Very Small Rocks?

Well, this has been a problem for a while, and it’s in need of a solution. I’m not sure that I have a good one. The problem stems from another very real problem, which is that authors fake reviews and pay for reviews. It’s not just authors, of course. This is a problem in the restaurant and hotel industries, and probably every industry where reviews correlate with income. There are those who fake positive reviews for gain and competitors who fake negative reviews for spite. It has been covered in the New York Times and on hundreds of blogs and other outlets. It’s a real problem with serious consequences and no easy solution.

One of the many problems that stems from this is that innocents are lumped in with perpetrators. The sports world has been dealing with this for a while now, as those who use performance enhancing drugs cast a dark shadow over those who don’t. And when national heroes like Lance Armstrong and Roger Clemens are implicated, the assumption becomes that everyone does it. But everyone doesn’t. Except that it’s practically impossible to prove a negative.

You can clock me speeding down the road and give me a ticket, but how can anyone who drives a vehicle prove that they never speed, not ever? This is the classic recipe for a witchhunt. Anyone can accuse, and the only defense is to profess innocence, which is what the guilty and innocent do in equal measure. I find that it’s quite fitting that I’m sitting here in Boston, just a stone’s throw from Salem, thinking about these things.

A fellow writer has spent the last month being hounded by an anonymous accuser. This person is claiming that she pays for reviews. There is no evidence, but of course, the author can’t prove the negative. Compounding this injustice is the fact that the accused author has dedicated much of her time and energy into fighting for the rights of other authors. I can’t go into detail without outing her, and the details aren’t important.

During this month-long vendetta, hundreds of other authors have been accused as well. These lists of names are being used in an attempt to buttress the vapid case against her, and I know several of the other authors on this list quite well. I’ve received emails from several of them and others on the list, and by their shock and indignation (and association with them, both in person and online), I don’t doubt their innocence. Why? Because it is very easy to know how innocent people get tangled up in this when you are one of them. These days, bestselling authors with a ton of reviews are presumed guilty until proven guilty. Ask any major-leaguer who leads the league in home runs what they go through as the season progresses. This is the new and ugly norm.

Along with an inability to prove innocence, there are many ways to appear guilty. If you publicly appreciate reviews, as I have, you’ll get a lot of first-time reviewers, which is supposedly an indication of guilt. And if you are a bestseller, you’ll get a lot of tack-on reviews that are designed to make the professional (hired for pay) reviewer look legit, which means the stain is now equally on you. In fact, if someone wanted to “prove” you engaged in this behavior, it would only cost them $50 to buy 10 reviews for your books. It’s easier than leaving a syringe in your locker.

People whom I admire are wondering what they can do about this. I understand their frustration. It’s hard to know what you can do, other than turn to loved ones for support. I used to protest these accusations on Facebook, where I felt that I was safe with friends, only to have people claim that I was trying to raise a posse. I’ve responded to accusatory reviews by politely saying that I would never engage in such behavior, only to be told that it’s rude of me to respond to this libel. I’ve since learned that the people who point and scream “witch” are given much support by those who tamp down any attempt at claiming innocence. The rules are simple: Anyone can cast aspersions on your character, and you’re not allowed to defend yourself. You are tied to the stake and expected to enjoy the burn.

The most common advice given is silence, to just ignore it, and I have mostly heeded this advice. I have chickened out. It has left me feeling like I did in middle school, where I was regularly bullied. I remember pretending to be sick so I didn’t have to go to school and deal with a kid who once pointed a gun at my brother, pulled the trigger, and laughed when it clicked. A kid who pushed us into thorny bushes (why the hell do they plant those at schools?) and who roughed us up when anyone wasn’t looking. I really did feel sick most mornings. My stomach would twist up in knots, and I lived in constant terror that I’d be targeted on a whim. I was also afraid to stick up for anyone, because I didn’t want to be targeted. We all felt this way.

This is very much what it feels like to have a public presence that can be torn down at any time, this feeling of vulnerability and fear. The people who do the accusing have nothing to lose. Some seem to take sport in it. Some, I’m sure, feel that they are doing the world a favor, and that it’s okay if a few innocents are lumped in with the perpetrators. This is the dark slice of what is otherwise an amazing ability to connect with readers, 99% of whom are positive, supportive, and wonderful. But it’s that other 1% that you live in terror of. And you know that if you say anything, if you stick up for a friend, that you’re next.

