Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of Book Reviews and Sock Puppets

For authors who do not sport household names, life's eternal quest is for ways to get your work in front of readers who enjoy the genre you write in but who may not have ever heard of you. I'm no exception, and for months I read and heard that spending time on Kindle Boards was potentially valuable in terms of building exposure.

Well, I've recently been more active on Kindle Boards, not just as a way to raise my profile, but also because there are some truly interesting discussions taking place twenty-four hours a day there, and it's a place where authors and readers can gather to discuss issues surrounding the thing we all have in common - books and the written word.

And it's been pretty enlightening. The subject of book reviews is always one that generates enthusiastic responses, both from authors and readers, but sometimes not in the way I would have expected. Case in point: Sock puppets.

Up until a few weeks ago, if I saw the words, "sock puppet," I would have pictured a Muppet or maybe a Fraggle. But in the world of Kindle Boards, a sock puppet is not a good thing. It refers to an author who convinces his friends and family to write flattering reviews - or even worse, who generates accounts under false names and writes reviews for his own work - on Amazon or Goodreads, with the intention of artificially inflating the book's appeal and hopefully gaining increased sales.

The practice is distasteful and dishonest and pretty much universally decried by both authors and readers alike, and for good reason.

The thing I find interesting, however, and which I've wondered about in the back of my mind as the reviews have come in for my newest thriller, THE LONELY MILE, is the fact that many posters on Kindle Boards feel they have a sharp eye and are quite skilled at picking out "sock puppet reviews." It's easy, they say. Find a book with universally good reviews and there's a decent chance many, if not all, are sock puppet reviews.

Here's why I've wondered about that: The reviews for THE LONELY MILE have been universally good. On Amazon, to this point, the book has received nine five-star reviews, with four four-star reviews mixed in, and no threes, twos or ones.

And I can't help wondering, is that fact costing me sales with people who have never heard of me? Has anyone checked out THE LONELY MILE's Amazon page because he was considering buying it and then shaken his head, clucking and smug, and passed on trying it out because the reviews are simply too good?

I hope not, and not just because I would like to sell as many copies of my books as I can. I believe in doing things the right way, and I hope you won't think I'm hopelessly naive when I tell you it would never have occurred to me to open multiple Amazon accounts for the purpose of reviewing my own book. My mind doesn't work that way.

In fact, I've expressly discouraged my family and close friends from reviewing my work precisely because I wanted to avoid any hint of dishonesty. I believe in my work and I'm confident that most people who try it, assuming they enjoy a good thriller, will feel they've gotten their money's worth when they reach the end.

Now, this is not to say THE LONELY MILE hasn't received reviews from people who have been introduced to my work either through FINAL VECTOR or POSTCARDS FROM THE APOCALYPSE, my short story collection, and enjoyed them so much they went on to read my other work and then review it.

Also, I'm nearing the end of my second blog tour hosted by Pump Up Your Book Virtual Book Tours, and many of the reviewers of THE LONELY MILE are the same book bloggers who reviewed FINAL VECTOR when I toured for that book. They enjoyed my first book so much they were anxious to review my second, and I'm not about to apologize for that; just the opposite, in fact. I'm proud that my work prompted people who read books all the time to want to read more of my work!

But sock puppetry? Not here. I wouldn't even wear socks except it gets darned cold here in New Hampshire.


Dani said...

If it makes you feel any better, I haven't been able to finish Final Vector. I put it down and haven't picked it back up....where the Lonely Mile I HAD TO READ AND FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED!!!

So, when it comes time to review Final Vector, I may have to bring it down a peg or two. haha, that should help. :)

Maybe you should put out a request to your friends and family who DIDN'T like The Lonely Mile to please review it and be honest. :)

Al Leverone said...

Haha, noooo! Don't misunderstand me, I'm not trolling for bad reviews...

Julia Madeleine said...

Allan, I've never even heard of "sock puppetry" in relation to book reviews. Now puppetry of the penis...well, I've heard of that :) Maybe I need to spend some time on the kindle boards.

I might be naive, but when I'm looking at the star ratings on Amazon I tend to take things at face value. I look for books receiving numerous 4 and 5 star reviews and that makes me want to buy those books. It's when a book varies wildly in it's ratings and has nearly as many 1 star reviews as 5 stars, that I don't not want to touch it. Like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for instance. What a waste of trees! If they had chopped that sucker in half and deleted all the boring crap that slowed the hell out of the action, I might have finished it. sheesh! But, I did like the movie version.

Now The Lonely Mile, it deserves all those 5 star reviews. It was intense!

Al Leverone said...

Julia, I felt exactly the same as you about reviews up until I started getting "educated" by reading Kindle Boards. Obviously I want my work to get in front of as many eyes as possible - otherwise, why not just keep a diary? - but I couldn't imagine going to the lengths some people apparently do to trick folks into buying their books...takes all kinds I guess...