. Locally we had a restaurant where the owner was caught leaving good reviews for himself, bad ones for his competition, and was also getting on forums as a sock-puppet and shouting down folks who said his food had dropped in quality (as it used to be great and isn’t anymore). Shitty behavior, right?

I read reviews for a toaster, my cynical mind flares up like a hot rash: “I’m sure the positive reviews are all left by employees of Big Toaster, and all the negative ones are left by proponents of some Anti-Toaster Coalition.” Casts all reviews in these areas as suspect. Which makes them beyond useless.

Now I’m feeling that way about books.

Maybe I should’ve been all along. Maybe I was naive.

It doesn’t change the fact that this isn’t good for anybody.

I once thought that the bad author behavior displayed here was bad for authors. And it is. Bad for authors, publishers, Amazon, B&N, etc. But, now I’m thinking they’re not the real victims here.

The real victims are the readers.

Readers, who want honest feedback. And who want to give honest feedback amongst equal honesty.

Readers, who love books, and who don’t want to get caught in bullshit author headgames.

Readers, who want to trust their authors outside the story (as you should never trust the author inside the story) and who are now confronted with the idea that the fiction that should’ve been contained to the books themselves has bled out of the pages and infected the relative purity of the author-reader contract.

So, let’s be clear here — if you’re buying up a bunch of bullshit reviews, if you’re out there putting on a series of Halloween masks and pretending you’re Joe Dicknose from Topeka and Betty Lou Buttplug from Albany just so you can boost your own reviews while hurting the reviews of others, you’re not only a scat-gobbling poop-fingered liar-face, you’re also actively punishing readers. You know, readers? The people who want to read all our books? The people who help us pay our mortgages? Readers, the ones who matter more than the authors because they’re the ones who allow us to be who we are?

Dicking around with the livelihood of other authors is dirty pool and you should be crotch-punched.

Dicking around with readers is like you dumping medical waste in the watering hole. We all drink from that water. You’re poisoning the relationship. You’re harming readers.

And that sucks, big-time.

So, stop doing it. Come clean or don’t.

But embrace shame and just stop.

You human canker sores, you.

53 responses to “Readers Are The Victims Of Bad Author Behavior”

  1. There’s a great line in the movie “Almost Famous” by the character Penny Lane. She says “The truth just sounds different.”

    I rely on that when reading online reviews. Some are well-written and positive or negative, speak with credible detail about what the reviewer did or didn’t like about the work. Others just sound, well, canned, generic, nonspecific.

    The truth just sounds different. I just hope the good and helpful reviews don’t get buried under the volume of the bad ones.

  2. What did Betty-Lou Buttplug ever do to you, Chuck, that you should tar her with this brush? 😉

    But yeah, absolutely. It’s horrible not being able to trust the reviews. It’s supposed to be one of the strengths of the interwebs, the ability for EveryJoe and Josephine to weigh in with their opinion. But the power has been used for evil and all of us are tainted.

    Question though: do you think the host sites have any responsibility to check the bona fides of reviewers. I have no idea if this is practical in any meaningful way, but some of the dick-puppet (thank you Blackmoore) behaviour seems to have been widespread enough that one has to ask why it didn’t raise any red flags sooner.

  3. If I see nothing but 5-star reviews on a book, I move on. Don’t trust that kind of track record anymore. My favorite books don’t get those kind of rave reviews. I don’t even really look at Amazon for recommendations anymore. I just stick with my favorite, trusty blogs.

  4. It’s come to the point I will only trust reviews from bloggers I respect and from friends I know don’t have an axe to grind. Which basically brings me full circle to asking a friend “is this any good?” like we did back in the Middle Ages (well, the 1980s. Same thing.)

  5. You know what we need? We need a Review of Reviewers. Somewhere we can rate how trustworthy a reviewer is.

    Oh, but then… Yup. Fake reviewer reviews…

    Seriously, we have to find a way to locate reviewers we trust, and Amazon et al should allow us to filter reviews so we only see posts from those trusted reviewers.

  6. I think sometimes some writers get so caught up in the whole ‘ I am WRITER fear my specialness’ thing that they forget that what really matters is the readers. I think that forgetting is the main cause behind a LOT of bad author behaviour – from fake reviews to public ranting when they’re rejected, to outright threatening and bullying people who don’t give them good reviews.

