Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Authors Gaming the System

In recent days the publishing industry has learned how three authors have "gamed" the system, as I call it. They are:
  • John Locke is one of the darlings of the self-publishing crowd. He wrote a number of books, published them in rapid succession, priced them at $0.99 for an e-book, and sold a million e-books in a few months. He then published "How I Sold a Million e-Books in Five Months", which sold a ton of books. What he conveniently left out of that memoir/instruction book was that he spent thousands of dollars to buy reviews on Amazon. You can read about it here. [link may expire]
  • Stephen Leather is an author I don't know. He's admitted to using sock puppets (see his comments in this thread) to post reviews on Amazon. For those who don't know, a sock puppet is Internet-speak for someone who posts to a site/forum/list under multiple identities, thus disguising who he is. It's different than simply remaining anonymous, since multiple identities are involved. Sock puppets are typically use to promote yourself while appearing to be a different person. They can also be used to denigrate your opposition or competition, or to get around being banned from a site.
  • Roger Ellory (writes as R.J. Ellory) is also guilty of practicing sock puppetry, praising his own books and denigrating others. Here's a compilation of tweets about it (language warning). This story has had a lot of legs, and finding more comprehensive, paragraph-organized posts about it should be easy with a search engine.
What does all this mean? That self-published authors have figured out how to game the Amazon system to sell more books? Looks that way. The self-publishing part of the Internet is abuzz with this, as is some of the trade publishing I-zone. After all, Ellory is a trade-published author, yet he stoops to sock puppetry. Shameful!

This paints self-publishing in a bad light, but it also taints trade publishing. It seems authors in both camps may behave badly. Locke's ethical downfall is probably the greater, though some may disagree.

This comes down to ethics vs. law. As I've said before in different venues, the law defines the lowest level of behavior deemed acceptable to society. Ethics describes a standard higher than the law, to which a person ascribes in order to be a better member of society. These three authors have followed the law (though there is a question of whether or not the sock puppetteering violates Amazon terms of service, which is an ethical behavior/sort-of-law to which they agreed).

To make a long story short, only once have I solicited a review. That was to a man I know who said he'd read one of my books and liked it, and I asked him if he would post a review at Amazon. He said he would, though he hasn't yet. I don't ever plan on soliciting reviews. My books will rise or sink based on the judgment of the marketplace, without interference from me other than typical marketing and sales activities.

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