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The Author Who Cyber-Stalked Me

11 January 2016

From author Jeremy Duns:

Back in 2012, best-selling British novelist Stephen Leather openly boasted on stage at the Harrogate crime festival that he used fake identities to promote his books online. The panel was recorded, but the nub of it was when Leather said this:

‘As soon as my book is out, I’m on Facebook and Twitter several times a day talking about it. I’ll go on to several forums, the well-known forums, and post there under my name and under various other names and various other characters. You build up this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself.’

I didn’t think this was ethical, and asked Leather on Twitter how he justified deceiving people into buying his books on the say-so of comments they had believed were from genuine fans of his – rather than simply from himself in disguise. In response, Leather quickly blocked me and became personally insulting.

. . . .

As Leather was refusing to clarify what precisely he had done, I started looking myself to see if I could find some of the online identities he’d boasted about (or ‘sockpuppets’ as they’re often called).

Leather is one of the UK’s bestselling authors – in 2011, he was the second most successful British author on Kindle worldwide after Lee Child and ahead of Ken Follett, Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett.

. . . .

To have so many websites seems confusing to me from a marketing perspective. On the other hand, having this many sites widens his online reach, in that if you Google him lots of these come up on the first few pages, which gives an impression of a writer everyone is talking about. Note, too, that most were set up after 2012. As a result of Harrogate and its aftermath Leather had a lot of bad press online, and so a plethora of sites might have helped draw attention away from them for anyone Googling his name. But note, please, the following:

  • Stephen Leather has set up a lot of websites.
  • All but one of those I found were registered using the company GoDaddy.com.
  • Leather most often registered these sites using his name, but occasionally he withheld that information. Nevertheless, common sense tells us from the context, designs and content that he set up all of these sites.
  • All the sites’ domain names end ‘.com’. No  ‘.nets’ or ‘co.uks’ or the like for Leather.
  • The sites have similar names, as you would of course expect, but look at how they are similar: authorstephenleather.com and stephenleatherauthor.com, for instance. He likes variations of domain names, and switching nouns to the front and back of the url. He only used a hyphen in one domain name. He doesn’t use pronouns (eg ‘thebestsellingauthorstephenleather’ or ‘theofficialstephenleather’)
  • He has set up a lot of websites that have very similar, though not precisely the same, content. It’s an unusual strategy. Most authors I know of have just one website, or perhaps a site and a blog on the side. Leather has set up a dozen, and three blogs, and most of them are still accessible.
  • But one site, spidershepherd.com, has an automatic redirect attached to it.

. . . .

Leather initially denied having any connection with this account, but eventually admitted he was running it. He changed the account’s handle from @thirdparagraph to @firstparagraph, and continued insulting people who had criticized him. A recurring theme was that he was hugely successful, and that anyone criticizing him was a failure, and must be jealous.

. . . .

The @firstparagraph account is still running. He still promotes his own work in it, but now has a theme of posting pictures of cute kittens. This means he can keep his ‘official’ account, @stephenleather – the one most of his readers and his publisher will know about and see – ‘clean’, while under his hilarious kitten guise he can throw out thinly veiled barbs at his critics without damaging his ‘brand’.

Back to 2012, though. On looking deeper, I found an even more unusual sockpuppet Leather had set up. After a self-published writer Steve Roach had repeatedly criticized him for his promotional tactics on Amazon, Leather set up two Twitter accounts in Roach’s name. This served two purposes: firstly, he could recommend his own books from behind the disguise, fooling people into thinking the recommendations he was making for his own books were from another writer; secondly, he could exact revenge on Mr Roach for having crossed swords with him by spamming everyone with how wonderful a writer he was while posing as Roach.

Link to the rest at Jeremy Duns and thanks to Barry for the tip.

Here’s a link to Jeremy Duns’ books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG is not acquainted with either Mr. Duns or Mr. Leather. He will make an observation on one element of Mr. Duns’ post, however.

It is not a bad idea to acquire domain names that are variations of an author’s name (JaneSmith.com, JaneDSmith.com, JaneDianeSmith.com, etc.) The purpose of this is to prevent someone else purchasing a domain name similar to the author’s and confusing the author’s fans.

You can either leave the related sites completely dormant and just pay a renewal fee once per year or you can very easily set the related sites to automatically and seamlessly redirect anyone going to them to your main site.

For the record, PG thinks that sockpuppetry, cyberstalking and pretending to be someone you’re not online are all bad ideas. Certain types of cyberstalking are crimes – see, for example, California Penal Code Section 646.9 , California Penal Code Section 422 and 18 U.S. Code § 2261A.

Being exposed as a sockpuppet, troll, etc., is simply bad business for an author. If you do it often enough, someone is bound to find out who you are, then you’re exposed as a jerk and potential book purchasers may remember you for that instead of the desirability of your books.

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22 Comments to “The Author Who Cyber-Stalked Me”

  1. Now would be a good time for an article linking creativity to mental illness.

  2. So, you were upset at him and confronted him on twitter, then started tracking down every possible identity he had, confronted him again, and then things really blew up…

    I’m not even close to defending Stephen Leather but crazies kill for annoying them much less chasing after them so at some point you have to consider is it worth it for something that’s already publically revealed?

