Thursday, September 06, 2012

Ethical Roulette

Let's play a game.

There has been a lot of talk about ethics and morals around the Internets lately. A lot of name calling. A lot of shaming. A lot of sanctimony. 

Writers are quick to proclaim they'd never pay for reviews, or use sock puppets to promote their own work, or to denounce someone else's work.

This has generated a lot of discussion within my peer network. It's a nice excuse to test our morals, fine tune our sense of right and wrong, and work harder to understand human behavior.

But I don't see a lot of level-headed discussion on the web. I see hysterics, mob behavior, and action motivated by fear or righteous indignation.

I get angry when groups begin acting badly. The AAR. The Authors Guild. Harlequin. The Big 6. When I see this happening, I take them to task for it, using logic and facts and arguments to show how they are wrong.

I recently did this with the NSPHP petition. A petition that named and accused three writers of "damaging publishing", using "underhanded tactics", and stating other authors are doing it as well.

The NSPHP built a carefully constructed case showing how these writers damaged publishing.

Oh, wait. No they didn't. They simply accused and denounced.

But at least they clearly defined "underhanded tactics" and explained in detail how they are illegal and immoral.

Oh, wait. What the trio did wasn't illegal. And there was no posted debate, no public discussion whatsoever of their actions (in fact, discussion in the comments is discouraged and comments encouraging debate have been removed).

But surely they have proof that many other authors are doing this as well. I mean, you don't suddenly post a call to arms unless this is a deeply rooted, widespread problem, right?

Oh, wait. There is no proof. Only assumptions.

Welcome to the wonderful world of moral panic.

So the NSPHP judged three authors, convicted them without any trial or allowing the authors any defense, and then took the moral high ground by shaming them publicly, denouncing their acts without any attempt to dissect or understand those acts, and then shamelessly begged readers for reviews.

Fail.

In fact, if anyone reading this edits Wikipedia, they need to add the NSPHP petition to the moral panic examples. Feel free to use my blog as a citation.

I much prefer debate to name calling. And when someone is accused of something, I try to put myself in their shoes, and wonder if I'd act the same way. If I don't think I'd do those same things, does that make me morally superior? Or am I just lying to myself? 

Has anyone, while witnessing all the vitriol going on right now, asked themselves, "There but for luck go I?"

I have.

We all have morals. Having morals doesn't mean we're always able to follow our own moral code. We're human. We make mistakes. We have moments of weakness. We're also uncannily good at justifying our actions.

I'd never kill another human being. 

But what if your family is being threatened?

I'd never steal. 

But what if you're starving?

I'd never pay for reviews or use sock puppets online. 

Really? Are you sure?

Unless I missed some link or secret page on their website, no one signing the NSPHP petition has proven that what the three accused have done are crimes, or how they are even morally wrong. No one has clearly demonstrated how other writers or readers have been hurt. No one has tried to explain or discuss motive.

There has been no talking about the issues whatsoever. Only assumption, finger pointing, condemnation, and a growing list of author signatures that methinks is growing so fast because innocent writers don't want the mob to turn on them.

Isn't it more productive to have a discussion about the ethics of reviewing than rushing to a snap judgement and joining a mob?

I think these things should be discussed. I think the accused should be considered innocent before proven guilty.

Hence this blog post.

I like John Locke. I've spoken with him at length in the past. I believe he's done a great deal of good for the indie movement. I've found him to be personable, gracious, and good-natured.

I like Stephen Leather. I've only traded emails with him, but I've found him to be personable, gracious, and good-natured. Last year we discussed collaborating on a horror novel together; something I still plan on doing. What kind of man would I be to back out of working with someone because they're currently controversial?

Do I agree or disagree with what they've admitted to doing? Would I do those same things? Have I done similar things?

Ask yourself those same questions. But before you answer, try to open your mind and be honest with yourself.

That won't be easy. It's much easier to express moral outrage. It feels good to see the mighty fall, an unfortunate trait of human nature called Schadenfreude. It feels especially good when people more successful than we are get publicly thrashed. If we can convince ourselves Locke and Leather sold so many books because they are cheaters, we can point to that as the reason why they outsold us, and boldly state, "They sold more than me because they cheated, while I would never stoop so low!"

Actually, they sold more than us because they write books people like, are savvy marketers, and got lucky.

Hard to admit that to ourselves, though. Knee-jerk condemnation and public chastisement is much more pleasurable.

So let's take a little morality test. You can post your answers in the comments, or keep them to yourself. I'm not writing this post to make you feel ashamed, or make you feel morally superior. If you feel the need to post your answers and take the moral high ground on every question I'm about to ask, that doesn't mean much. Being asked something on a blog is not the same as actually being confronted with the issue in real life.

We can all be pious in our minds, and we can proclaim our piety in public. But actions are the real indicator of morals.

So let's begin.

1. Would you accept a glowing blurb from Stephen King (or insert your author of choice) even if he only read 3/4 of your book? 

How about only half of your book? 

Just the first chapter?

What if he didn't read it at all?


2. Would you give someone a free book to review it?

What if instead of a book, you gave them the cash to buy the book with?

Would you hire a publicist to send out books you paid for to reviewers?

Is it ethical to have your book reviewed in a periodical that you write articles for? One that you buy ads in?


3. If your mother wrote a book and wanted you to honestly review it on Amazon, would you? 

Would you give Mom one star if it were bad?

If Mom asked you specifically for a five star review, would you do it?


4. Would you ever review or blurb a book you haven't read? 

What if it was for someone you were friends with? 

What if it was a family member?

What if you were paid $5000 for it? How about $50,000?


5. If your book was getting one star reviews from a fellow writer, would you give their book one star in retaliation?

If that competitor used sock puppets to trash your book, and Amazon didn't remove the phony reviews, would you ask for reviews from family and friends to counter the damage?

Would you post phony five star reviews of your book to counter the damage? 

Would you use sock puppets to trash your competitor's books in retaliation?


6. If spending $5000 on paid reviews guaranteed you'd sell 2 million ebooks, would you do it? 

Would it matter if you publicly disclosed it or not?

What if the reviews were honest reactions from people who read the whole book? 

What if they were written by spambots who automatically gave you five stars? Is their a difference?

Would you pay $1000 to guarantee a front page review of your book in a major periodical? How about $500? Or $50? What if it also guaranteed a place on the periodical's Bestseller list? Does that make it more or less appealing?


7. Would you ever review a book for money? 

Would you ever take a job as a reviewer for Kirkus and PW (two periodicals who charge authors for reviews)?

Would you review books on Amazon for $50 per book?  What if you swore to yourself you'd be impartial?

Would you do so without disclosing the review was paid for? Would you do it and not read the book?


8. Would you ever trade reviews with your fellow authors?

Would you ever ask friends for reviews? Family? Fans? Strangers?


9. Would you ever promote your books on forums, blogs, or social networks?

If you were being trashed on forums, blogs, or social networks, would you defend yourself? And if defending yourself just brought more vitriol, would you consider defending yourself anonymously?

How about under a fake identity? Would you ever use a sock puppet to defend yourself from mob behavior?

Would you use a sock puppet to praise your own work? Denounce the work of others?


10. Would you ever give a one star review to a book you haven't read?

Would you give a one star review to a book because you disapprove of something the author did?

I've seen lots of recent one star reviews for Locke's How I Sold a Million Ebooks in Five Months, and lots of people chiming on on the Locke Hate Parade, and I really have to wonder how these people think they're any better than what they're accusing Locke of.


11. Would you ever trash someone on the Internet? 

What's the minimum a person must have done in order to deserve your trashing them? Must they have done something specifically to you or someone you care about? Or simply something you don't agree with?

Would you do this anonymously?

Is there a difference between criticizing someone on the Internet, and criticizing their books on the Internet? If so, why is one okay and the other not?

And finally...


12. Would you ever sign a petition denouncing authors for buying reviews without closely examining the issue, and in the same breath begging readers to give you reviews?


Here are my answers. As I said, I don't expect people to post their answers in the comments. And some that do, no doubt will be lying to the world and to themselves. I don't think I'm any more honest than anyone else, but I'm going to try my best to answer these as truthfully as I can. I'm sure if I fall short, there will be plenty of people eager to pounce on me.

1. Years ago, I would have loved for Stephen King to blurb me, even if he didn't read the book. I agreed with my publishers that blurbs were an important and essential marketing tool.

Today, I don't feel the need for anyone to blurb me.

Blurbs have always had an element of corruption to them. I blogged about this years ago. So did Barry Eisler. I was more comfortable with it than he was, but I believe we both had sound arguments, and we both agreed there was some shadiness going on.


2. I've never paid for reviews, or a publicist. But I've given out hundreds of my books, both paper and ebooks, in order to get reviews. I've always been upfront that I wanted honest reviews, and have gotten my share of negative reviews from people I've sent books to. 

I still solicit reviews. On my blog. Through my website and newsletter. Whenever I get fan mail, I thank them and ask them to post it as a review.

But I don't read my reviews anymore. Except for a close circle of friends and family, I'm not interested in the opinions of others, either about me or about my work. If I ever become so jaded or self-important that I start writing crap, I expect my support network to bring me back down to earth, just as I'd do for them.


3. Mom would get five stars from me, even if her book was terrible, and I'd help her promote it any way I could. If that reflects badly on me, so be it.


4. Every book I've ever reviewed or blurbed I have read, and I did my best to review it honestly, though I focused on the good and downplayed or ignored the bad.

However, in some rare circumstances, I would review or blurb a book I haven't read for someone I liked. I wouldn't do it for money, because I'm not motivated by money. (I'm serious, I just turned down a speaking gig for $20k) But if an author I respected needed a blurb right away, and I didn't have time to read his book, I'd do something generic such as, "Author X is one of my all time favorites, and he never disappoints."

Actually, it's wrong of me to say I'd blurb a book I haven't read, because I'd actually be reviewing the author instead the book.

So I'd have to say no, I wouldn't review a specific book I haven't read, but I would endorse an author via review or blurb if I'd read them before.


5. I've got lots of one star reviews, lots of haters, and I don't care. I don't give out one star reviews, under my name or via sock puppets. Not because I love everything, but because I don't feel right trashing other people's hard work.

I don't use sock puppets, or post anonymously. But would I ever?

I don't know. My ego is healthy. I don't care if people trash me, so I don't feel the need to defend myself, anonymously or otherwise.


The right to anonymous free speech is protected under the First Amendment. As for sock puppets, check out how Benjamin Franklin used them.

I remember an incident years back, where a comment thread about Stephen Leather was deleted by Amazon.uk, or comments were deleted, or something similar. I'm not bringing this up to dredge up old controversies, but because I remember reading the thread.

Commenters were absolutely viscous toward Leather. I remember being surprised at how nasty it got. I also remember Leather's attitude as bemused more than anything.

Would I create sock puppets to defend myself in a situation like that? I don't think so, because I really don't care. But I also can't condemn someone who does. While deceptive, that doesn't mean it is illegal or immoral.

Publishing is full of deceptive practices. Bestseller lists. Coop. Reviewing. Blurbing. Is a celebrity endorsing a product deceptive? I believe it is, to a degree.

We place a lot of value on honesty and integrity. I think that's good. But judging people who fail to live up to your ideals? That's a problem with the judge, not with the judged.

In other words, it isn't my fault I don't live up to your standards. And there's only one reason you would feel the need to judge me: moral masturbation.


6. If spending $5k on reviews guaranteed I'd sell two million books, hell yeah I'd do it. And I wouldn't care if those reviews were honest or not. I would admit to doing it, and probably encourage others to as well, if selling books were as simple as that. 

But selling books isn't as simple as that.

There's a lot of bad logic floating around about buying reviews. Namely:

a) There is no real guarantee buying reviews, even a lot of them, will lead to sales. It's a risk, and a potentially expense one, both in terms of money and in terms of the disapproval of peers.

b) I don't believe reviews influence buyers very much. I've bought books with one star reviews, and passed on books with hundreds of five star reviews.

c) A paid for review doesn't automatically mean it is disingenuous. I was a judge, several times, for the Writer's Digest short story contest. I was essentially a paid reviewer. And I worked my ass off to be as good a judge as possible. I believe that many paid reviewers have integrity and follow a code of ethics, no matter who pays them.

I've yet to see a single decent argument that explains how buying reviews hurts other authors. Some include:

It isn't fair to game the system!

Joe sez: All systems are gamed, and none are fair. Amazon didn't institute a user review system to make sure all authors had a fair and balanced playfield. They did it to encourage user participation and sell more books. Someone else doing well doesn't hurt you in the slightest.

Lots of reviews lead to higher Amazon ranks! 

Joe sez: Someone prove this. 

If someone has more reviews than me, customers might buy their book over mine! 

Joe sez: Ebooks aren't zero sum. No author makes money at the expense of another author. 

Reviews lead to bestseller lists, which pushes off the honest books and makes them less visable!

Joe sez: There is no proof a lot of good reviews leads to increased sales. In fact, I have ebooks with a few reviews that outsell ebooks with a lot of reviews. Also, ebooks are forever. If you feel you missed a shot at the Top 100 because someone else bought reviews, you can always have another shot later. My ebook The List has been in the Top 100 on four different occasions spanning three years.

Bad reviews hurt authors!

Joe sez: My ebook SERIAL has 156 one star reviews. People have been absolutely virulent in their hatred of that story. Sales remain steady.

All books eventually get one star reviews. Bestsellers. Beloved classics. Award winners. It's one of the hazards of being an artist. I talk more about one star reviews, and why I don't leave them or care about them, in my controversial post Be Deliberate.

I would not pay $1000, or any amount, for a front page review in a periodical, for the same reason I wouldn't pay any amount of money for any reviews. I don't believe reviews are worth paying for. I have more than enough fans who are eager to review me for free.

But if I were a new author, just starting out?

I once used a service called Book Rooster, which connected authors with reviewers. The reviewers weren't paid--they were avid readers who agreed to do reviews in exchange for free copies, and disclosed in their reviews that the copies were free. The website running the service charged $49. I didn't pay--I was given a chance to try it for free. Details on my blog here. The comments are also worth reading, because they discuss ethics.

I wouldn't use the service John Locke did. I also refuse to condemn him for using that service, especially since he is on record as saying he asked for honest reviews.

So why wouldn't I do it?

I'm really trying to be honest when I answer this. Bear with me.

I wouldn't go into a store and steal something because I don't feel it is fair to the shop owner, because they would lose inventory and money.

But I have used file sharing, mostly to get things that are no longer available to buy, such as old TV shows never released on DVD, or out of print music. In that case, no one is losing money, because no one is selling it.

I consider buying reviews to be victimless. Any reader who felt duped because they bought a book based on phony five star reviews could return the book for a full refund, then leave their own one star review.

I have seen ZERO compelling arguments that false reviews or bad reviews hurt other authors. As I've said many times, ebooks are not a zero sum game.

So why wouldn't I buy reviews?

Because I think it would eventually be discovered, and people would judge me and attack me, just as Locke is being attacked right now.

I don't feel the amount of anger leveled against him is worth the benefit he received from paying for those reviews. In fact, I don't think he received much benefit from paying for reviews at all.

I'm not morally superior to Locke. What he did just isn't worth it to me.


7. I would review for money, if I needed money. As I said, I've been a paid judge for writing contests, and I feel it is the same principle. 

But I have little respect for paid critics, and there are many things I'd rather do than be a paid reviewer. Such as clean sewers.

Seriously. Judge a writing contest. It's hell. 

I wouldn't work for Kirkus or PW, because I don't like either publication. I think their programs charging self-pubbed authors for reviews are sleazy.

Not because paid reviews are bad. Not because paid reviews besmirch the integrity of unpaid reviews. But because Kirkus and PW charge a lot of money, and the author won't get their money's worth because Kirkus and PW reviews aren't important or necessary. They just seem important and necessary to newbie authors just starting out.


8. I don't trade reviews with authors. But I do review friends' books, because I truly like their writing.

Anyone looking at the Amazon reviews I've written (I'm also a Vine Reviewer, which I'll get to in a moment) will see I've reviewed almost every one of Robert W. Walker's books with the same review.

I was a big fan of Rob growing up, and meeting him for the first time in person was a rare and memorable treat. A few years ago, Rob hit a patch of very bad luck and was broke. I was just getting started with self-pubbing ebooks, and I predicted this would be a boon for writers. So I paid Book Leaf to scan every one of Rob's books (about 40) and then went through each one to correct typos (book scanning produces lots of errors) and then formatted each one for Kindle and uploaded them with product descriptions. Then I posted the same 5 star review under each of his books, because it applied to all of them, as I'd read all of them.

It was a labor of love for a dear friend whose writing I enjoy. I'm thrilled Rob is doing well with these ebooks. I'd do it again.

I'm not posting this story so the world sees what a swell guy I am. I'm posting it because there are pinheads on the Internet looking for dirt on me, and I don't want Rob or I to get accused of sock-puppetry or shilling or trading favors.

I help my friends. That's part of who I am.

As for Vine Reviews, I'm part of the Amazon Vine Program, which means Amazon regularly sends me free stuff in exchange for a review. In the program I received a free $600 espresso maker. I did my best to review it honestly, and 25 out of 25 people found my review helpful.

That said, aren't I essentially a paid reviewer? The machine costs $600, and I got it for free. It was like the ultimate bribe, especially for a coffee lover like me. But I still wrote what I believe is an honest review, and I stand by that review.

In a discussion of ethics and deception and buying reviews, I'm not comfortable using black and white terminology. I think there are lots of shades of gray. Condemning behavior without discussing it or analyzing it or even asking the offending parties for their side of the story is, in my humble opinion, bullshit.


9. This one baffles me. There are authors who are chastising other authors for buying reviews or using sock puppets by leaving one star reviews on those offending author's books.

How can anyone leave a one star review for a book they haven't read? How can they use reviews as a platform to attack the author? Especially when they're trying to take the moral high ground?

I'm especially baffled because one of the authors doing this had once emailed me, and others, asking us to leave positive reviews of his books.

Notice I'm not naming names, publicly shaming, or preaching sanctimoniously. That's because:


10. I don't trash people on the Internet. I think it's cheap, and petty, and cowardly. Every so often, some pinhead gets chastised in my blog comments, after fair warning. But I don't go on Twitter calling other writers names, I don't dedicate blog posts to their stupidity, and I don't hurl insults that might be read by their family, or their fans, because I think that sucks.

I speak my mind when I see groups of people behaving badly. The Big 6. The Authors Guild. The AAR. Harlequin. The latest group to have a circle-jerk Konrath hatefest on Twitter are some authors who didn't like my opinion of the NSPHP petition. Which brings us to...


11. I would not sign a petition denouncing authors for paying for reviews, while at the same time pleading for readers to review them.

I haven't ever paid for a review. But I think I've shown in this blog post how slippery ethics can be, and I'm not going to jump on the hate wagon to denounce others.

Plus, I'd never ask readers to review me with a line like: Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess? It makes me wince just reading it. It smacks of hypocrisy and neediness, and is beneath them.

