My name is Duncan Lay and I'm the author of the Australian best-selling fantasy trilogies, The Dragon Sword Histories and the Empire Of Bones. I am now with Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan) and my new series, The Last Quarrel is out in eBook and print. Book 2, The Bloody Quarrel, is coming out in December 2015/Jan 2016 in eBook and will be in print later in 2016. Head over to my website, www.duncanlay.com for more!
I HAVE never been a sock puppet. I have never even played
with them. The closest I came was when I used to put socks on my ears, to
distract my infant son while trying to wrestle him into his clothes. Hey, you
find yourself doing some weird stuff when you’ve only had an average of two
hours’ sleep a night for a week.
But I can understand only too well why some authors become
sock puppets. I am an author and have felt the dark temptation myself.
For those mystified why there appears to be a column in the
paper devoted to obscure childhood playtime, the UK has been transfixed this
week with tales of “sock puppetry”, the delightful phrase to describe how
authors invent fake online personas and then use them to post glowing reviews
about themselves and, in some cases, use them to attack rival authors.
I can understand the need for the former – but I have to say
the latter absolutely disgusts me.
British crime writer R.J. Ellory was outed for using online
sock puppets he called Jelly Bean and Nicodemus Jones (that should have been a
giveaway right there – nobody but a fiction writer could marry such pretension
with such ordinariness) to praise his latest book and bag his rivals.
Fellow crime writer Jeremy Duns outed Ellory and threw the
literary establishment into a tizz, with further revelations of dodgy reviews
on Amazon and questions being asked about the whole newspaper review system as
well. The accusations are that reviewers are unfailingly nice to their friends
– but scathing to those they dislike, regardless of the quality of the book.
Ellory has apologised publicly, as well as privately to the
authors he attacked using Jelly Bean and Nicodemus. He deserves credit for
owning up and not trying to cover up his deeds. Although, as a crime writer,
perhaps he understands better than most that cover-ups always end with you
looking even guiltier than before.
Using a fake name to attack another author is revolting. The
point Ellory – and many others – are missing is that authors might think of
each other as rivals but that is foolishness. Readers don’t just pick one
author and leave it at that. They have many favourites. Authors put out one
book a year, if that. It is arrogant beyond belief to think readers will not
pick up another book in all that time.
But to post glowing reviews of your own book, to see
something online that praises your work … well, that is a sock puppet of a
completely different colour.
When I received the phone call from HarperCollins, telling
me they were going to publish my first book, it was one of the best days of my
life and the culmination of a dream. But reality soon sets in – you are but one
of thousands of books on a shelf. How do you make yourself stand out from the
rest? How can you get people talking about your book?
The temptation to don the sock puppet hat and help your book
along is strong. Any author who says they never considered it, in their darker
and weaker moments, is in denial.
Your book is not just a piece of paper, stapled together, it
is part of you. You have invested a huge amount into it and it is your child,
as much a part of your creation as your real children. To see it ignored is
painful, to see it abused is excruciating. If I am at a bookstore and someone wants to
read a chapter before deciding whether to purchase, it is torture. They might
as well ask me to drop my pants and expose everything to them.
So yes, the temptation to help your book out is strong. But
then you remember what you teach your real children, and you resist.
And, after all, how much help do reviews provide? The
runaway bestseller is 50 Shades Of Grey – a book universally panned in reviews
as smutty drivel.
Duncan Lay is Masthead Chief of The Sunday Telegraph and
author of The Dragon Sword Histories and now Bridge Of Swords, which has been
getting rave reviews, none of which he wrote. Honest!