  3. It is not a bad idea to acquire domain names that are variations of an author’s name (JaneSmith.com, JaneDSmith.com, JaneDianeSmith.com, etc.) The purpose of this is to prevent someone else purchasing a domain name similar to the author’s and confusing the author’s fans.

    Co-sign. I have a super common name, so I did this years ago. Sadly, the domain of Jamie.com is taken by someone who does not seem to even be named Jamie. If you have your own publishing website you should also buy up all the variants of the appropriate domain. I use namecheap to buy them; as it says on the tin it’s not expensive to buy from them.

    • I hadn’t thought about buying variations of my name. It’s unique. I’m almost certain there’s no other Meryl Yourish on the planet. So I think I have an open and shut case if someone grabs a domain that’s clearly meant to refer to me.

      Of course, not being famous makes this completely moot. 🙂

  4. Or make sure everyone reads this article and never purchase his books again. Nothing hurts more than zero sales.

    • If true, Leather’s behavior is execrable? marketing genius? silly?

      Surely it should be about the quality of his WORK – which may be determined by reading samples or borrowing books from the library before investing cash.

      Rudyard Kipling was not a good person in some areas; I still love some of his books.

      The future may destroy the reputation of a writer, but the work should stand or fall on its merits.

      Or we’d have to delete most of history.

      • I half agree, his books merits should stand on their own. On the other hand there’s plenty of good books to read instead so why read his in particular? And for people who for some reason still want to read him but not reward his behavior there’s libraries and used book stores, as discussed the other day in a post.

  5. Michael Kozlowski

    he stalked me and threatened to write a slander piece about me on his blog, which he did. I wrote about the same thing, about he bragged about sock puppets, which he denies.

    Here is an email quote

    “I don’t know why you saw fit to attack me in public but you will pay for that, one way or another, sooner or later. “

  6. This seems to me to be a matter for the police, but in the meantime, this story in the UK newspaper The Independent says that Hachette are going to step in:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/stephen-leather-accused-of-running-online-sockpuppet-smear-campaign-against-fellow-thriller-writers-a6806696.html

  7. The first I’d heard of either of these two and their feud as a few days ago on kboards. I read a couple of things, and as far as I can tell, this is pot/kettle with a mirror.

    I have only vague memories of reading anything about Leather, and never read any of his books, and none at all of the other guy. If it’s a publicity stunt, it’s not working. At least, not in the way they may hope. I won’t read anything either of them write, as I can’t put an author’s bad behavior out of my mind (Orson Scott Card is another).

  8. He set up multiple GoDaddy websites with similar names. So what?

    • I think it was the fact he allegedly made it appear as though fans were running those sites: sockpuppeting.

      I’m with everyone else on the having multiple websites thing. I built my first site in 1999, and since then, I’ve always had more than one site, each “showcasing” my different interests. But I don’t claim a fan is running any of my sites.

  9. Stephen Leather began following me on Twitter a few years back. I unfollowed him yesterday, upon reading the above.

    Haven’t had any issues with him or Duns, don’t want to be involved in any even peripherally, and I don’t approve of sockpuppeting.

  10. Long before this chap who ‘has websites’, rabid and annoying often, internet marketers have touted having multiple websites so as to capture ‘lookers’ and redirect to whatever main game. Some are just one page sites. Some marketers have dozens of sites active as funnels. [Thing is, the multiple sites are often to sell internet marketing apps and more internet marketing webinars and more internet marketing whatever, lol, as that’s how the person touting many sites makes their money. Not from having many sites, but by selling the concept/ how to of many sites, from the platforms of many sites.

    Dont see that as an issue. It’s a common round robin moneymaker for the few who have the energy and time to carpet bomb the joint. Other than an expensive way re keeping up domain names so as to keep those site names with same ol same ol face pages to them. Otherwise, it’s cheap and easy and of questionable value to the average duck. Unless youre selling ‘internet marketing’ c to others.

    ahdunno, any man pretends he’s 10 other dudes in order to try to give the appearance to whomever that his handful of mane is really really exciting, sounds —well, wasnt there a movie about that, a fellow who ran about pretending to be this and that and was none of the above?

    I wonder what the underlying motive is when one already has quite a seemingly large nut. Not enough to be one of the 20 top sellers in a world of one’s own, or?

    Historically, for certain there are a handful of truly loathsome people who happen to also be authors. And currently. I wont name names… but their initials are… ok, not that either. But, they are not avoided because of their work but because they harass others, attempt to dominate and demean with snot running from their eyes –about just about anything. They seem to think themselves a cut above whatever and whomever

    are sort of drive-by spoor tossers while calling themselves ‘just truthful’ or ‘just being me’ or ‘here to correct the world’ lol, or ‘nothing wrong with me, you started it’ [usually by someone disapproving of their far less than decent behavior toward, with, about.] They seem unable to tolerate no critique, especially about their personal preferences to be in near constant pique about something or someone.

    Probably unless there’s some severe and irrepairable tear in the decency musculature, I wonder sometimes if that kind of relentless personality is, as we all are, suffering about something, something unrelated to what seems so overt, and if perhaps if that could be better hinted at, or voiced in private, and understood, there is a decent chap in there, who is in need of attention, yes, the way soldiers wounded are in need of attention. But another kind of attending to, rather than fanning by self or others to ego alone.

    Ahdunno. Just thinking out loud.

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