If you want a good review, write it yourself

Share

Emily Brontë wasn't a brand, at least not in her own time. These days there is a Brontë brand, which decrees that there must be stage and movie versions of Wuthering Heights every few years. If she were alive today, Emily would be expected to turn up at signings and literary festivals where she would face all sorts of questions. Where did Heathcliff come from? Are you writing another novel? Even the most reclusive of authors cannot avoid the realisation that writers have become brands.

It's one of the factors, I suspect, behind the revelation that a handful of authors have been resorting to "sock puppetry": using made-up identities to post favourable comments about their work and to disparage rivals. A crime writer called R J Ellory seems to have been one of the worst offenders, using pseudonyms to gush about his novels on the Amazon website – he described one immodestly as a "modern masterpiece" – and to dismiss a competitor's book as "same-old-same-old". Ellory has apologised but another author, Stephen Leather, has admitted to creating conversations under different names on Facebook and Twitter to give the impression that his novels are a talking point.

There was widespread astonishment a couple of years ago when the historian Orlando Figes acknowledged he'd written anonymous reviews recommending his own books and criticising those of rivals on Amazon. "I am ashamed of my behaviour and don't entirely understand why I acted as I did," he said at the time.

What's all the more perplexing is that none of these men are struggling writers, trying to make an impression. I'm reminded of a remark by Gore Vidal, who once summed up the worst instincts of an author: "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."

Vidal always struck me as a singularly unpleasant man and I'm not sure how many writers would acknowledge (or indeed suffer from) this degree of insecurity and envy. But the modern practice of turning authors into brands, with all the hoop-la and inflated claims that accompany it, has pitted writers against each other in a way that verges on gladiatorial. I don't know whether a best-selling American writer was embarrassed when her UK publisher described her as a "blockbuster crime brand", but this kind of hard sell has nothing to do with good writing.

It's a symptom of anxiety. A series of developments – e-books, piracy, and endless discounting – means that publishers no longer know how to sell books or make money. In desperation, they've responded by pushing authors as if they were baked beans.

There's never been a time so hard as now for writers to make a living, and even best-selling authors worry about lukewarm customer reviews on Amazon. Success feels random, as much to do with good PR as anything else, and could evaporate overnight. That Brontë woman, whatever happened to her? Never wrote a sequel, did she? Pity, I gave her three stars on Amazon.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game