I read an article just last week regarding the creation of fake online reviewers, or “sock puppets” as the author called them, and the ongoing wars over questionable online reviews of indie authors’ work. Then there was an article in The New York Times about those shills yesterday. Apparently sock puppets are all the rage. Or at least a pretty hot topic right now. The paid reviewer in the piece raked in money spewing his false praise and making everybody else look bad. Plenty of other reviewers for hire probably do the same. Who has the time and energy to spawn these puppets? They must be the ones who also sell term papers online to desparate students dumb enough to buy them. (See turnitin.com … instructors can tell.)
A blog post I read this morning by an indie author addressed how important it is for writers to have a reader base saying good things about their products, especially through blogs and other reviews. Ms. Trunk fairly lashed out against a publishing company’s marketing department sucking at it. My paraphrasing anyway. The author talks about the success of search engine marketing through the use of specific search terms. Her opinions made a lot of sense to me, and I imagine the proof is in her own sales success.
There’s an indie author whose work I’ve had the pleasure to discover and rave about on my blog, Hugh Howey. (Yes, I am giving him props again.) He re-tweeted my praise, asserting its authenticity, and I was surprised to learn of the trolls crediting ghost reviewers for some of the kudos he’s been given. My naivete left me guessing at what satisfaction someone could gain through these cruel, if not clandestine, means. Howey’s writing success is obvious in his recent movie offer for the Wool series, for cryin’ out loud. And I’ve read and loveda lot of his work. You may not know me or trust my opinion, so decide for yourself. No socket puppets here, Gollum!
I decide to spend my precious money (and valuable attention) on products, especially books, from two determining factors. What I read about the works in credible periodicals is one consideration. Reviewers with reading tastes similar to my own are the other trusted sources. Sentiments from people I know, personally or electronically, are the ones I find most reliable. It doesn’t feel right to invest my precious reading time based solely on strangers’ pithy remarks or scathing hatred. Anonymity seems to open the flood gates of vitriol and skew the sincerity of online remarks.
The decoys, as the “professional” in the NYT article points out, are contrivances meant to market products. The fake reviews are cleverly hidden in used virtual socks and made to come alive, as in a puppet. But a buzz of grand attention doesn’t equate a one-size-fits-all type of book either. Many popular series of late prove the case in point, with an apology to anyone who fantasizes about their own Christian Grey. Being inundated with the title and cover of a pop title doesn’t mean I will like it. Everybody on the bandwagon is happy to electronically gush about the latest fad. Good luck trying to decipher those reviews. I’d say trust the judgment of people you know.
Everyone has their own opinion, and they especially like to make it known with a faceless screen name. It’s worth considering, though, whether the anonymous adulation — or criticism — belongs under a bridge or not. It seems commonsense to be skeptical of trolls.