Monday, 3 December 2012


I thought I’d address the problem of the sock puppet in the world of writing. This term is used to denote the adoption of another identity for the purpose of having an argument with oneself on the internet.
   Your book was good but it could do with more scenes in the lost city.
   Dude, I’m returning to the lost city in the sequel.
   Awesome. I take it back. Your book is excellent.
   Using a sock puppet leads to the scheme, or scam, of pretending to be someone else in order to review one’s own work. Poisonously, this is also done to generate adverse reviews of writers perceived as rivals. Surely the people who resort to this have something, anything, better to do with their time. Putting on an actual sock puppet show, for example.
   At the time of writing, I run two blogs. One is a static page, RLL AUTHOR, which leads back here. I also have a Twitter feed and a Pinterest account. My Google+ account is rather webby from lack of use.
   Just before I published my first e-book, I decided my Facebook page was too close to the line between the business world and personal life. I canned the Facebook page. Almost immediately, I set up a new page for one of my characters. Gilach Mac Gilach. That page is webbier than the Google+ entry.
   What can I say? I just don’t like Facebook. Facebook is for stalkers, cat-obsessives, cat-obsessed stalkers, and people who like to describe lint as a means of updating everyone about what’s not happening in their part of the world. Rant over. Blogging, on the other hand, is useful.
   In the early days of setting up some kind of handle for making comments on Amazon forums, I came up with Winterkill. Clearly me – I didn’t deny that I was the author when discussing aspects of my work. Depending on how I sign in, I still sometimes appear as Winterkill. It’s random. That’s what I’ve set in place. I think I’ve covered everything. Here’s what I don’t do…
   I don’t set up fake identities to review my own work. Why would I? I could spend the time writing fiction instead of fiction ABOUT my fiction. And I don’t make comments on my own blog pretending to be someone else…
   Okay, you got me. You can trace the IP address back to Michigan. I’m really Kacey Vanderkarr. Any Scottish words or phrases thrown around on this blog were taken from a dictionary. I just love me an accent. That’s going to amuse the real Kacey Vanderkarr. And confuse the hell out of her husband.
   Kacey, have you been pretending to be Scattish?
   Aye, hubby. McMercy me!
   To what end?
   Until a’ the seas gang dry.
   I’m calling the hospital.
   This is worth repeating. As a self-published author of electronic books, I have no rivals or competitors in publishing. Instead, I have COLLEAGUES. Writing in my area? Outwith it? Doesn’t matter. Colleague. Big-name author? Just starting out? Colleague.
   I’ve helped authors in many ways. Example? I spotted a devious format glitch in another writer’s e-book. Did I snort and chortle behind my hand and push the writer deeper into the dirt by keeping this to myself? No. I took a photo, explained how the glitch came to light, and passed the info on.
   We all promote reading and writing to further the cause of reading and writing. The end.
   Quibble with that view at your peril. Add to that view by all means. We write for many other reasons, true. By writing, we advance literacy. That’s a beautiful thing. The ability to convey ideas through symbols sets us above the level of…sock puppets.
   Why do these people resort to puppetry? Insecurity. Reviews do not guarantee sales. If any writers are reading this and thinking of walking that tightrope – stop! Spend your time writing stories instead of setting up bogus review accounts. If you think you have rivals in the writing business, stop thinking that! Swig from the bottle marked REALITY.
   The sale of someone else’s book is not a lost sale of your book. Don’t allow yourself to be trapped in that mired reasoning. Think of the readers. As I now must. Readers choose books for all sorts of reasons. They may well decide to unchoose an author’s books on the basis of puppetry.
   Fans follow a runner who tackles five marathons. The runner didn’t really run the whole of marathon number five. He caught the bus when he thought no one was looking. The truth is exposed by our conscientious driver. What do fans discuss? The four marathons the guy ran, or the one he didn’t?
   We all create characters. Some of us stick to letting different people talk to each other inside the fiction. There are still authors out there willing to generate buzz by having imaginary conversations with themselves about forthcoming books. If you want to generate buzz, use a buzzsaw.
