Sunday, 2 September 2012

Rules of the Playground

Sock Puppets - not big, not clever
(but for anyone who would like to make a real one for their children, this is via 

(Warning: today's video contains swearing and rude monkeys)

If you're online and interested in writing, you're probably up to speed with the latest scandals about sock-puppetry and trolling by a few successful authors. (If you're not, there was an excellent round-up splashed all over Twitter this morning, here). What do you make of it all? My initial response was 'why'? Writing or buying fake 5* reviews for yourself to trick Amazon's algorithms into promoting you is trashy enough, but why would someone that successful have so little self-esteem they need to slip into a fake identity and flame a supposed rival? When I explained what I'm blogging about to my ten year old, she said: 'what a bunch of losers,' then in a heavy US accent, 'haters are my motivation'.

Who knows where she got that one from - our children are growing up understanding that the online world has its dangers. To anyone my age and older, it's a shock when you hear about malicious behaviour. The writing community's sense of solidarity with the writers who have been targeted bears out my experiences - yes, there are a few bad eggs, but generally writers support writers. We have all been through the years and years of learning our craft, the rejections, the isolation, the sheer joy of seeing your work in print. People have helped me along the way, and I am more than happy to help others. Harlan Coben's tweet today says it all: 'Today's writing advice is also life advice: No one has to fail so I can succeed'.

I've reviewed books professionally, but have never bothered writing Amazon reviews. I'm going to now - maybe that's the only sensible response, dilute the effects of the fools who troll other authors with 1*s and plaster their own work with 5*s. So, starting this weekend, anything that's great gets 5*. If I have time I'll go through the bookshelves systematically and 5* the best books from the last couple of years. I've finished my research for the new book, and just done my bit for the publishing industry by downloading a stack of 20 or so books I've been dying to read, plus I have a very sexy box set of St Aubyn's 'Melrose' novels waiting on the bedside table, (loved them so much on Kindle I bought a 'real' set to re-read as a MA graduation present). All of them will get reviewed now. 

Maybe it's the dark underbelly of the online book world - there are so many, many good things about it, but learning to brush off malicious trolls is just another part of being a published author. One of the most excruciating reviews I ever got on Goodreads turned out to have come from another author, who - yes - had a novel on the same subject coming out a few months after mine ;) Meh. Sticks and stones. It's like being back in the playground - you just learn which kids are fun to hang out with, and leave the bullies to their own sad little games. The best revenge is perhaps living and writing well.

So, do good work, be kind to people and play nice out there x


  1. Well said. "The best revenge is living and writing well."

  2. I was looking for a sock puppet to use as an illustration on my blog, and I found yours. Really enjoyed reading this, and loved your last line so much I Tweeted it. (smile)

  3. Thanks, Chris ;)

    Welcome, Maryann. Thank you - think this little sock puppet is going to be popping up on a few writing blogs!

  4. Hullo, Kate.

    Using a rare day off to catch up with a bunch of bloggish friends (even those unnamed ones who post waaaaaay too infrequently for my taste, heh) before I have to dive back into a crushing load of dayjobbery...

    Until reading this, I actually had heard nothing at all about this whole sock-puppets-for-hire scandal. So thanks for bringing me up to speed!

    The online world, alas, is common-sense-neutral. Which is both a plus and a minus. Because I'm a government employee, I do very much like having an alter ego who can comment, at least with plausible deniability, on politics and such -- without publicly committing the Real Me. On the other hand...

    When I had my first couple tech books published, the Internet was still young. It astonished me how badly some reviewers could have misread my objectives in writing a particular book a particular way, but at least they were honest. (And I could readily believe -- the Sh!tbird on the Shoulder, y'know -- that really, the fault was mine for not having made my goals plainer.)

    But now, so much online opinion is just flat-out ugly. (Yes, even good reviews, if paid for, are a form of ugliness.) Other than Netflix's rating system, which I continue to use for tailoring their recommendations, I've almost entirely stopped reviewing anything online. In a world of suspect opinion, even intelligent commentary becomes devalued.

    "Meh," indeed. That's about the only sane response to it all!

    Hope that you've been well and are still feeling a bit of residual glow after your most recent visit home home. You continue to inspire.


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