Sunday, August 26, 2012

An update and a request

Hi there. I am still suspended from Twitter. Thank you for all the very kind comments and questions about it. It seems my account was mistakenly marked as spam. Twitter reactivated it while I was asleep and 17 minutes later, while I was still asleep, it was suspended again for the same reason. So I guess there may be automated complaints about my account being spam. It may simply be a virus of some sort, and unrelated to Stephen Leather. I've seen a couple of people speculate it may be because I engaged with some Julian Assange supporters, and that somehow they have conspired to sabotage me in this way. I doubt that one, though: if so, half of Twitter would be suspended. Anyway, I am trying to sort it out.

I can still read Twitter, and there have been a lot of very kind comments. I see a few people have referred to me as a tireless campaigner against unethical practices and that sort of thing. That's very kind, but actually I'm not: I am really very tired of all this. And I'd much rather simply write books.

But this is my profession, it affects me and readers and writers in general, and I think it's silly to try to pretend that none of this crap is happening the culture and environment has significantly changed in the last few years as a result of the internet, and I do think a lot of these issues should be addressed. This morning I read this very depressing article in the New York Times about paid book reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Head-spinning. But I wonder if it might not be an idea that discovered (or admitted!) fraud disqualified authors from membership of writers' organizations. I also think it's shocking that Amazon didn't even bother to comment on this article, and I am guessing won't, and no doubt bestselling author John Locke will simply shamelessly carry on and not apologize for deceiving readers.

Something that annoys me whenever the subject of fake reviews comes up is people saying they are never influenced by reviews, or that they can tell fake ones very easily. Firstly, people are clearly influenced by reviews, which is why John Locke paid huge sums of money to buy them. A cheap ebook with a cool cover won't sell if there are no reviews, as it's a white elephant. But if there are 50 of them, it appears that the book is something being read and discussed by others, and so a viable prospect. Locke also cleverly realized that a lot of five-star reviews from unverified accounts would be seen through by some, so specifically requested the reviews he paid for came from verified Amazon accounts and that he didn't mind if a few were poor reviews. This clearly worked. I suspect if I did the same, and bought a ton of reviews for my latest novel, it would help it sell more copies. But I'm not going to do that, because, you know, it's fraudulent. 

I have also recently heard from authors who were riding high on the Amazon Kindle charts only to find that, almost overnight, they received dozens of one-star reviews from accounts that had previously reviewed nothing, or perhaps an electrical appliance, and that this had an effect on their sales. They dropped out of the charts, where they were very visible, and their sales slumped even more. I have also heard from authors about private web forums and Facebook groups where authors, some of them extremely successful, hang out, and that they trade positive reviews and also post negative reviews to sabotage authors who they dislike or whose success they feel threatens theirs. I guess we're looking at the tip of the iceberg here.

Stephen Leather hasn't been as subtle as John Locke, but it's clear that not all his reviews are legitimate. His new short story (featuring me as his killer, I gather) already has 11 five-star reviews on Amazon. Most of these appear to be from genuine, real people, many of whom have reviewed a lot of other books by Leather. And that's fine, of course. He has fans.

But it's also clear that some of his reviews are from people in the 'network' he described at Harrogate. Jacob W Drake, aka Whiskey McNaughton, recently publicly accused me and another writer of attempting to sabotage Leather's work on Smashwords with lower book ratings and 'troll tactics'. That's totally untrue, but it didn't take long for it to come out that Drake reviews his own books (it's a separate issue that a book with that description is for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and elsewhere, considering most of these sites have policies of not publishing pornography). But Drake has also publicly boasted that he has edited several of Stephen Leather's books, and he uploaded at least one to Smashwords for him. He has also given several of Leather's books five-star reviews on Amazon. So I think it's clear that Drake is part of the 'network' that Leather boasted he has. After both Leather and Locke's admissions that they fraudulently deceive readers in this way, I find it very difficult to trust them on other matters.

