Fake book reviews are rife on the internet and readers should be aware of the “fraudulent” practices of some writers, a group of leading British authors warn tonight.
By Andrew Hough 9:30PM BST 03 Sep 2012
In a letter sent to The Daily Telegraph, the authors, who have collectively sold millions of novels, “unreservedly” condemned the “abuse” on websites such as Amazon.
RJ Ellory admitted to using false names on Amazon to attack rivals (Picture: REX FEATURES)
The group, including bestselling writers Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Helen FitzGerald, said the widespread use of “fake identities” was causing untold damage to the publishing world.
In an outspoken attack on the so-called “sock puppeting” practice, they urged readers and the literary world to help expose colleagues who used the “underhand tactics”.
Their condemnation came after RJ Ellory, the bestselling British crime writer, was exposed for using pseudonyms to pen fake glowing reviews about his “magnificent genius” online while simultaneously criticising his rivals.
The author of A Quiet Belief in Angels and a Simple Act of Violence, whose real name is Roger Jon Ellory, apologised for his “lapse of judgment”.
The 47 year-old, based in Birmingham, West Midlands, admitted he had used fake identities to write about his own work on the Amazon book site, giving himself five star ratings.
Ellory, who went to ground today as he faced a deluge of criticism from fans worldwide – many of whom took to the internet to voice their anger – also gave his rivals bad reviews and low ratings using the same pseudonyms.
The father-of-one, who has won a variety of awards including Crime Novel of the Year 2010, was compelled to apologise after Jeremy Duns, a British spy author now based in Sweden, aired the accusations on Twitter last week.
Another thriller writer, Stephen Leather, has also admitted using different online identities to publicise his work.
Authors Ian Rankin, Lee Child and Val McDermid (Pictures: CHRIS WATT/GEOFF PUGH/GETTY IMAGES)
In their public letter, the group of 49 British writers, including Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride – who were targeted by Ellory – said that with the advent of the internet, honest comment had never been more important.
“These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended online, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers,” they wrote.
“But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large.
“Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well.”
They added: “We … unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics.
“But the only lasting solution is for readers to take possession of the process. The internet belongs to us all.
“Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving, can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalised to the point of irrelevance.”
Mark Billingham was among those authors targeted by Ellory (Picture: GERAINT LEWIS)
The Crime Writers’ Association, whose almost 600 members include Ellory, a former board member, have also condemned the “unfair” practice and confirmed they had launched a review.
Mr Duns, 38, also a signatory, exposed Ellory, whose 10 novels have sold more than a million copies, after being contacted by a fellow concerned author.
“It is very encouraging to see the support from so many people in the literary community at large who have come together to stand up against this sort of thing,” he said tonight.
MacBride said he had received dozens of messages of support from both fans and fellow writers.
He added: ” It is hard to know what to pity more – the need to create ‘sock-puppets to big up your own work or to use those same ‘sock-puppets’ to attack other writers.”
In 2010 Prof Orlando Figes, a leading academic and award-winning historian, confessed to posting similar reviews on Amazon that praised his own work as “fascinating” and “uplifting” while rubbishing that of his rivals.
Ellory was “unavailable” for comment tonight while his literary agent Euan Thorneycroft declined to answer a series of questions from The Daily Telegraph.
An Amazon spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Ellory was “unavailable” for further comment (Picture: GETTY IMAGES