Posted by on July 29th, 2012

I don’t want to spend too much longer discussing Stephen Leather. This is likely to be my last post on the subject for a while, depending on what other worms crawl out of his woodwork, but it’s fair to say the conversation initiated by his appearance on the ebook panel at Harrogate remains ongoing, and I wanted to do a quick follow up to the post below. With a nod to the comment Sandra Ruttan made on that, this one is going to be dialled slightly further in the direction of irate.

First off, there has been a lot of coverage. To my mind, the three most thoughtful and reasonable pieces have come from Max Dunbar, James Oswald and Stuart Neville. Stuart’s is particularly good, as it concentrates on his own experience of being pestered by sockpuppets. I was also rather intrigued by this article, principally because Leather responds in the comments below, saying:

“You weren’t even there. Steve Mosby also misunderstood my comments on forum postings, Sock puppets was his phrase, not mine.”

I want to clarify this, as Leather is technically correct. He described the behaviour he indulges in while doing promotion, and I said “You mean, you use sockpuppets?”, and he basically had to agree. But yes, the phrase itself was mine. It seems tiresome to point out that he and I were not the only people in the room, and that a “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” defence can only take you so far, but we are where we are. (I wish I’d had the opportunity to ask him on stage if he used these sockpuppet accounts to review his own work, but unfortunately I had to wait until a quiet moment during the signing. You will see he indicates in the comment thread on the post below that he does not).

If the sockpuppetry was not much remarked upon during the panel, it has become a focus since. The author and journalist Jeremy Duns is – I think it’s fair to say – not a man to let things lie, and he did some digging around Leather. Unconnected to the sockpuppetry, there is this comment. It’s not strictly relevant, but let’s just say that it’s not only consistently twattish but, especially taking the context into account, breathtakingly cruel and unpleasant. Jeremy also called out https://twitter.com/firstparagraph as being a fairly blatant Leather sockpuppet. But it became even more interesting when he discovered the twitter account of a writer called Steve Roach.

(I’m going to preface this by saying I feel a bit sorry for Steve Roach, and I understand why he is unhappy. His books look interesting, and he deserves better than the treatment he’s received. If the facts are as they seem, he is a victim here, and I have no wish to make him feel more of one. At first, for various reasons, Jeremy thought Steve Roach might be a sockpuppet of Leather’s. It would certainly have been an elaborate disguise, but the apparent reality seemed just as bizarre. And yet it appears that reality is true).

Here is a storify I put together of Jeremy’s tweets from last night, which summarises the situation. Basically, it appears that Roach locked horns with Leather over his promotional tactics, and Leather responded in various ways, including setting up fake Twitter accounts, which he then used to taunt Roach with and promote his own work. When Roach – overwhelmed by this – conceded defeat, Leather ‘graciously’ allowed him to take over one of the accounts in his name. You need to read the link to appreciate this properly. Roach confirmed it in a phone conversation with Jeremy, and also alludes to it fairly explicitly in this thread.

Okay. There are some people who will be saying “big deal”. I understand that viewpoint, as it’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. But I’m not interested in whataboutery at the moment, so those people should feel free to leave now.

Buckle yourselves in.

Stephen Leather is one of the bestselling writers in the world. Steve Roach is not. Assuming the facts above are true (and there is sufficient evidence that they are), then given the power difference and behaviour, let’s call Mr Leather what he is: a fucking bully.

Why does it matter? Beyond the obvious, three reasons:

1. Jeremy tweeted this last night: “We writers are colleagues. Play fair with each other, play fair with readers, don’t be cruel and vicious and so on. Obvious, surely?” Yes – surely. I’d actually extend it beyond writers to people in general, but the point stands. I don’t see myself in competition with other authors. I love the atmosphere at a place like Harrogate, where writers are friendly and supportive. In the unlikely event I’m going to attack the work of someone else, or the person in question, I like to think I’d have the modicum of integrity necessary to do so openly under my own name. And I would never promote myself under an alias because, aside from anything else, it would be illegal to do so.