I don't have any solutions. And I don't have the time to go into all this, either. And yes, it does sometimes feel like this cartoon. But please don't say 'Oh, well I have never heard of Stephen Leather, so who cares?' He's a bestselling author, has been since the 80s, is published by Hodder and Stoughton as well as Amazon Encore - but anyway this is not about the exact number of copies he has sold compared to Agatha Christie (although he has outsold her worldwide in ebooks) or his precise level of fame. Please don't try to draw a false equivalence between a writer who has admitted to fraud, bullies people online with evil jokes and racist abuse, and boasts about paying to manipulate his own Wikipedia entry, with concerned writers and readers who are trying to point out that all that is shoddy and crap and wrong, should be accounted for properly, and should stop. Please don't say this is all a car crash, or getting silly now, or it takes two to tango, or aren't we equally to blame for talking about this while these frauds just carry on merrily deceving people. Especially if you are more famous than Leather. Get off the pot. Speak out: share, retweet, blog.

Take a stand.



  1. Shouldn't the FTC be involved in this? Even bloggers are supposed to disclose when they receive free goods. Outright payment for a review seems illegal if not disclosed. How can we get the FTC to crack down on this?

  2. So John Locke is another fraud, huh? Why didn't I see that coming? How bloody gullible and stupid am I?

    Did you also miss that *publishers* are writing their own reviews?

    This Blog Is A Fraud-Free Zone

    Maybe SL's print publisher is mum because they've engaged in that practice as well!

  3. Stay strong, you're doing great work and whoever's behind this is going to get theirs eventually.

  4. Does anyone know if Stephen Leather has responded to questions as to whether or not he bought Twitter followers in March of this year?

  5. My experience is that Amazon does control reviews it finds inconvenient for its own marketing purposes.

    Shortly after Kindle was launched I reviewed an academic article that I bought and read with Kindle for PC. In the review I made some polite remarks about what I could not do (eg copy and paste a chunk of text that I wished to quote). My review was blocked, and subsequent reviews of real books on Amazon were delayed for scrutiny by a censor before publication.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. Having been on the receiving end of transparent "troll" one-star reviews, and knowing authors such as Steven Long who have been targeted for organized campaigns of negative reviews by people who have not read his books, I find this entire topic disquieting. There is an entire Facebook page dedicated to organized efforts to post negative reviews of the book by Casey Anthony's attorney by people who have vowed to neither buy it or read it. If they have not read it, how can they review it? This tragic situation, I have always believed, is more frequent in the genre of non-fiction than fiction. Had it now polluted fiction as well?

  7. And it seems @jeremyduns Twitter account has been suspended AGAIN.

    This is getting ridiculous.

  8. Jeremy, hang in there. Just ordered Free Agent -- how could I resist after this brouhaha?

  9. I was pointed towards your blog because I have been talking about reviews on facebook. And I have to confess I have a competition at the moment to try and encourage people to review my latest book on Amazon. The winner gets a small fragment chopped off one of my paintings, and to be honest I will pick the winner either at random or by the review I like best. So, in a way I am as bad as the writer you are talking about, but also I hope in a way I am not.
    I am lucky to have friends who are wonderful authors, and they have also put review up, blogged about my book etc.
    And I receive review copies these days from publishers but only ever review a book if I like it, and don't get paid.
    This is kind of how things work these days.
    Oh, and I have had some stinking reviews on Amazon too, which sometimes make me laugh, sometimes not. Quite enjoy conversing with a few of the reviewers.
    As for trolling other people and their books, that just stinks. People do take notice of reviews, and also by the amount of reviews. Take 50 Shades- mostly awful reviews, but people bought it because they thought they would be left out of some secret if they didn't have it.
    So far I have been lucky. I have good friends and supporters who talk about, share, blog about my work. I've not yet been 'trolled' though one day I am sure it will happen.
    Hope you get your twitter back soon. So frustrating to be locked out. I was locked out from one of my blogs once for similar reasons. Not good.