Four hundred plus authors needed to band together to urge readers to review them to "drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance." 

Seriously? 

Those "phoney voices" are three people! Three people have harmed those four hundred plus so heinously that only readers can step in and correct this terrible injustice?! Three people have caused so much mayhem they must be drowned out?!

Much as I weep for those poor four hundred authors and how they were irrevocably damaged (hint: they weren't)--especially those mega bestsellers whose get full page New York Times ads (hint: that their publishers paid for)--and much as I'm swayed by their persuasive arguments explaining how three people harmed them and the entire system (hint: they have no arguments, persuasive or otherwise), I'm going to have to say a petition that denounces unseemly reviewing methods that ends with an unseemly plea for reviews is very, very, very silly. And I'm being very, very, very kind.

The world doesn't  know, or care, about the problems in the publishing industry. The average reader doesn't care about the DOJ suit, or the AAR and Authors Guild selling us out, or Harlequin screwing writers, or authors behaving badly.

They simply want good books to read.

Those books won't get written if we're all on Twitter 24/7 condemning on another, or blogging incessantly, or spending all of our time pouring over Amazon reviews trying to uncover which are legit and which aren't (seriously, how fucking pathetic is that?)

Now I'm going to unplug for a bit and get some writing done. Which is what we all should be doing.

Peace.

172 comments:

Gary Taaffe said...

Joe the last thing I want to do is veer the conversation off this subject however I do have a request - please, please, please do a post to voice your opinions on Amazon's new Kindle Series program.
I am 4 episodes into my 13 part Urban Hunters series, so this news is obviously very exciting to me. However my concerns about jumping on board are weighing me down and your opinion would be greatly appreciated, as I am sure it would be to many others.
The introductory price of $1.99 for my whole ongoing series seems ridiculous. Though I do realise the potential is massive, and it is only introductory. Where's the incentive to keep the series going past 13?
I like being a self-publisher, unless I'm mistaken, they're offering a traditional publishing deal?? If memory serves, you took up such an offer, how has this worked out for you and would you do it again?
Also, as an Australian, we are not legible for 70% royalties, all we ever get is 35%!!! If that is how they would work, it wouldn't work for me. Which seems crazy.
They're my immediate thoughts thrown out in a bit of a tiz.
Thanks, Joe. Your no nonsense opinions have guided me greatly.

Joe Konrath said...

I hope to post all about the Amazon press conference soon. Right now I need to learn more about it.

Bridget McKenna said...

Thanks again, Joe, for planing down the pseudo-moral high ground just a bit so some of us can get down off it, and others can see over the top a bit better. Yours is a fair and wise and much-needed perspective.

planetkimsmith said...

Peace... and thanks... The stress you have saved me from going through? Your simple rules? Well, I am speechless. I am grateful. Joe is a 'lion in the sand' and I am going back to work now. Whew and XO!

planetkimsmith said...

Peace... and thanks... The stress you have saved me from going through? Your simple rules? Well, I am speechless. I am grateful. Joe is a 'lion in the sand' and I am going back to work now. Whew and XO!

Wyndes said...

Would I write a review for money? Absolutely. I used to make between $500 to $1000 per article for the reviews I wrote for Macworld Magazine and never once did I consider that there might be something unethical about doing so. That said, if I had spent money on John Locke's book about how he sold a million books and later discovered he'd not bothered to mention a potentially key factor in his success, I'd probably feel ripped off, and maybe enough so to write a one-star review. That book is dishonest, whether or not the reviews he paid for were. Still, I wouldn't write the review unless I was actually one of the people he'd deceived.

Jarrah Loh said...

Hey Joe, long time reader, first time poster ;)

Firstly, to Gary above, I'm not sure how you're set up, but I'm Australian and I get identical rates as those in the US, minus 5% tax...?

But to Joe.
I certainly understand your standing on most of these things, and agree with nearly all of them.
In the end, you could argue that it is Amazon's system, and their fault if someone can abuse it easily.

However, with some of your rationalization, you could justify any action in life without guilt. But I understand your point.

Working in sport journalism, I can't help but compare this is to the conundrum of many professional athletes.

In that, many feel a lot of pressure to dope or use steroids etc even though they'd rather not.

I feel pressure to post puppet reviews etc, when really, I personally find it morally objectionable – mostly because I hate reading them. It is so obvious to me when an unknown author releases an eBook and has 13 5-star reviews, and most of them are similar. It's not a big deal, really, but it's just another thing that dirties the system and keep it unprofessional.
There's a dozens of interweb 'entrepreneurs' who claim they have all genuine reviews. I don't care how you spin it. I'm not a fool. Dummy reviews are clearly obvious, and it doesn't help much to legitimize the sometimes unprofessional e market.

But I take comfort in your assessment that it doesn't affect sales much.

I don't care enough to lose any sleep over it, but I'm not a fan full stop.

Thanks again Joe.


Mark Terry said...

You pretty much lay out why I didn't sign the petition or why i'm not too chuffed about the whole review thing in general. I used to review books for money. I was as honest as I could be. When I started getting my own books published I stopped. Lot of reasons, but part was it was uncomfortable now that I was on the other end of things. It also stopped being fun. But really, is all this fuss worth it? I read all & any reviews with great skepticism. And I make up my own mind

Dongo said...

Joe,

I just discovered this blog this week. I have been reading avidly, and I thank you for taking the time to explain so much about E-publishing to so many people.

Two posts ago, I laughed out loud as I read your list of things you vowed never to do in response to the NPSHP.

I read your carefully reasoned argument about why you did not sign the petition.

I even followed the link you gave me to Barry Eisler's page, where I read (with great interest) as I explained why he had signed the petition at first and then removed his name.

Your reasoning in this piece is sound, and I find the sanity of the positions that you and Eisler have taken to be not only sound, but commendable.

That said, can we please stop beating this dead horse? Some uptight people got into a mob mentality.

It happens. It sucks that it happens, but it does. If Nazis can get away with it . . . if McCarthy can get away with it . . . if the legislators who overwhelmingly (and unthinkingly) passed the Patriot Act can get away with it . . . well, the fact is I really just don't care if some people up in arms about phony e-pub reviews can get away with it too.

I mean I cared a little bit for one day when you made me laugh about it and Barry Eisler made me think about it.

I don't care about erotica, but I really liked the way your blog moved from this silly petition to the guest piece on erotica as if the chapter on sock puppetry was over and done with.

I'm certainly done thinking about this, and I wish you would move on to such pressing issues as why the capcha screen to post comments on your blog always gives unreadably fuzzy images--or, as your first commenter writes, what you think about the new Kindle Series program.

If you insist on writing about the silly petition anymore, at least please do so only when you can be as funny as you were in the earlier blog.

Ed Teja said...

Cool post! If it weren't so silly and sad it would be easy to enjoy the humor, the irony in the situation.

Tracey said...

1. Hell yes, Yes, Yes & Yes
2. Yes, Yes, Yes & Yes (although I probably wouldn't buy ads because I'm a cheapskate)
3. Yes, No, Yes
4. No, no, no & no. But I would read it and review it, even if it wasn't my taste.
5. No, Yes, No, No.
6. Yes, No, Great, Yes, No (but again that's because I don't buy ads as I'm a cheapskate as I've already mentioned).
7. Yes, No (because I hate having a 'job'), Maybe, I'd read it.
8. Yes, Yes.
9. Yes, Maybe but not anonymously, No, No.
10. No. No. I'm scared of karma.
11. Not intentionally, No, No.
12. No.

What a fun game. Did I win?

CW Browning said...

Hi Joe - I have been reading your blog now for a few months and I have to say, I think you're fabulous! I have been watching this whole mess in fear and trembling. I am an unpublished author who recently decided, with the help of your blog, to go the route of self-publishing over traditional publishing. To be quite frank, this whole sordid affair had me wondering last night if I really wanted to jump into this kind of rat race.

Sock puppets? Fake reviews? What the hell? I just want to write books.

That's all. And hopefully, out there somewhere, people will find that they enjoy reading my books. And then they will buy them. That IS what we are all trying to accomplish, right?

I don't know. I'm not published yet and maybe things change (drastically) when you are published, but I don't have time to engage in shenanigans online. I am too busy trying to write and get it out there. That's all.

I have to admit, though, that this whole thing has scared me. It's daunting enough putting your hard work out there for strangers to read. But we also have to watch out for fellow authors?

Wow.

I'm not saying that I agree with faking reviews or sock puppeting a review or buying a review or any of the rest of it. But as a newbie, who is in no way involved in this race yet, I have to ask...

"Who cares?"

If we write books, and those books are good, and people buy them...who cares how many reviews are there and where they came from? I understand reviews help authors sell. I get it. But unless its your own review...why would you care how it came to be?

Maybe I am just naive. Maybe I just don't have time for nonsense. But if we are all trying to sell our books, shouldn't that be our focus? Not worrying about other peoples works and reviews?

Jude Hardin said...

Here's one for you: in the past couple of days, my debut thriller Pocket-47 has received several suspicious four- and five-star reviews. They're all very short, kind of generic, and the reviewers have sparse histories.

Is someone trying to set me up to make it look like those are from a review mill, or from sock puppet accounts? I would hate to think so, but that's the kind of paranoia the current lynch mob mentality tends to foster.

Pocket-47 was the Kindle Daily Deal a few months ago, and a lot of copies were sold. Maybe some reviews are starting to trickle in from that. I hope that's it. All the reviews are from verified Amazon purchases, but if I were a casual browser looking at them I might assume they were bogus.

So you heard it here first. If anyone ever accuses me of buying reviews or using sock puppet accounts, they're lying.

And btw, I haven't seen any sort of sales spike with the sudden burst of new reviews.

P.S. Power said...

In response to Jude Hardin:

Yup. Noticed that too, more than once in the last few months.

Also the same thing (normally at at about the same time) with one star reviews.

I honestly don't know what to do. Right now I'm copying Joe and just about every other author out there and refusing to look at my reviews, just hoping that enough good comes in to offset the bad.

I hope that Joe is right and reviews don't mean that much, but so far I haven't seen proof of that either. An unknown is different from something that isn't true.

Fingers crossed though!


Joe Flynn said...

I tried Book Rooster about a year ago. I'm still getting reviews from their readers. It seemed a fair way to spread the word about my books. Most of the reviewers said they'd go on to buy other of my books so it was a profitable investment, too.

I'm fortunate enough to get fan mail through my website. I ask everyone who tells me they like my books to please post a 25-50 word review online if they can spare the time.

I have a large family some of whom have posted reviews of my work. I've neither paid them nor mowed their lawns for their kind words. But if they feel motivated to write and their approval matches that of complete strangers, so be it.

All of the above seem fair to me.

I'd never write a critical review of a novel just because I didn't like it. I'm just one guy with one opinion.

It always amazes me when people have the nerve to use objective instead of subjective terms of criticism, that is, the book was bad rather than the book wasn't for me.

Gary Taaffe said...

To Jarrah Loh in response to your reply to me - turns out Amazon changed their royalty rates without my knowledge. Thanks for the heads-up. I'm now getting 70% and I owe you a beer :)

Darley said...

Months ago I had read about a site called Bookrooster that charges an "administrative fee" to send an authors eBook to their registered readers/reviewers and returns ten reviews for that author's book.

If this is how someone wants to spend their money I really have no problem with that. It's not illegal, it's not a guarantee of positive reviews, and though some would consider it unethical, I just don't think it's going to give a book that much of an edge that I would waste time worrying about it.

By the way, this post was a juggernaut. You were really in the zone, Joe.

W. Dean said...

1. You asked why no one is debating this, but what’s to debate? Is buying sock-puppet reviews really a grey area?

2. Your list of alleged ethical dilemmas may be tough calls for some people; some of the items might even be called grey areas. But what do any of these grey cases have to say about sock-puppetry? You seem to suggest that two ethical people giving opposite answers to one of these grey areas proves that an ethical person could use sock-puppets. I don’t see how because a grey case doesn’t speak to a black and white one like buying five-star reviews.

3. Lawyers call it having an excuse and an alibi. On the one hand, you suggest that buying reviews are grey cases. On the other hand, you say it doesn’t matter because reviews don’t count for much. So even if they did it, it doesn’t amount to much anyway.

4. Here’s an ethical quandary for you, Joe. Gun owners are often outspoken advocates of long sentences for gun crimes. It’s not hard to see why: they want to distance themselves from criminals. Guilt by association is a powerful thing, so over-compensation comes naturally. Is it ethical for gun owners to be in favour of strong sentences just because they don’t want to be associated with criminals?

Maybe. But why would anyone condemn them for being self-righteous phonies while at the same time arguing for sympathy for the criminals who are the target of their over-compensation?

The same goes for this case. Like Bart Simpson you say it’s hard to know what’s right or wrong in this topsy-turvy world of ours, so we shouldn’t condemn sock-puppetry. People make mistakes, you say, when it comes to the sock-puppeteers.

But where’s the same understanding for those who—like gun owners—don’t want the guilt by association? Why are they baddies in your story when everyone goes a little too far sometimes? It looks to me like a double-standard.

Joe Konrath said...

If anyone ever accuses me of buying reviews or using sock puppet accounts, they're lying.

Keep a calm head, Jude.

This is a clear and obvious instance of moral panic.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic


No one wants to be blamed for what the mob is accusing. So a lot of people jump in with the mob to avoid being suspected, even erroneously so.

The way to fight it is to repeatedly hold a mirror up to the mob to show them how silly they're acting.

Or you can join in and start yelling j'accuse! to draw attention away from yourself.

I recommend the former. The more people who acknowledge that this is getting out of control, the sooner it will stop.

But it takes guts to do that.

Bill said...

Using a sock puppet? Uh oh. Guilty! But he did get top billing.

"How to Write Your Novel in Nine
Weeks"

James Thorn said...

As usual, Joe calls out the bullshit. I'll leave the ragers to their rocks and glass houses while I go back to writing my next novel.

Joe Konrath said...

You asked why no one is debating this, but what’s to debate? Is buying sock-puppet reviews really a grey area?

If you don't think it is gray after reading my post, explain how it is black and white.

because a grey case doesn’t speak to a black and white one like buying five-star reviews.

Again, feel free to argue that buying five star reviews is bad by explaining convincingly who it harms.

Feeling something is wrong doesn't mean much.

So even if they did it, it doesn’t amount to much anyway.

That is my position, and I believe I ably defended it in my post.

Is it ethical for gun owners to be in favour of strong sentences just because they don’t want to be associated with criminals?

Perhaps you missed my point. I don't care what people's ethics are. Every persona is entitled to believe whatever they want to believe. If these beliefs are serious enough, they might become laws. Or they might cause groups to form of people with like-minded ideals.

I'm not comfortable with people who have like-minded ideals, telling me what I can and can't do. That's how we get bullshit like Prop 8.

Long sentences for gun violence should be because the crime is heinous, not because gun owners want to distance themselves from the offenders.

Go to the Wikipedia moral panic page and tell me that isn't what's happening here.

Why are they baddies in your story when everyone goes a little too far sometimes? It looks to me like a double-standard.

I explained that. The baddies are the group. The mob. The majority that hurts the individual.

Go on Twitter. Search for my name, and Locke's, and Leather's, and tell me that isn't a hysterical mob.

I don't signal out individuals for spanking on my blog. I go after groups. Because someone has to, and most are afraid to. Much easier to single out one person and pounce on him than it is to stand against a mob.

Eric Christopherson said...

Oh, wait. What the trio did wasn't illegal.

Actually, they are all likely subject to Federal Trade Commission fines as are the reviewers Locke hired. I kind of doubt the FTC will go after 'em though. Bigger fish to fry ...

Good points here, Joe. I agree with most.

Joe Konrath said...

Actually, they are all likely subject to Federal Trade Commission fines as are the reviewers Locke hired

Interesting. Can you point out the law?

Jude Hardin said...

Or you can join in and start yelling j'accuse! to draw attention away from yourself.

I won't do that. I'll might openly deny false accusations from the vipers, but I won't point fingers at anyone else in an attempt to dilute the venom.

mactheweb said...

What a storm! Eh. As to Mr. Locke, I can't see what's wrong with paying people to buy a book and post their honest opinion. That seems more honest to me than so many of the other practices you mention.

I'm an Amazon Vine reviewer. That means I'm given stuff to review. Some of it's worth hundreds of dollars, like camera system or a LCD projector. Some of it's worth less than then shipping Amazon spent to get it to me, like a can of "energy drink," or a box of labels. But I get to keep the stuff. Is my review worth less because I'm getting the treasures? Amazon seems to think it's worth more than the average review. At least that's what I imply from the Vine Reviewer below my name. Is this dishonest? I've not seen anybody in an uproar over this practice.

The brouhaha is all arbitrary and self-righteous. All your points about other kinds of reviews are well made. There is a degree of dishonesty in many socially approved endorsements and reviews. This will blow over. In the end writers will succeed or fail on the strength of their stories.

Eric Christopherson said...

Interesting. Can you point out the law?

It would be a violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. In 2009 some new guidelines for interpreting the law were issued. They include this language:

"When there exists a connection
between the endorser and the seller of
the advertised product that might
materially affect the weight or
credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the
connection is not reasonably expected
by the audience), such connection must
be fully disclosed."

David L. Shutter said...

I honestly don't know what I'm more distraught over: the fact that this topic just go away already...or that the Kindle Paperwhite was just announced.

I JUST got my Touch this summer!

Muthafu...

John Hindmarsh said...

Joe - well said.

J. R. Tomlin said...

1. King? Probably not. Don't think he would help me. Bernard Cornwell? Hell, yeah!

2. Of course.


3. Anyone who wouldn't sucks.

4. Yeah, I'd help out a friend with a blurb. Dishonest? Sure. Never said I was a saint.

5. I'm pretty sure an author gave one of my novels a 1-star review. Thought about retaliating. I'm ashamed to say I might have if I'd been sure.


6. Yes to all the below. Does that make me an evil person? My novels are imo good.

7. I'd review for money. Without revealing it? ... I don't think so. But can I say for sure? What if it kept a roof over my kids heads? Then I might not be so picky.


8. Yes. And I have asked fans for reviews.

9. I've promoted my novels on all kinds of forums, but the arguing and being attacked thing... in 99% of the cases the one who can say, "I've told you my position" and walk away looks like less of an asshole.

10. No. Can't see any reason to. I don't give 1-star reviews for any novel I finish though which means I don't give them.

11. NO. Absolutely not. Hypocrisy at its finest imo.

Mike Fook said...

Morals?

I notice my morals are less pronounced as the money to be made increases, or as my anger increases, or as my potential for extreme happiness - increases.

I reacted desperately to counter some assmonkey reviews I got on a couple of my first books, years ago. In truth, the books were not great, but I figured, by pricing them at $1.99 - readers would either like them well enough to get a warm fuzzy, or get over it. I was OK at first, churning out average works, because I figured I would eventually learn how to write something that made sense.