2. Leather is in a position where he can influence people. He is one example, but there are other authors who engage not only in this behaviour but provably in others too: knocking down their supposed ‘rivals’ with one-star reviews, and the like. This is not how professional writers behave, for the simple reason that it’s not how decent people behave. This is not how you treat people. And yet if high-profile writers are not called out on it, there’s a danger the behaviour will be increasingly emulated and normalised. Let’s not send out the message that it’s okay to be a cunt so long as you sell.

3. The irony is that this all stemmed from a panel on which I suppose Leather and I were nominally presented as being on opposing sides of the ebook argument – that he would be for, and I against. The truth is that I dislike ebooks personally, but have no problem with them as a format: whatever works for you as a reader. And beyond a few caveats, I have little against self-publishing either. I know many writers who have been unable to either get or keep a traditional publishing contract for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their writing. And so it actually dismays me to see people like Leather held up as self-publishing gurus and heroes, as though all that matters is money and sales and not how you get them. It is precisely behaviour like this that will make it harder for self-publishing to shake off whatever stigma it still has. It is good for nobody except the person doing it, and don’t let the people responsible kid you otherwise.

And finally – last but certainly not least – an enormous round of applause for Jeremy Duns.

Now, pictures of kittens…

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 29th, 2012 at 6:10 pm and is filed under General, Rant, Stephen Leather. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


29 Responses to “Leathered”

  1. Adele Says:

    False advertising!! there are no pictures of kittens!
    Great article sweet.

  2. Mike Cane Says:

    >>>“We writers are colleagues. Play fair with each other, play fair with readers, don’t be cruel and vicious and so on. Obvious, surely?”

    I don’t know about that. Literary rows have made the world go round. But at least they were between people who legitimately *earned* their places and didn’t *defraud* their way into them. And prior to the Net there’s been stabbery in print reviewing, with editors fobbing off a book to a writer at loggerheads with the one being reviewed. None of this is new and expecting people who happen to make their coin by writing to hold hands and sing Kumbaya is a bit much. (But let me also note all the above history was done with all the writers involved *using their real names*, a vital point.)

    But that’s a side issue.

    Here’s the meat:

    >>>let’s call Mr Leather what he is: a fucking bully

    Yes. Assuming the identity of another writer to damage that writer or to inflate one’s own fraudulently-gained position is reprehensible. It’s also something someone who *knows* their position was gained by fraud would engage in because of a deep understanding that it can all vanish tomorrow because, at heart, there’s No There, There. His work might have merit — I haven’t read it (and am now disinclined ever to) — but *he* clearly believes it lacks what it takes to *keep* his position, so the continuation and metastasizing of the underhanded methods it took to get there, in order to try to remain there. Justice is sometimes delayed, sometimes denied, but it also sometimes *comes to pass*. And that is what he fears. Posts like this, and tweets like Duns’, are Justice banging on his door. Soon it might just knock the entire fucking door in.

  3. Harrogate Crime: E-Book Fun « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] Another update: This has been going on all week. The brilliant and tireless Jeremy Duns has investigated Leather’s self-promotion, bullying and sockpuppetry in detail. If you want to follow the story on, Steve Mosby has posted a comprehensive update. […]

  4. Paul D. Brazill Says:

    I’ve just been catching up with this today. Weird, to say the least.

    I’d given him the benefit of the doubt after the ‘Tossergate’ thing. Stephen Leather setting up fake Amazon accounts to give himself 5 star reviews is pretty sleazy,twatty and a bit perplexing considering how much dosh he’s raking in.

    However, the rest of his behaviour-especially his ‘comment’ on a book about alzheimers, ‘stalking’ people who don’t like his books and using fake accounts to give other writers 1 star reviews- is the the behaviour of a nasty, spoilt child. A very insecure child, too, by the looks of things.

  5. Jeremy Duns Says:

    Thanks very much for writing this, Steve, and for your kind comments. I’m persistent, yes, but I see red with this sort of thing, I’m afraid.

