What To Expect From Your Editor or How To Be Professional As Possible

In Which I Explain the Various Roles of the Editor. Read More...

Penguicon Links for People of Amazing Awesomeness

In Which I List Some People and Websites You Should Check Out Read More...

The Much Delayed Penguicon Post

In Which I Discuss Penguicon 2015 Read More...

Penguicon Is Only A Few Weeks Away!

In Which I Reveal My Tentative Penguicon Schedule Read More...

What A Difference A Day Makes

In Which I Discuss A Missed Deadline Read More...

Dreaming and Writing

In Which I Discuss An Odd Form Of Lucid Dreaming Read More...

Perception and the Creation of Identity

In Which I Begin To Examine The Intersect Between Public Perception And Self Read More...

Resolutions — or The Story Behind That Purple Pants Thing

In Which I Discuss the Plans for 2015 Read More...

2014, A Year in Review

In Which I Recap 2014 Read More...

But What Have You Been Doing Lately?

In Which I Discuss My Recent Activities Read More...

One Down, How Many To Go?

In Which I Discuss The Clawson Arts and Authors Festival Read More...

Supporting Artists or How To Make Sure Creative Material Continues To Be Made or How To Avoid Being A Dick

In Which I Address The Issue Of Free Downloads Of Copyrighted Material Read More...

Another New Persona? Introducing Zed

In Which I Discuss A New Project Read More...

Do We Need An Origin Story? or Get to the Action!

In Which I Discuss the Importance (or Lack Thereof) of the Origin Story Read More...

One of the Simple Rules of Writing

In Which I Discuss The Importance Of Reading
Read More...

My Writing Process Blog Tour

In Which I Participate in a Blog Tour and Answer Questions About Writing Read More...

I’ve Been Terribly Busy (And I Love It)

In Which I Discuss Some Work I've Been Doing Read More...

Plateaus or How Horror is Like Addiction

In Which I Discuss My New Plateau Theory Read More...

The Holidays Are Almost Here

In Which I Catch You Up On What Has Been Going On Read More...

Farewell to the Archives

In Which I Say Goodbye To The Tombkeeper Archives Read More...

Blog Post of Extreme Randomness

In Which I Discuss Costume Prep, Writing, and Recent Submissions Read More...

Big Happenings at Dragon's Roost Press

In Which I Update Everyone On How DRP Is Doing And Grovel Oh So Politely Read More...

Well Why The Hell Not?

In Which I Discuss My Plans For The Future Read More...

Sure It Sounds Good At First

In Which I Discuss the Hydra/Alibi/Flirt Contracts
Read More...

The Big Three

In which I discuss my love for Motor City Nightmares, the Motor City ComiCon, and Penguicon. Read More...

A TALE OF TWO HOUSES: HILL v HELL A dual review of The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House.

In Which I review two classic haunted house novels (a post which would have been more appropriate back in October when I first thought of it). Read More...

I Resolve to Not Wear Purple Polyester Pants in Public

In Which I discuss my plans for the upcoming year which are in no way shape or form to be considered New Year’s Resolutions.
Read More...

Kermit Would Not Approve A brief rant on sock puppetry.




There has been a lot of furor in the media recently about the use of sock puppets by well known authors. You can be excused if you missed, there was some kind of political thing going on in the States which diverted all media attention to what people were wearing.

In brief, a sock puppet is a false account created for use on a public site, usually a public forum. This includes bulletin boards, social media sites, and others but in the cases in question we are referring to public sites where material is reviewed. The big one is, of course, Amazon.

The debate started when a number of authors (among them some rather famous English mystery authors) admitted to using false accounts to promote their own material. In some cases these same accounts were used to leave negative reviews ("trash" would be a better word), material written by other authors viewed as the competition.

The
LA Times has done a good job of summarizing the happenings here: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-jc-the-furor-over-sock-puppet-amazon-book-reviews-20120904,0,5360238.story.

If you are like most people, your initial reaction is something along the lines of "Wow, that's a totally shitting thing to do. What kind of douche canoe would do that?"*

I'll answer that, but let me throw in a caveat first: I am in no way condoning this behavior. I find it loathsome (more on that in a minute) and have signed an on-line petition stating this and promising to never engage in this behavior.

