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Monday, 10 September 2012

Joe Konrath defends sock puppet tactics

Outspoken self-publishing guru, Joe Konrath has stirred up a hornets nest after placing several post on his popular, Newbies Guide to Publishing, in which he seemed to defend the sock puppetry of authors like R J Ellroy, Stephen Leather and John Locke.

The worthy, No SOCK PUPPETS HERE petition, which has gained support from many big names such as Mark Billingham, Christopher Brookmyre, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child and Ian Rankin, had angered Konrath to the point that he has taken to attacking the group and calling them moral crusaders.

Konrath wrote in one post -
There has been a lot of talk about ethics and morals around the Internet lately. A lot of name calling. A lot of shaming. A lot of sanctimony. Writers are quick to proclaim they'd never pay for reviews, or use sock puppets to promote their own work, or to denounce someone else's work.

This has generated a lot of discussion within my peer network. It's a nice excuse to test our morals, fine tune our sense of right and wrong, and work harder to understand human behavior. But I don't see a lot of level-headed discussion on the web. I see hysterics, mob behavior, and action motivated by fear or righteous indignation. I get angry when groups begin acting badly. The AAR. The Authors Guild. Harlequin. The Big 6. When I see this happening, I take them to task for it, using logic and facts and arguments to show how they are wrong. I recently did this with the NSPHP petition. A petition that named and accused three writers of "damaging publishing", using "underhanded tactics", and stating other authors are doing it as well .

Konrath then went off into the land of fantasy with the following -
We all have morals. Having morals doesn't mean we're always able to follow our own moral code. We're human. We make mistakes. We have moments of weakness. We're also uncannily good at justifying our actions.

I'd never kill another human being.

But what if your family is being threatened?

I'd never steal.

But what if you're starving?

I'd never pay for reviews or use sock puppets online.

Really? Are you sure?

Unless I missed some link or secret page on their website, no one signing the NSPHP petition has proven that what the three accused have done are crimes, or how they are even morally wrong. No one has clearly demonstrated how other writers or readers have been hurt. No one has tried to explain or discuss motive.

What Konrath fails to acknowledge with the above statement is that R J Ellroy, at least, was rubbishing other writers works using his sock puppet persona - and yet Konrath claims that these tactics don't harm other writers. Konrath also states no one has proven anything Ellroy did was morally wrong - um, yeah they have Joe! Ellroy wrote of one of his own books -  a "modern masterpiece. Readers should "just buy it, read it and make up your own mind", because "whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul" For another of his own books he wrote, "All I will say is that there are paragraphs and chapters that just stopped me dead in my tracks. Some of it was chilling, some of it raced along, some of it was poetic and langorous and had to be read twice and three times to really appreciate the depth of the prose … it really is a magnificent book." And then of Stuart MacBride's novel Dark Blood he wrote - "another in the seemingly endless parade of same-old-same-old police procedurals that seem to abound in the UK".

Um, and Joe Konrath thinks that is not morally wrong!

Konrath has stopped short of saying that he himself has used sock puppet tactics but he did write this rather enigmatic passage - I like John Locke. I've spoken with him at length in the past. I believe he's done a great deal of good for the indie movement. I've found him to be personable, gracious, and good-natured. I like Stephen Leather. I've only traded emails with him, but I've found him to be personable, gracious, and good-natured. Last year we discussed collaborating on a horror novel together; something I still plan on doing. What kind of man would I be to back out of working with someone because they're currently controversial?Do I agree or disagree with what they've admitted to doing? Would I do those same things? Have I done similar things? Ask yourself those same questions. But before you answer, try to open your mind and be honest with yourself.

The Sock Puppet row which was first exposed on Twitter and then brought to the media in the UK PRESS  named and shamed bestseller R J Ellroy of posting fake review of his own work using an assumed name (a sock puppet) and also rubbishing other writer's works with  bad reviews also under a fake persona. Konrath had this to say about Ellroy - Ellory didn't want people to buy his rivals' books. He wanted them to buy his books. That was his agenda.

He's allowed his agenda. And I'll defend his right to do things like that, even if I wouldn't do it.