    Can I try to clarify something? Stephen Leather has threatened to sue me for libel for calling him a ‘fraudulent, abusive cyber-bully’ on Twitter. I think his comments at Harrogate, on Twitter, Amazon and on various blogs all justify that description, but I know some people will be wondering if what I’ve written about what he did to Steve Roach is provable. It is. You’ve provided the links that show it, but it’s not immediately obvious why they do, especially as some have now had information removed from them. I think it’s important to show that this is in fact what happened before Mr Leather comes marching in shouting more threats and abuse, or others wonder whether it is really the case. So here’s the proof:

    1. In a comment on Amazon on June 18 this year, a writer called Steve Roach claimed that Stephen Leather had created two Twitter accounts in his, Roach’s name, and was using them to promote his, Leather’s, work. The comment was here, but it’s been deleted in the last couple of hours:


    Here’s a screenshot of the comment:


    2. How do I know Steve Roach is a real person, let alone telling the truth? Because his website is registered to someone of that name, living in the UK (Leather lives in Thailand). I called Roach at his home and talked with him for around an hour about this. I recorded the call. He told me everything I outlined in the Storify tweets you link to: he bashed Leather in an Amazon forum a couple of years ago and Leather responded with a sustained and vindictive campaign against him online: bad reviews, a short story with someone named after him as a sleazy villain, attacks in forums. Roach tried to complain to Goodreads and Amazon but got nowhere and, when he discovered a few weeks ago that Leather was also impersonating him on Twitter, felt crushed by the massive bestselling writer’s vendetta against him and begged him to stop via email, saying he surrendered in their online ‘war’. Leather, as you say, ‘graciously’ deleted one sockpuppet ‘Steve Roach’ account and handed over control of the other to Steve Roach. Steve Roach told me about this in a lot of detail, but he was also worried about upsetting Leather, who he is now grateful to, and who he is somewhat scared of, it seemed. He advised me to let the subject drop, as Leather was ‘powerful’ and would hit back. ‘He used to work for the Daily Mail, you know.’

    3. That’s a pretty bizarre story. But just because Roach is real it doesn’t mean it’s true. How do I know Roach hasn’t simply invented all this? First of all, there *was* a Twitter account called @thesteveroach, now deleted, and you can see from the history of it that it is clearly Stephen Leather:


    The first few tweets in particularly are about as transparent as could be:


    It’s hard to imagine why anyone other than Leather would have such an account, especially considering *this* Twitter account, which has only been deleted in the last few hours: http://topsy.com/twitter/firstparagraph

    It has the same picture as @thesteveroach, a near-identical bio, and also constantly links to Stephen Leather’s books and proclaims Leather to be a genius, often using the same language as @thesteveroach did. Also note the tweet to Declan Burke telling him to ‘HMD’. There was also a tweet saying ‘Who’s Spartacus? I’m Spartacus!’ or words to that effect, but that seems to have been deleted fast enough not to show up in this archive.

    It’s clear to me that Stephen Leather operated both those accounts, but I’d love to hear reasons anyone has for thinking otherwise – especially considering that Leather admitted on stage at Harrogate that he sets up fake identities online to promote his work.

    3. Finally, there’s the Twitter account @WriterRoach, which at the moment is still going. This is the one that Steve Roach, the real person I spoke to on the phone at his home in a town that Stephen Leather has nothing to do with, claims Leather created but has now handed over to him. Have a look at the earliest tweets made from the account, when according to Roach Leather still had control of it:


    Those tweets are also clearly written by Stephen Leather.

    So Steve Roach is real and, just as he said on Amazon, and on his blog, and told me on the phone, there were two Twitter accounts impersonating him promoting Stephen Leather’s work (and taunting him by doing so, as he had criticized him). One account impersonating him has indeed been deleted. Both were indeed at some stage obviously under the control of Stephen Leather. His own account was also clearly previously controlled by Leather.