You'd be a-effing-mazed how much time some thumb-spinners have to bang out 6 hefty paragraphs about why a buck ninety nine book, and the author, sucked so horribly.

While I couldn't conceive of doing such a thing - there are many people who just don't have anything else to do during a day. They have the time. They have the motivation (jealousy, usually). They have the anonymous account with A!

In both cases I divined nefarious intentions that went beyond my piss-poor writing. They were character attacks. Completely anonymous - of course. At least they thought so, until I phoned them both up and caused a few conniptions.

Subsequently, I called on my minions to destroy the couple bad reviews.

Did I feel bad? Nope.

Did I feel justified? Yep.

The books were worth $1.99. Even if an author wrote stream of consciousness for 365 pages - it's worth $1.99 to any reader because something valuable was just learned - never to buy jack from that writer again.

How can you be angry and berate the author for that? Close your Kindle with a smile on your face, you just learned something that will serve you well.

Would I do it again? I've taken your stance on this Joe - I don't read reviews any longer. They take up too much of my time in negative energy to respond.

The anonymous commenting system in place at most online ebook retailers - flat-out, B-L-O-W-S. It's a source of endless grief to thousands of writers trying their damnedest to eke out a living while butchering the written word. Such a system is going to be the death of someone, somewhere, someday.

Joe Konrath said...

When there exists a connection
between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might
materially affect the weight or
credibility of the endorsement


So every time I blurb someone who has the same publisher as me, or blurb on of my buddies, I can get in trouble if I don't disclose it?

Good luck to the FTC enforcing that one. :)

Joe Konrath said...

You'd be a-effing-mazed how much time some thumb-spinners have to bang out 6 hefty paragraphs about why a buck ninety nine book, and the author, sucked so horribly.

No I wouldn't. I'd shake my head sadly in recognition. The cavalier dismissal of art and media in this society by those who can't even articulate a complete sentence is very sad.

As linked to in my blog, I once made a lot of folks angry with my post Be Deliberate, where I railed against a society who spout opinions they cannot defend.

But that's just the way it is.

Subsequently, I called on my minions to destroy the couple bad reviews.

It's nice when friends have your back.

I'm at the point where I tell my friends to keep out of it when I'm stirring up a shit storm. I say a lot of stuff that makes people angry, and that shouldn't trickle down to those who align themselves with me. It does, though. There is a price to be paid for being my friend, or for supporting me publicly.

On the plus side, the people who associate with me often wind up getting stinking rich. :)

Anonymous said...

authors should not care about substantive reviews that trash their work. If the review is descriptive, it might be exactly the poison a different reader wants to drink. I've found two of my favorite authors from completely poisonous, contemptuous, malicious reviews. Every little detail that drove the reviewer bug-snot was exactly what I loved about these books.

Joe Konrath said...

I ask, and I encourage people to reply anonymously. Did anyone who read my post agree with me but was afriad to say so?

P.S. Power said...

I think it's an easy question, but a hard answer.

No one thinks we should all be faking reviews.

Even the people faking their own don't. They don't need the competition no doubt.

But I still find that there is a line that should be drawn and it's one that I can't back down from.

People shouldn't sabotage others.

On that point I think everyone should be firm. It doesn't even really matter if it hurts business or not, though it "feels" like it will.

The fact that someone is going after other people to harm them is enough for it to be wrong, even if that harm never manifests.

Sometimes it's good to say "no, don't do that." Even if there is no tangible damage done to anyone.

Look at the N-word. (Which I won't use, PC or not, because it truly bothers some people to hear or see it in print.)

it's only a word, but you know when you use it, that it might well hurt another persons feelings. You can use it, legally, but that doesn't make it right.

No one is tangibly harmed by the use of that word, but that doesn't mean there isn't damage that lie below the surface, no easily measured.

So it is with attack reviews.

They might just have claws that someone as successful as Joe doesn't feel as sharply as the person struggling to get an extra ten sales per month.

Can it be proved? No. If sales drop it could be due to a thousand different things. But that doesn't mean there is no impact on some level.

That hard answer is that we might want to ignore the people promoting themselves that way, but the system needs to shut down fake attacks pretty hard. right now they don't seem willing to even try that at all.

I wonder why?

Anonymous said...

I agreed with your post, but didn't feel like adding my "amen" to the comments, if that makes any sense. Also, not interested in bickering with people who disagree. It's not my fight, and I have better things to do. However, the stakes are very low for me, since I'm just getting my first book ready to publish. And frankly, I don't care what anyone else thinks. I agree with what you said in your post regarding readers: they don't care. So neither do I. I mentioned the fiasco to my husband, and he went glassy eyed. 'Nuff said.

Joe Konrath said...

I think fake attacks are the ultimate in cowardice.

But the point of free speech is to protect things that people don't want to hear.

I don't agree with pinheads who call me names. But I'll rigorously defend their right to do so.

Jude Hardin said...

From Crosscut:

Rule #9 in Nicholas Colt’s Philosophy of Life: Nobody ever got into any trouble by just shutting the fuck up.

But I don’t always follow my own rules.


Go Joe. I'm proud of you for taking a stance against the lynch mop pinheads.

Jude Hardin said...

And the lynch MOB pinheads. :)

Inara Everett said...

You know what I love about this blog? The opinionated, ornery, I'll-think-what-I-think-and-to-hell-with-you thoughts and comments, from both you, Joe, and some of the commenters.

Here's my favourite comment on this post: Authors should not care if substantive reviews trash their works. If the review is descriptive, it might be exactly the poison a different reader wants to drink. I've found two of my favourite authors from completely poisonous, contemptuous, malicious reviews. Every little detail that drove the reviewer bug-snot was exactly what I loved about these books.

Ha ha ha! Love it. I know this feeling well. I marvel at how absolutely, completely opposite I can feel to someone else's strongly expressed opinion.

It makes me take heart, me and hopefully all the struggling writers out there, that for every person who doesn't like what we do, who criticizes or sneers or even just turns away, there is someone else who LIKES IT!

So keep on writing, indies, and never give up!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Jude said, Here's one for you: in the past couple of days, my debut thriller Pocket-47 has received several suspicious four- and five-star reviews. They're all very short, kind of generic, and the reviewers have sparse histories.

I just received two such four-star reviews today. Short, generic, and with a history of only my book.

Somebody's having fun with us, I suspect.

I'm not sure what the motive is and I'm not sure I really care. But I do hope they're getting a good laugh.

Joe Konrath said...

If anyone reading this edits Wikipedia, they need to add the NSPHP petition to the moral panic examples.

Feel free to use my blog as a citation. Not only does this situation fit the criteria perfectly, but calling attention to it will help make writers aware that signing it isn't a call for reform, it's an embarrassment.

I urge all of my peers who signed that to request their names be removed. You can be moral and refuse to pay for or write sock puppet reviews without lending your name to a cause that is clearly rooted in group hysteria and moral panic.

Joe Konrath said...

This also applies:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deviancy_Amplification_Spiral

David Hewson said...

There are so many factual errors in this ridiculous rant I wouldn't usually bother even trying to correct them. But since one affects me directly let me just insert a scintilla of reality into this drivel.

Konrath says, 'And there was no posted debate, no public discussion whatsoever of their actions (in fact, discussion in the comments is discouraged and comments encouraging debate have been removed).'

Leaving aside the obvious - how can you have a public posted debate about a letter BEFORE it's released to the public? - let me address the issue of comments encouraging debate being removed.

There are plenty of places to debate this issue and it's been well covered in those. The site nosockpuppets.wordpress.com was set up to allow people to put their name to the letter, nothing more. It didn't ask for discussions or comments. It wasn't set up for moderation to handle them.

Barry Eisler signed the original letter then posted a very long post decrying it. Which was odd but there you go. Barry then posted a video link in the signing area, to a Youtube video from 1984 about hate. I removed it, said I'd done so publicly on Twitter, included the link there so people could see what I was removing and view it from themselves. When I did so I said the reason wasn't to stifle debate but because we weren't using that place for discussion - it should happen elsewhere.

I explained this to Barry too who graciously apologised 'for the hassles' (which wasn't necessary) and asked for his name to be removed from the list, which I did.

So Konrath's statement above is simply inaccurate. I could go on to correct other errors but frankly life's too short. He knows what he wants to say. He knows he's right and the rest of us are wrong. And mere facts will do nothing to halt his ranting certitude.

That's life on Planet Konrath. Sad really.

Carmen McCormack said...

Joe - your honesty and straight-forwardness is refreshing for me, and I frequent your blog and am never disapointed.
I have on thing to say - I am a reader only and you are right on the money. Most people don't care about the bullshit going on in the publishing world - I couldn't care less about an author writing reviews themself, if their works is good, I will read it. end of story.

Stephen Leather said...

That would be the same David Hewson who has consistently refused me a right of reply on his blog to correct the many inaccurate statements there, comments he was spoon fed by Jeremy Duns. Planet Hewson, where there is only one side of the story worth reporting and that is his.

David Hewson said...

Jesus - Stephen Leather. Is this Fantasy Island Day all round? Is Elvis on next?

Fact SL: I turned down your first 'comment' because it was libellous, and emailed you saying I'd be happy to run it if you removed the libellous parts. You never replied.

A couple of weeks later you slapped in a bunch of 'comments' trying to defend your own behaviour, and ranting on about someone called McKew who you feel has been persecuting you.

I didn't use them because as I pointed out I have no idea who McKew is and have never even written about the man. If you want to do a bad Alastair Campbell impersonation by attacking your critics through aggressive comments addressing things they never said that's your prerogative.

Personally I'm more of a Malcolm Tucker man myself so my response is and always will be: fuck off.

Oh - and see this for more insight into the 'accuracy' of what's been propagated here - http://namelesshorror.com/post/31046498910/again-really

plantfood said...

Where’s the proof?
I found plenty of proof online that these authors did what they are accused of plus, they admitted it. I verified multiple articles by respected stories such as the BBC, NY Times and The Guardian. In the context of asking people to play nice, references backing up accusations are not necessary if they are true. You can choose whether or not to believe them.
Are there really others?
In my research I found three additional writers who have done what these three have been accused of. On Goodreads.com there are dozens of authors accused of behaving badly both there and on Amazon. Most are accused of using sockpuppets to harass reviewers and write glowing reviews of their own work.
Most of the reviews that call out these authors provide links to proof. Respond to me directly and I’ll direct you to my own Goodreads reviews with links to proof. I always do my own research when told of such incidents.
But these guys are nice!
I’ve spoken privately at length with one author accused of this behavior as well. She is amiable and friendly. I like her as a person and think she’s humble, kind, and giving. She volunteers lots of hours for charity and struggles with a disability. We got along great and have a lot in common. She also did do the things she's accused of and she admitted it. She apologized profusely fairly quickly and has repeatedly expressed remorse. But she’s a nice person who did these kinds of things.
No moral high ground
We all do wrong and anyone who says otherwise is lying. But there are differing degrees of culpability. If you believe someone has to be completely perfect to judge another's behavior as inappropriate, then how can we have laws against assault, plagiarism, theft, vandalism, or extortion? How many people haven’t done something like punched their kid brother/sister, rephrased passages in books for a school paper, taken office supplies from work, broken something in anger or grief, gave a partner an ultimatum with an unpleasant consequence ?
It is not illegal to cheat on your wife. It is not illegal to believe in and express the superiority of your own race. It is not illegal to jump ahead in line, ignore someone screaming for help, or rage at anyone who does something you don't like. But all of these are considered immoral by the vast majority of Western society. It is not necessary to prove anything in order to rally your people to play nice. I’ve never seen violent crime anywhere near my neighborhood but I still support the efforts of local schools to stop bullying. Why is it bad to crusade against something that goes against not only your own ethics but that of most of our society?
If only perfect people could judge, we would live in an anarchy because we wouldn’t even have a governing body. If anyone is on a high horse it’s someone who judges others for trying to establish a code of ethics for their profession.
They’re overreacting
How can our world survive if we excuse immoral behavior because it’s not illegal? Why should we condone adults acting like spoiled children?
The authors embroiled in the Goodreads controversy (see The Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly and the Huffington Post for more information on what is happening) usually have written only one book which they self-published. Reviews can make or break them. I think it is wrong for struggling writers to do these things but at least I understand it. What I don’t get is why well established writers act like heathens.
People like the three men mentioned here, who were respected by the community, who show no remorse, who only apologize when they get caught and are afraid of losing readership or publishing companies, will need to do a lot before I defend their integrity. Nor do I seem them as being on equal moral ground as the authors who denounce these practices.
There is no excuse for this and there is no reason why others can’t call for better behavior without being accused of horrible things.

John Barlow said...

Again, feel free to argue that buying five star reviews is bad by explaining convincingly who it harms.

OK. A ‘review’ is taken to be an opinion on a work. We take it on faith that it is a genuine opinion, and that goes for reviews in the press, on blogs, or wherever.

Of course, there’s lots of wriggle room; reviews versus blurbs versus puff etc. (paid ‘books of the week’ in bookstores, for example). But the essential belief has to remain or ‘reviews’ simply mean ‘puff’.

It’s a bit like the presupposition of truth in language and communication (see Grice’s maxims of conversation): unless we have an underlying assumption that statements are given truthfully, nothing can ever be believed. Language cannot function without an assumption of truthfulness, even when ‘truth conditions’ are deliberately flouted, as with irony.

So... the assumption that reviews are genuine needs to be backed up by an overriding perception that they are indeed genuine opinions. If not, they become puff.

When you pay for a five star review, you are diluting the system, and rendering it less useful to everybody, not because you get an unfair advantage (a better spread of reviews) but because as the practice of paying for good reviews becomes better known, reviews gradually lose their currency as a source of critical appraisal.

Dianna Narciso said...

I've only been reading your blog for a short while. This post was a lot of fun. I was like, sock puppets? Really? Where can I see these sock puppets in action? And where can I find people to review my book? And why would I want to be nice to my mother?

First the atheists went all crazy, now the indie writers? What is my world coming to?

MJRose said...

There is simply no argument that can condone an author using a false name to post damning one star reviews of another in order to push her/his own title,

This is not about an author reading and not liking a book.

That's not what the reviews were.

AuthorX went onto Author Bs' page under a fake name and basically wrote Author B writes horrible books - read Author X if you want really good books.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure why Joe is getting so tetchy over this issue. It's not as if he's been caught gaming the system or buying reviews.

Maybe it's because a couple of people he trusted have. He feels their pain and their shame.

Joe says he wouldn't do this:

"Because I think it would eventually be discovered, and people would judge me and attack me, just as Locke is being attacked right now."

Does this mean he'd do it if he thought he wouldn't be discovered?

Is it only the fear of being caught out that stops indie writers like Joe gaming the system? I hope not.

Anonymous said...

Joe says:

"So every time I blurb someone who has the same publisher as me, or blurb on of my buddies, I can get in trouble if I don't disclose it?

Good luck to the FTC enforcing that one. :)"

You're missing the point that Eric Christopherson made.

Not sure why since generally you give specific answers and refutations.

Anonymous said...

Joe said:

"If anyone reading this edits Wikipedia, they need to add the NSPHP petition to the moral panic examples."

Would they then be classified as a sock puppet?

J Randall said...

I used Book Rooster for one of my novels after reading about them on your blog. I got mixed results, but no increase in sales. They asked me if I would use them again. I declined. You can see the results at Amazon. 'Gamal's Assassin' is the title. The 'Iman of the Cave' another of my novels is free today, if anyone is interested. No review is necessary.

kriley97 said...

Thanks for another great post. I really don't care about authors praising their own work through fictitious identities - it's not honest, but then again, most people aren't. I do, however, have a serious problem with authors bashing other authors. I don't care if they are using anonymous sock puppets or ridiculous petitions, to me it's all the same.

Joe Konrath said...

There are so many factual errors in this ridiculous rant I wouldn't usually bother even trying to correct them.

Really? So many? What a wonderful opportunity for you to point all of them out and prove me wrong. That's what I do when I find someone making factual errors.

Which is what I'm about to do with you right now. Thank you for the opportunity to make your silliness look even sillier. :)

how can you have a public posted debate about a letter BEFORE it's released to the public?

Didn't 58 authors sign this prior to releasing it to the public? They didn't discuss it first? Surely they discussed the reasons this letter was needed and why they wanted to sign it. Or did they agree to sign whatever was placed in front of them without reading it first?

Why wasn't this discussion included?

There are plenty of places to debate this issue and it's been well covered in those.

Which is why you linked to those as citations, proving the conclusion you drew. I'll remind you of those conclusions:

damaging to publishing at large

I see ZERO proof that publishing at large is being damaged. This is a strong accusation, with nothing to back it up.

Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well.

Ah. So you fine folks feel there are others doing this, without supplying evidence. Surely you all discussed why you all feel this way before signing your silly petition?

Also, show me where you have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that all three of these very different claims against three different authors are equally "underhanded."

You don't define "underhanded", let alone explain why you're sure these actions are. Didn't all of you discuss the meaning of underhanded? Wouldn't that have supported your point to include this discussion?

BTW, what I'm doing is called "fisking." It's using your very own words, which I'm "correcting"--something you ought to try against me if you want me or anyone reading this to take you seriously.

The site nosockpuppets.wordpress.com was set up to allow people to put their name to the letter, nothing more. It didn't ask for discussions or comments.

Of course it didn't ask for discussions. Because then people would explain, in the comments, how silly it is. As I'm doing right now.

When I condemn something (which I've done from time to time on this blog) I use my comments section to foster debate and exchange ideas in order to hone the argument. You ought to try it. It shows you're willing to defend your stance, and confident enough in it to accept contrary arguments.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that you don't want anyone disagreeing with you. You don't want debate. You want a mob of self-righteous writers to agree with you without questioning anything.

It wasn't set up for moderation to handle them.

And yet comments are being removed. So is it moderated or not?

Barry Eisler signed the original letter then posted a very long post decrying it.

Barry has a very strong bullshit detector. He also makes very strong points, that he's willing to defend by allowing comments on his blog.

Are you feeling stupid yet, David? Stick with me. It'll get even worse.

Joe Konrath said...


I said the reason wasn't to stifle debate but because we weren't using that place for discussion - it should happen elsewhere

I asked if there were sites you linked to where you were debating this issue. Did I miss them? Please post those links that show there the 58 original members discussed this. I'd love to see the logic trail that lead all of you to the conclusion that these tactics you pointed out are "abuse", "underhanded", and "fraudulent" and that they are "damaging publishing at large."

Surely you wouldn't make such bold statements without backing them up and showing how you arrived at those conclusions. For a group of authors to "unreservedly condemn" behavior, it is certainly necessary to:

1. Prove the behavior is worthy of unreserved condemnation using examples, facts, logic, and comparisons, and

2. Prove the harm caused by the behavior.

Without doing that, your decrying of sockpuppetry is nothing more than moral panic--as the Wikipedia entry now states.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic#Examples

I could go on to correct other errors but frankly life's too short

I wish you would. Maybe you could make my ears burn with embarrassment, like yours are burning now.