In a forum thread yesterday, anyone who spoke up about a similar issue promptly received a spate of 1-star reviews from one of these accusers. Over a hundred books in an hour were hit, including all of mine. I personally don’t care, as I am lucky to have tremendous support and an incredible number of unassailable reviews from readers, bloggers, and major media outlets. But I am watching friends get attacked. And they have much more to lose than I do. And I think I’ve been a chickenshit for quite long enough. I’m more than a little upset at myself for being such a coward for so long.

I don’t know if this is the best solution, because there isn’t really a good one, and there are elements of this solution that make me feel really hurt inside. It requires me bringing my previous dog into this, Jolie, whom I loved more than life itself, and whom I can’t think about without crying. (Yeah, I’m one of those weird dog owners. I accept that.) I really hate dragging her into an ugly debate, but the same reason I hate this is the same reason she’s needed. It’s because no one who knows me can doubt how I feel about her. Linking this surety to an unknown, to an unknowable, to an accusation, is the best solution I can think of. (It helps that Jolie never knew what in the world I was mumbling to her all those years; she just knew that I loved her and that she loved me. Which was enough.)

What we need are declarations that are unassailable. Perhaps these don’t exist, so they have to get as close as possible. And these declarations are not meant for those who don’t know us but for the ones who do. Because it’s the baseball player who worries what his mom thinks—this is the baseball player who tosses and turns at night. “Mom, I’m innocent” might not be enough. He wants her to really know. He wants his teammates to know. His loved ones. His true fans.

That’s who this is for. Because plenty of other people with blackness in their hearts will assume guilt until guilt is proven. What they choose to believe, however, says plenty about them while leaving the facts unchanged. This is an important truth to grasp. Knowing yourself is the most important thing. Watching others pick and choose how they know you—this tells you all you need to know about them. I felt liberated when I realized this. I began to see others for how great and not-so-great they are. (The next step is to learn not to judge them when they do not-so-great things.)

Without further ado, what follows and concludes this post is my Declaration of Integrity. It’s for my mom and for the people who matter the most to me. For my wife and my sister and my colleagues and the readers who appreciate my work and have written so many amazing emails, comments, and reviews. I thank you. Perhaps this is something other authors will find useful to do for themselves, but I also urge those who want to stay quiet to stay quiet. This is a risky thing, inviting attack and attention. You have my sympathy and support, however you handle this. Everyone will seek out their own solution. But I’ve waited far too long to say this:

I, Hugh Howey, have never paid for a book review in my life. I swear this on my life and on the life of my beloved dog and faithful companion of ten years, Jolie. May she rest in peace. And may the accusers and accused alike find peace in their hearts as well.

149 responses to “Very Small Rocks?”

  1. We believe you, Hugh. These trolls are everywhere, sadly, and we’ll never be rid of them. This particular one, I hope get hammered to the ground by a wave of readers that have read and reviewed these authors.

    Mike (@Comkey)

  2. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference.”

  3. I just don’t understand why people feel the need to be so hateful and negative. Art and the creative process is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated. Those sad few that choose to tear it down unfortunately seem to get all the pub (squeaky wheel + grease).

    Thanks for putting these thoughts to page, it’s definitely a topic that needs to be addressed more frequently.

  4. I absolutely believe you. I’ve often tried to steer away from anything controversial because I’m just starting out, but screw it. I’m with you.

  5. You don’t know me from Adam, Hugh, but I was lucky enough to meet you a few times at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio (I was the guy that kept recording panels for a podcast). Having spoken to you a few times, and having listened to what you have to say about the industry, and having read many of your books, and blog and FaceBook posts, I have to say something here.

    I read the post that has recently stirred this pot up again. I read the list of names on that post. All I can say is that if the person who wrote that crap really wanted anyone to believe him, he should have left your name off the list. When I saw your name, my immediate instinct was to call bullshit. I believe there are many others that feel the same way.

    You’ve shown your integrity too many times for me to believe this of you, and I LOVE the idea of a Declaration of integrity. I think I’ll do the same.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. That means a lot. More than you know.

      I have to tell you, after being a blubbering mess all morning (had to look through my wife’s FB page for a picture of Jolie), I feel amazing right now. Completely liberated. Makes me wish I’d found this courage sooner.

      I sent an email to the accused that I allude to in the post to thank her for her bravery. It was her courage that gave me courage. Really appreciate the support, man.