When one reader identified as Kate commented on Konrath's blog, taking him to task with this statement - So.... if everyone else did something wrong, then it's ok? Sorry, that's not a great argument. Ethically, all those people are wrong. It is possible for even a majority of people to be ethically wrong. Maybe this will teach people to read reviews more carefully, maybe not. Certainly everything will die down. It doesn't make it ok. It's a jerky thing to do and remains so no matter how many people do it.

Joe simply responded with - So.... if everyone else did something wrong, then it's ok? That isn't the argument, Katie. If everyone did something you didn't like, it can still be okay..

The Million Moms don't like gay marriage. I think they're wrong. And I think that they try to pressure public opinion is wrong. But I also support their right to be homophobic pinheads. If you do something "shitty" or dickish and you know that you're doing it, it's wrong.It's hypocritcal. But not wrong. Not when the system allows it.Locke didn't gain an unfair advantage. He just did something you wouldn't do. You call that unfair. You're allowed your opinion.
I kinda' lost the arguement there and can't for the life of me figure out what Joe means by bringing the gay marriage debate into the sock puppet row

I once had a lot of respect for Joe Konrath, even if I did think his constant bashing of traditional publishing was a bore and I've enjoyed many of his books, but these days I'm seeing through all that, and I've realised that the man is a prime grade tosspot, or to use Joe's phrase, a pinhead. The Archive celebrated John Locke's success and we even interviewed him several times, but the fact that he paid for reviews just makes him dishonest and I, for one, will never read him again. Ditto R J Ellroy and Stephen Leather.

Konrath has long rubbished traditional publishing and set himself up as a self appointed spokesman for self publishing. He claims that self publishers give readers what they want and do not exploit them in the way the legacy system does. Well I'm sorry Joe but defending the actions of Ellroy and others to just wrong and it is you, and people like you, who are harming publishing's credibility.



MontiLee Stormer said...

There are no words for people like that other than "unreadable" and "hack" and "who?".

I used to think Konrath was just mad at the "industry" and "gatekeepers" for him not selling and he was out to show them it could be done by competent, talented, motivated authors. Now it seems like he's out to get just about anyone who wants to publish, self or traditional. He's trying to torpedo anyone who sets out to do what he couldn't - be successful at being creative.

Davieboy said...

Well I for one enjoy Joe Konrath and also John Locke (and thanks Gary for introducing him.Bottom line for me is the pleasure the book gives me and they both hit my buttons.
"I've enjoyed many of his books, but these days I'm seeing through all that" - what does that mean? Either his books are good and give you pleasure or they don't. Should we only read books, listen to music and appreciate art made by "respectable" people? He's not saying he used those tactics, he's just saying he can understand why somebody would, we're none of us perfect.
Is Konrath a success? Depends how you measure it; he's no Stephen King but I'll wager he makes a more than comfortable amount from his writing. I'll sure continue to read him (I recently loved his "Timecaster" audiobooks).

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Yep Davie I can see what you are saying and of course you should read the books you enjoy. But I for one will find I am unable to enjoy these guys given the knowledge of buying reviews and sock puppetry. These days Konrath comes across as less of a writer and more of a conman. But that's just my opinion. Though I'm sticking with it.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I think my biggest gripe is all this will result in readers not trusting online reviews, and maybe not reading as many indie authors as they would otherwise.

Davieboy said...

Ok, valid opinion.
At least you got a couple of blog-posts out of it - it must be hard to think up new subjexcts every day... but thanks for doing so!

Charles Gramlich said...

Although it is certainly tastless, I could forgive a writer touting their own books. What I can't forgive is hiding behind a fake name to damn other books by writers you are competing against. There's just no way of justifying or accepting that. It's horrendous and I just can't tolerate it.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Touting your own work is fine and I do it all the time Charles, but not under false names

Anonymous said...

The problem is, Amazon removes positive reviews that are completely legitimate and retains negative reviews that are wholly fraudulent (from competitors, etc.). And now they are removing tags as well.

They need to restore all reviews immediately. If a few false ones make it through, who cares? You need these to counteract the fake negative ones.