That being said, I can almost understand it. Writing is a damn difficult way to make a living. The temptation to get a little extra publicity, that little extra nudge, must have been very tempting for the authors in question. Granted, some of them have gone WAAAAAAY over the top. Some of the reviews were so blatantly full of ass-kissery that were I using them to determine whether or not to purchase a title, I would have dismissed them.

More on that can be found at the following article at the Atlantic Wire
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2012/09/sockpuppet-reviews-arent-just-unethicaltheyre-also-unconvincing/56499/.

This is the nature of on-line reviews. While it is exceptionally easy to do, most people do not take the time to review their purchases, hotel stays, service, what have you. This is why places like travel sites send you fifteen e-mails asking you to review your stay as soon as you get home. Who actually writes on-line reviews? Generally, it is the outliers. It is the people who absolutely loved something or who absolutely hated it. It's the people who were really moved to do so because of an exceptional experience.

This is why, when comparison shopping, one should take a close look at the three and four star reviews. Generally, these are the more lengthy ones anyway. They are the ones which give both the pros and cons.

"The vacuum's suction power is exceptional, however this drops when utilizing the crevice tool or other attachments."

The previous statement is a lot more helpful than "This is the best thing since a unicorn farted a rainbow." or "THIS EFFIN SUX."**

The exception to this, is the review of some type of entertainment. I am going to lump books in with movies, television, and music here, but I am primarily talking about books. The reason I do so is because these reviews are more subjective than those of other products. Sure, there is a degree of subjectivity to ones appreciation of a vacuum cleaner***, stove, or automobile. However, there are also specific factors which one can point to most items which allow it to be compared to other items of similar function. If you don't believe me, go check out anything on Consumer Reports or the Kelly Blue Book site.

Conversely, there will be people who enjoy some forms of entertainment despite their obvious flaws.*4 I personally love the occasional shoot 'em up movie, regardless of the degree or acting ability or lack of plot. In fact, there were many times that I would go see a film just because Gene Siskel hated it.

A great many people, at this point, will be asking the "Who Cares?" question. Why is this important? Aren't all reviews subjective anyway?

These are some of the questions raised by outspoken Indie author JA Konrath
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/writers-code-of-ethics.html and http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/enough-already.html.

Allow my friends at
Forbes to field that one: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2012/09/12/do-consumer-reviews-have-a-future-why-amazons-sock-puppet-scandal-is-bigger-than-it-appears/.

My own take on the whole thing boils down to a couple of points:
People rely on the opinions of others when it comes to entertainment purchases.
This is even truer when it comes to on-line sales.
The negative affect of these reviews is compounded when it directly affects sales.
Engaging in anonymous doucebaggery is cowardly.

Confession time: I have only reviewed a handful of items on Amazon. Honestly, I try to avoid the on-line retail giant as much as possible. I still haven't gotten over their questionable publishing practices and I would rather my money went elsewhere. In fact, I did not even know that they had guidelines for reviews until I read about them in one of those articles I linked to.*5

That being said, I do enjoy reading and writing reviews. I am a compulsive card filler outer. If I can make my next stay at the hotel, next year's convention, next meal a little better, then I am more than willing to take the time to fill out the form. I am also a compulsive quiz taker on-line.

I do have a GoodReads account and I rely on the reviews of others. I am currently enjoying Kim Harrison's Hollows series because of a friend's recommendation.*6 Sometimes I even rely on the questionable recommendations of sales sites.*7 I suspect a lot of people do when it comes to entertainment purchases.

The usual reasons for this apply. People don't have the time to do their own comparison shopping unless it is a big ticket item. Blah blah blah. The oft sited reason that applies most to book purchases is that people are indeed purchasing them on-line. There is a difference between picking up a book in a book store and browsing a few pages on-line. This is where leaving false reviews becomes especially heinous. When someone picks up a book in a brick and mortar bookstore, they are relying on their own judgement to make the decision. Yes, this may be influenced by the opinions of others, what they heard on the radio, what the bookseller tells them, etc. However, a big chunk of the decision will be based on that person flipping through the book, sampling a bit here, a bit there.

While this option is available to a limited degree on sites like Amazon, it is far easier to read other people's reviews of the item. You actually have to click through the book a bit to get a feel for it yourself. The reviews, on the other hand, are right there at the bottom. On the gripping hand, you don't even have to read the reviews. You can just look at the handy dandy star rating system and go from there.