W. Dean said...

Again, feel free to argue that buying five star reviews is bad by explaining convincingly who it harms.

I can even explain the harder case of buying five-star reviews on the harm principle (which seems to be the one you accept): devaluing the review system is the harm to customers and other sellers. The problem is analogous to counterfeiting currency, in its effects if not its legality. The only counter-arguments to this I’ve seen attempt to diffuse the problem or deflect the blame.

Or they might cause groups to form of people with like-minded ideals....I'm not comfortable with people who have like-minded ideals, telling me what I can and can't do. That's how we get bullshit like Prop 8.

You must’ve left a piece out because, on that principle, you’d be uncomfortable with your constitution. I don’t see why the group aspect is relevant. Like-minded people get together all the time for good and bad reasons; it’s not the group that matters but the reasons they form the group.

Sometimes even groups founded for good reasons overact (tarring and feathering British Loyalists for example). My gun owner example shows why they do and why they’re the ones who should be cut some slack.

Go on Twitter.

I’ve no interest in Twitter. But maybe this explains things. Your post is really directed at a few unnamed people in the Twitterverse. For that reason is comes across as...well...an attempt to rationalize bad behaviour.

Joe Konrath said...

That's life on Planet Konrath. Sad really.

Please stop. You'll make me cry.

Or maybe I'll do something drastic, like decide I "won't use this place for discussion - it should happen elsewhere."

Oh - and see this for more insight into the 'accuracy' of what's been propagated here - http://namelesshorror.com/post/31046498910/again-really

Thank you for posting that link. I'm going to fisk the shit out of it, pointing out every error in your ridiculous drivel.

When I make statements I back them up. You ought to try it sometime.

You ready? Here we go...

Oh wait. No they didn’t. Leather admitted what he did in public. The case against Ellory was amply demonstrated by Jeremy Duns. Locke was exposed by the man he bought reviews from in the NYT.

As I said, you've accused and denounced, but haven't shown how they've damaged publishing. Everyone knows what they've done, because sanctimonious pinheads have been braying it all over. What I want to see is the damage.

SHOW ME THE DAMAGE.

First point: nowhere in the open letter is the word “illegal” used.

No. You used the word "underhanded." If it were the case of something illegal, like murder, I would understand the vitriol. But even then, things are discussed such as motive and intent.

You just assume what the trio did was "underhanded" without defending that position. You also lump three different accusations in together as if they are equal, without showing they are equal.

It is illegal for a business to act as though it is one of its own customers or to actively deceive customers in a way that is likely to affect their purchasing decisions.

Look what you did! You're actually using facts to try and build an argument! Good for you! I'm proud!

Where was this in your petition? And how would you relate this to what Locke, Leather, and Ellory did?

And there was (debate). It was, in fact, hard to avoid it on Twitter at the time.

"Your honor, I'm not going to plead my case for the purpose of this trial. You and the jury can find all of your evidence and my reasoning by looking at Twitter."

CMSmith said...

You just saved me half my meager annual royalties for a Kirkus Review.

Thanks.

Joe Konrath said...

Comments encouraging debate - specifically a YouTube clip from 1984 posted by Barry Eisler - were removed by David Hewson (who arranged the site’s hosting) because the sign up site thing wasn’t the place for it; there are plenty of other options.

There's no need for logic or counter arguments when gathering a mob. The end result of that could be (gasp!) people realizing the petition was bullshit and not signing it.

No one’s been locked in a gulag or had their internet access and right to reply revoked.

Did you get in touch with the three you're condemning before you posted the petition and explain what you were doing and offer them an opportunity to share their side of the story? Seems like it would be a fair thing to do when you're denouncing some people and calling their tactics underhanded, abuse, and damaging.

In fact, with your vast network of contacts (evidenced by the 50+ who originally signed your petition) you could have fostered meaningful discussion and gained an understanding of the mindset that buys reviews and uses sock puppets.

But instead you went right for the condemnation, the call for action, and the begging readers for reviews.

Icky.

And let me say again, only Ellory was “shamed” on the internet by other writers.

Really? Didn't you mention this was widely discussed on Twitter? You say no shaming of Locke and Leather on Twitter? Or elsewhere?

I'm going to do you a favor here, David. I'm going to provide a link to support the above statement. It's something that comes in useful when debating and winning arguments.

Shaming Locke

I'm sure Stephen Leather can add a few links where people have attempted to shame him. Your comment that "only" Ellory was shamed is so goddamn stupid I'm in awe.

But making it sound like those involved in drafting it were begging for good reviews of their own work?

I made a case, in my blog post, that your petition ended with shamelessly begging for reviews.

You haven't even tried to show me how I'm wrong with my assessment.


TK Kenyon said...

The only good thing about all this sanctimonious breast-beating is that it's got you blogging again!

TK Kenyon

My Amazon profile.

Tweet with me! I tweet links to free e-fiction on the web and happy thoughts!

A great place to see what I’m up to, writing-wise.

All my reviews on Amazon:

Anonymous said...

this:

I was a big fan of Rob growing up, and meeting him for the first time in person was a rare and memorable treat. A few years ago, Rob hit a patch of very bad luck and was broke. I was just getting started with self-pubbing ebooks, and I predicted this would be a boon for writers. So I paid Book Leaf to scan every one of Rob's books (about 40) and then went through each one to correct typos (book scanning produces lots of errors) and then formatted each one for Kindle and uploaded them with product descriptions. Then I posted the same 5 star review under each of his books, because it applied to all of them, as I'd read all of them.

It was a labor of love for a dear friend whose writing I enjoy. I'm thrilled Rob is doing well with these ebooks. I'd do it again.

WAS AN AWESOME THING TO DO.

Anonymous said...

All very interesting, but Joe are you really saying that getting caught is the reason you wouldn't post fake reviews?

Do you really want other people to post on Wikipedia on your behalf? I think you could do it if you really wanted to, isn't that the point of Wikipedia?

I know you cite Wikipedia at every point but you do realize that one of the main criticisms is that because anyone can submit the material is not always well vetted.

Also, as has been pointed out many times, "Wikipedia isn't really a fact-checking mechanism so much as a voting mechanism."

If you want facts, you are better consulting several sources.

Maybe your rant has been in haste and the panic you are writing about has proved contagious.

BTW the Sean Gregan blog linked to on here has a response to Joe's rant.

http://namelesshorror.com/

He mentions that fake reviews might well be illegal in the UK.

And also shows an hilarious way that reviewers have been dealing with overblown items of Amazon. You just praise them to the hilt. Maybe this explains the five star reviews someone mentioned on this blog.

Here is an example:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Box-Canvas-Print-Paul-Ross/dp/B001N6W8U0

Now imagine bad authors getting the same treatment!



Joe Konrath said...

I found plenty of proof online that these authors did what they are accused of plus, they admitted it.

As I stated, it isn't about confirming they did what they did. It's about deciding how damaging it is, if at all. It's also about getting their sides of the story.

When you condemn someone, shouldn't you get their side? When I went after Turow, I took thousands of words he wrote and went line by line, fisking him and showing how he was full of shit.

Before I'd publicly excoriate Leather and Locke, I'd want to know in detail everything they did, what their motives and intent were, and what their reactions to my accusations were.

In my research I found three additional writers who have done what these three have been accused of.

So we have six authors destroying the entire publishing world. That's a lot likelier than only three doing it.

Actually, not really. The "tip of the iceberg" argument is mention in the deviancy amplification spiral which is part of moral panic.

Six authors doing different deceptive things for different reasons is not a cause for alarm, especially when harm cannot be established.

I like her as a person and think she’s humble, kind, and giving. She volunteers lots of hours for charity and struggles with a disability.

I mentioned liking Leather and Locke not because I'm insinuating someone I like could never do anything wrong. I mentioned it because I'm more willing to give those I like the benefit of the doubt.

In other words, I'd want to discuss it with them and get their side of things before mobbing them.

It is not necessary to prove anything in order to rally your people to play nice.

This petition wasn't a rally to play nice. It was a call to moral panic. I believe I proved as much in this blog post, and my previous one on ethics a few days ago.

I'm all for plying nice. Now lay out a convincing case where Locke buying reviews isn't playing nice. Then lay out a case for how he should be punished.

I believe the 400+ people condemning his actions did so without looking at their code of ethics, or even attempting to explain how what Locke did harmed them or readers. And I believe I made a good case.

How can our world survive if we excuse immoral behavior because it’s not illegal?

You read my blog, right? If you read it and still think morality is black and white, we really have nothing to debate.

I can excuse Leather's sock puppetry and Locke's review buying.

I'd have more trouble excusing Ellory trashing his fellow authors, but I don't know him or enough about what he did to be willing to judge him. But as I said, I get plenty of one star reviews, and plenty of people trashing me on the Internet, and you don't see me whining about how terrible and unfair it all is. Sticks and stones applies here. Ellory didn't do a drunken hit and run. Let's put things in perspective, please.

There is no excuse for this and there is no reason why others can’t call for better behavior without being accused of horrible things.

You do know there are 400+ people condemning three people, without making a good case why, and I'm one person taking 400+ to task and stating my case in excruciating detail, right?

I'm calling for better behavior without naming names, and by providing a lot of food for thought. That silly petition is textbook moral panic.

That's the difference.

Joe Konrath said...

So... the assumption that reviews are genuine needs to be backed up by an overriding perception that they are indeed genuine opinions. If not, they become puff.

You're making a good argument, but you need to show that the overwhelming majority of readers believe that every review they read is a genuine opinion and carries equal weight.

That won't happen, because readers have good bullshit detectors. And as I said in the blog, a reader who feels duped can get a full refund and post their own negative review warning other readers.

I don't see the harm here.

Three men are not diluting the entire system.

Alan Spade said...

Joe said : "No one has clearly demonstrated how other writers or readers have been hurt."

Joe said :
"Again, feel free to argue that buying five star reviews is bad by explaining convincingly who it harms."

It is bad because it hurts the system, Joe. It is destructing the credibility of amazon's reviewing system. And by destroying it, it hurts every single author.

How many persons have said on the comments of this blog they do not believe any reviews ? Watch it, Joe. The people who say that will become more numerous.

How do you think Amazon fighted successfully bookstores ? By promoting reviews. Honest reviews. They did that for business purpose, as you said. But it had to be for honest reviews, not payed ones, because elsewhere the reviews become ads.

A lot of people need advices to buy ebooks. Underestimate that at your own expense. It is not because one person will write a sincere review saying that the fifty previous payed reviews were false ones that the system will be saved.

As one of the commentators previously stated, if the reviews are payed, or emanating from an author's friend, that should appear somewhere on Amazon automatically. That's the king of things I would have liked to see in your entry.

One of Amazon's weapons would be broken if everyone believed reviews where ads.

As you said, ads are not so successful. People are more and more educated against ads. They are now becoming educated against reviews by everybody. Is that a good thing ? I don't think so.

So, I think I have made good, logic arguments. I think you have not listened to them, nor you have listened John Barlow's, or Jude Hardin's, for example.

I think you were right to try to prevent mob lynching, or witch hunting, but that you failed badly to protect the reviewing system. You could have done that without naming names, as did Barry Eisler when he rewritted the petition.

In your blog, you are the only one who have the Power to say things like "No one has clearly demonstrated" or things like that. Very easy to do when you ignore arguments.

It is not the ability to never recognize you are wrong that makes you right. I have recognized I was wrong to go on a mob mentality and to stigmatize one author.

Are you able to make your opinions evolve, Joe ? Or all of that is only provocation, in order to have more commentaries ? I wonder.

Show me the fallacy of my demonstration, Joe.

Joe Konrath said...

There is simply no argument that can condone an author using a false name to post damning one star reviews of another in order to push her/his own title,

I've stated repeatedly that I don't give one star reviews and I don't use sock puppets. I don't condone that behavior.

But Leather and Locke didn't do this, and were being tarred with the same brush. You really think that's okay?

Also, as shitty as it is to slam an author anonymously, I get repeatedly slammed anonymously on a daily basis. I find it amusing, not the unforgivable depth of human depravity that must be punished at all costs.

Some people suck. Life ain't fair. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

I'm amazed that David Gaughran got less than 200 signatures siding with the DOJ, and this dumbass petition has gotten 400 in half the time.

Did you sign Gaughran's petition, MJ? Don't you think price fixing and the agency model (which pays authors less than the wholesale model) are a bigger offenses than buying reviews?

You run marketing firm where you charge authors to help their books get noticed, but you're fine with condemning Locke?

Joe Konrath said...

Is it only the fear of being caught out that stops indie writers like Joe gaming the system? I hope not.

Show me the system is being gamed. Show me damage. Show me who is getting hurt. In fact, show me who is unequivocally benefiting. Prove that Locke's bought reviews lead to his success. Prove Leather's sock puppetry hurt anyone. Prove Ellory's 1 star reviews prevented sales.

You can't prove any of that. It's all jumping to conclusions.

I don't see anything morally wrong with buying reviews. Others may have different morals. I don't feel it is worth it to have a mob on my back.

I'm vehemently opposed to religion. That doesn't mean I visit fundamentalist churches and start reciting from the Origin of Species. It isn't morality that stops me. It's the fact that I don't want to get mobbed.

You don't have to agree with my ethical code of conduct. You're more than welcome to judge me.

I less interested in judging and more interested in debating issues. The system has always been gamed. Publishers are notorious for it. Jumping on Locke for doing it is ridiculous. You can disagree. You can call me immoral. But it would be more substantive if you tried to argue a counterpoint.

Joe Konrath said...

You're missing the point that Eric Christopherson made. Not sure why since generally you give specific answers and refutations

I understand Eric's point. He's saying it might be illegal.

I think the FTC wouldn't even bother trying to prosecute because it is so trivial and so widespread. According to that rule (is it a law? a statute?) then nearly every publisher and author would be guilty.

Joe Konrath said...

Would they then be classified as a sock puppet?

Yes, Anon. Wikipedia is written entirely by sock puppets.

o_0

Joe Konrath said...

I used Book Rooster for one of my novels after reading about them on your blog. I got mixed results, but no increase in sales. They asked me if I would use them again. I declined.

Good for you for experimenting, and for learning from your actions. And thank you for adding substance to this comment thread. I wish more people would be talking about their experiences with reviews. Then we could perhaps come to some consensus as to how important they really are.

John Barlow said...

JK, I tried to 'add substance' to this debate, above.

Reviews only work because they are (broadly) seen as genuine opinions. It's the perception that they are not always so which is damaging.

Joe Konrath said...

devaluing the review system is the harm to customers and other sellers. The problem is analogous to counterfeiting currency, in its effects if not its legality.

That's not a bad argument. But it's hypothetical and not provable.

First you'd have to show how useful readers believed reviews are, and how often they lead to purchases. Then you'd have to prove that they can't tell the difference between an honest review and a paid for review. Then you'd have to show the harm in paid reviews.

That last one will sink you, because people genuinely seem to like Locke's books. He bought a few hundred reviews. But he has thousands of other positive ones, and he's sold almost 2 million. That doesn't seem like reviews are devaluing the system.

You must’ve left a piece out because, on that principle, you’d be uncomfortable with your constitution.

Do you mean the US Constitution? I'm pretty sure that was vigorously discussed and debated, not a moral panic mob.

Your post is really directed at a few unnamed people in the Twitterverse.

My post is directed at 400+ authors who signed a silly petition out of either fear or sanctimony without thinking deeply about the ramifications of their actions.

Penn and Teller did an episode of Bullshit where they had people in Washington DC getting others to sign petitions banning dihydrogen monoxide. If those signers had thought a bit more, they wouldn't have signed something so silly.

I'm trying to show something similar here.

Joe Konrath said...

Reviews only work because they are (broadly) seen as genuine opinions.

Is that how you felt before this scandal? Be honest. You really believed every user review on Amazon was a genuine opinion? And that those genuine opinions were so compelling that they always prompted you to buy what they were reviewing?

And if so, now that you know that maybe some reviews aren't genuine, are you going to never trust reader reviews again? Never going to look at them when deciding on a purchase?

John R said...

Thank you for posting that link. I'm going to fisk the shit out of it, pointing out every error in your ridiculous drivel.

When I make statements I back them up. You ought to try it sometime.


Really? Interesting. Because there were a lot of totally unbacked statement right at the start of this very blog post. Statements which remain unbacked.

Oh, and point one on your thoroughly-researched arguments on the internet jag: the comments you're responding to aren't David's. They're mine. There's a name and a photo and all sorts there to avoid any confusion but we all do things in a rush.

And before we begin, I didn't write the open letter - I just signed it.


As I said, you've accused and denounced, but haven't shown how they've damaged publishing. Everyone knows what they've done, because sanctimonious pinheads have been braying it all over. What I want to see is the damage.

SHOW ME THE DAMAGE.


I'd argue that the wealth of press coverage resulting from their actions (Locke and Ellory in particular) has revealed the writing profession look like a bunch of children either afraid of what mean things the other kids in the playground say about them, or greedy enough not to give two shits how they make a sale. Image damage. The same, too, for the lack of response shown by publishers.

I'd also argue that the knowledge of just how easy it is to cheat the customer review system on the biggest single market for books, a review system which should provide genuine feedback, good and bad, from people who've bought and read/bought and given up in disgust on a book in order to help future customers decide on their own purchases can only hurt confidence in that system.

But quantitive damage? It would be very hard to identify for sure, it's true.

No. You used the word "underhanded."

Indeed. And you used the word "illegal" and said what the trio did wasn't illegal.

Which was wrong - as both I and one of your earlier commenters have pointed out. Doesn't matter whether or not it'd be enforceable, it is illegal.

If it were the case of something illegal, like murder, I would understand the vitriol. But even then, things are discussed such as motive and intent.

You just assume what the trio did was "underhanded" without defending that position.


The letter's point wasn't - as you seem to think - to nail Locke, Ellory, and Leather to the wall. They happened to be three demonstrable, named examples who'd already been splashed all over the place. Handy examples of "underhanded" methods. As David has already explained.

You also lump three different accusations in together as if they are equal, without showing they are equal.

In your opinion; that's not how I read it at all.

Look what you did! You're actually using facts to try and build an argument! Good for you! I'm proud!

In other words: I'm correct, and your original assertion is factually wrong. Good, good.

Where was this in your petition? And how would you relate this to what Locke, Leather, and Ellory did?

I again point you to what you seem to think the letter was about, and not what it actually was.

"Your honor, I'm not going to plead my case for the purpose of this trial. You and the jury can find all of your evidence and my reasoning by looking at Twitter."

"Your Honour, I'm not going to acknowledge that conversation can take place in a way that's public and archived and I might be hopelessly wrong with my earlier assertions. I'm just going to make pithy remarks about it."

But why not throw you a bone here. A self-contained example. Enjoy! http://www.theleftroom.co.uk/?p=1746

(snip)

John R said...

(snip)

There's no need for logic or counter arguments when gathering a mob. The end result of that could be (gasp!) people realizing the petition was bullshit and not signing it.