  6. Haters will hate, always. Your work speaks for itself, and I’ve given you 5 stars for most of them (except 2).

    I, Jae Lee, swear that I have read every book Hugh Howey has published on Amazon, and have given most of them 5 star reviews out of my own desire to praise that which deserves praise. Hugh Howey has never approached me to write a review for him nor has he paid me to write these reviews. Same goes for any other authors I have reviewed.

    1. Well said.

  7. It is so sad that this happens with such regularity. Such accusations are disgusting when they are levelled against hard working, innocent individuals.
    And so, in support of many who I consider to be excellent writers and comrades (including the lady concerned)…

    I, J Bryden Lloyd, hereby affirm that I have never paid for, or traded a review. I swear this on my life, and the lives of my children who make my world go round.

  8. I just saw a thing about John Locke’s review buying campaign which was disturbing in the extreme. This is timely for me as I was just this morning asked to trade fake reviews by another (less known than me and I’m pretty small ‘taters) author. as in “I’ll write it for you and you put your name on it and I’ll do the same for you and maybe get around to reading your book.”
    It has taken me nearly 5 hours to come to terms with this….
    Nor will I. Nor will I exchange fakes with anyone no matter who they are.
    thanks for this post. sharing it.

  9. Thank you. Declaration not required but thank you.

  10. I saw ‘it’ this morning and threw up a little in my mouth at the visciousness. Sending positive thoughts and vibes to each and every one of you that is getting bullied. Such a sad state of affairs :-(

  11. Very well spelt out. Whatever people say or think, God knows the real truth and what’s in everyone’s heart. You’re absolutely right that people who believe rumors say more about themselves than about you. What a fitting tribute to your Jollie, who looks like she’d defend you against the bullies. Take care, my friend. This, too, will pass.

  12. So proud of you, Hugh. Let’s hold our heads up high and walk down the high road hand-in-hand. My heart goes out to you and your brother for what you went through, too. I have a son that was bullied, and there’s nothing worse. xox

    PS: Don’t you love the irony of a guy like this stating that reviews are fake and then suddenly 100 fake reviews show up in the next hour? Sheesh!

  13. Never questioned your integrity for a moment. I will stand up anywhere, anytime to attest to that – and to the fact that I am one person whose own reviews were accused of being manufactured or bought.

    The issues you raise about fear and intimidation and silence have been the hallmarks of witch hunts through the ages. Some day I’ll tell you about my father and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

    Anyway, it’s always nice to see a picture of your gorgeous Jolie.

  14. […] However, on that note, I would like to point others to this incredibly heartwarming and honest blog post by Hugh Howey. Very Small Rocks? […]

  15. When I read your statement about Integrity it made me cry. I’ve always tried to live my life with integrity but the majority of people do not. Bravo,for being brave & honest!

    I recently discovered your books & have read all of the Shift series & LOVED it. I couldn’t put the books down. I’ve started on the Molly Fyde series & have ordered “Half Way Home”. I look forward to your future books.Keep up the good work!

  16. There will always be people who should never be allowed nice things because they throw them around, break them and stamp on the pieces. It IS hard to have a public presence precisely because there will always be those who want to attack and undermine out of malice, envy, low character or just being a jerk, no matter who you are, what you do and what it is you’re creating.

    However. Those who know you – your family, friends and true fans – who trust your integrity, are the people who must be the people you believe and trust. You know what the truth is and what your high standards mean, and that is all you need pay attention to. The jerks, the envious backstabbers, the mean, spiteful, anonymous drones, none of them say anything about you whatsoever but say everything about themselves. They do not matter.

    An elderly writer I knew many years ago once counselled me on this very kind of thing: the envy that some people will have, and the need to pull someone down and to see someone fail. He said there will always be people like that all the way through life and that you need to spot them, know them and resolve not to pay the slightest attention to what they do or say and instead to listen to those who wish you well and want to see you succeed. Accusations of fixing are just that – accusations. They mean nothing and are intended to bring you down and to sting you into responding.

    My elderly friend finished off his valuable pep talk by saying these people could stick it up their arses and swivel on it. I’ll leave you with that joyful visual. Ha!

    1. I posted about this on Facebook and I’m not going to make any comments about the people accused. I don’t know your work, Hugh, or you in general. I just browse your blog every now and then. That doesn’t mean I think you’re guilty, however, by any means.

      And while I’m talking about your blog, thank you for posting about a book a while ago, called Earthman Jack versus The Ghost Planet. Led to me buying it and I imagine others, so it’s great to see you helping authors out. And I will eventually try your writing. Just so little money and time to try everything I’d like to read unfortunately, then there’s fitting in time to write as well.

