You’ve probably heard about all this sock-puppeting business that’s been in the media this week. You can read a good summary in this article on the Guardian website, but the gist of it is as follows. Award-winning crime writer RJ Ellory, like self-published authors John Locke and Stephen Leather before him, has been caught out (by the ever-intrepid Jeremy Duns) writing glowing reviews of his own work on Amazon, using various alias accounts. Oh, and then he used those accounts to rubbish his ‘competitors’.
It’s an interesting word that. Competitors. I may be new to this being a published author lark, but I’ve never once thought of a fellow writer as a competitor. In fact, the idea of competition, let alone the notion that another writer might actively sabotage my work, seems so far removed from how I’ve always thought about writing that, well, all this has come as a bit of a surprise.
But anyway. Competition. A bit like a game. I can see it now. The actual RJ Ellory sitting at his laptop choosing alternative usernames and using them to level up by writing more and more positive reviews about his magic sword. I mean his novels. And then gathering more and more experience points by defeating evil monsters. Sorry, I mean sales. And other writers.
You can certainly see how one might get carried away to the point where sock-puppeting in this way really does feel like a game. I imagine it can get addictive, once you get going.
Except this is not a game, is it? It’s the brutal world of today’s publishing industry. It’s other writers’ years of sacrifice and dedication. It’s their reputation. Their career. Their livelihood. It’s the exact opposite of a game and it’s wrong on every level.
I’m a debut author and at this point relatively unknown. I’d be completely unknown if I hadn’t spent four years building this website in my spare time. For new writers like me, the industry's sales figures and statistics make difficult reading. The odds are stacked against us and yet still, we do what we can to make and market the best art possible.
As someone just starting out, that there might be other writers out there willing to intentionally lengthen those odds further seems truly awful.
Blowing your own trumpet is one thing. Blowing your own trumpet disguised as someone else is pretty low. Taking someone else’s trumpet and defecating into its horn-hole is pretty much as grim as it gets for authors.