Publicising or Cheating?

There’s been a bit of scandal this week. R.J. Ellroy, the crime author, has been caught leaving glowing reviews of his own books on Amazon, under a fake name. He has also been leaving bad reviews on other author’s books.

It’s created quite a storm of discussion. Apparently he is not the only author who does this.

Some authors will create several fake social media accounts – who will then enthusiatically discuss the writer’s books online. No-one knows it’s the author themselves saying all these nice things. As far as they’re concerned, ten or twelve people have suddenly discovered a new author that they love.

Some would say this is inevitable. After all, faking reviews has been going on for years – friends of the author and enemies sending reviews of books to magazines or newspapers without declaring interest. This glowing reviews on the back of books were probably written by someone who hasn’t even read the books. And authors are heavily encouraged to use social media to promote themselves. It’s sort of accepted, I suppose.

But for me, this all leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I do use reviews on Amazon to choose my books, because I think of those as reviews written by readers, not critics. I do read often read books I see discussed on Twitter. Sometimes the books are good, sometimes bad, but I hate to think I was tricked into reading those books.

Authors are being asked to use social media more and more to draw attention to their books. This can be a good thing. They can reach a wider audience than ever before, they can find out what people think, they can direct their work, they can even just chat about the writing process with their fans directly. I’m not even averse to an author leaving a review of their own book. If an author wrote a review saying ‘I honestly believe this is the best book I ever wrote’ I’d be tempted by the book.

I think what I object to is the use of fake names. Self-publicise all you like, but at least be honest about it.

But the biggest problem for me in all of this is that he left bad reviews on other author’s books. He may choose to self-publicise under a fake name if he wants – that’s only hurting his readers (which is bad enough). But he also tried to ruin other authors. That, for me, is contempible.

Someone said that all publicity is good publicity, and suddenly everyone is talking about R.J. Ellroy. They’re right, here I am talking about him. But I won’t be reading his books.


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