    They’ve forgotten that once the book is out there, it’s no longer about their ego but about whether people actually want to read a book. I am a reader as well as a writer, and I can tell you I no onger trust amazon or goodreads reviews – I check out review blogs of people I trust and the reviews in official publications. I aso actively refuse to buy the work of anyone who has gone on a public rant or insulted people who review them negatively.

  7. To distil what you’re saying: “Come on people, don’t be dicks”
    The only problem I see with that sentiment is that some people are dicks, and
    changing is hard, especially if you don’t see the dick that’s inside you.

    Wasn’t all this sort of thing exclusive to PR and Marketing departments in the recent past? Are we not simply raging against ham-fisted, amateurish execution rather than a bona fide new phenomenon?

  8. One way to judge the reviewer is to take a look at how many reviews they’ve written, for what books and authors, how their rating varies, and if the review is short and general, or longer and detailed.

    Many reviewers worth ignoring can be weeded out this way (sock-puppets and otherwise)

    If you take time looking at the reviews, reading and researching, it’s easier to sift through the bull. Doubting what you read is always a healthy practice.

    As for the athors who treat their readers and colleagues this way…hopefully revelations like this will affect their sales negatively, and maybe (just maybe) that will mean increased sales for other authors.

  9. I had (notice past tense) a friend who was once a fellow writer slogging away at the word mines in hopes of being published. Same as the rest of us. He started getting paychecks and told us he was writing copy online. Turns out he was writing rave reviews for shit he knew nothing about. He got paid per review and sat around all day churning out crap. I think they were mostly travel reviews and sketchy testimonial pieces. He’s been doing this for years now and the sad thing is that he makes more money lying online than I do busting ass in a shipyard.

    I think amazon reviews are taken with a grain of salt and always have been. I’ve never really bothered except for the viral shit when someone writes a hilarious one like the amazon co uk review of the Bic Pens For Her that was going around twitter last week or so.

    This doesn’t effect my book selections at all because I get my new books based off what other authors are reading. I buy more books off Scalzi’s Big Idea posts than anything else.

    Amazon type reviews won’t ever go away because there is a certain type of person who wants to wade through the chaff, but there is a large group that doesn’t want to. I’ve found a few reviewers who’s opinions I’ve come to trust and respect, even when they don’t always agree with me. The more faces we put with reviews the easier it becomes to find the good stuff. Everybody wins with that.

  10. I’ve never solicited a review. Fairly early on I even stopped sending out review copies to blogger type review sites, though I will happily provide one when asked. In that, case my standard message is, “trash it or not, read it or not, review it or not, it’s all good.” Needless to say I never paid for a review.
    I have a book that has only five star reviews. Now you’re telling me that works
    against my book? You’re telling me that never buying a review or soliciting one or engaging friends and family works against me?
    Meanwhile John Locke who bought reviews wholesale is thriving. His books still sell very well. To my knowledge he hasn’t lost a single twitter-follower.
    It seems only other writers care. It seems I’ve been very naive.
    Bitter? Me?

  11. @ Paul Baxter

    I think you’re dead right; the truth just sounds like the truth. I think that the readers of books (and by one remove the authors) are very lucky that they have the perfect background for detecting BS and dissimulation. I know what words are used as fig-leaves for “just because,ok?”

    That’s a fairly big saving grace; not perfect, not 100% reliable, but better than nothing.


    If that comment about not seeing the dick inside of you was a straight line, you are a genius. Made me laugh!

  12. I’ll throw my hat in with the people that trust trusted reviewers and the advice of people they know.

    On a related note, have anyone seen the newish Facebook posts that seem like friend’s recommending something but are actually sponsored stories? It’s just on this edge of the offensive line – but I can easily imagine a day where these ads get framed in auto-generated text designed to make them seem like they were posted by real people you know. Turing is spinning.

  13. Chuck, as always your take on things is most amusing. Here are a few things authors can do that i think are legit:
    Fight another author on television.
    Run the bases at Yankee Stadium during the seventh inning stretch.
    Marry Kim Kardashian.
    All of the above.