      Anyway, the reason I’m posting here is someone said that the trolls and accusers don’t matter. Unfortunately, they do and don’t. When you’re someone like Hugh who’s established, they don’t matter at all really. But when you’re unknown? They can indeed matter. All it can take is one or two bad ratings/reviews, even though people do at times check books out precisely because of the bad ratings/reviews. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky thus far.

      Honestly, it’s not easy being an author either. Both us and readers could do without all of this controversy. That is not to say review buying is not a problem, because it is. It damages authors trying to legitimately make it and it also damages readers because they’re getting conned, even if it is how people succeed in business. I know that I personally wouldn’t try to con others or take shortcuts to make it in this business.

      Sadly, this problem also extends beyond books as well. If there are any gamers on this blog, I’m sure you’re well aware how people review bomb new games and accuse any high score of being paid for.

  17. This is a wonderfully heartwarming and reassuring post, especially to authors just beginning their journey. Being able to see that there are those we admire who survive this kind of false scrutiny with grace and integrity does so much for the confidence to keep moving forward.

    I’ve also written a blog post about these accusations, looking at the validity of ‘paid=fake’. While I still don’t believe that Hugh (or any author on that list) actually took part in paying for reviews, I think the topic is interesting.

    Keep on Hugh. You’re epic!

    And now I return to reading Shift! Maybe I’ll do another review. Free of charge, obviously.

  18. Hugh, I believe you completely. As you know, this very modern type of cyber witch hunt covers a lot of areas, not just when it comes to book reviews. I find this behavior permeates almost every area of life in this Internet-centric world, and bullying has become an epidemic even more so now that it is not only the biggest and the strongest that can do it. Petty and sociopathic people whose vindictiveness and anger are directed at anyone who does good, who succeeds, or anyone who steps out of lockstep (in whatever the venue) is becoming more and more prevalent every day. Hate groups, political correctness police, and rogue cyber-bullies are everywhere. I guess one good thing about this (at least for me) is that defamation on the Internet is becoming increasingly easy to prove. You can’t stop someone (by way of prior restraint) from making up lies and defaming you, but if you give them enough rope, they will eventually hang themselves.

    One of the reason so many people get dragged into these defamation schemes, or fall for those who perpetrate them, is because once upon a time a gossip had to do their dirty work from door to door. Now, they can make up identities, use anonymous proxies, and hide in the shadows. My advice for everyone is NEVER believe anything bad about other people unless there is unassailable proof. These days, 5, or 15, or 1500 other anonymous people saying the same thing is NOT unassailable proof. It is not true that “where there is smoke, there is fire” in world where artificial smoke can be produced by anonymous accusers, hate groups, and anyone with an agenda.

    My advice to content creators and providers… bloggers, website owners, etc. is NEVER let your resource be used to spread anonymous or unproven gossip. Delete defamatory material immediately, and delete/ban users who do this sort of stuff.

    I don’t know that there will ever be a time when this stuff will go away. I’m not in support of some of the more extreme ways that fake reviews and online defamation can be stopped through prior restraint, but I think if all of us who are content creators will be more sensitive to deleting this stuff from our outlets before it gains traction, we would definitely stop some of it.

    Michael Bunker

    1. Brilliant ideas for combating this, Michael.

  19. Hugh,

    Well written post. I often feel that people who act in this manner are doing so for the attention. If they scream loud enough, they stay relevant for as long as they do so. These are the people of small minds and smaller hearts. I applaud your declaration (and I understand the reasons for it), but know that it was never directly necessary, because knowing your own integrity is enough (though I think this was to help assuage the attacks on some of your supporters as well).

    The quality of your writings wouldn’t have changed even if you had ever solicited for a review. Which is what makes the outburst of people crying “witch,” to continue your analogy, all the more pointless.

    Just continue to be yourself and know that many out there, myself included, have never doubted the integrity and generosity you have demonstrated consistently and to the highest standards.

    Carry on sir.

  20. Dear Hugh,
    I have not had the privilege to meet you but base my opinion on interviews you have done, your chronicled response to fans, and your personal comments in various forums. All of these paint an undeniable picture of a warm & generous man who finds it hard to believe his own success & is genuine in passing along positive thoughts, resources for aspiring writers, and respect for all.
    I do not know the answer to this miserable dilemma, but I know, once again, you have acted in an honest and decent manner to address it.
    My best yo you,
    Judith Roseta

  21. Hugh, I’m behind you 110%!! Posted about it on my blog today. Super big internet hugs for you and your beautiful puppy.