If YouTube clips constitute argument, all hope for humanity is lost. Barry argued at length elsewhere without anyone trying to burn down his house. David's already explained what he did - and what Barry did - with regards to the clip.

But there's no need for counter arguments when gathering a mob.

Did you get in touch with the three you're condemning before you posted the petition and explain what you were doing and offer them an opportunity to share their side of the story? Seems like it would be a fair thing to do when you're denouncing some people and calling their tactics underhanded, abuse, and damaging.

Leather has repeatedly responded in numerous places with his own side of things since the panel on Harrogate a month and a half ago. He's largely been arguing against his own assertions though, which is hard. Locke was outed in the New York Times by the guy he bought reviews from, again a long time before this letter was written. The NYT asked him for, and received and included, his response in their article. Right there. Ellory responded and apologised, briefly in public and more lengthily in private, before the letter was written.

In fact, with your vast network of contacts (evidenced by the 50+ who originally signed your petition) you could have fostered meaningful discussion and gained an understanding of the mindset that buys reviews and uses sock puppets.

But instead you went right for the condemnation, the call for action, and the begging readers for reviews.

Icky.


I'm sorry anyone made your tummy feel all squirty.

Really? Didn't you mention this was widely discussed on Twitter? You say no shaming of Locke and Leather on Twitter? Or elsewhere?

You said the signatories took the moral high ground by shaming them publicly. Leather made his admission in public himself - the thing that kicked the whole kerfuffle off - and was queried on it when he said it, while Locke's appeared in the NYT. Ellory was the only one of the three "outed" by someone on the internet.

I'm going to do you a favor here, David. I'm going to provide a link to support the above statement. It's something that comes in useful when debating and winning arguments.

Shaming Locke


Posted 5 days after the NYT article. The one Locke responded in.

I'm sure Stephen Leather can add a few links where people have attempted to shame him. Your comment that "only" Ellory was shamed is so goddamn stupid I'm in awe.

Given your own output, I'm impressed. Maybe it's a contextual thing and we're both taking the word "shamed" differently, but I've just explained my understanding of it.

I made a case, in my blog post, that your petition ended with shamelessly begging for reviews.

You haven't even tried to show me how I'm wrong with my assessment.


I can't believe I should have to. "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." That equals "in the same breath begging readers to give you reviews"? Really?

If I need to explain how you're wrong then I'm probably wasting my time typing all this.

Patti Larsen said...

I've honestly been watching all of this with a mix of horror and interest--not against the authors but the fact other writers are so worked up about it.

This is business. People do things in business sometimes that walk a fine line between what some call ethical and others see as wrong. It happens.

I think the biggest disconnect is writers thinking with their egos and not with calm and logic. Would I do it? No to most of your questions. Including signing such a silly petition. Because it DOESN'T MATTER. Ultimately, what's the result of this?

Nothing. Nada. Zippola. It's going to keep happening and those who choose to focus on what other people are doing will continue to complain about it.

I had to laugh at your comments too about reviews. How many times have I heard from other authors that bad reviews hurt sales? Rankings? How lots of good reviews move you up the lists on Amazon? And yet, as you said, where's the proof, Sherlock? Amazon's not revealing anything, so every single 'true statement' is a guess.

I choose to do what I'm doing--write good books, pub them and do it all over again next month. Other people's business is... well. Other people's business.

Thanks for this. Nice to vent :)

E.C. Belikov said...

Eric Christopherson said...

Oh, wait. What the trio did wasn't illegal.

Actually, they are all likely subject to Federal Trade Commission fines as are the reviewers Locke hired. I kind of doubt the FTC will go after 'em though. Bigger fish to fry ...

Actually read the FTC's FAQ here:
http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement-guideswhat-people-are-asking

Specifically this little tidbit: “Q: I’ve read that bloggers who don’t comply with the Guides can be fined $11,000? Is that true? A: No. The press reports that said that were wrong. There is no fine for not complying with an FTC guide.”

I've read through their entire guide, and while they clearly state the relationship between those reviews should have been disclosed, nowhere does it mention penalties (fines or otherwise).

Rob Gregory Browne said...

MJ said, There is simply no argument that can condone an author using a false name to post damning one star reviews of another in order to push her/his own title

I agree with this 100%. But I don't think Joe, or anyone else here, is making that argument or condoning this type of behavior.

I've never used sock puppets and never felt a reason to, but I can see how it might be fun to do it on a forum as a kind of performance art. Then again, maybe that's just trolling.

There's a radio show host here in California whose entire show is focused around phony identities. He uses fake voices to call into his show and say outrageous things and he has conversations with himself. It's very convincing if you're not clued in.

Then he sits back and waits for the real callers to call in going apeshit over what his "guest caller" has just said.

Now THAT'S hilarious.

By the way, I've just heard today from another author, who, like Jude and myself has received a couple of four star reviews over the last day or two that are obviously phony.

I'm really curious to know what the motivation for this is. More performance art?

Also, I find it very disheartening to see authors I respect fighting with each other in these comments. Believe it or not, guys, we're all in this together. Nothing is accomplished when we snipe at one another.

I only wish you ALL great success in your careers.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Anonymous said, Is it only the fear of being caught out that stops indie writers like Joe gaming the system? I hope not.

Please don't limit this to indie writers. Over the last couple of years there have been incidents involving traditionally published authors using sock puppets to trash reviewers, etc.

The behavior isn't limited to one group.

Jude Hardin said...

I'm really curious to know what the motivation for this is.

Some readers will assume that we, the authors, either bought these reviews or used sock puppet accounts to create them.

While it's probably impossible to determine the motivation behind such childish behavior, it seems that indirect defamation would be the goal. I'm going to try to get the ones on my book removed.

Alan Spade said...

Rob said : "I only wish you ALL great success in your careers."

I too, Rob. That shouldn't prevent us to have a healthy, argumented debate.

Patti Larsen : "I had to laugh at your comments too about reviews. How many times have I heard from other authors that bad reviews hurt sales? Rankings? How lots of good reviews move you up the lists on Amazon? And yet, as you said, where's the proof, Sherlock? Amazon's not revealing anything, so every single 'true statement' is a guess."

You have to look at Amazon history. The way the site is structured. the way Amazon tried to reinforce credibility of reviews. That are elements of proof, regarding the importance of reviews.

It was not easy to compete against physical bookstores in the start, you know. Amazon succeeded partly because of its reviewing system.

You have to look at Joe's blog history. He said that readers didn't need anymore Gatekeepers because of Amazon reviewing's system.

So, when I see someone shooting at his own toes upon false business principles, it does'nt make me laugh.

alchemyofscrawl said...

Not that I support the group but marketing is used to try and control opinion so people can make money.

There are very few protections for consumers other than consumers being able to talk to each other. The Internet is making that easier. It's saved me money!

As a reader I never knew that Kirkus and PW charged for reviews. After I found out I lost all respect for their reviews. I'll take a book blogger's opinion of a book any day.

Readers and people in general are still getting used to the idea that their opinion matters. Encouraging them to learn how to leave reviews and comment without any interest in controlling the outcome IS the moral high road.

Joe Konrath said...

Really? Interesting. Because there were a lot of totally unbacked statement right at the start of this very blog post. Statements which remain unbacked.

People, please, when you say I'm wrong, POINT OUT WHERE. Don't make generalized statements without backing them up.

the comments you're responding to aren't David's. They're mine.

I apologize for getting it wrong.

Image damage.

Do you mean image damage to everyone who signed the silly moral panic petition? I agree. If the public cared about such things, they'd see a bunch of people on a witch hunt, which can't be good for reputations.

Doesn't matter whether or not it'd be enforceable, it is illegal.

So is spitting gum on the sidewalk. So I'm going to rally 400 of my buddies to point fingers at someone I saw doing it, and then we're all going to publicly promise to never do anything so despicable.

I made the illegal comment to call to attention the harm that was said to have been done. An illegal act usually implies harm. We wouldn't need to come to a moral consensus that murder is wrong. Nor would we all need to sign a petition denouncing murder. That's obvious.

Spitting out gum, or buying reviews, is less obvious and worthy of discussion before condemnation.

Handy examples of "underhanded" methods. As David has already explained.

David explained what they did, and they are lumped together with the severity of their actions not differentiated. There was no attempt to show their actions were "underhanded". That was assumed.

And as I read it, those three were signaled out, their behavior condemned without any supporting arguments why it was worthy of condemnation, and then there was a call for writers to sign a petition without being able to question it, and a call for readers to write reviews to correct an injustice that hadn't been established.

I again point you to what you seem to think the letter was about, and not what it actually was.

I just took the letter, practically line by line, explaining its faults. I can only go by the words that I read. If it was about something more than the words I read, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to know that.

"Your Honour, I'm not going to acknowledge that conversation can take place in a way that's public and archived and I might be hopelessly wrong with my earlier assertions. I'm just going to make pithy remarks about it."

If your goal is to persuade, you either put the supporting evidence in your argument, or mention it and link to it.

If your goal is to cause moral panic, there is a specific protocol that was followed, to the letter, with that petition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic#Characteristics

That said, I thank you for coming on this blog and doing a better job debating than David did.

Joe Konrath said...

The NYT asked him for, and received and included, his response in their article. Right there.

Heh.

I used to do a lot of interviews, but I pretty much stopped because I was often misquoted, or had quotes taken out of context, or parts of my quotes were lopped off.

Journalists have angles. They cut and paste to suit their own needs.

Locke told that reporter more than the reporter printed. But you wouldn't know that, because you already had enough to fuel your righteous indignation.

That equals "in the same breath begging readers to give you reviews"? Really?

I see that as appealing to readers to review you to correct a crime that you haven't proved is a crime, or has even caused harm.

As I said, the petition condemned unseemly ways of getting reviews, and I would count appealing to a readers' sense of justice is an unseemly way to get a review when there was no demonstrable harm in the first place.

Anonymous said...

In response to pointing out that Joe suggested that it was the fear of him getting caught that prevented him using fake review he said:

"Show me the system is being gamed. Show me damage. Show me who is getting hurt. In fact, show me who is unequivocally benefiting. Prove that Locke's bought reviews lead to his success. Prove Leather's sock puppetry hurt anyone. Prove Ellory's 1 star reviews prevented sales.

You can't prove any of that. It's all jumping to conclusions."

I'm not sure any of that answers the question as to whether, as you said, the reason you wouldn't post a fake review is because of fear of getting caught.

Re gaming the system it was actually you who said the system was being gamed:

"Joe sez: All systems are gamed, and none are fair."

You couldn't have been clearer.

Or maybe, as I suggested earlier, you posted in haste and perhaps gripped by a little of the panic you are saying is consuming everyone over this topic.





David Hewson said...

Hi Joe. This is the last message I am going to post on Planet Konrath. There's only so much time you can spend inside a bad 1950s movie that Roger Corman would have found too tacky to make.

When people point out the glaring inaccuracies (or perhaps more accurately wilful misinterpretations) in your statements the smart thing to do is answer those points. Not yell fake answers to fake questions no one's asked in the first place then start screaming about 'mobs'.

We're not a 'mob'. We're not even a 'we'. Most of the people who signed that letter haven't even met one another. We just share one core belief: we think it's wrong to pretend to be someone else in order to deceive readers into buying one book over another. Pretty simple really. If authors want to review their work or damn that of others in their own names.. that's their decision. We just don't think you should pretend to be someone else in order to gain a financial advantage. If you do that in business you go to jail. Why should authors have a free pass to lie?

Your initial statement is full of errors, misinterpretations and non sequiturs, many of which people are now picking up. I chose one of your key claims because it shows the level of gross inaccuracy in your post.

You said, 'And there was no posted debate, no public discussion whatsoever of their actions (in fact, discussion in the comments is discouraged and comments encouraging debate have been removed).'

As I've already explained here in detail in my original comment this simply isn't true. I removed Barry's video because it was in the wrong place. I publicly announced the fact and linked to the video -- why would I have done this if I was trying to stifle what he said?

Barry graciously thanked me for that though, as I've said, he didn't need to. There was no attempt to kill this debate -- we just wanted it to be in the right places, and a single page for people to sign a letter wasn't it. Lots of people have written blog posts on both sides of the argument. Not all of them have the extraterrestrial quality of your own contribution but they're out there, actively debated on all sides. And I don't have any problem with someone who disagrees with me/us. I'd just like you to get your facts straight which is something you seem to struggle with perennially, principally because facts so often conflict with your beliefs -- God that must be annoying.

Sorry -- I don't feel more stupid. Just bored with your boundless anger and absolute refusal to face the facts when you get things wrong. That's your problem, not mine. You ought to deal with it.

Joe Konrath said...

So, when I see someone shooting at his own toes upon false business principles, it does'nt make me laugh.

A few things.

1. The main reason readers are gatekeepers is because they vote with their wallets. Reviews are secondary, and we can debate how important they are.

2. Readers know the system is imperfect. Amazon reviews are the same thing as the internet. Some sites are trustworthy, some aren't, and everyone eventually learns to figure it out.

If there's a huge backlash against buying reviews or leaving fake reviews, readers will adjust how they use the system.

Joe Konrath said...

you posted in haste and perhaps gripped by a little of the panic

I don't panic or post in haste. I already stated that buying reviews isn't worth the cost for me. But I don't find it morally corrupt.

By cost I mentioned both money, and the fact that my peers would overreact, as they're doing now.

I don't care about what my peers think. But I've got enough people who hate me already, and I see no benefit in increasing those numbers.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Jude, I sent an email to Amazon asking them investigate these reviews and remove them if they agree that they're suspect.

I fail to understand the need for such behavior. While I can get heated at times, I've never been anything but generous to other authors and have also been blessed by their generosity.

Healthy debate is one thing. But this is another thing altogether.

Alan Spade said...

"If there's a huge backlash against buying reviews or leaving fake reviews, readers will adjust how they use the system."

I agree with your points, Joe. Fortunately, all the readers don't need reviews. Fortunately, there are other sources of information on the net.

The question is : how will they adjust ? The more simple the way to make an opinion when you are a new reader, the better. If that become too complicated to be informed, why would you read instead of, for example, play videogames ?

New readers who don't have a clue what to buy don't want to have to sort sincere reviews from ones who aren't.

Smart readers will always find a way. But you don't want to discourage people.

In my opinion, the better way is to educate authors not to buy false reviews or trying to game the system (not by denouncing them, though). If I have to be self righteous doing it, so be it.

Gordon Harries said...

Hi Joe (and everyone),

I was one of the 12 people who was involved in the drafting of the letter. There was absoloutly no element of ‘naming and shaming’ involved, as the three people named as examples of people who commit these kinds of practices had all recently become very public and, it was felt, to not name them would have been to duck the issue. In a letter calling for accountability, I’m sure that you can see that would have been problematic.

Once there was a consensus on the wording, we took it to several authors and asked if they’d consider signing it. There was no secret cabal aspect to this at all, just a number of authors who were disheartened by recent revelations and calling for the first step on a very long road towards systemic reform.

Anyway, I actually just stopped by because David Hewson already addressed many of your misgivings in a blog post, which is located here: http://davidhewson.com/2012/09/04/the-sock-puppet-letter-how-it-was-done-and-some-lessons/ should you wish to take a look.

All the best,
Gordon Harries.

MJRose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Konrath said...

Hi Joe. This is the last message I am going to post on Planet Konrath.

All I want is a dime. Just a dime. For every person who has said that.

We're not a 'mob'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mob

We just share one core belief: we think it's wrong to pretend to be someone else in order to deceive readers into buying one book over another.

I also share that belief. A pity you folks did such a poor job stating your case. No one has fisked Barry's post, or either of mine, showing us where we're wrong in our assessment of your petition.

I publicly announced the fact and linked to the video -- why would I have done this if I was trying to stifle what he said?

I don't believe you were trying to stifle Barry. I believe what you said, that the site was put up for people to put their name on a letter, and nothing more.

And I think that sucks. You had the means and opportunity to foster debate and discussion, for people to learn, to figure out what motivates sock puppets and paid reviews. That's worthwhile.

Moral panic isn't worthwhile. I've made a good case for this being moral panic, and sanctimony. People are signing your petition because they're afraid not to. Was that your intent?

I'd just like you to get your facts straight which is something you seem to struggle with perennially, principally because facts so often conflict with your beliefs -- God that must be annoying.

You know what's annoying? Taking what you said, point by point, and proving you wrong, and having you not return the favor.

Show me the facts I've gotten wrong. Use my words against me. Most of all, diffuse my main argument and attack its supporting points.

Saying, "you're wrong" isn't good enough.

You haven't shown me where there shouldn't be debate on your petition site.

You haven't shown me how three cases of deception require a call to arms.

You haven't shown me how anyone was harmed by Locke, Leather, or Ellory.

You haven't shown me how your petition isn't plain, old moral panic.

You didn't reply to any of my ethical questions raised by my blog post, or acknowledge the importance of those questions being asked.

You state repeatedly that I'm wrong, and don't go into detail why.

Your petition has done more harm than good. This entire situation is grossly overblown. There are real, serious, immediate issues facing authors in this new publishing climate, and you'd rather climb on a moral high horse and denounce your peers than actually fight against something worthwhile.

You know what I'd like to see? Those same 400 signatures on a petition saying they will no longer accept 17.5% ebook royalties.

Or 400 authors standing up to denounce price fixing so they could actually sell a few ebooks.

That's just me. I recognize other people have other agendas. I don't begrudge anyone their morals or their opinions.

But I will rally against a group that I believe is harmful. Your petition is harmful, and unlike you, I can prove harm.

We have authors who are afraid of being pounced upon by a mob looking to point fingers.

We have vitriolic condemnation and shaming of writers whose crimes are minor at best, or not even crimes at all.

If you'd been named in that petition, I'd be defending you as well, David. And if you believe you're above reproach and there would never be 400 of your peers condemning your behavior, you need to realize that Locke, Leather, and Ellory never thought that would happen either.

MJRose said...

sorry - bad typo - what I wanted to say was, yes Joe- I signed but with the caveat that I was signing to voice my objection to one thing - authors posting of anon 1 star reviews in order to hype that authors own books - I agreed with Barry's original points. I've been around a long time and don't decry or call out authors by name. I got enough of that myself when I self pubbed in 1998 and was labeled a failed author for doing it.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

MJ said, I got enough of that myself when I self pubbed in 1998 and was labeled a failed author for doing it.

MJ, I've never told you this, but I admire the hell out of you for blazing the trail. Despite the sniping against you, you ignored the naysayers and went on to have a highly successful career in publishing.

Kudos to you. I think you're living proof that people should judge a book on it's quality, not on how it gets into readers hands.

Joe Konrath said...

In a letter calling for accountability, I’m sure that you can see that would have been problematic.

When a petition is created that essentially says, "We're not going to do what these three guys did" then those who draft that petition, and sign that petition, are accountable for what it says.