  14. I doubt your rant will sway the dubious writer aka Betty Lou Buttplug from continuing down their path of debauchery and ruination.

    I figured out many years ago (pre-internet and free porn) that reviews are NOT to be trusted. Even reviews in them thar fancy literary magazines. Even reviiews from writers I adore (and would kill for). They are all subjective, either through deceit or innocence.

    But, every once in a while I fall victim. Just finished a compilation of short stories edited by one of my literary heroes Joe R. Lansdale, who, in no uncertain words, that the stories compiled there were nothing short of genius and were deemed drool-worthy by the great Lansdale God himself. Oh, contraire. They all SUCKED in my opinion.

    How could this be so? Did ol’ Joe truly believe these stories were worthy of my time? Was he approached by his publisher to throw something together and slap his name on it while the proverbial toaster oven was still hot? Was the rent due?

    In a nut shell, this is nothing new (maybe just easier to do).

    • I doubt your rant will sway the dubious writer aka Betty Lou Buttplug from continuing down their path of debauchery and ruination.

      Maybe. But I’ve seen this get enough attention where some writers are asking what the big deal is or hedging bets as to whether or not it’s ethical/legal/blah blah blah.

      — c.

  15. When I consider reader reviews–I don’t always–I tend to consider three things: grammar, verified purchase, and helpfulness. And by “helpfulness” I mean the “7 of 9 customers found this review helpful” rating.

    There was an XKCD strip a few days or so ago that broke down review ratings and noted that one stars were from trolls, two stars from bitter rivals, and five stars were from fans, so the three- and four-star reviews were the ones to be most trusted. Highly amusing.

  16. <—– never bought a review, never will.

    I expect some people to not like my book. Hell, if a certain percentage (about 10% ish) don't almost hate something about my stories then I am writing drivel and pap and liquid gooseshit on papyrus.

    Fuck that. I put work into my books to make them different. to do some new shit, and not everybody is gonna like it.

    It's the Asshole Loophole.

    For the uninformed the Asshole Loophole is that if you walk into a room with 100 people in it that you have never met about 80 of them will be just fine. You'll get along, be polite, keep your dick in your pants and not fart in their general direction.

    10 people in that room are going to love you. You will be their second coming. Every joke you say will be hilarious, you will be insightful and wise, you will be attractive and desirable to them.

    The other 10 people who are left?

    They're the Assholes.

    They are the people that just do not buy your shit. They don't like you and you damn sure don't like them. If you look up "Wouldn't-piss-on-them-if-they-were-on-fire" in your dictionary you would see their picture beside the entry.

    But these 10 people are your out. When you meet them you don't have to feel bad about your instant hatred and animosity. It doesn't mean you are a bad person, it's just the law of averages. It's not you so walk on by. They are your Asshole Loophole.

    That rambling wreck of an analogy aside (it's pre- coffee thirty here folks) I'll sum up.

    Book reviews are like sex….if you gotta pay for it then you can't get it on your own and that's just kinda douchey.

    Don't be douchey.

  17. “But I’ve seen this get enough attention where some writers are asking what the big deal is or hedging bets as to whether or not it’s ethical/legal/blah blah blah.”

    I saw someone mention that Walt Whitman did it for Leaves of Grass. Also, speaking of sock-puppets, one guy–whose name is, of course, eluding me–pseudonymously (as Ludwig) wrote the famous obituary of Poe that painted the guy as a rabid crazy lout and such. I mean, not to say that Poe didn’t struggle with his demons (don’t we all?), but I think people yet have a lot of misconceptions about the man, and some of it is down to that Ludwig obituary.

  18. Personally, I never gave much credence to ANY review — online, in newspapers or magazines, for books, films, whatever. I mean check these out:

    If those films can be critically panned in reviews, then why should I give reviews any credence at all? I stuck with a policy of consuming media that personally interested me, and that hasn’t led me wrong.

    From a creator’s standpoint, in 18 years of producing material for the consumption of an audience, I have yet to see ANY reliable data that indicates that any review, good or bad, has any noticeable effect on sales. So, there’s that, too.