  22. This brings to mind some Emerson:

    “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”

    Absolve you to Jolie, and you’ve done all there is to do, Hugh. Well done. There was NEVER any doubt.

    1. I’m so impressed that Emerson “comes to mind” for you!

  23. In my belief that is exactly the type of thing why God said “vengeance is mine”. Or you could say that this is the type of thing that inspired people to invent a god who said that.

    It’s said to hear about this, because it seems to me, that there is absolutely no way to fight this. And my favourite quote from my favourite tv show: “the only way to win is to deny the battle”.

    But it couldn’t hurt to say which side you are on.

    I’m pretty sure, anyone who accuses you is crazy.

    Real readers can tell the difference between a good writer and a bad writer, and they have been for thousands of years without any review system. Those who think, they can destroy a good writer by shitty reviews or accusations like this are wasting their time. Yes, they can cause damage in money or in the number of readers, or could cause a delay, so maybe the artist will be discovered later. But they don’t have the power to demolish the art itself.

  24. Hugh, I have never read a word of yours until now. I am not being paid to leave a comment nor have I ever been paid to leave a review for anyone. I believe you, and because I admire your bravery and integrity, I am going to check out what you have written, and encourage others to do so as well. Thank you for saying what most writers are afraid to say, and I hope this will show the bullies out there we stick together.

  25. I’d much rather believe in the good in people rather than the bad. Besides, a paid review can help an author sell ONE book but it won’t sell subsequent books if the first one wasn’t truly good. This is why there is NO possible way you could be paying people for reviews. Your books are too good for that. They stand on their own. And if they were bad enough to need paid reviews then why would 200+ people show up at a library on a beautiful Saturday in the Fall to listen to you discuss your stories and how you write them?

    No, Hugh. I choose to believe in those who Dare to Hope.

  26. Good for you, Hugh! As you’ve said, haters are everywhere. As a reader that reviews books regularly, I resent even the implication that my opinion can be purchased by anyone, for any reason. Accusing the author accuses his or hers readers as well. It’s a sorry business for everyone. But I know that my reviews are genuine, and so does the author of whichever book I’ve enjoyed enough to review. I really don’t care what anyone else thinks.

    Your declaration is appreciated, but not necessary to anyone that matters.

  27. I got an email from another writer friend with the Fiverr accusations/paid reviews list on it. I was shocked to see your name and didn’t believe it for a minute. I too have been bullied, horribly, growing up and I love this response, it’s individual, it’s to the people who matter and care enough to follow your blog, and it says I won’t go silently into the night.
    I sincerely hope I don’t need to ever do this for myself, but I know how I will handle it if I do. I know that hollow-out feeling in the stomach as you step up to the bully. I know what it costs to defend a younger sibling. I was there, too.
    Your defense also will hopefully make people think twice about judging the lesser-known authors on the list.I know there were a few names there I felt tempted to judge. Not now. You have serious clout in the writer community. Your integrity defends others. Good on you.
    I wrote the other writer back and asked him not to circulate that filth any further.
    Much aloha
    Toby Neal

  28. Hugh, when I first about this from a friend who was also accused (I believe the same friend you mention in your blog) I was heart sick. When I read the list of authors lumped into this included yours I laughed. No one could possibly think this was real. You’ve been a leader and an inspiration for the Indie Movement. Every accolade and success you’ve had has been well earned. I’ve read many of your books and often your blog and am always impressed by your strength of self and honesty. You give back to your readers and to those who aspire to reach the star you’ve touched everyday. Thank you. Whatever ridiculousness is behind this attack says more about the writer than it ever could about you.

    Also, Jolie is a beautiful pittie with a sweet face. I’m glad she had ten years with you. I also still cry over my pup Ayla who I had to put down over 8 years ago, so I understand what this means to you.

    All my admiration and support

  29. I’m so sorry to hear about your bullying experience. I dealt with that for a while as well and it infuriates me, just as it does that someone would question your character. I’m with you, Hugh. I’m the same about my passed dogs. My heart to you, friend.

  30. I love your books Hugh Howey. As a matter of fact I’m reading “Shift” right now and then will read “Dust”. I am really annoyed and dismayed that you awesome indie authors are having to put up with bullying. Isn’t it enough that you guys write fabulous books to entertain us readers at wonderfully reasonable prices? Pooey on those accusers. They can kiss the butts of us dedicated readers. Stay strong Hugh Howey ,and my Indie writer friends. Your faithful readers have got your backs.

