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.