    That said — this entire tempest in a teapot could be solved very simply. The only thing that sites like Amazon would have to do is to restrict reviews to users who have purchased that item through the site. It wouldn’t kill shill reviews entirely, but it would cut them WAY back, since few sock-puppeteers are willing to pay for the privilege.

  19. The only reviews I’ve ever trusted are from my friends and peers who have a track record for picking winners. A majority of the books that have emit a Keanu Reeves “Whoa” were recommendation or just diving in and taking a chance.

    As with restaurants, I usually drive by the place on a weekend if it’s close. If the parking lot is empty, then that is often the only review you need.

    With any creative industry, there’s going to be the equivalent of the Payola scandal.

  20. I’ve only been halfway paying attention to this “buying your reviews” business. This is mostly because I’ve just barely started editing the Shitty First Draft of my Shitty First Novel. Smaller fish to fry, and all that. Moreover, I’ve only got the faintest idea that John Locke is one of the folks who has been buying reviews and has been generally behaving badly in the author space. I don’t know much about that guy, except that once he sent me a copy of a book of his and there was a ten dollar bill inside. I’m still not sure what I was supposed to do with that, so I bought frozen yogurt with it and forgot about it until recently.

    So here’s the question – the truly important one. Am I going to have to take a Goddamn nom de plume because my name sounds so similar to this guy’s? Real Talk, please.

  21. Okay– getting real tired of seeing this, quite honestly, so I’m cutting and pasting the long response I just made on Barry Eisler’s blog about the same topic, while still wondering where all the outcry is over the settlement and DOJ ruling?

    This whole thing has me scratching my head. Sort of: yeah, and?

    I agree that posting negative reviews of other authors’ work is really bad. But I’m of the “put bad stuff out there and it comes back to haunt you” philosophy. It reminds me of the gold miner in Pale Rider looking at the guy riding into town and saying: “Isn’t that kind of dumb?”

    I’ve read reviews on a #1 NY Times bestseller’s books (who I personally know) and can tell she wrote them. Pretty sad. It’s also obvious at that level they’re hiring a better company to spam reviews than John Locke did, once you start really examining the glowing reviews and their connection to the reality of the book. And I could care less because it’s a reality of the business.

    And when your publisher buys a two page spread in the NY Times book review and miraculously your book is #1 on the hardcover list the next week and then disappears faster than Leonardo trying to climb on that board after the Titanic sank, what do you make of that? Or the “bestseller” racks in Target, supermarkets, etc.– are those really the bestsellers? Uh, no. They’re paid placement. It’s called business. Some people just have more juice. Is that fair? Is it ethical for a publisher to label a book the #3 bestseller simply by buying the rack slot? Isn’t that “deceiving” the reader? Anyone heard of co-op money? Most readers haven’t. So aren’t readers the victim there of publisher bad behavior? I don’t think so.

    What I find staggering is the amount of energy being expended on something that overall, readers care little about, while the recent settlement by three of the big 6 for 69 million (or 79, depending on your math) to some states for eBook pricing has received scant attention. So DOJ has basically decided, and publishers have tacitly admitted, that pricing was fixed, there was collusion, and we could care less?

    Here’s what’s really funny about that. You know where that payoff money is going to come from? The CEO pay at those publishers.

    Just joking.

    Author royalties. Wait until you start seeing the negative subtractions from your eBook royalties, which are at a what, whopping 25%?

    I’ve backed off social media a lot lately to do something weird, write, but I keep seeing this swing back against authors, especially indies. From my military training, I know that a strong defense starts being put in place, that means something is vulnerable. I wonder what that is?

    And I just want to add, I’m a bit surprised to see so many authors going after other authors. If only they’d be that concerned about publishers, bookstores, agents, and others in this business who’d as quickly throw an author under a bus to make a buck than not. This works both ways. Posting negative reviews, sock-puppeting (something I’d never heard of) and being too afraid to say the truth about how publishers really treat 95% of their authors.

    And here’s another ethical issue. All those authors bad-mouthing Amazon while they’re books are for sale on Amazon? Where’s the ethics of that?

    So my high horse is actually a pony and I’ll take care of my business and maybe go double-tap someone.

    • @Bob:

      We’re talking about one thing, and you’re talking about another. There’s always something else people could be talking about — I could go hop on a post about police abuse and ask them why they’re not talking about famine in Africa, instead.