If those ratings have been artificially inflated or deflated by numerous (and we are not talking about one puppet per person here) fake reviews, the puppeteer is directly affecting sales.

But Michael, you say, aren't all reviews directly affecting sales?

Yes, that's why each person gets to voice their opinion.

Once.

Post fifty negative reviews on the competition is simply wrong. There is no way around that fact. Nothing you say will convince me otherwise. If someone reads something of mine and thinks that it sucks, I welcome the review. I would hope that it would be thorough enough that it will include WHY it sucked so I can examine that. Were the characters flat and unbelievable? Oh shit! They are right! I will have to work on that next time.

More importantly, everyone gets to voice their own opinion once
under their own name.

A friend of mine who runs a business from her own home recently received a barrage of negative reviews on her website. While they were all posted under different names, they were all sent from the same IP address. The culprit? You guessed it, the competition. I don't think that anyone has a problem viewing this is improper behavior. The possibility of legal action is being pursued.

Mr. Konrath brings up a number of points including blurbing another author's work, receiving free review copies, and negative reviews among them.

Free review copies sent to reviewers is a question that never made any sense to me. The debate goes like this: the reviewer got sent a copy of the book (album, movie, whatever) and therefore they can not be unbiased as they received something as payment.

Umm, no. They were sent their work. Their job (whether they get paid to do it or not) is to review books (albums, movies, I'm not going to keep writing this). If they don't get the material, there can be no reviews. The fact that they have the material to do their job does not influence how they feel about the material.

I honestly don't see how blurbing someone else's work enters into this discussion. By blurbing I mean when one author gives a little mini-review (what the kids used to call a shout out) to another author. It's usually only one or two lines, but it can include those full page deals in the front of the book that only people with OCD read. The idea is that if someone who is respected in the field approves of this material, that will influence the potential reader to purchase said material.

Usually it works. If I see the phrase "Stephen King calls MR.AUTHOR.GUY the crown prince of horror" I am going to pick that book up and give it a second look. I may not buy it, but I will give it more than a quick glance.

This is where Mr. Konrath has it backwards. Blurbing is the exact opposite of sock puppetry. When someone famous puts their name on a review, they are relying on their name to boost that book's sales. One person, one name, one review. Not fifty reviews from the same person using false names.

I have given positive reviews to books written by people I know. I placed my name next to them. I someone wants to do a little two click research, they will see how I know that individual. The important thing is, I do not blindly review the works of people I know. I have given positive reviews, but only after reading the material in question. You can tell because my reviews are thorough enough to list WHY I enjoyed the material.

And yes, they also include what I did not like about the material.

Which brings us to the "Amazon allows one star reviews" argument. No one said it is wrong to review something negatively IF you have actually read the material. Simply blasting the competition because you are insecure in your own ability as a writer is just sad.

I have given negative reviews. Sometimes it bothers me. This is especially true if it is an author I like. A recent example was for
The Fall the second book in the Strain series by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book. It had some very creative ideas, a new take on vampirism which was refreshing, and some interesting characters. Book two felt like book two in a trilogy. It was a place keeper. The more I read the more I felt like nothing would be resolved until the next book.

Sometimes it does not bother me to give negative reviews. A recent example was
The Night Enternal, the third book in the same series. I didn't finish it. I got to the middle of the book and realized I just didn't care anymore. I asked someone else who had read it*8 who survived at the end and moved on.

Now, see what I did there? I read the books. I credit the reviews to myself. In case anyone missed whose site they are on, I, Michael Cieslak, a real flesh and blood person, take responsibility for the reviews listed above.

No one is saying that you are not allowed to leave negative reviews. What we are saying is that if you are going to do so, have the cajones to put your real name next to them.




*Douche Canoe is currently one of my favorite expressions. It is impossible to say out loud without smiling. Go ahead, try it.

**Which one would think would be glowing praise for a review of a vacuum cleaner.

***Sorry, the last thing I looked at a lot of reviews for was a hand vac for cleaning up dog hair.

*4 For example,
Twilight of Fifty Shades of Gray.

*5 In case you were interested, the Amazon review guidelines can be found here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-reviews-guidelines

*6 Thanks Mary!

*7 I tend to screw up
word that is not analog by purchasing unrelated items. "People who purchased Resident Evil also purchased Women's Flip Flops."

*8 Thanks MontiLee.