    I’m sure if I dug further I could find a whole lot more, but I think this does prove that Steve Roach told me the truth. He attacked Leather on an Amazon forum, and Leather responded by waging a campaign against him, which among several other things included setting up Twitter accounts in his name.

    If there are flaws in my argument, please let me know. It hasn’t been easy figuring it out, and I did at one point think Roach had to be an invention of Leather’s! But Steve Roach’s story stands up: sadly, he is so unwilling to upset Leather that he won’t discuss it further, but if it comes to it I have him telling me the whole thing on tape, in great detail.


  6. Jane Smith Says:

    “There was also a tweet saying ‘Who’s Spartacus? I’m Spartacus!’ or words to that effect, but that seems to have been deleted fast enough not to show up in this archive.”

    I saw that tweet before it was deleted. Just saying.

  7. Jeremy Duns Says:

    Thanks, Jane. Just remembered. I asked Roach on the phone how Leather had taunted him on Twitter. They’d had a very public feud in Amazon’s forums, so an account in his name continually praising Leather was taunting. But did he say anything negative about him as well? Not explicitly, Roach told me, but he said Leather wrote several tweets that, if you were aware of the history between them, were clear digs at him and his writing. Roach has now deleted them, but just after Leather handed him the account he set up in his name out of spite, he tweeted to Leather that he had left most of the previous tweets up, but had deleted the snide digs at him.

    So Leather set up this fake Twitter identity for two reasons: to spam-promote his own work, hoping that in the tide of people’s Twitter streams some would see the bargains and click (as I’m sure happened), and while doing so to undermine and bully another writer he had gotten into a feud with online. As said above by Steve Mosby, given the difference in dynamic in their careers, it was a startlingly petty and vindictive thing to have done, as well as (I believe I am right in saying) illegal under British law.

  8. Kim Slater Says:

    Bottom line, Stephen Leather writes books people want to read.
    He is a trailblazer in ePublishing and the most helpful and sharing
    guy to new writers…just to redress the balance a little. Maybe he’s not
    an angel but he is a survivor and an amazingly successful author who
    enjoys tinkering, exploiting and exposing loopholes in the system.

  9. stevemosby Says:

    Jane – just to add, these things can be deleted, but they don’t disappear.

  10. stevemosby Says:

    Kim – bottom line is, he’s a nasty piece of work.

  11. Jeremy Duns Says:

    Bottom line, it was nice of Stephen Leather to show up.

  12. Jeremy Duns Says:

    Bizarrely, @firstparagraph has now reappeared, so you can see the Spartacus tweet, as well as one in which Leather accuses Steve Mosby and Luca Veste of being sockpuppets of each other, from his sockpuppet account. I’ve taken screenshots of all those tweets.

  13. Ramsey Campbell Says:

    “…an amazingly successful author who enjoys tinkering, exploiting…”

  14. stevemosby Says:

    Ramsey – totally, yes.

    Kim – as an aside, you can’t redress the balance just by saying nice things about Leather. It’s not a popularity contest. You or he could only redress the balance by offering an alternative explanation of the events described in the post.

  15. Mike Cane Says:

    >>>exposing loopholes

    Oh, so that’s what fraud is excused away as these days?

  16. Kim Slater Says:

    Steve, I don’t know Stephen Leather personally but as a new writer trying to break through, I’ve found his alternative approach and ideas interesting and inspiring. His blog has always seemed to be very sharing and honest in the different methods he has used to achieve his amazing eBook success, even though I am not choosing this route myself. I assume all contributions are welcome here…I am not condoning any alleged wrong doing but wanted to flag up there are positive aspects to Leather’s work.

  17. carol hedges Says:

    I am amazed by the ‘obitchery’ of these people – amazed but not entirely surprised. In my area (teen fiction) it also happens, and happened to me. When my ‘Spy Girl’ series were first published, I had a slew of reviews all knocking it and comparing it unfavourably to a certain well-known writer in the same area – except that I was not in competition and my ‘hero’ is a ‘heroine’. After the 6th review, I smelled a rat. Nothing one can do. I refuse to start a flame war with these people – who may well be backed by unscrupulous publicity depts.