You named three writers, and what they did. But you failed to explain how what they did was wrong, and if it was wrong, how severe the offense was. As such, the petition read as if it were about them, and how they harmed the industry.

People signed that petition because they see authors being condemned, and they want to feel morally superior to them, or to proclaim their innocence so they weren't signaled out for condemnation.

An alternative would have been to present the issues you are against--buying reviews and using sock puppets--showing how they are harmful, and pledging not to do those things. This could have accompanied a lively and important debate where ethical issues are graded in order of importance and severity. Is buying reviews the same as asking friends for reviews? Is using a sock puppet the same as posting anonymously?

Not only was this opportunity missed, it seems to have been deliberately squashed. As a result me, and Barry, and many others, viewed the petition in a negative light. And when there are people dedicating their every pathetic waking breath to trying to uncover author deceit, it does indeed breed and atmosphere of fear and piety.

This doesn't lead to good things. It leads to innocent people being hurt.

Once there was a consensus on the wording

To put this lightly, the 12 of you messed up badly with the wording. See Barry's response for a way it could have been approached.

A call for systemic reform first has to show the system is broken. That not only hasn't been shown, but there hasn't even been an attempt to show it.

I think a bunch of authors getting together to make the world better for everyone is a good idea, and I don't question your intentions. But somewhere between intent and execution some big mistakes were made, and moral panic has set it.

Surely you can see that isn't a good thing.

Joe Konrath said...

I got enough of that myself when I self pubbed in 1998 and was labeled a failed author for doing it.

Shame on those people who did that to you. If I'd have been around then, I would have given them hell. :)

Gordon Harries said...

Joe:

It was a broad expression of solidarity that was meant to condemn the actions of the type that the three individuals undertook. (that we explicitly say in the letter is not limited to the three named authors.)

it was the first step towards what, in a best case, is going to be a very long and slow process towards systemic reform. We also wanted to get people talking/debating about the issues we raised.

I'm not arrogant enougth to think that we did the best possible job on this and, honestly, I think that Barry Eisler's concerns have some legitimacy. The others I've spoken to aren't oblivious to the limitations of the letter either.

if you and Barry feel that you can improve on the statement, perhaps you should put your heads together and come up with a more comprehensive document?

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I'm with Joe. The distressing thing about this petition is the implication that if an author doesn't sign, they must be guilty. This very sentiment is implied in the comments to this blog.


Anonymous:
"I am not sure why Joe is getting so tetchy over this issue. It's not as if he's been caught gaming the system or buying reviews.

Maybe it's because a couple of people he trusted have. He feels their pain and their shame."


The clear implication here is that if authors don't agree with this letter, they are guilty of something or are trying to protect someone who is. Even if an author merely keeps silent, he or she is guilty.

That's the danger of mobs. If you aren't with us, you're against us. The interesting thing is that in most cases, the guilty don't remain silent. They are the ones first to grab the pitchforks. That's human nature.

We're better than this, or we should be. Discussion and debate is constructive. Tarring and feathering is not.

A.Rosaria said...

"Now I'm going to unplug for a bit and get some writing done. Which is what we all should be doing."

Reading your post I was thinking "This is long, when will he get some writing done? Well... when will I get some writing done!"


The whole current drama is because people fear and because of fear they lash out.

Gordon Harries said...

Steve Mosby has now commented on the comments to our letter.

http://www.theleftroom.co.uk/?p=1772

Gordon Harries said...

Or not. Or whatever.

B. Justin Shier said...

Readers and people in general are still getting used to the idea that their opinion matters. Encouraging them to learn how to leave reviews and comment without any interest in controlling the outcome IS the moral high road.

Well put, Alchemy. I fear the interests of readers are being lost in this morass. I'm reminded of a line Bezos delivered a few years ago.

"We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

I agree with this sentiment, and I don't like it when someone takes a poop in my customers' punch. I don't care whether the poop is dino-sized or rabbit-sized. I want that poop in the toilet and not in my customers mouth. If that makes me a sanctimonious arse, so be it.

Joe, I can appreciate your concerns about mobs and witch hunts and whatnot, but as of yet, I haven't seen any sign of them. I read the NSPHP letter you linked to, but I don't understand what made you so concerned. They didn't out any of their fellows. The names they mentioned were all highlighted in numerous MSM articles well before the petition was posted. And the NSPSP people didn't seem to be encouraging any vigilante action, either. I read their statement as a simple promise not to engage in a series of practices that are bound to piss off their readers. Self-serving, perhaps, but not mobbish.

I didn't sign the NSPSP petition because I've always thought that signing pledges not to do bad things is sorta weird. For instance, I've never felt compelled to sign a pledge not to murder. (I figured just not murdering anyone would keep everyone happy.) I did sign the Gaugrahn letter you mentioned, however. To me, that one made sense to sign because I felt that the Court needed to hear that not all authors endorsed the Authors Guild's position. But if people feel the need to pen letters telling the world what they plan not to do, then all the power to them.

Back on topic, if you could point to more signs that mobs of writers are forming, I'd be happy to look at those too. Maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture.

B.

Jude Hardin said...

if you and Barry feel that you can improve on the statement, perhaps you should put your heads together and come up with a more comprehensive document?

The names could have been omitted without sacrificing anything, IMHO.

Hate the sin, not the sinner.

Gordon Harries said...

We don't hate anyone. No one named was outed, they were all very recent and public and not to name them would have looked odd.

We love writers, that's why we were flabbergasted by the revelations.

But if you want to join with others on a hypothetical next step, do so.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm not arrogant enougth to think that we did the best possible job on this and, honestly, I think that Barry Eisler's concerns have some legitimacy. The others I've spoken to aren't oblivious to the limitations of the letter either.

I see what you're doing here. You're using level-headed common sense and a polite tone, because you don't know how I'll react.

And you're right. I don't know how to react. :)

I'm so used to people attacking me that I go into an automatic defensive mode where I strike out at anyone who disagrees.

That is wrong of me to do. I need to be reminded there are decent, reasonable people who can disagree with me without trying to make it personal. Thank you for that.

I know at least a hundred people who signed that petition, and I think they're good people who have good intentions.

However, I'm not convinced the system needs to be reformed, because I have yet to see harm caused by the current system.

Some writers bash their peers. This isn't exclusive to Amazon. It's all over the Internet, and it won't be stopped unless some type of censorship is enforced. I fear censorship more than getting anonymously bashed. I also fear a moral majority telling me what is ethical and what isn't.

I'm pretty good at predicting things, and I predict that petition will lead to innocent authors being persecuted. Is it worth discarding of a hundred bad apples if just one good apple is discarded as well? Especially when there hasn't been any convincing argument that the hundred bad apples are equally bad? Or even slightly bad?

Barry is smart, and if your group is truly interested in creating a petition that is less incendiary and more beneficial, maybe he'd be interested in helping out.

I'm not the guy for that. I'd rather focus on issues I believe in. Policing the ethics of my peers is something I'm against, not for.

Tracy Sharp said...

What Tracey said! I'm too lazy to go through the whole thing. But those are my answers pretty much exactly.

What a witch hunt!

Tracy Sharp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tracy Sharp said...

"There has been no talking about the issues whatsoever. Only assumption, finger pointing, condemnation, and a growing list of author signatures that methinks is growing so fast because innocent writers don't want the mob to turn on them."

I agree. Kinda like The Hunger Games for writers. Feels like writers are being thrown into the arena, doesn't it?

Unknown said...

I won't answer each question in detail but I will declare myself, here as i have elsewhere. When all is said and done, my ethics are all I have when all else is gone. So they are paramount to me. Yes, I have given free books to reviewers, not to get a good review, but because if someone is going to the effort of reading and writing a review, if that is their work or sideline, I do not believe it ought to cost them. That said, I do not expect a five star review - I expect an honest one. Would I ever pay for a review - only if, like Kirkus, that is how they do business and if the review will be an honest one and they actually read the book. Would I retaliate for a bad review? - no, that kind of behaviour is childish and will gain me nothing in the long run. Revenge is never a good motive for anything.
Would I post a good review for a bad book - no, not even for my mother. My reputation stems from my credibility. I will not risk that.
Could I kill or steal - possibly. No one knows what they will do in life-threatening circumstances.
But would I pay $5000.00 for questionable reviews to earn a million - never - that much I do know. How do i know this - because I have lost friends, alienated many and suffered for standing up for what I believe. I cannot stand by and keep silent in the midst of injustice. There are some boundaries I will not cross, no matter the consequences. Call me stupid, self-righteous or high minded, but I have to live with myself. And so, because I know this about myself I feel justified in condemning the practices of revenge, paid reviews from people who have not read the book, sock puppets, et al.

Yvonne Hertzberger said...

My comment posted as 'unknown'. Sometimes these postings test my computer skills. I am Yvonne Hertzberger and hope to add that to my comment.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Joe, your sense of morality is of endless fascination to me. (Catholics, the damn Catholics...)

Not going to debate this online, but what I THINK is that you're reluctant to take issue with people who are doing things that I am quite sure you would never do yourself. You really can say, Okay, THAT was wrong. Probably. Probably wrong.

Personally I think it's kind of important to say, Yes, I like you as a person, and I forgive you, but I'm pretty sure THAT WAS WRONG.

People can be just as wrong as corporations.

I wish you would take issue, but it's your call, obviously. Going back to writing now, because you're DEFINITELY right about that.

John R said...

(The 4,096 character limit is *really* doing my tree in, so this will have to be in chunks.)

>> Really? Interesting. Because there were a lot of totally unbacked statement right at the start of this very blog post. Statements which remain unbacked. <<

People, please, when you say I'm wrong, POINT OUT WHERE. Don't make generalized statements without backing them up.


I covered the main ones initially, but let's run from the top, then.

"Oh, wait. No they didn't. They simply accused and denounced."

Which as we've already seen, they didn't. Not in the letter. By the time that was written, Stephen Leather had made his own admission entirely off his own back, Locke was implicated by the NYT, and Ellory had been accused - and owned up - online.

"Oh, wait. What the trio did wasn't illegal."

We've covered this now, but it was wrong.


>>> (snippy insertion thingy) >>>

I made the illegal comment to call to attention the harm that was said to have been done. An illegal act usually implies harm.

So what did you mean by this: "Unless I missed some link or secret page on their website, no one signing the NSPHP petition has proven that what the three accused have done are crimes..." Because that, and your original response to the commenter pointing out the FTC rule on it ("Good luck enforcing that!") suggest you were talking about legality in terms of its actual meaning.

Might I suggest "harmful" in future, if it's not? Rather than something so easily shown to be wrong? Harm has degrees, legality does not. Something breaks a law or doesn't break a law.

<<<


"there was no posted debate, no public discussion whatsoever of their actions"

Assumption: there needed to be public discussion of the wording before inviting people to sign. There has been, from Barry and you and others, afterwards. There were 12 writers, it seems, who discussed it amongst themselves. How many would be OK, and how public should they be? For how long should the floor be thrown open? And their "actions" were to write a fairly short open letter on a current hot topic. They haven't stormed Parliament or burned the White House.

"Oh, wait. There is no proof. Only assumptions."

We've already seen that's not true.

"So the NSPHP judged three authors, convicted them without any trial or allowing the authors any defense..."

And that.

"There has been no talking about the issues whatsoever."

And that. I mean, here we are. At great length.

"... a growing list of author signatures that methinks is growing so fast because innocent writers don't want the mob to turn on them."

Supposition on your part. Show me one who's signed because of this fear.

"Isn't it more productive to have a discussion about the ethics of reviewing than rushing to a snap judgement and joining a mob?"

Assumption: that's what people have been doing.

"I think the accused should be considered innocent before proven guilty."

As we've been over, all three of those mentioned admitted what they'd done, either off the cuff or by way of a formal apology.

"It feels good to see the mighty fall, an unfortunate trait of human nature called Schadenfreude. ... Knee-jerk condemnation and public chastisement is much more pleasurable."

Again, assumption.

"... in the same breath begging readers to give you reviews?"

Once more, we've been over this. The "you" part of this is an invention of yours. The letter as written makes no suggestion of reviewing the signatories' books, only of reviewing more - good and bad - in general.

John R said...

"[Amazon used a public review system] to encourage user participation and sell more books."

Assumption, though it's probably true, but also carries a further assumption that these aims won't be harmed by people faking it. Which is just as much of an assumption as that they will be, an assumption you do criticise.

"I would not sign a petition denouncing authors for paying for reviews, while at the same time pleading for readers to review them."

Again, this is that invention.

"Those "phoney voices" are three people!"

Untrue. According to the NYT, GettingBookReviews.com - which is only one of loads of individuals and services marketing reviews - sold 4,531 reviews in its life. Locke bought 300. So there are more than three, or four, or six.

"Much as I weep for those poor four hundred authors and how they were irrevocably damaged (hint: they weren't)..."

Straw man - claim never made.

"...how three people harmed them..."

As above.

etc.

David explained what they did, and they are lumped together with the severity of their actions not differentiated. There was no attempt to show their actions were "underhanded". That was assumed.

Yes... in so much as the term "underhand" means, amongst other things, "dishonest". Writing a customer review - for example - of your own book while hiding the fact that it's you is dishonest. Plugging your own works using a variety of different identities all of which appear on the face of them to be not you is dishonest.

Consider: "I am RJ Ellory, the author of this book. This book is the best book ever written. It's wonderful. Five stars!"

Contrast: "I am not RJ Ellory, the author of this book. I am Joe Bloggs. This book is the best book ever written. It's wonderful. Five stars!"

Both reviews, hypothetically, written by the same man. The same opinion is expressed. One starts with a whopping great lie, however. If you take away the first sentence - even the first two - of it, the lie is still there. It is therefore dishonest. Underhand.

You would like their actions differentiated, and in much (though not all) of the discussion around this whole business, they have been. It's your opinion that it should have been so in the letter. That opinion I guess wasn't shared. (I don't know, I didn't write it.)

John R said...


If your goal is to persuade, you either put the supporting evidence in your argument, or mention it and link to it.

Which I did, a lengthy example from Steve Mosby's blog. You seem to have missed it.

If your goal is to cause moral panic...

It's not, so that's a relief.

That said, I thank you for coming on this blog and doing a better job debating than David did.

You're welcome.

I used to do a lot of interviews, but I pretty much stopped because I was often misquoted, or had quotes taken out of context, or parts of my quotes were lopped off.

Journalists have angles. They cut and paste to suit their own needs.

Locke told that reporter more than the reporter printed. But you wouldn't know that, because you already had enough to fuel your righteous indignation.


So "he is on record as saying he asked for honest reviews" - that might not actually be true either, but a spun invention of a sympathetic reporter? You can't have it both ways; it's either reliably noted, or not.

I've conducted a fair number of interviews and I understand how they work. But your point was that he should've been approached to respond and had the chance to do so and it was terrible that he wasn't. Whether they cut him to shreds (though if so he doesn't seem to have demanded a retraction or correction) or not, my point is that he was approached and has had the chance.

I see that as appealing to readers to review you to correct a crime that you haven't proved is a crime, or has even caused harm.

Which is very different to asking people to review the signatories' *own* books, which is what you keep saying it means.

As I said, the petition condemned unseemly ways of getting reviews, and I would count appealing to a readers' sense of justice is an unseemly way to get a review when there was no demonstrable harm in the first place.

But there was demonstrable, deliberate, dishonesty. The letter condemns the various forms of dishonesty - paid for reviews-by-service, using multiple supposedly third-person accounts to praise your own work, reviewing your own books favourably and spike those you consider rivals - known to have happened and suggests - correctly - that such dishonesty, whatever its quantifiable impact, will have less impact if the signal-noise ratio is higher and genuine opinions, good and bad, are there in higher numbers.

That's all.

Jude Hardin said...

No one named was outed, they were all very recent and public and not to name them would have looked odd.

If I had drafted a petition condemning the practice of marital infidelity back in 1999, would it have seemed odd not to include the most famous adulterer of that year?

I don't think so. Anyone paying attention knew about the scandal, and they knew the name. If nothing else, including it would have been superfluous.

I would love to see fake reviews and sock puppet accounts go away forever, but I don't think it's very useful to brand the offending parties. Not when every writer on the planet has been guilty of some of the things Joe mentioned.

Alan Tucker said...

Wow, I'm late to this party!

I blogged about some of these issues last Tuesday here: http://motherearthseries.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/the-chickens-are-working-overtime/

Everyone wants to hitch their wagon to a strong horse, and there are some pretty strong horses listed at the end of the NSPSP letter. But even the strongest horse will get tired and break down after hundreds of wagons have been hitched to it. It's like having your photo taken with a celebrity, framing it, and showing it off in your place of business. Many people believe in "success by association."

You are 100% correct in stating the transgressions of the three authors named in the letter vary wildly in their level of deceit and poor judgement.

Rather than boring the two people who will read this far down the comments with my answers to your questions, I'll simply state the two things that cause the most moral discomfort for me, personally.

First is the bashing of other authors. No argument can support that behavior in my opinion.

Second is not necessarily what Locke did, but how he did it. Every author I know has sent their work to reviewers in exchange for a review. Choosing to use a clearinghouse or publicist to do so is a personal choice I have no problem with either. The issue comes from having those hundreds of reviews show up as purchases on Amazon. It artificially inflated his rankings, making his books more visible in the system. Some might label that genius. He certainly played the game to win.

All the people who purchased his "How To" book have been damaged in some way because they didn't really get the whole story, as Locke claims in the book. They can't get that money back unless they purchased the book very recently.

Thanks for standing up and calling, "BS," when you see it, Joe.

Donna White Glaser said...

First, reading about your help to Rob made me tear up. Not because it was a nice thing to do, although it was, but because I know and like Rob. He's good people. I met him (and you) at my first conference, B'con in Madison. I was a new-to-the-game writer, and scared as hell. I'd been told I needed blurbs, so I naively approached an author whose books I like and asked her if she would be willing. She looked at me like I'd asked her to voluntarily roll in dog shit, and said, "I don't do that." Then, she walked away.

It so happened Rob was standing a foot or so away. He walked up and said, "What's your book about?" I told him, and he said, "Wow. That sounds interesting. Send it to me."
Yeah. He did that. I did send it to him, and he sent it back with a full critique, too. He's one of the top three reasons, I didn't give up.

So, on behalf of Robert W Walker-lovers everywhere, thank you, Joe. That was awesome. I hope karma floods you with buckets of goodness. Or money. Either one. =)

Second, I don't condone many of the actions, especially acting as a sock puppet to bad mouth another writer, but I won't vilify people over them either. I've done things I regret. Enough said.

Thank you, and Barry, too, for provocative posts on this subject. At the very least, if you caused people to slow down and THINK, it will have been worth it. I don't mind people expressing a reasoned arguement, even if I think they're completely wrong. That seems so rare these days, though. Pity.

I wish there were more people like Rob, who work to build others up, than those who rush to destroy.

JD Mader said...

That was a very reasonable and thoughtful post if you ask me. I am a pretty ethical guy, but I agree with you that there are many slippery slopes and slippery trails leading from them.