    Beth Lewis

  31. I have never read any of your books, but came to this post from a link from one of my favorite authors.
    Your right, it is bullying and very poor journalism and to be frank attention seeking behavior indicative of a damaged person. But, your reply was well considered, informative, honest and a good read. I will be buying one of your books to try out a new author! Think positive these imbeciles have led new readers to you :-)

  32. Hugh, thanks for the heads up about this post. Very heartwarming and enlightening. I was not aware of the 100 fake reviews yesterday — he probably just hasn’t gotten around to me yet, and especially since I posted a response to his website. I’m sure I’m in his sites somewhere. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this, but as long as we give a united front, it will be very hard for this guy to hide. Melissa will make sure of that!

  33. I saw the article that mentions you. It’s come up indirectly because of Goodreads suddenly ‘updating’ a policy as well as deleting shelving and reviews without notice to users. There’s a little more too it, of course, but rest assured it’s revived in relation to that controversy.

    I checked out the article because of a link in the GR thread, but I have to say that although it mentions both you and Ilona Andrews, I didn’t believe it for a minute. There’s a reason for your popularity, and it has nothing to do with buying reviews–its because Omnibus is a seriously well-written and original set of stories.

    In fact, I was initially resistant to picking Wool up because buzz was so loud (Twilight and Shades as my leading examples of non-attention worthy), but it was so well-written there was no question it deserved any accolades it got. Honestly, at this point I don’t even care–it was one of the best books I read in 2012 (and I read a lot), so I’m thankful for whatever elements brought it to my attention. However, I appreciate your declaration of honesty.

  34. […] they do and tell all their friends about it. For my own edification, and because I like the guy, here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s response to some twerp calling him out for buying reviews. Personally, I […]

  35. You paid someone to write this blog for you, didn’t you?

    Kidding of course. Anybody who knows you at all knows you’re a stand-up guy. Anybody who doesn’t know you well enough to know that, hey, it’s their loss. Haters are always going to hate, and that’s their loss too. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, criticize everyone else. Keep in mind, they wouldn’t so bravely accuse if they weren’t doing so anonymously on the web.

  36. What a wonderful post.

    Of course I believe you.

    I was one of the victims of the drive by spiteful one-star ratings. Relatively speaking they hurt me far more that they do you, but I refuse to relinquish all my human rights, including freedom of speech, because a very few mean-spirited low-lives poison the well.

    I’m far less successful than you are, but I have never paid for a review either. I don’t even ask for them. If the book itself doesn’t move the reader to leave a review somewhere, on their blog, the site of the vendor, or one of the social sites, so be it.

    Thank you, Hugh, for having the courage and the integrity to speak up for all of us.

  37. thank you thank you for writing this. i thought that it had been a while since i thought about this stuff, but in reading your post i realized how it still lives in me, like an unhealed wound. and how it’s still around my writing, and with other writer folk i know, in different forms.

    i’ve had a blog since 2003 and wrote a lot of raw stuff, and eventually wrote less, in part because of the troll folks. it took a long time to understand that – as you say – it’s best to simply ignore them. i came to see it as not feeding the beast – because it’s what it is. they want attention, energy, and any movement around their comments and emails only generates more from them. but that 1% you wrote about – i could feel them when i’d push the publish button, and i’d gird my loins a little :)

    the down side was that i wrote less on my blog. the up side is that i began to write more in different ways – and now have a novel serialized on jukepop, and is in the top 30 as of yesterday which is cool. and i know that my novel is where it is in large part because of how i’ve reached out to other writers there, finding good things to say, ways to be encouraging, pointing out the good writing they were doing. knowing that we’re all learning how to do this writing thing, and that it takes a lot of practice and a lot of mucking around to get it right.

    it feels like game theory in a way – to be generous as much and as often as possible, knowing that some folks like to play nice, and that others don’t. (do you know the prisoner’s dilemma one? the one where you actually win more if you screw the other over before they screw you?) there are so many folks like this, but there are more who aren’t like this. and so finding kindred and supporting the heck out of them is so important. it feels so much more awesome to share the love! we’re all struggling, why not share some love?

    so your post is beautiful. and true. we need to be good to one another, protect one another, and be watchful for one another. and ignore the trolls as much as possible, but also step up when a bully picks on someone. thanks for writing this, and for stepping up. and much love to jolie . . . for sharing the love with you :)

  38. Hugh, I am truly sorry this happened to you. It can’t be pleasant to have something like that said. However, I must admit that responding may simply have the result of giving those who have slandered you publicity and discoverability that they shouldn’t have.

