I feel I must say a little something about the Sock Puppet affair. When this first started to rumble, after Stephen Leather’s admissions at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, I can’t say I was shocked or even mildly surprised. My childlike innocence about writers’ dirty tricks ended the day Orlando Figes fell off his pedestal.
I was and am a great admirer of Figes’ writing. He disappointed me when he resorted to sock puppetry, to denigrate another writer in his field, but principally I was embarrassed by his amateurish attempts at hiding his true identity. I realised then that there must be far cleverer operators playing the same game.
What Leather and Ellory and Locke are saying is ‘Every writer does it.’
Well actually, every writer doesn’t do it.
If they’re saying, ‘Every writer who isn’t a sap does it,’ they may be right but I suspect they’re not. Most of us are writing the best we can in the hope of delighting our fans and gaining new readers by legitimate recommendation.
The book business (I’m old enough to remember when England had factories and mines so I refuse to call it an industry) is a grubby, grabby trade these days, but it never was spotless. Writers have always depended on friends and connections to give their books a boost. It’s pretty bad now though. Amazon has changed everything. I’d just say this: if a reviewer isn’t using his real name – and if it doesn’t say REAL NAME, he isn’t – ask yourself why.
Reviews aren’t everything. I’ve had great reviews for twenty years and my books still sell in very modest numbers. I’ve been told I’m a mug for putting most of my energy into writing rather than into marketing. Maybe. But I’ve been around long enough to know that commercial success can happen for all kinds of crazy reasons.
Well-meaning friends sometimes tell me they’ve gone into shops and repositioned my books. I have to ask them to desist. Publishers pay for table displays and face-out shelf placement. Guerilla tactics by authors’ aunts and uncles just make extra work for the store staff, putting things back where they belong, bottom shelf, Mug’s corner.
And now for something completely different. Tickets are already on sale for my adaptation of The Dress Circle, to be performed as a one-woman show (not me) next April 23 to 27 at the Baron’s Court Theatre in West London. This is a tiny but fabulous venue with only 60 seats per show so if you want to come break out those pristine 2013 diaries and book soon. The Box Office number is 020 8932 4747