    Hopefully you & co have highlighted an important issue. I fear Mr L. will prob raise 2 fingers and turn to his sales figures. Well done. Carol

  18. stevemosby Says:

    Kim – all contributions are welcome, of course, and I certainly wouldn’t deny that Leather has some decent points to make about various things. But I would say that comes under point 2 I listed above. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to unpleasant behaviour simply because a person is successful, or tells us things we want to hear.

  19. sock puppet punch « Paul Jessup Says:

    […] http://www.theleftroom.co.uk/?p=1724 […]

  20. stevemosby Says:

    Just to add, as this continues to develop, I was overjoyed to see Leather’s tweet this morning, suggesting I had tattoos to distract attention from my “ugly face”. He felt the need to veil it so much that he basically insulted everyone with tattoos. Typically clumsy, but at least he clarified that he was talking about men. Women with tattoos are apparently “very sexy”. Just so you know, ladies.

    In related news, there is this. http://storify.com/LucaVeste/jeremy-duns-exposes-alledged-racist-remarks-made-b

  21. Dougie Brimson Says:

    I’ve been looking into this whole issue of cyber bullying for a while now but from the other side. For having joined a thread on the Amazon forum and offered advice based on my own 16 year experience as a successful author and screenwriter (I’m not going to self-promote, if you’re curious, look me up), I soon found myself under attack from a pack of rabid readers and self-published authors based on everything from the worth, value and even honesty of my track record right through to my name (seriously)!

    As someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly and bullies at all, I didn’t take this lying down and so began digging into the background of some of the people involved in these attacks. Many I ironically found to be self published (but unsuccessful) authors themselves whilst others sit high up in the Amazon review rankings. Seemingly the ultimate status symbol for people who do this kind of thing.

    But what also happened was that I became deluged by emails from people talking about groups of readers who use numerous sock-puppet accounts to post 1 star reviews of self-published books which are then upvoted by other members of these groups who then post reviews of their own. The cycle continuing with the ultimate aim of ripping the author to shreds and eventually forcing Amazon to remove the book from sale. Simply, I suspect, because they can although they often hide behind some spurious ideal of acting as some kind of police force to protect the unknowing reader from purchasing badly produced books.

    Of course, should the targeted author respond in any way then the level of attacks increase and has on occasions even spread to Goodreads and even Facebook!

    It’s bizarre what’s going on out there in cyberspace at the moment but if it proves anything, it’s that when you combine a keyboard, a degree of anonymity and a lot of spare time, anything can happen. And occasionally it brings out the very worst in people who should really know better.

  22. Ramsey Campbell Says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that these days Dr Jekyll wouldn’t need a drug.

  23. Reviewing, it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. | Un:Bound Says:

    […] last few months about the ethics of the industry. Jeremy Duns has exposed plagiarists and he and Steve Mosby have taken Stephen Leather to task as an unapologetic example of the sock puppetting and use of […]

  24. “How I sold one million e-books…” revisited | Pegasus Pulp Says:

    […] used sockpuppets to review his own books (which is also frowned upon). Steve Mosby has more here, here and […]

  25. A brief glimpse into publishing’s dark side | David Hewson•com Says:

    […] Steve revealed the sock puppet nonsense (to those of us who weren’t at Harrogate) in a very measured blog post here. Jeremy then set about some serious and dedicated sleuthing. Most of the results you will find on Twitter and I heartily recommend you follow both these chaps, @jeremyduns and @stevemosby. A measure of Jeremy’s discoveries can be seen in a second post by Steve here. […]

  26. In Praise of Moi? Says:

    […] with his audience. Some of then dug around the internet for evidence and found that the practice was nastier than simply lauding his own work — and, it now emerges,  more widespread than you would […]

  27. gary dobbs Says:

    If I ever meet Leather I’ll put one on his chin.

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