Leather (3)

Posted by on August 4th, 2012

With reference to the previous two posts, it’s probably worth pointing out that the notorious panel in question is now available to buy and download online. It costs £3, and you can acquire it here.

Here are some initial thoughts about it on listening again.

If you weren’t there – and given the way the online coverage has reported the whole thing – you’ll probably find it sounds quite tame and restrained. If you’ve read some of the articles, you’ll probably be expecting to hear something close to people storming the stage with pitchforks. Well, you won’t hear that. Although the recording doesn’t entirely capture the crowd’s reaction or the overall atmosphere, you’ll mostly hear the event for what it was: a fascinating, slightly fragmented and occasionally heated discussion about ebooks.

While I don’t want to get into point-scoring or pettiness, I think it’s worth taking another look at Stephen Leather’s blogpost about the event. He may have changed it by now, but here is one thing he initially said, which has been reproduced carelessly elsewhere:

“So I explain to Ursula – and the audience – that I can write a short story in five days and am happy to sell that at the Amazon minimum of 72p which generates me an income of 25p. At this point Ursula – who runs one of the biggest publishing houses in the UK –  asked me “so you’re happy to work for 5p a day, are you?”  The audience laughed and clapped, and I was frankly gob-smacked.  I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t seen the fallacy in her comment. She was assuming that I spent five days writing a story and then sold one copy. She can’t possibly have believed that, could she?  Of course I don’t work for 5p a day.  My Inspector Zhang stories sell about five or six hundred copies a month. Each. So one story sells 6,000 copies a year. So over the next ten years it could sell 60,000 copies which means I’d get £15,000, which is £3,000 a day and that’s probably more than she gets paid.

It was all very strange and I wasn’t sure what to do. Part of me wanted to go all Jeremy Kyle and leap across the stage and shake some sense into her but I just smiled and listened to the audience applaud her. I did find it all very worrying.”

Right, but if you listen to the recording, you’ll hear that it was Mark Lawson who made the 5p comment, and very obviously as a quick throwaway joke.  So that vividly described little memory is entirely fabricated. Because people aren’t that stupid.

Here is a quick transcript of the sockpuppetry admission:

SL: I’ll go onto several forums, from the well-known forums, and post there, under my own name and under various other names and various other characters. You build this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself. And then I’ve got enough fans…

Me: So you use sockpuppet accounts basically?

SL: I think everyone does. Everyone does. Or I have friends who are sockpuppets, who might be real, but they might pick a fight with me.

Me: Are your readers aware of this, or…?

SL:  Well, I think that everyone … well, are the readers aware of it? No … But they’re not buying it because of the sockpuppet. What you’re trying to do is create a buzz. And it’s very hard, one person, surrounded by a hundred thousand other writers, to create a buzz. I mean, that’s one of the things that publishers do. They create a buzz. One person on their own, difficult to create a buzz. If you’ve got ten friends, and they’ve got friends, and you can get them all as one creating a buzz, then hopefully you’ll be all right.

Stephen has since claimed that I misunderstood him, and that sockpuppet was my phrase not his, so I think it would be enormously useful for him to expand. Since it’s against UK law for a vendor to pretend to be a consumer, it also seems like he should want to do that. The English language is a flexible thing, after all, so it’s theoretically possible he could twist the above statements into some acceptable if as yet unfathomable contortion.

If not, then perhaps – assuming such a thing is logistically possible – he could supply a list of the forums and accounts he’s used, and the kinds of things he’s said. And maybe say sorry for it?

If that’s too difficult, here are a few easier questions. We can limit the scope to start with. Maybe Stephen would be prepared to state publicly that he has definitely never promoted his books in the way he describes above on, say, Amazon?  If he hasn’t done so, then given what he’s admitted above, why did he not do so on Amazon?

And if he can’t bring himself to say anything at all, why not?

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 4th, 2012 at 7:50 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.


6 Responses to “Leather (3)”

  1. crimeficreader Says:

    I was there, Steve, but it would be interesting to listen to this after the fact. I have one thing I’d love to confirm for starters. Thanks for clarifying the other things you have mentioned.

  2. David Hewson Says:

    Maybe it’s just me but I can’t believe Harrogate are charging £3 for that audio. If they routinely sold conference audio that would be one thing. But the Leather panel is the one single item in their shop. Did people sign releases allowing their comments to be sold by a third party? If not they don’t have permission to do this.

    Given the controversy involved – which Leather says he was put up to – surely it should be put online for free to enable everyone to understand what went on, without having to line someone’s pockets along the way.

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

    […] again: There is now a recording of the Harrogate panel. You can now listen to Stephen Leather in all his […]

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

    […] Now paying for reviews is frowned upon in indie publishing circles. Nonetheless, John Locke is certainly not the only successful indie author who has paid for reviews. Darcie Chan, bestselling author of The Mill River Recluse, also paid for a review, albeit from Kirkus, which is considered respectable. And British indie thriller author Stephen Leather was recently revealed to have used sockpuppets to review his own books (which is also frowned upon). Steve Mosby has more here, here and here. […]

  5. The “sock puppet” scandal: How to stop fake book reviews online — paidContent Says:

    […] the panel, Leather revealed that he uses “sock puppet” accounts. Fellow panelist Mosby transcribed the exchange on his blog (and the recording is available here): SL: I’ll go onto several forums, from the well-known […]

  6. Faked Amazon Reviews Article on Forbes Says:

    […] In fact, I know of a top ranking ebook that teaches people how to succeed in Kindle using some of these techniques that’s actually being sold and ranking quite highly on Kindle. Things kicked off in July at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival where successful author Stephen Leather confessed, during an on-stage panel discussion, that he used fake accounts to write reviews and promote his own books. This admission of sockpuppetry shocked the writing community and has been covered well by fellow panellist Steve Mosby. […]

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