      This post is about authors being dicks, which is something authors can control.

      Publishers being bad is a whole other post.

      And Amazon — you know, I don’t buy the “authors on Amazon can’t say boo about Amazon.” That’s like saying, you can’t live in America and also criticize it.


      — c.

  22. The self-publishing model has a lot of potential, but it only works if readers can find ways of getting at convenient, honest reviews and/or word-of-mouth. I think that eventually a new structure of the critic’s trade will grow up around it, but until then, we’re kind of in the Internet Wild West here and emptor better caveat…

  23. Like Anthony Ellmore above, I don’t pay that much attention to Amazon reviews personally. I prefer word of mouth suggestions from friends.

    If a book has a particularly large number of reviews and a good score, or a particularly bad score, I will scan through them. But I am just looking for repeated themes, or something missing from the product description. (For example, a book I was considering buying until a few reviews made it clear the female love interest in the series is 10.)

    And for the same reasons above, I try to make sure I write reviews of books I like on Goodreads or my own blog, and suggest them to my friends.

  24. Okay. As they say in Seinfeld: Whatever.

    I’m talking about another thing, that’s much bigger in publishing, because it seems as if we’re all focused on something smaller for some reason.

    A lot of authors are dicks. Lots of people think I’m one. And I am at times.

    Authors can say boo about Amazon all they want, but if they have the courage of their convictions, they will pull their books from it. Your analogy is as far off as my changing subjects, about which you are right. As a vet I could say those who haven’t served their country and put their life on the line for it shouldn’t criticize it, but that’s wrong, because in these days that’s a choice also. But police abuse and famine? I’m talking about paying for things that readers don’t understand and deceiving readers, so you’re pretty far afield there. I took a swing at this topic a lot tighter than you’re dismissing it.

    I enjoy reading your blog and I’ll leave it with what I want on my tombstone I won’t have: whatever.

    • @Bob —

      I understand that you feel this Other Topic is a topic worth discussing. It is. Go do it! I don’t say that as a negative, like, “Fuck you, go do it.” I mean, hey, great, go talk about it.

      But I’m talking about this thing because it’s a thing I want to talk about.

      Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

      — c.

  25. The sad thing is, sock puppeteers are shooting themselves in the foot. When an author pans a similar author in the same genre they end up hurting their own sales. Look at Sylvia Day’s success following that of 50 Shades. Now everyone wants porn, and readers are asking for similar types of stories.

  26. The “all this talk about problem X just ignores the crisis of problem Y” is classic derailing. “Oh, my, how can I expend energy being upset about readers when BABIES ARE BEING FED TO LIZARDS ON ANOTHER PLANET?!” *clutch pearls*

    Publishers can be dodgy. No doubt. I am capable of criticizing publishers for being dodgy while AT THE TIME TIME criticizing authors who choose to be a different kind of dodgy. I can also chew bubblegum, pick my nose, and scratch my ass.

  27. Okay. Simple question. If a publisher buys co-op space to have a book racked as the #2 MMP bestseller in Target the week it comes out, even though there are no sales yet, is that unethical and fooling the public who thinks bestseller means the book sold well and readers must love it rather than the publisher bought the space? Or is that business?

    I totally agree that posting fake reviews and especially negative reviews of other writers’ book is wrong. But do we not really see how publishing is run? As a business.

    I brought up the whole DOJ thing because you brought up ethics in publishing. I’m just not seeing the ethics at a big level, while we pick up the rope to lynch authors who did wrong. They totally screwed up. Were wrong. But if deceiving readers is our guideline why not includes the publicists and marketing people at all the Big 6? And bookstores who take co-op money?

    If I claimed my book to be the #2 national bestseller when it hasn’t even sold yet, wouldn’t I get lynched? But publishers do it every week. It’s not another topic but completely applicable.

    By the way, my newest book is the #1 bestseller, I just have to go the local loanshark and get the money to buy the rack space.

  28. To answer your question, Bob, no that’s not ethical either.

    I’m pretty sure the average punter would be pretty pissed off to find out that a book advertised as a best seller actually wasn’t anything of the sort.