   No, this doesn’t anger me. It saddens me. Miffed that another author won a literary prize instead of you? Taken the blow personally? Your answer to the problem? REVENGE! Be someone else on the internet, and rubbish the winner. Hell, why not rubbish everyone on the shortlist except yourself? And praise your own entry while you are about it…
   Don’t get me started on literary awards. That’s a separate issue. Let it go. Yes, I can lay claim to being an award-winning writer. I was kept waiting so long for the award that I decided awards weren’t worth the effort of collecting. Ceremonies are too ceremonial for my taste. Away with them, I say. I know. Off-kilter. That I’m the sort of writer miffed at winning something, rather than not winning something…
   Readers probably engage in puppetry too. On studying no evidence, I’ve concluded that the entire publishing industry, paper and digital, is run by three accountants hiding out in Switzerland. One of them is writing this blog. You think you are reading a sarcastic blog written by me. Wrong.
   I’m the accountant in Switzerland and you are an Australian taxidermist picking up some coin to pay for your trip home. You are one of four new employees hired to stand in as the reading population of the world. The accountant pays you in cash – no questions asked. You don’t even write the reviews for the books you don’t read – those books the author hasn’t even written.
   Let’s shift a rock out of the road. Has it always been like this? No! The digital world is evil. Back in the good old days of paper (snort), this never went on. Mm. I’d be shocked to discover that journalistic newspaper book reviewers invented reviews. The tip of a sharp iceberg.
   Have I ever considered puppetry? Not of the pernicious sort. I planned to write short fiction on a new blog as an anonymous writer. This non-person was going to give nothing away. No info. Just short stories or chat in response to blog comments. I took the idea from several intense blogs I’d studied. Thinking I could learn something.
   But I shot the idea down. A new blog required a new Twitter feed. Anything else? Social networking with absolutely no visual imagery attached to it – in case people recognised my photography or locations in photos. I’d have told no one, run it for six months, and pulled the plug at that point. Just to see what I’d learn.
   Why chicken out of this? I write under one banner. Not an umbrella. With no reason to write fiction as someone else, I avoid sidelined work with an uncertain value. Alistair MacLean wrote two books as Ian Stuart, to show that his writing sold books and not his name. This was nonsense. The books were eventually published under Alistair MacLean.
   He hadn’t helped his case by writing in the same style. One of those books opens with a chapter-listing that’s torn straight from his work. MacLean titled many a book chapter by time. Wednesday 0800 to 1300. Doing that under another name fooled no one. In a world devoid of the web, his ruse was transparent. His front would be glowing radioactively in the era of internet-equipped telephones.
   I could have written as the anonymous writer. A shy writer. The label doesn’t much matter. To keep that secret, I’d have committed to abandoning work written for the new blog. Stories I’d never release. That’s quite a gamble.
   If I write a great little story for a non-blog, do I publish there? Or am I tempted to save the story for myself? Duplication of activity. Diversion of effort. An experiment in writing. A step too far. I didn’t go into the mire. Even benign sock puppet nonsense wasn’t for me.
   As far as benign puppetry goes, if you feel you might gain from it then I’m not stopping you. If there’s too much self-conscious static rumbling inside your head, benign puppetry may tide you over until you are on more certain ground.
   How would benign puppetry work? Use a blog to post your fiction anonymously. Welcome comments. Do not plug or review anything. Give a reasonable explanation for your activity. Perhaps your friends and relatives would be shocked at the stuff you write. That’s fine.
   It’s up to you to decide when that experiment ends, and how you end the thing. Maybe no one ever finds out who FRIGHTENING WRITER was. If you do pull the plug, you’ll be able to set aside the extra e-mail address you made. The other Twitter feed. All those additional associated social networking sites. Given the amount of effort involved, that wouldn’t be me. I considered the option, and came down against.
   After all, I have a hard enough time as it is – writing this blog and Kacey Vanderkarr’s. ;)



  1. Aw man! You outed me. (Or ooted me. I'm really bad with the Scottish phonetics. I'll work on that.) :)

    1. Time for an Edinburgh accent. Phonetics? I think she means football phonetics. Sex? That’s what coal used to come in. You’ll have had your tea…


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