    Hang in there. I can’t imagine that anyone in their right mind would believe the unfounded accusation whether you respond to it or not.

  39. I hope you find a way to protect your heart from bullies. The more successful you get, the more they will be attracted to you. They can’t produce anything of value, so they ride on the coat tails of the famous.

    Most people won’t believe their garbage, most of us are too smart for that, so don’t let them rip your guts out in their quest for cheap thrills.

    You rock. You create works of art that transport people out of their mundane worlds and that is something no critic can ever claim. They create nothing, they just destroy and build their own egos on the basis of that destruction. You are a true maker, a creator, and you have the hearts and minds of intelligent and thinking people behind you.

    Ignore the fools. You are far too good for them.

    Now, get back to doing what you do best – create. Don’t let idiots get you off track.

    Besides, this is about me, (did you REALLY think it was about you? Silly man.) and I am impatiently waiting for the next Molly Fyde installment. So get to work dude.

    Don’t sweat the small people.

  40. I don’t understand this whole “buying reviews” controversy. If John Locke wants to buy reviews to pump up his books, I don’t see what that matters to me, another author. Are there actually people out there who buys books COMPLETELY based on reviews on Don’t they read the synopsis first, then maybe check out the sample chapters, to see if the book is something they might want to read?

    Dear god, it’s like people are saying the book buying public are MORONS. They are not. I would NEVER, EVER buy a book unless the synopsis appeals to me, and I’ve scanned the first chapters for free. EVER.

    What Locke did was unethical, but at the end of the day, I honestly don’t see how it affects me, and why other authors are obsessed with it. It all feels like a case of “he’s selling too many books, that bastard!” to me.

    I don’t get it. There are millions of people buying books out there. Book Reader A isn’t going to NOT buy your book because he bought the other guy’s book. If your book appeals to him, he’ll buy your book, too. Ebooks are so cheap, as a guy who used to spend $20-$25 on hardcovers because I didn’t know any better in the day, trust me, I have absolutely no qualms to drop $20 bucks on 5 ebooks if they all appeal to me.

    There are times when reviews matter. Say, when you’re buying a toy off Amazon. Or a gardon hose. You want to know if it works/is fun. But not books. With books, you can actually READ THE FREE CHAPTERS. I honestly have never, ever made any decisions based on what books I’ve bought by reviews, and I honestly don’t think the vast majority of readers do, either.

    So this controversy, going around accusing people, is so high school. Aren’t we all adults here? Most book buyers are adults, too. They can decide on their own.

  41. Hugh,
    I am a writer whose books have too few reviews to absorb any vindictive reviews, Despite that, I give you my complete support and belief. I know your work, and I know many of your readers. Your books are worth every acclaim, and your readers are genuine, real people, Neither your books, your veracity, nor your fans deserve to be cast in such a light.

  42. I’ve got your back.

  43. i just remembered the most important part! *You* inspired the outpouring of support i’ve been doing for fellow writers! i found wool right before the omnibus for it came out, and started following your blog. and was so blown away by your open heartedness, your generosity to readers and fellow writers. and after reading your books, and reading your blog posts for so many months, it was like something woke back up in me that my response to the trolls had shut down. so thanks . . . for you being you . . . and for writing and putting it out there :)

  44. People are talking about you Hugh Howey, you can be proud of that. Readers who didn’t know about you before are going to be curious. Which will result in a few more sales on your books. And I am sure these new readers will love you.

    So just because other big name authors have done it, everybody else is guilty too. To hell with this dumb mofo.

  45. The one star issue drives me batty. One of my books has had fortunate success in the UK store and was ramping when I was first hit with a suspicious one star. The same reviewer gave a series of other authors a one star on the same day, all with the identical review ‘rubbish read’. Any one that saw the review would disregard I am sure. My sales however stemmed from my fortune of being on the top 100 list which displayed the cover and, after the review, three stars. I definitely took a hit. Ultimately the book recovered and recently hit number one in the men’s adventure category. My biggest stick is that Amazon was asleep at the wheel and refused to investigate or remove this obvious saboteur. Would be nice if the Amazon team could be on board.