    And no, ‘it’s just business’ doesn’t cut it with me. If we didn’t have professional roles and relationships with people, we wouldn’t need ‘ethics’ – it would just be morals. The whole notion of ethics speaks to the way one conducts his or her professional life and discharges their responsibilities. The end doesn’t justify the means, not if it means lying to your customers. And yes, that absolutely includes publicists and marketing people.

    But the fact that publishing houses have engaged and/or continue to engage in shoddy practices doesn’t mean it’s unimportant when individuals do.

    It’s absolutely appropriate to point out that the sock-puppet types are not doing anything that a publisher wouldn’t do if they thought they could get away with it. But it’s also appropriate to make the point that, whoever engages in this kind of deception, it’s the reader who is being conned.

    Readers are our livelihood and our support and the reason we do what we do. We may not be able to control what our publishers do, but when we connect with readers directly, it behooves us not to be dicks.

    As to why people get upset about it and feel it is worth talking about, I think that’s about trust. As consumers in shops and of advertising, we have mostly absorbed, by now, a ‘caveat emptor’ sensibility. We are cynical about advertised claims of miraculous results, we take spin with a grain of salt. It’s not good that we have to, it’s not ethical, but experience has taught us that it is necessary.

    But I think, with things like Amazon reviews, people thought – arguably foolishly, particularly in light of recent events – that there was a ‘reality’ to these opinions that was uninfluenced by commercial or personal bias. Not all of them, obviously. One expected that the first few might be from the writer’s mates, for instance, but they’re pretty easily spotted.

    But, as I said before, ‘it’s supposed to be one of the strengths of the interwebs, the ability for EveryJoe and Josephine to weigh in with their opinion. But the power has been used for evil and all of us are tainted.’

    Maybe it was dumb to think that there was ever truth online. But I think people did and I think it is reasonable to do so. I am arguably foolish, but I like to believe in people until they give me reason not to. And I do think that most of the reviews on Amazon or wherever probably are legit. Some of them are made by people who appear to be certifiably insane, but at least they are honestly insane.

    If people are messing with that majority in such a calculated way, they deserve to be called out over it and the point made that this serves no-one in the long run. It isn’t about lynching authors, it’s about asking people to show their readers some respect. Pointing out that someone has behaved like a dick and that it’s a good idea not to do so is not a lynching. I see your point, but that isn’t what’s happening here.

  29. But it is important that publishers have been doing it for decades. Yet never this furor. Shame on us authors.

    Did you ever see a news article or authors banding together to decry another author who didn’t get their contract renewed? But now many articles and authors have cried out about an indie bookstore closing?

    My point is authors need to value themselves as the creators of content. And we don’t. I’m done with it. Authors show readers respect by writing. The recent DOJ ruling, the 69 million dollar payout, the focus on distributors rather than consumers that publishers have done for decades, shows no respect to readers.

    That’s reality. So let’s bitch more about some dumbshit authors who let their ego consume their smarts, but ignore the larger reality of a business model that’s very, very ill.

    That’s what’s happening here.

  30. I think it’s likely that there was never a furore about the publishers before because a). people didn’t know what they were up to and b). the ones that did felt they couldn’t do anything about it. I completely agree that the system was never about the readers or the authors before, but about the ‘company’ – and it was a company town, with all the bad stuff that implies.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that the business systems of publishing could do with a boat-load of improvement. They’ve been the only game in town for too long and it has led to a way of doing business that is just antiquated as well as frequently unethical.

    But seriously, Bob, that’s not a point that hasn’t been made and isn’t being made. I’ve heard you say it in person and online, many times. Kristen Lamb talks about it all the time. Chuck’s talked about it here, for that matter. And they’re not alone. If we’re going to talk ranting and bitching, I’ve heard some pretty extreme carry-on about the so-called Big Six, too.

    But if we’re going to make a brave new world, with small presses and self-publishing and so on, and, if we deal with the big guys, demanding better treatment, what’s wrong with saying that it would be nice if we can do it BETTER than the old guard? What’s wrong with suggesting that we behave ethically? Respectfully, Bob, I don’t see that as bitching.

