Crime novelist RJ Ellory has joined Scott Adams in the ranks of successful, privileged dudes who use sockpuppet accounts for totally boring purposes, and he wasn’t even very diligent about it. I suppose we shouldn’t be terribly surprised, because according to The Guardian’s sources, there is no shortage of prominent novelists using sockpuppets to self-promote.
Boring: he set up a couple of fake Amazon accounts and posted rapturous reviews of his own books and nasty 1-star reviews of his rivals’ books.
That’s the first part that I find weird about this account: the idea of having “rivals” in other authors. How do you decide which ones are your rivals? Readers can buy books from many different authors within a genre, and most do exactly that. How does a fellow traveler in writing novels of a particular genre become a rival?
Anyway, Guardian writer Alison Flood tells us:
Ellory, who won the Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year prize in 2010 for his novel A Simple Act of Violence, was exposed by the crime writer Jeremy Duns on Twitter for posting reviews on Amazon under various identities. Under the pseudonym “Nicodemus Jones”, Ellory called his own novel A Quiet Belief in Angels a “modern masterpiece” and said that readers should “just buy it, read it and make up your own mind”, because “whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul”. “All I will say is that there are paragraphs and chapters that just stopped me dead in my tracks,” he wrote. “Some of it was chilling, some of it raced along, some of it was poetic and langorous and had to be read twice and three times to really appreciate the depth of the prose … it really is a magnificent book.”
But “Nicodemus Jones” was less positive about some of his fellow novelists: Stuart MacBride was dismissed for his novel Dark Blood with one star, with the book described as “another in the seemingly endless parade of same-old-same-old police procedurals that seem to abound in the UK”. Duns spotted that Ellory wrote the MacBride review under the pseudonym Nicodemus Jones, but later in the conversation began posting as RJ Ellory, in a continuation of the discussion. “Nicodemus Jones” also repeatedly signs himself as “Roger” in another discussion, in which he writes that “I won the Nouvel Observateur prize last year for AQBIA [A Quiet Belief in Angels]“.
Not only dishonest, but lazy. Couldn’t even use his sock-name consistently.
Like a raging liar, he just can’t stop using weasel words:
Ellory has admitted posting the reviews on Amazon, and apologised for his actions, issuing a statement in which he said: “The recent reviews – both positive and negative – that have been posted on my Amazon accounts are my responsibility and my responsibility alone. I wholeheartedly regret the lapse of judgment that allowed personal opinions to be disseminated in this way and I would like to apologise to my readers and the writing community.”
Notice the persistent use of the passive voice: “Have been posted on Amazon accounts.” “Allowed personal opinions to be disseminated.” He makes it sound like someone else did this, and he simply failed to stop it. That’s not an apology, that’s just an attempt at damage control, which I expect will be unsuccessful.
It’s not so bad, though, because everyone’s doing it:
But Ellory is only the tip of the iceberg, according to Duns and Billingham. Two years ago, the historian Orlando Figes admitted to trashing his rivals and praising himself on Amazon, and at the Harrogate crime festival earlier this summer, the bestselling thriller writer Stephen Leather said: “As soon as my book is out I’m on Facebook and Twitter several times a day talking about it. I’ll go on to several forums, the well-known forums, and post there under my name and under various other names and various other characters. You build up this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself.”
Stephen Leather, what is that I don’t even. Nick Cohen assures us that Leather is not just creating obviously fictional accounts for a fun bit of self-promo; he really pretends to be other people and expects to get away with it.
Oh, but it gets better! It gets so much better! If by “better” I mean you are about to see me make a rude hand gesture:
“[Ellory] absolutely isn’t the only one,” said Billingham, adding that Ellory had also apologised to him personally. “It’s very widespread … And what has been most shocking about some of the more recent revelations is that up until this moment most of us had presumed that the people doing this stuff were self-published writers with no other means of marketing. But these most recent revelations prove this is not the case and it is very worrying.”
I can be charitable and assume that Mark Billingham simply means that self-published writers don’t have better resources at their disposal, and therefore can be forgiven, rather than that we’re not “real” writers and don’t know any better, but you know what, Mark Billingham?
It’s “worrying” now that you know it’s well-known, traditionally published writers using sockpuppets, and not just lowly self-pubbers have no reputation to uphold in the first place? If it had only been obscure self-pubbers creating false identities to attack other writers, would that have been okay?
I can’t prove to you that I haven’t used sockpuppets to promote myself already—one cannot prove a negative—but I can assure you that if I were to set up sock accounts, I would use them far more creatively than Ellory did with Jelly Bean and Nicodemus Jones. More importantly, when I want to get reviews on my books, I can find real, separate people who actually want to read my work for review. I may be light years away from being able to quit my day job, but I am not delusional enough to pretend to be several different people who have no online presence except to pee their pants over Miers novels and expect to get away with it. We have already seen that bad behavior is not the exclusive province of unaffiliated writers. It is entirely possible to be a major player who pulls dishonest shit in the literary community. Some people have a sufficiently inflated sense of entitlement that they think they can get away with this. This is not an act of desperation. This is an act of arrogance.