Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, September 3, 2012

On Sock-Puppets: Stuart Neville Speaks

As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, the mood tends to be mostly upbeat and positive over here at CAP Towers. That’s fair enough, I think, given that most crime / mystery writers tend to be mostly upbeat and positive about one another.
  Recently, though, we’ve been seeing a nasty element emerge from the so-called ‘sock-puppet’ scandals. ‘Sock-puppetry’, for those of you unaware, takes place when someone invents an online persona and uses that persona to write five-star reviews of their own work for Amazon, for example.
  In itself, and while unethical and possibly illegal, that practice seems to me to be more pitiable than anything else. And if that was as bad as ‘sock-puppetry’ got, then I could easily live with it.
  Unfortunately, power corrupts, etc. Ever since Stephen Leather announced at Harrogate that he used ‘sock-puppet’ accounts to create a word-of-mouth buzz around his books, it has become - via the good works of Jeremy Duns and Steve Mosby, for the most part - more and more apparent that ‘sock-puppetry’ can also involve a writer penning negative and malicious reviews of their peers.
  This behaviour is utterly disgraceful, and it needs to be stamped out immediately.
  Yesterday, Stuart Neville (above) blogged about his own experience of being targeted by a ‘sock-puppet’. To wit:
The issue of author ethics has been occupying many minds recently, not least of all mine. After ‘Leathergate’, the revelations about John Locke’s buying of reviews, and the most recent allegations against RJ Ellory, I’ve been agonising over my own position in this. As I’ve detailed before, I have been attacked by another author using ‘sock puppet’ accounts on and I’ve had a good idea all along who was behind it, but until now I’ve preferred to keep that information to myself. But given all that’s happened in just a few weeks, I feel keeping quiet is no longer an option. So here goes:
  I believe the author who has targeted me, along with Declan Hughes, Laura Wilson, and others, is Belfast crime writer Sam Millar. It’s possible I’m mistaken, but I feel the evidence is overwhelming.
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  On a personal note, I first heard this story about two years ago, and blogged about it then, albeit without naming names, this on the basis that the story was Stuart’s and it was his to tell. Since then, Sam Millar has not featured on these pages.
  Ironically, I got a call from my publisher on Friday, to let me know that Sam Millar had requested a copy of SLAUGHTER’S HOUND, which he intended to review for The New York Journal of Books.
  I have asked my publisher to politely decline Sam Millar’s request, but of course Sam Millar is entitled to review the book if he chooses. Whether the NYJB will now carry Sam Millar’s reviews is another matter entirely.


Stephen Leather said...

"Ever since Stephen Leather announced at Harrogate that he used ‘sock-puppet’ accounts to create a word-of-mouth buzz around his books, it has become - via the good works of Jeremy Duns and Steve Mosby, for the most party - more and more apparent that ‘sock-puppetry’ also involves a writer penning negative and malicious reviews of their peers."

I said I used pen-name accounts on forums. Most people do. That does not mean that I ever wrote a negative or malicious review of anyone else's work using a pen name.

Declan Burke said...

Stephen - The piece doesn't say that you wrote negative or malicious reviews of others' work. It says that after you announced at a Harrogate panel that you use pseudonyms to create a buzz around your own work, it has become apparent that sock-puppetry also involves, etc.

Oh, and most people don't use fake names on forums.

John R said...

Also, there's a big difference between posting under a single forum username - perfectly normal - and creating multiple accounts to hold conversations with one another about your own stuff. Most people *don't* do that.

Dana King said...

Deplorable behavior, and I would say so to the face of anyone I met who had done this, especially running down the work of others under an alias.

I have always posted to blogs under my own name. After reading this, and Stuart's piece, I have changed my Amazon ID from my initials to my full name. I understand there are many legitimate reasons for people to use screen aliases--none of which apply to me--so I am happy to stand behind anything i wrote online.

I find this very upsetting. i walked away from pursuing traditional publishing a few years ago, in part because of how authors have come to be treated by publishers. To treat our peers in such a manner is unconscionable.

TS said...

This all strikes the editors of New York Journal of Books as unseemly. We do not have any inclination to track Sam Millar on Amazon. It is a well-known fact that reader reviews on Amazon are suspect, often with positive and negative reviews inserted by those with an agenda, not to mention the many paid positive reviews. However, we would consider New York Journal of Books to be a much larger forum. One could pick either of the two crime books in Which Mr. Neville was sole author or one of a number of crime writers in an anthology and find positive reviews in the extreme -- not mixed in the least as clearly indicated by Mr. Neville. Quite to the contrary of Neville's accusations, our experience has been that Millar takes pleasure in writing a positive review about a crime book that he judges to warrant one. Rather than the sort of bitter dialog that has recently reared its head, we far more often find authors writing to us about the quality of Mr. Millar's reviews and in some cases that he was the one reviewer who "got it."

As noted, the only review of one of Mr. Neville's novels in New York Journal of Books and reviewed by Mr. Millar opens as follows:

“I want him brought to me alive. He’s no good to me if he’s not breathing, you understand?” And that one chilling sentence from man-without-mercy Bull O’Kane to his hired hitman, The Traveller, sets the pace for this engrossing and page-turning book from Irish author, Stuart Neville.

It ends with:
"Corruption, official cover-ups, and bloody murder make Collusion a fast-paced, neck-snapping thriller with a gritty style that makes it impossible to put down. A great read to be snuggling down to in the coming winter nights."

In between these paragraphs there is nothing negative whatsoever. Indeed, Millar even makes mention of Neville's award-winning credentials.

As journalists, we have a real issue with inaccuracy. Given how fundamentally the review of Collusion at New York Journal of Books is misrepresented makes his other claims suspect.

We hope that Mr. Neville will see fit to post this.

We invite readers of his blog to explore the review of Mr. Neville's Collusion as well any number of the more than 80 reviews contributed by Mr. Millar that make clear that NYJB is anything but a forum to malign other crime writers.

Gordon Harries said...

TS: May I inquire why you haven't posted this to Mr. Neville's blog?