    I DO value myself as a creator of content – partly due to spending a day listening to you talk about it at length, but also because I have come to this as a grown-up and I know the value of my time and work. I know this is a business as well as an art. But I also value myself as a decent human being and value my readers as, in a way, co-creators of my art. I can manage without a publisher. I can’t manage without readers. And the fact that faceless corporations treat them like commodities doesn’t give me an excuse to.

    I understand what you’re saying, really I do. I get why it upsets you and I think in many cases you’re right – but it doesn’t make this argument wrong.

    (I’m ignoring the bit about indie bookstores because this conversation was never about that and also, not entirely sure what you’re talking about in the sentence before.)

  31. Bob,

    Traditional publishers have probably done a LOT of nefarious things that aren’t excusable. But that’s not what we’re debating here (or are we?). It might be helpful if everyone could stop looking across the fence at what the “other side” is doing and focus on what’s happening in our own front yard.

    This issue never was about publishers v. writers, and I am frankly amazed that it has digressed into one. Sock puppet reviews/paid reviews ultimately affect the credibility of *all writers,* across the board, regardless if they’re self-published or traditionally published. And to my mind, that credibility — that reputation that we strive so hard to cultivate — is at stake.

    When does “wrong” actually turn into real *wrong?* If paying for reviews and/or sock-puppeting reviews of one’s own books/a competitors’ books isn’t wrong, then is it wrong for someone to hire a ghostwriter to pen a novel, upload that novel to Amazon, promote it to the top rankings and sign a deal with a publisher, without full disclosure? Is it wrong for someone to pose as a medical expert and write a self-help book about how drinking baking soda and orange juice cures cancer?

    Where, exactly, does real *wrong* begin, if not with this, right here —?

  32. Although it’s insanely obvious that paying for positive reviews is wrong and deceitful, the wrong and deceitful will continue to do it, no matter how many times (on how many blogs) you say, “bad author, bad, bad, author.” Now, if you could follow that up with a sharp rap on the nose with the Wall Street Journal, you just may get their attention. However, that won’t happen. So… maybe it’s back onto the reader’s court. In other words, caveat emptor.

  33. Lisa Marie,
    You have a link that doesn’t work. Don’t be amazed. Work in publishing for a couple of decades and you’ll understand.

    There isn’t wrong. There is just the business.

  34. Currently, among the longest thread in the kindle reader forums are one called “Are You a Victim of the Amazon Review Mafia?” ( and “Badly Behaving Authors” (, both over 6000 comments.

    The incidents of author misbehavior are enough to make you turn to reality television for relief. There is some truly psychotic behavior out there.

    Still, I think that’s more the exception.

    This is more typical: one author reviews another author, the other author returns the favor. Both authors in the same boat – needing exposure and reviews – and when the initial review is 5 stars, the recipient cannot help but feel some sense of obligation. Only the most rigorously ethical writer can frankly and fairly review the novel of one who has been so helpful to him.

    And here he is, sweating out the “what do I do?” while a millionaire is proudly admitting he didn’t worry about that at all, and another is admitting he used sock puppets to attack his competitors.

    You know, WTF?

  35. Bob,

    I’ve worked as a reporter and as a freelance writer for more than 20 years. So I’ve been privy to all sorts of bad behavior (of the Lehrer variety) that goes on behind the scenes. The minute shady dealings can be excused/rationalized away with “But everyone else is doing it — and moreover, some people are doing far worse”, we’ve resigned ourselves to ethical entropy. I may end up one of the last few standing who refuses to take that route, and I may end up with a rather nonexistent writing career, but I. Will. Stand.

  36. It makes me sad to think that my own five-star reviews of books (posted on my hobby blog and on and occasionally on might be doubted because of the bad behavior of others. I’ve never been paid to write a review, although I have “won” review copies on goodreads, which does not require you to leave a review btw, and received a couple of free books to review. In every case, I have disclosed that information in my reviews, even the less-than-glowing ones.

    In any case, I review every book I read, some very generally (often so as not to include spoilers) and others with more detail. Even those are more focused on style/language use/voice than on the story’s content, as I am painfully aware that my opinion is just that.

    Still, it sucks to think that putting a 5-star rating on a book I really loved would put others off or make them dismiss it entirely. Some books deserve 5 stars and, when they do, I want to be able to give them without reservation. (sigh.)

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