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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sock Puppets: No Strings Attached

Keira Michelle Telford

In 1873, a British puppeteer called John Carpenter created the largest sock puppet the world had ever seen. It measured 18.7 inches long, and required both hands to operate. It was ... oh, wait. I think I might’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick with this guest post ... o.O

Let’s try again ...

Sockpuppet [sok-puhp-it]
An online identity used for the purposes of deception.

Part One of the Silver Series
In this case, we’re talking about authors who pose as unbiased third parties to post glowing reviews of their own work. In the UK, we might call that ‘bigging themselves up’. What I learned recently, is that there are also sub-categories of sock puppetry.

A Strawman Sockpuppet, for example, would be an author posing as someone else for the express purpose of attacking negative reviewers. There are also Meatpuppets, who have been recruited by the original Sockpuppet to support the false claims that have already been made by the Sockpuppet against others.

I never knew this. I never knew that sock puppetry had become so endemic in the indie publishing world. But then, I’m still fairly new to this. It just wouldn’t have occurred to me to fake a different identity in order to promote myself on forums, or to post glowing reviews of my own work. I mean, it’s fraud. Isn’t it? We’re talking about authors making false representations of themselves and conning readers into buying their work. That’s no different than a shop owner deliberately misrepresenting a product in their store just to get a sale.
Part Two of the Silver Series

It’s a dodgy business. If you sell a five-star rated product that fails to live up to the hype, your buyers are going to feel ripped off. In terms of the book market, the author’s name will be on a permanent blacklist for that reader, and the reader will undoubtedly share their negative experience with others. Given that, why would any self-respecting author want to risk it? Here’s my take on it all:

We’re all stuck in a never-ending auditions round of Indies’ Got Talent. And in every talent show, there are the contestants who insist on embarrassing themselves on stage. You know the ones. They’re the contestants you pity when they walk on stage dressed in clothing that’s meant to be ‘sexy’ and proceed to wail a Britney Spears song off-key while attempting to shake their booty at the audience. They’re desperate, and they’re trying to get noticed.

Part Three of the Silver Series
Unfortunately, they’re getting noticed for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps even more unfortunately, they don’t seem to care. I guess, for the Sockpuppets, it’s all about sales. The fake reviews keep bringing in downloads, so they’ve got no reason to stop. At least, not in the short term. I do question what their long-term plans are, though. By the time their current titles have run their course, their brand (their name) will be trashed.

So I’m left wondering: what’s the point? As someone who’s had a book out since last November, and only has a grand total of 5 reviews on the .com site, I know how hard it is to come by the panty-dropping five-star reviews that all indie authors are drooling over. It sucks to have a book sitting on a (virtual) shelf with no reviews for months on end. People are buying it, but nobody’s vouching for it. It’s hellishly frustrating, and I can see how very tempting it could be to take a short cut. But...

I’d rather sell to ten readers and have them keep coming back to read the other books in my series, than sell to a hundred readers who will dump my book in the virtual trash can and never read anything else with my name attached to it. In other words, I’m hoping to build a long-term readership. I want people to trust me, so that they know exactly what they’re getting when they choose to download one of my books.

Coming Soon!
Put quite simply: I’d rather spend the effort to make my work worth five-stars, rather than to make five-stars for my work.



  1. Well, usually the people using sock puppets are certified geniuses, so you should probably trust them EVEN MORE.

  2. It's a case of damned if you do, and no readers if you don't!

  3. Posting anonymously can we? Such temptation. OK, on the reader fora (Amazon) there is a backlash against authors who do this but scarily this backlash isn't monitored so many writers are getting caught up unfairly.
    Something needs to be done, but if you try and stand up you're accused of all sorts (even if you're innocent), but these backlashers think they rule the fora.

  4. I did ask to post anonymously on Twitter if it makes posters more comfortable.

    I'd like to keep this discussion's focus on the actual sock puppet reviews (fictitious reviews made by authors against their own book) and not a pop at the Amazon forum.

    Can anyone put their hands up and admit to have written a self-review?

  5. Some other authors contacted me about one thing, but it turned out to actually be a review ring. For a few days I considered going along with it. Then I came to my senses and cut contact.

    But I probably backed out more because they were all being terribly obvious about it and I was worried I'd get found out.

    Now that my eyes are open, I swear I can see cheating everywhere.

  6. It's amazing the lengths people will go to. Forums seems to be infested with sock puppets these days. I'm starting to feel a little out of it with only one online identity.
    Maybe I should change my name to Ann Non?

  7. Thanks Anon (10.22) and Sandra, yes it's opened my eyes too. I just worry that this is another brush to be tarred with: badly written books and now multiple identities! :(

    Ann Non - like it! lol

  8. Great article! Reviews should only come from readers and not friends and family. I couldn't help but notice you marketed the heck out of your own series in this article. That's smart. Post an article and sneak in your books. I like that! : ) They do look pretty awesome!!!

  9. Thanks Anon (04.03), glad you liked the article but the books are the work of Keira Michelle Telford. It is *her* article, and she's touring to promote her fab series. :)

  10. Thank you for hosting Keira.