I don't violate my own ethical code because I like to sleep. But I don't have time to throw stones. My house is not glass, but it isn't bulletproof. No writer lives in a bulletproof house.

T Ludlow said...

So... the assumption that reviews are genuine needs to be backed up by an overriding perception that they are indeed genuine opinions. If not, they become puff.

Joe: "You're making a good argument, but you need to show that the overwhelming majority of readers believe that every review they read is a genuine opinion and carries equal weight.

That won't happen, because readers have good bullshit detectors. And as I said in the blog, a reader who feels duped can get a full refund and post their own negative review warning other readers."


But Joe, you also said:

"Those books won't get written if we're all on Twitter 24/7 condemning on another, or blogging incessantly, or spending all of our time pouring over Amazon reviews trying to uncover which are legit and which aren't (seriously, how fucking pathetic is that?)"

So which is it? Do readers try and hone their 'bullshit detectors' to weed out the fake reviews, or should they not because that's 'fucking pathetic'?

Anonymous said...

Joe implying you'd post fake reviews if you didn't get caught is a little strange.

I love your writing. But your fiction is much better than your attention to facts.

And no, I'm not going to list all the things again that have already been listed so you can go through your familiar dodging routine.

I'm going to go order one of your books instead. It's your fiction I enjoy and may you long continue to write it.

Rob Gregory Browne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Red said...

Joe, I'm sorry but you are just wrong on this issue. And I can say this as the “victim” of a sock puppet master.

This guy had “written” a guide to wine and wine tasting. It was a quick 30 minute guide kind of book. I noticed it because he quickly topped the sales in the category we shared. I had been the top seller for some time and was shocked to see someone come out of the blue and knock me into 2nd place. Before you shout that I’m biased or just jealous because I was a competitor I say that who else but the victim is the one who is most likely to witness the crime?

And as this is a crime I will give you my proof, I mean assumptions one by one.

1. So I looked into this book. It had been out for 1 week and had 35, 4 and 5 star reviews. Really, in 1 week? My book had been on kindle for 2 years and it had only three 5 star reviews. No these were not my family and friends, those slugs wouldn’t get off their asses and post a review! Bastards one and all  Moving on. So I looked at the people who had reviewed this book. Every one of them had pages and pages of reviews. They had each reviewed over 500 items. And then it got really weird. They had all reviewed exactly the same products, at the same time, and in the same order. A roving clan of book reviewing gypsies I guess.
2. So I googled his title and saw that it had recently be reviewed on 50+ blogs! All of these blogs allegedly written by housewives in their spare time. They reviewed all sorts of thing but didn't really have much else in the way of content. Also, being a techie type, I noticed that every single blog were derivatives off of the same template. How do you spell quinkidink? I emailed the blogs and got the same basic form email form from each... "I'm really swamped with reviews right now and I'm not accepting any non sponsored products but if you would like to contact my marketing department ...." Lots of housewives with marketing departments, just normal folk.
3. I broke down and bought his book. Bad isn’t the word for it, it was incoherent. It felt like 50 writers had just written about different things and then mashed it all together. I started doing string searches and sure enough almost every search turned up as part of some comment blogs. So either this was just a random collection of his blog posts, that just happened to be under different names on dozens of wine blogs or this “book” was scrapings of posts compiled together.
4. I went back and looked at the other books that these same people had reviewed and found a trend. There were about 20 books that all did the same things, were published around the same time and showed up on the same blogs. And when I bought a couple of those I found the same thing, scrapped web site postings.

Red said...

This was back in January of this year, at the height of the post x-mas, “I just got a new kindle” bump and his book was ranked in the top 2k of sales.

Now you would consider everything here just “assumptions” and not proof. I wonder what Jack Daniels would call it? Were any laws broken here? You tell me. The FTC requires that if a reviewer is paid or compensated for their reviews that it must be clearly labeled as such. Do you honestly believe that those 35 reviews were not paid for? Well Amazon didn’t. I will admit to flagging his book and checking in on it about every day or so. Then about a month later all of his positive reviews just disappeared, POOF. Three days later this book went away as well, as did his 20 other books. Amazon seems to have agreed that what he was doing was bad for business. He stole from other authors, he stole from readers and he damaged the integrity of the marketplace.

Joe, this isn’t about bad mouthing other authors this is about lines and crossing them. Everyone expects an author’s family and friends to stand up for them, that is just human nature. When you pay for shill reviews you have crossed the line and while you may make out like a bandit the damage you leave behind for others can not be underestimated. I fear that you, with your success fail to feel the direct impact on those of us who have to face these issues every day. It’s easy for you to be the big man and say, so he stole a piece of bread, he is poor does he not need to eat as well. But those of us who are poor as well, with children of our own are then left with the decision. Let these people steal from our table and force us to starve or turn to their ways ourselves. Are you saying that I should steal as well? Is that what you are condoning? And if in the end we all do turn to that way of life will anyone come the thieves market you have created?

I’m sorry but you are wrong, in fact you sound like someone who has a kneejerk reaction to anyone who has the audacity to stand up and say HEY, HE DID A BAD THING. Which is odd from a guy whose whole blog is based on doing just that.

That truth is that there is a time and place for “there but the grace of god, go I” but there is also a time when you need to put someone low life c***suckers in the stocks and publicly shame them to death. If people won’t do the right thing for the right reasons then maybe we can get them to do it out of fear of the repercussions.

RJ Lockett said...

I just stopped by Kindleboards and read yet another "how to sniff out sock puppet reviews post."

*Banging my head against the wall*

I'll be back in a few hours. If anyone needs me, I'll be hammering a nail into my penis.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

A few questions for the crowd:

So what about pen names? Or men who write as women and vice versa? Are they being deceptive?

What about ghost writers? Are "names" who pretend to write books or the authors who get paid to write them doing something wrong?

What about house names like Ellery Queen and Nick Carter and Alex Archer, all used by a number of different authors for pay?

All of these practices are generally kept secret from the reading public and are designed to help sell books.

And at their core, they are all lies.

I'm not defending the practice of fake reviews, by any means, and don't do it. I'm simply asking the question: do we now have to classify what's acceptable deception and what isn't?

And what makes any of the above acceptable?

Is this a case of false equivalency?

To my mind, many of the practices of the publishing world (some of which I have engaged in for pay) are deceptive. Who decides which ones are acceptable and which ones aren't?

Anonymous said...

Rob Gregory Brown said:

"To my mind, many of the practices of the publishing world are deceptive. Who decides which ones are acceptable and which ones aren't?"

From that I'm guessing it's not going to be Rob.

But perhaps others whose moral compass isn't quite so confused by the issues can decide if readers should purchase their ebooks on the basis of fake reviews.

To be honest, it doesn't sound so complicated to me. I don't need the Federal Trade Commission to arbitrate on law or Joe's links to Wikipedia to prove that he can Google.

Personally I'd feel cheated if I discovered that the reviews I trusted were fake and that the author was responsible for putting them there just so he could swindle me out of my money.

Maybe you'd feel different.



Rob Gregory Browne said...

Personally I'd feel cheated if I discovered that the reviews I trusted were fake and that the author was responsible for putting them there just so he could swindle me out of my money.

Maybe you'd feel different.


As a matter of fact I don't. I would feel slighted as well. But that's just the point.

I would also feel slighted if I found out my favorite author didn't really write his own books.

I definitely felt slighted when I entered this business and discovered that all those books that my bookstore touted as HOT NEW RELEASES were only on those shelves because someone paid for them to be there.

I'm sure many romance readers felt slighted when they discovered that BIG NAME HISTORICAL ROMANCE WRITER was actually a man.

I agree that fake reviews have a definite taint to them. But all this talk of morality has me wondering why anyone would think that the practices I've mentioned are morally sound?

It's all deceptive. And nobody is morally pure.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

By the way, don't assume that I'm defending anyone here. I'm not.

But what you decide to do is a matter of your own personal integrity. And before you condemn someone else, maybe you should look in the mirror for a moment and ask if you, too, have been deceptive. And, if so, who did it harm?

W. Dean said...

Joe writes:
But it's hypothetical and not provable

It’s no more hypothetical than the analogue. You don’t need empirical evidence that counterfeit currency actually devalues the real thing and undermines confidence in it, because counterfeit currency does that in virtue of what it is. The same goes for reviews: the more fake reviews, the less value every review has.

First you'd have to show how useful readers believed reviews are, and how often they lead to purchases. Then you'd have to prove that they can't tell the difference between an honest review and a paid for review. Then you'd have to show the harm in paid reviews.

If someone posted reviews of his book under his own name, it would not only be useless, he would in all likelihood scare people off buying it. But it wouldn’t be ethical for being a failure; it would just be unethical and stupid.

That last one will sink you, because people genuinely seem to like Locke's books. He bought a few hundred reviews. But he has thousands of other positive ones, and he's sold almost 2 million. That doesn't seem like reviews are devaluing the system.

That’s the problem with excuses and alibis. If fake reviews do work, then he actually did all the people who loved his book a favour in tricking them into buying. Turns out he’s kind of hero. Fancy that!

As an aside, your defence is backfiring for me because it makes them look worse. If I’d done something like this and then saw you twisting yourself into a pretzel in my defence, I’d be so ashamed that I come here, plead guilty, and tell you to shut the fuck up. No point in both of us going down. Sure, that’s just me, yada, yada. But I bet a lot of other people would do the same.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Yeah, I'd do anything for money. Call me.

;-}

1001 Secrets of Successful Writers said...

Thank God.

A place on the net where there is a measured response. I've just been on the KDP site suggesting a system where writers can either have reviews turned on or off (that is, they can choose to opt out completely from reviews) and many of the remarks I've had back have been full of vitriol and hatred.

I have not been suggesting we shouldn't have free speech. I've been suggesting that writers are given a choice. People can still post reviews elsewhere on the net - just not on the sales page.

God help me. You would have thought I were condoning child murder from some of the comments I've had.

Thanks again Joe.

A.Rosaria said...

W.Dean said: "It’s no more hypothetical than the analogue. You don’t need empirical evidence that counterfeit currency actually devalues the real thing and undermines confidence in it, because counterfeit currency does that in virtue of what it is. The same goes for reviews: the more fake reviews, the less value every review has."

Counterfeiting doesn't make a dent in devaluing money when Central Banks are making more money at the push of a button every second of the day and without collateral to stand in for it.

You can't blame a counterfeiter for the devalue of money only because he's not a governmental counterfeiter. Both make money without any value on them, out of thin air. Both are at fault. Fiat currency is just that, numbers we put value to, it doesn't really matter where it comes from as long you think it has value it has value. If you put too much thought to it you'll conclude it's all a scam, a well thought scam, one most choose to deny.

Same with reviews, the reader of the review is the one that put value on it. Readers are smart enough to see through bs reviews, it's condescending to think they will fall easily for the bogus 5 star and 1 star reviews.

Rik said...

My answers to Joe's questions.

1. Yes. I'd accept any blurb on my books - because they're nothing more than advertising copy designed to help me sell more of my books. Now that we've got things like 'look inside', where I can check out the first few pages of a book before I commit money to buying it, I reckon book blurbs are no more (or less) important than the 'people who bought this book also bought ...' thingy on Amazon.

2. I'd give someone a free copy of my book if they agreed to review it. I can't afford to buy reviews, or pay a publicist to promote my book, but I'm not convinced those thingies work anymore; the only sure way of selling a book is the viral, word-of-mouth recommendations thingy. I'd buy a bottle of that, if someone could prove to me they can guarantee such an infection in my unsuspecting (potential) readerships.

3. Are you kidding? Never diss your Mum, not even if the book is about how terrible a child you were to her. Five star reviews for Mothers are a (loving) formality, nothing more.

4. I'd read the book first. If it's good then I'd gush about it in the blurb. If it was terrible, I'd say meaningless, generic stuff. See my answer to Q1 above.

5. Beyond asking A to remove the reviews, I wouldn't bother to retaliate in kind on their books. I'd much rather go straight for the ad hominem attacks. I do enjoy a good dogfight; Usenet taught me many things.

6. No (to the first half of the question, but see my answer to Q2). As to the second half, what's the difference between this and having a publisher paying to promote a book in real bookshops? It happens; there never has been a level playing field when it comes to selling books, and there probably never will be.

7. Yes. Though given that I would only review books I read, and would be honest about my reaction to the books in my reviews, I doubt I'd have a sustained career in the business. See my answer to Q3 for the only exception to my integrity I'd be willing to make.

8. I'd like to see people discussing my books online, in reviews and and comments, but I'd want to see their honest reactions rather than generic gushing praise ... so no, I wouldn't swap reviews or beg for them through my social network. Have you ever visited Authonomy? Getting an honest critique in that place is harder than pulling hen's teeth - but when it does happen it's like giving me diamonds!

9. Yes, but see my answer to Q5. Where's the fun in getting into a dogfight if you do it anonymously?

10. No, and no. Lot's of writers were/are horrid people, but I still love their books.

11. I've done this in the past. In one case someone was plagiarising my poems and photoshopping my verses over pornographic images (gotta love Usenet). That was a good dogfight!

12. No. There's more important things in the world to get mad about.

chris said...

@Joe: However, I'm not convinced the system needs to be reformed, because I have yet to see harm caused by the current system.

One guy was making tens of thousands of dollars per month supplying fake 5 star reviews!

We are not talking about three authors gaming the system here, we're talking about hundreds of authors showing a blatant disregard to millions of readers.

Are you seriously implying that this type of action doesn't cause harm?

It discolours the opinions of any reader who has felt an emotional connection/disconnection to an author and their written word.

Joe, I'm absolutely astounded that you think that this behaviour leaves no damage. It's made a mark on me as a reader. I'm sure it has done the same to others.

You want this industry to end up like the dodgy affiliate/internet marketing industry? I'll bet fake reviews will push you there in double time.

Rik said...

... mind you, getting any reviews on my books would be nice. Just checked on my most reviewed book (on the B&N website) and it's got a total of 8 reviews: 3 5-stars and 5 1-stars, with a total commentary (including titles) of 65 words. It's still shifting 200+ copies a month, which isn't bad for a (free) chapbook of gay erotic poems ...

I can supply a link to the book if folks need the evidence base.

chris said...

@Joe:

I guess I should explain how fake reviews affect the industry.

Well, people just begin distrusting everything written about the product. Especially when the reviews are faked on such a large scale. Just reading the comments under the reviews is enough to tell you that readers feel like they are being scammed by fake reviews.

If readers begin to distrust anything that is said (like an informercial or spam) then they don't purchase.

Now, I know you have said that you haven't paid for fake reviews but take a look at this reviewer profile:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A1DLPM5P84CSGF/ref=cm_cr_pr_auth_rev?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview

These are your books, Joe.

Now look at the star ratings, the review content and the date on each review.

Doesn't that make you feel like there's a bit of underhand reviewing going on?

I've come across tons of this stuff on Amazon over the last year. And I feel like authors are just fucking with consumers like every other internet marketer.

I don't buy any book that has this kind of shit reviews tacked onto it.

In fact, there are lots of authors who post on this very blog of yours that I refuse to buy simply because I feel like they are scamming me.

Now, I might be wrong ... but it sure doesn't seem that way.

Game the system enough and you just destroy another useful mechanism that facilitates sales.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

In fact, there are lots of authors who post on this very blog of yours that I refuse to buy simply because I feel like they are scamming me..

I have no idea which authors you're talking about and don't really want to know. But I think there's a real danger in calling someone out based solely on a suspicion and not on hard fact.

On Sept. 6 and 7—in the midst of these discussions and the Internet storm over fake reviews—I and other authors I know have been the victim of a "fake review attack." We have been given four and five star generic reviews that appear to be written by paid reviewers or sock puppets.

We have asked Amazon to remove these reviews, but haven't heard back about what will be done.

So it seems that the new thing is to try to discredit other writers not with 1-stars, but with obviously phony 5-stars.

And you, as a reader, would now go to my page and make the assumption that I'm one of the "unclean" who has engaged in this subterfuge. You might even call me out on it in the comments or in a public forum.

And, of course, it isn't true.

So don't be so sure you know what you're talking about when you accuse someone—or even "suggest" that they might be guilty of faking reviews.

This is how it becomes the witch hunt that Joe is talking about.

T Ludlow said...

Rob Gregory Browne: So it seems that the new thing is to try to discredit other writers not with 1-stars, but with obviously phony 5-stars.

Any thoughts as to who's entered into this conspiracy to discredit you? I say conspiracy as you seem to imply that there have been more than one fake five-star reviews directed at you.

Anonymous said...

If reviews (good or bad) don't make, or break, a book, then why spend thousands of dollars for them? I'm confused.

However, I stay in my little corner, work hard, and try to keep my nose clean.

I hate dishonesty, but I also hate witch hunts. As always, there is a grey area.

Peace.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Any thoughts as to who's entered into this conspiracy to discredit you? I say conspiracy as you seem to imply that there have been more than one fake five-star reviews directed at you.

I have no idea and won't speculate. But I know it's happened to at least three other authors in the last couple days and we've all contacted Amazon.

To be quite honest, I don't think it will do any us any real harm, but my bullshit detector is buzzing and I feel the need to warn other authors that someone is having a laugh at our expense.

I'm a little gobsmacked by all of this. I have a hard time understanding the psychology that goes into it. I would never dream of attacking another author this way and it's a bit disconcerting that someone would.

If their only goal is to get our attention, I guess they've succeeded.

But to what end?

Joe Konrath said...

To be quite honest, I don't think it will do any us any real harm, but my bullshit detector is buzzing and I feel the need to warn other authors that someone is having a laugh at our expense.

Your paranoia is showing, Rob.

That's what happens during with hunts. Innocent people become paranoid.

Step away from the Internet and have a beer.

T Ludlow said...

Rob Gregory Browne: I have no idea and won't speculate. But I know it's happened to at least three other authors in the last couple days and we've all contacted Amazon.

I had a look at some of your book listings on Amazon and found a couple of recent five-stars from people who've only ever posted a single review, but how can you tell they're fake?

Most of my one-star reviews are pretty short as, in the same way that most happy families are happy for the same reasons (to paraphrase Tolstoi), most good books are good for the same reasons (good plot, good characters etc.) there's not too much you can say about a good read beyond that fact that you enjoyed it.

So how would you tell one of these fakers apart from an honest reviewer, say, someone like Ellen J. Grogan?

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. From the comments I see that any opinion that unethical behavior is bad and wrong should be tempered by moral relativism wherein no act or deed is worthy of condemnation. Additionally, I see a lot of language being used to brand honest outrage over unethical behavior as "witch hunting" or "mob mentality."

When a lot of people think something one of your friends has done is low end, it's not a witch hunt or hysteria. It's a lot of people expressing that they think it's a shitty, low end thing to do.

That's it.

