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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Sock Puppetry and Paid-for Reviews

I made this: Avid Reader at 6:58 pm
On no, they didn't. 
oh YES, they did.


There's been something fishy
about reviews lately...
In the last few months, the practice of sock puppetry has been given another very public airing.

According to Merriam-Webster, a sock puppet is defined as:




1
: a hand puppet made with a sock
2
: a false online identity used for deceptive purposes

Just to be really clear here, during this post I'm referring to the second! While puppets made out of socks are indeed evil and terrifying I'm going to leave those to the relevant authorities. 

In the literary sphere 'Sock Puppetry' refers to an author who uses false handles to post positive reviews of their own work. In some cases (see a related Guardian post HERE) these accounts are also used to flame other authors; attacking them, their books and by posting low scores on Amazon/book review sites discouraging potential readers from making a purchase.

While many of us were aware that these sorts of shenanigans go on in the writing/reading world (along many many others!); the scale, scope and 'quality' of those who were revealed to be participating has been pretty shocking. Established and [previously?] respected authors* are using these underhand tricks. What hope for an emerging author looking to create their own buzz?

To my mind, an equally distasteful practice has also been denounced - paid-for positive reviews. 
Authors pay reviewers or blogger for an articulate and intelligent review of their works to a guaranteed large audience distributed on blogs, facebook,twitter and other social networking sites.
While it's rarely stipulated in plain language; these reviews will all be glowing ones, designed to convince a browser to make a purchase. All of this before the author has even submitted anything for review!      

Here on LeedsBookClub; every single post is an accurate reflection of the reviewer's thoughts about the story. 
Our ethos is that anything less would be dishonest. 

While we have been sent the odd review copy (and I think we usually state that somewhere in the piece); we've none of us ever been paid for our contributions.

Don't get me wrong -  I'd LOVE to be a paid reviewer or blogger.
That'd be awesome. 
Tip top. 
Fan-dabby-dosey.

However, I'd still have to be me! My posts represent my thoughts to the world. As a loud and proud reader; I believe that to offer anything less would detract from the integrity of me personally and this blog as a whole. 

Reading has many social aspects, however, at it's heart the process remains a deeply personal one. 

Where your words are likely to influence - even if it is 'only' about a book - those words should be trusted. A gushing and inaccurate review certainly wouldn't inspire me to revisit that site again. It's one thing to have different tastes, quite another to mislead.

On occasion, I've been accused of being a bit of a lovey. While I've tried out the ranty voice, my style is better suited to putting a more positive spin on a book. However, I'm always totally upfront about my overall impressions, especially where we score.  

Read about author Michelle Gorman's encounter with a review-for-sale websitw HERE and her fantastic follow up piece 'BOGUS REVIEWS BETRAY READERS' on the Scottish Book Trust.

*I've deliberately refrained from naming and shaming throughout this post. I dare say many of those who have confessed to sock puppetry are decent people who made a bad decision which they have to live with. 

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