I understand your new agenda is to desensitize everyone to the point where they don't have any moral barometer, and lying, cheating, deceiving are all acceptable. To express that they aren't is a witch hunt. You've been more than clear. It's a very attorney-like approach. What you're missing, though, is that all the insistence that paying to deceive readers with fake reviews only makes you look like a douche. It's akin to defending a child molester because he's your friend. "In Greece, young boys were the companions of older men, thus the moral outrage is unfounded, etc."

Everything can be excused if one's agenda is to excuse. And there is nothing as difficult to convince as a man with good reasons to not recognize what he remains unconvinced about.

Per your statements, lying isn't condemnation-worthy. Deception isn't condemnation-worthy. Anyone expressing moral outrage must be involved in a witch hunt. Lots of hyperbole there. Lots of loaded words to frame the opinions that your agenda doesn't jive with as idiocy or hysteria.

Your problem is that people have good bullshit detectors, and the defense of Locke and Leather, et al's tactics smacks of it.

Joe Konrath said...

I understand your new agenda is to desensitize everyone to the point where they don't have any moral barometer, and lying, cheating, deceiving are all acceptable.

My agenda is that judging others for their morality is misguided at best, harmful at worst.

When a lot of people think something one of your friends has done is low end, it's not a witch hunt or hysteria.

When that person gets humiliated in the media, and is being condemned non-stop on social networks, I'd call that witch hunting and hysteria.

What you're missing, though, is that all the insistence that paying to deceive readers with fake reviews only makes you look like a douche.

I think a lot of people are douches.

I don't alert the media and condemn them in a kangaroo court without carefully analysing and discussing the issue. I don't call up 400 friends to sign a petition denouncing their douchery.

Your problem is that people have good bullshit detectors, and the defense of Locke and Leather, et al's tactics smacks of it.

And I defend your right to cowardly post your silly opinion.

Just I'll defend the right for people to do things I don't agree with, because that's what being in a free society is all about.

But I won't join a mob to publicly humiliate an individual who does something I don't like. Especially when it hasn't even been proven what they'e done is wrong.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

So how would you tell one of these fakers apart from an honest reviewer, say, someone like Ellen J. Grogan?

Well, Ms. Grogan is a longtime reader and FB friend who is always asking when the next book is coming out, so I know her reviews are genuine. But sometimes you get a one or two-line review that just doesn't ring true, and when you check and see your book is the only one they've reviewed, you have to wonder. Which, I suppose, is their intent. They want readers to wonder, too.

I honestly didn't think anything of it until other writers began to notice the same thing happening to them over the last couple days.

I have been told by one author, however, that Amazon had some kind of glitch in their review system recently, so maybe this is merely a case of reviews piling up and only getting published over the last couple days.

Who knows? As I said, I can have my suspicions, but I can't really speculate, and I ultimately don't think it will be harmful to any of us. Maybe the reviews ARE genuine. Either way, they don't seem to have much effect on the sales of the book. I'm convinced that most readers are like me and don't read reviews.

I just find human behavior so odd sometimes. If you have a problem with me, for whatever reason, then why not simply send me an email or engage in honest debate on forums like this?

I have opinions, other people have opinions, and there's room in this world for all of them. You may find me disagreeing with you, but you'll never find me attacking you in a malicious way.

In the meantime, I'll just keep writing more books and hopefully people will continue to buy them. So far so good.

creativebarbwire said...

OK, after lurking for a couple of years, here's my first comment - the answers to your questions! :)
1) Yes, I'd probably accept a blurb from a Big Name Author, but I wouldn't aks for it, so BNA would have to find me first (highly unlikely, LOL).
2)I have given away free copies (with Smashwords coupons) to reviewers - and didn't lash out on Goodreads when some of them didn't deliver. Yes, a couple didn't review it (I did it with my first title, then I moved on, I don't do it anymore unless someone asks for a review copy), and I don't care. And no, I'd never hire a publicist.
3)Mom wouldn't write anything, but I can imagine a friend. I'd probably tell him/her what I really think in private, asking him/her if he/she wants me to post the review. And I don't go below 3 stars, especially with indie writers.
4) No, I'd have to read the book to blurb it. Unless it's a friend, in that case I'd blurb the author, much like you! :) But if I got paid those sums, hell yeah, I can reinvest them in paid reviews... no, wait, that's sick! :D
5)No, I don't really check my reviews anyway, and I don't give 1 stars.
6) If I had earned the 5K with the book blurb on #4, yeah. Otherwise I don't have money to spend on paid reviews. My indie writing account is already in the red for editing and some cover expenses, I'm not adding marketing and reviews to the lot! ;) And I'd rather have genuine reviews than spambots... good or bad, doesn't matter! Oh, and no money for ads either (unless I earned as above, LOL)...
7. Actually, no. I don't have time. My TBR list is way too long already. So unless I lose my DayJob and need another income, no, I won't review for money. I'm not a very good reviewer anyway! ;)
8. I traded blurbs once. Not sure I want to do it again. Not sure it increased my sales, or hers. I don't ask friends for reviews. But I ask buyers and giveaway winners to leave a review - which doesn't always happen, but I can't force them, can I?
9. I have a blog, a Facebook page and a Goodreads profile. That's it. I don't wander in forums and don't respond to reviews - ever. And I certainly don't have time to set up sock puppets accounts! ;)
10. No, I won't review a book I haven't read (or that I read in beta stage, like a writer friend asked me to. I told him I'll review his book when I read the final version - also because I never read the whole thing in the first place). And I won't give 1 star reviews to an author just because I don't like him/her.
11.I'm against cyber-bullying. Even when I hear very stupid writers complain on forums, I might rant on my blog, but never give names.
12. No, I didn't sign that petition, I thought it was fairly stupid in the first place. And I don't believe in petitions saving the world anyway! :)
Thanks for the questionary - now I better go back to writing!
Barb

chris said...

@Rob:

I have no idea which authors you're talking about and don't really want to know. But I think there's a real danger in calling someone out based solely on a suspicion and not on hard fact.


I'm not calling anyone out... I'm calling everyone out.

This is the problem, I don't now who is scamming me. Just like I don't really know if the Ab-Cruncher 3000 is going to knock the three inches of fat of my gut.

I'm sure as fuck not about to buy the ab-cruncher because we all know someone who has been stung on that front.

Can you see where I'm coming from? I'm not targeting your books Rob because I've never looked at the reviews. However, if you have some reviews that appear dodgy then I guess I'd be reluctant to buy.

Jacob Chastain said...

"There is a price to be paid for being my friend, or for supporting me publicly."

I've argued some of your point on Twitter, and mentioned your name, and ALL responses I got from the "publishing community", agents, editors, and authors, either called you an ass-hole as if that defeated all your arguments, or said you were crazy... lol Likewise, they seem to throw me out the window when I bring you up at any point.

I think it shows a lot that so many fear what you say. I'm actually still looking for an agent, but at this rate, I'll be thrown in with the likes of your kind. AKA, the rich writers. LOL.

Darn?

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? Everyone would agree that purchasing fake reviews is wrong, but how is that related at all to a Kirkus or PW review, who warn you they might hate your book repeatedly when you are paying for the review?

I'm not following how paying a credible source for its time in giving it's opinion is related at all to buying sock puppet reviews. Yet, I keep seeing references to how people lost respect for those services when they allowed indie writers to contract the services.

J M Leitch said...

I agree with much of what you say in your blog, Joe.

I am a self-published writer with my 1st novel in paperback and eBook format on Amazon, trying to navigate my way through the marketing maze. Amazon's KDP Select programme has benefitted thousands of people like me in getting our books noticed. However many free sites promoting KDP free deals will only do so if a book has an average of, let's say for the sake of argument, reviews of 4* and higher. While on the one hand I understand why they do this, on the other it's clear that the importance given to 5* reviews is unrealistic, illogical and open to skullduggery, especially when every reviewer has different criteria for evaluating the books they read.

Indie authors want to support each other and I promote others' books by sending out e-mails, Tweeting about them or posting them on my Facebook page as other Indie authors promote mine. If I have read a book and enjoyed it I say... but many of the books I'm helping to create exposure for I have not read.

I don't think I'm doing anything unethical because, contrary to the direction in which the world seems to be heading right now, I believe individuals should accept responsibility for their own actions. In this case I mean that buyers should take the responsibility of deciding for themselves whether they want to buy a given book and not rely on what they have been "told" by reviewers. In today's information-rich world and with the "Look Inside" facility Amazon offers, potential buyers have access to more data than ever to help them make informed decisions.

In any case, not every 1* review is a bad thing. My book, The Zul Enigma, has a slating 1* review on its Amazon US page that drew out the following 2 comments: "I wasn't sure about this book until I read your review. Now I KNOW I want to read it!" and "Thanks for the recommendation!"

@JMLeitch

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Can you see where I'm coming from? I'm not targeting your books Rob because I've never looked at the reviews. However, if you have some reviews that appear dodgy then I guess I'd be reluctant to buy.

Don't worry, I never assumed you were targeting my books specifically. And you certainly have the right to your own criteria when it comes to choosing what books to buy.

As I've said elsewhere, I generally ignore reviews when I'm buying a book, because the selection process is far too subjective. I won't let bad reviews or even "dodgy" reviews scare me away and I won't let good reviews sway me into buying.

While I myself appreciate getting good reviews and dislike the bad ones, they are ultimately only a matter of opinion, and one man's treasure, etc., etc.

I think MOST readers, however, choose books because they sound good to them. The cover looks good, the story blurb sounds exciting, the sample chapters are written in a style the reader enjoys.

Whether or not Joe Reviewer loves or hates a book really means nothing to most readers, in my opinion. James Patterson gets a ton of one-star reviews, yet people still buy his books. (I wish I had his sales.) The readers like his books and don't give a hoot what anyone else thinks.

I honestly think reviews are more important to the AUTHOR than anyone else. Because they are critiques on our work, and authors are often ego-driven and insecure.

Where I think reviews are valuable are on things like appliances or electronic equipment and the like. Tangible items that either function well or don't, or are built well or not.

With books, music, movie, art—any creative product put up for sale—the reviews are, as I said, too subjective to mean anything.

That's my take on it, anyway.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Am I missing something? Everyone would agree that purchasing fake reviews is wrong, but how is that related at all to a Kirkus or PW review, who warn you they might hate your book repeatedly when you are paying for the review?

I've never seen one of Kirkus's paid indie reviews that I know of, so I have no idea how to judge them. But if money is changing hands, I would have to ask:

1. Is this fact disclosed in the review? Does the reviewer state that the review was paid for by the author?

2. Has Kirkus actually given out any BAD indie reviews as they warn they might? Do they send the review only to the author or does it go on their website? Is the author given a choice to NOT have the review published anywhere?

The whole thing seems a bit suspect to me, but without answers to these questions, it's hard to know.

But, as I said before, the industry is full of deceptive practices from ghost writers to house names and artfully truncated review blurbs and author endorsements and paid bookstore shelf space and men posing as women and vice versa under pen names—all of which are designed to get a reader to buy their books. These things are considered to simply be part of the business, and nobody really blinks an eye over them. And the readers, in general, are completely unaware that any of this happens.

But if you're going to condemn one sketchy practice, shouldn't you condemn them all?

Joe Konrath said...

I honestly think reviews are more important to the AUTHOR than anyone else. Because they are critiques on our work, and authors are often ego-driven and insecure.

This is a great point, and probably a large part of why people are overreacting.

Gina Fava said...

Thank you for stripping down the topic of ethics in our industry to its bare elements, and for your courage and candor in tackling the difficult questions that we all inevitably confront.

Whether this spurs honest debate among others in the industry or not, thank you for summarizing these issues in a manner that will, at the very least, allow this writer to address them as a measure of her own integrity and personal growth.

Anonymous said...

Joe you don't get it. That's understandable. As you say you sell lots of books. You have a reputation, a developed career and a following. This shit does not matter to you.

Lots of us are trying to build a reputation and following. Reviews are a factor in this. Not the only one thankfully, but this shit does not help. If readers genuinely want to 1 star my books OK. The books need to be able to hold their own. But I'd like a review system that is not too fucked up. One readers can believe in, and I don't like the fact that some greedy people are messing it all up for everyone else.

Tasha Turner said...

I think what Locke did was stupid and a gamble. Would I do it? No. Did it work for him? Maybe. We really will never know if it was the 300 positive reviews that turned the corner for him or luck hit at that time. What we do know is he must be a good writer because people continue to buy his books and he has gotten way more unpaid for reviews then paid for.

Sock puppets to prop up your own work is... sad in my opinion... is that really the best someone with thier creativity can think of to develop buzz for their books? Frankly if you are going to sock puppet give yourself some creative 3 star reviews and even an insulting 1 star to stir up your own followers. No I would not do any kind of sock pup petting because it seems stupid to me but if one is going to do it do it with creativity so when caught people might laugh or something.

Sock puppet to put down other writers in your genre? Really do you believe reviews by unknowns carry that much power? Are we really that jealous of each other? Do we want to look that foolish if caught out?

Signing petitions and being outraged seems a bit much. This keeps everything in the public eye. It makes sure readers are aware of it and that we believe it's a major problem. If it weren't a big problem we would not need to sign a petition we'd let the whole thing fade away quietly. Enough already. I think each did something wrong.ni don't think those wrongs are on the same level. But let's get back to work and give our readers books to read instead of petitions and blogs about the screw-ups some writers make.

P.s. my mom would give me a 1 star review if she thought my book deserved it. I'd be afraid to read anything of hers as she would insist I give it an honest review.

Walter Knight said...

Fake ONE STAR reviews have a disproportionate on new and self published writers.

The most blatant phony ONE STAR reviews are driven by politics, in an attempt to censor opinion.

Walter Knight said...

My wife hates my books, and wouldn't give me a good review if I paid her.

Jennings said...

Shows how much moral panic I was in - I didn't know about any of this! I did read the article in the UK press about some bestselling authors doing it, but didn't know about Locke et al. So, from the info in this post, my two cents:

In a capitalist society, nothing is a zero sum game. Someone being successful doesn't keep you from being successful. Every industry has marketing and advertising and messaging. Most is paid. Does buying a brand of car because we liked it on tv worse than because our neighbor likes it? Just because someone takes a route you wouldn't take, that's not illegal or immoral.

I bought Locke's book on marketing. I won't write a 1 star review because he left something out. I did what I always do - took the info that I felt I could use with my personality and goals, and didn't worry about the rest. I wouldn't pay for reviews (because I don't care that much), but I also am not going to spend a couple of hours or more on Twitter per day, as he suggests. So no harm, no foul.

If we all spent as much time working on our books as we do on marketing, tweeting, blogging, and moral outrage over yet another straw man, we'd have plenty of our own success. IMHO.

Thanks for the good work, Joe!

jscolley said...

People seem to forget this is more than just about buying good reviews for your own books. It's about leaving negative ones for your competitors, PURELY to promote your own (in the cases where this applies). It's about PAYING for people to purchase your book, so it will show on a bestseller list--which is tantamount to free advertising, and something a "genuine" bestseller "earned." This is about cheating someone out of an opportunity to earn--and I do believe that is an actionable legal defense. Is that going overboard? Probably.

There's some contradiction here: Are book reviews worth paying for, or not? When it comes to negative reviews left out of spite, it seems the answer is: reviews don't matter all that much, so get over yourself. Yet it appears purchasing $5000 worth can possibly net you two million in sales. In this case, the answer is: reviews matter a great deal.

Sorry, people, but you can't have it both ways. So, which is it?

And, Mr. Konrath, when you ask "...how fucking stupid is that?" My answer would be, "About as fucking stupid as creating sock puppets and leaving fake reviews."

I don't like to see people publicly flogged either--that's just me--(unless you're a child abuser, in which case all bets are off) but accusing someone of schadenfreude who is merely taken aback, and a little disconcerted, by this news, is insulting. No, it isn't schadenfreude, it's like Dorothy pulling back the curtain to discover the Wizard is a fraud. Every day our heroes fall from their pedestals--Lance Armstrong being the latest. I get no sense of pleasure from it. It's disheartening. Period.

And I resent someone attempting to deflect another's bad behavior back to me just because I noticed it.

Sometimes it's good to shake the cage a little bit. Hopefully some good will come out of all of this.

One can only hope.

jscolley said...

Sorry, I misquoted in my above comment. The hypothetical question was, "how fucking pathetic is that?" Not, "how fucking stupid."

Tom Lichtenberg said...

Aside from the outrage and the outrage over the outrage, and the impossibility of altering the human condition, is there any room for constructive ideas? For example, YouTube changed from a star-rating system to a thumbs-up/thumbs-down system. Facebook avoided star ratings altogether. Might Amazon (and other sites such as Goodreads) also come to the conclusion that the star-rating system is too prone to abuse to be useful? In which case, it might also change from star ratings. Would that even be an improvement? I don't know. Maybe there are other ideas that might produce a better recommendation engine.

Sarah Stegall said...

I am an Amazon Vine reviewer and I've been posting reviews, signing them with my real name, for many years. I rarely bother to review books I think are trash, but I did once give a one-star review to warn readers:

http://www.amazon.com/Wyatt-Earp-Coeur-dAlene-gold/dp/0967105803/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

My intent was not malicious, but to warn potential buyers that the book was a cheap rip-off, full of inaccuracies, and a waste of their time. I took the time to include specific examples to back up my opinion. It was not a hit-and-run one-star review; in fact, it was a lot longer than many of my five-star reviews. I stand behind it and will continue to do so. So maybe you think a one-star review is "shitty", but I think it's equally "shitty" to fail to let readers know that they could be laying out nearly twenty bucks for a book that was a waste of paper.

E.C. Belikov said...

Sarah,

I went through your reviews and found a handful of 1 star reviews. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that, in fact it seemed like each time you gave thoughtful criticism on what bothered you so badly. Ultimately, I always try a sample to decide for myself, but when I’m actually looking for reviews on anything I’m considering buying, reviewers like you are exactly who I look for: a reviewer that gives an in-depth look at the material and makes an honest judgment call, and has a mixture of negative and positive reviews. In my opinion that adds weight to your 4 and 5 star reviews.

While I don’t like the use of sock puppets and have never considered doing it, I can at least understand where the motivation comes from. Getting book-bloggers and reviewers to even look at my Sci-Fi crime novel has been a challenge to say the least. And I’ve yet to figure out how to get any momentum behind the book, so that casual readers might start writing reviews on it.

Out of curiosity, is there a way to get in touch with Amazon Vine reviewers?

jscolley said...

People should see all this talk about reviews for what it is: a giant distraction and an attempt to deflect from the larger issue.

$5000 worth of paid book reviews doesn't have the potential to net you two million in sales, but using that money to pay someone to buy your book, so it will end up on a bestseller list, certainly does!

When "two million dollars" is potentially at stake, do you think an author who's been bumped off a list by someone who's used deceptive methods going to ignore it? Should they?

All the other stuff about sockpuppets to praise yourself and trash your competitor is sophomoric and pathetic. But when you start bandying about dollar figures in the millions, gained by deceptive methods, it moves from pathetic into an entirely different realm.

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Cedric said...

Very well said Joe...keep it up...more power.