  46. Online business owners, (forum owners, bloggers, authors, Amazon, Goodreads) have the power to quell bullies. The opposers end up crying free speech but these are private companies that set their own terms of service and they should enforce it -my way or the highway, because it’s their reputation too.

    Personally, I think the wall of anonymity these accusers hide behind is crumbling fast and attacks like this will fade. Within one day of the hate group Westboro Baptist Church announcing a funeral protest for the Boston bombing their websites and accounts were overtaken by the Anonymous group. I don’t mean to sound like Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski (You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don’t wanna know about it, believe me) but there are people out there right now who can drag Mr. or Ms. Anonymous bully from behind the curtain and serve them a big bowl of shut the hell up. The older I get, the more I like vigilante justice.

    The dog thing made me cry. What a sweetheart. Jesus, did you ever think you’d have to do anything like that?

    Sorry you had to experience this Hugh but way to crank a 180 on it. I’ve never read your books but now I want to read and recommend all of them. You’ve earned a fan for life.

  47. thank you for this article.
    i know a few on the list and my heart breaks for them.
    at the same time my heart trembles in fear for my own future as i continue to publish books
    it is sad that people cannot rejoice for others’ success and have to try to drag them into the mud where they live.

  48. I’m glad you’ve spoken out, Hugh. It takes courage. Nathan Bransford did it a couple of weeks ago and was attacked in the same way. But we need more big names to speak out and talk about the trolls to the mainstream media. I honestly think the people who are doing this are a pretty small gang of sociopaths. I agree with the commenter who said this is probably related to the Goodreads troll-review purge.

    Trolls need a new venue and this seems to be what they’ve chosen. Their accusations are slightly different, but their method is always the same: “punish” anybody with integrity or compassion (who has the courage to write and publish a book) with one-star reviews. They must be profoundly miserable human beings.

  49. I make sure that whenever I read book reviews, to basically ignore the glossy 5-star ratings with nothing but good things to say, and the horrible 1-star reviews with only bad things to say. I prefer reviews from people who have good and bad things to say, because they tend to be the most honest. One thing we should all remember to do is to take time to leave those honest reviews for all the books we read. If we can do that, then our honest reviews will out-weigh the misleading ones (both good and bad). Like you said Hugh, and I agree that 99% of readers out there are the ones you want to hear from. Unfortunately, an angry/disappointed person is much more likely to leave a bad review than a happy/satisfied person to leave a good review. I think the only solution is to encourage as many readers as possible to leave a review, eBay does this, it annoys you with emails and reminders until you write something about the seller. Take some time out for your authors and leave your honest reviews, we can turn the tables on the bad apples out there.

  50. I had one of these 1 star fake reviews just days after putting up my first novel onto the kindle store. I noticed immediately the exact same comment and phrasing on roughly 6 other books of the same genre. What I found interesting was that all the victims were mostly small time indie authors who would really feel the sting of an extremely negative review. It took almost 2 weeks to get Amazon to remove the damn thing. Not a great start really.

    1. By any chance, did the review state:

      “Don’t buy. There is a reason why Amazon “give” it for free. Boring……Amazon don’t offer good books. The r fooling us.”

      I had that one on my new release a little over a week ago, and found it on nine other books, word for word. Still trying to figure out how to get it removed. :/

      1. Mine read something along the lines of terrible sci-fi, couldn’t get through the sample, don’t buy. As I said below I contacted the other affected authors and we all complained about the user. It could easily happen again unfortunately. Hopefully you can get rid of yours. Hood luck

    2. Josh, at least your were able to have amazon respond. In the UK store a fake reviewer hit me and a group of other books with a one star on the same day and identical ambiguous review ‘rubbish’ and amazon stated each reader is entitled to an opinion.
      I am glad Hugh has stated his case. I never doubted.

      1. I managed to get all of the other authors affected by the fake reviewer to make the same complaint. I think this helped amazon confirm the complaint.

  51. Well said, Hugh. It’s unfortunate that things like this happen.
    Success breeds jealousy, and the system is easily gamed.

    I, Mike Cooley, have never and will never pay for reviews.

    Carry on! Let not the trolls seize the day.

  52. Amen, Hugh!

    I hear your heart on this one, and I feel your frustration. There’s such a sense of impotence when you’re accused of impropriety and are then told the best recourse is silence, especially when you’ve gone to such tremendous pains to take the high road, attempted to do the right and ethical thing at every turn.

    I’ve taken The True Review pledge ( and will happily take The Jolie Pledge as well. I do wish there was yet another way to respond to those who have ill will in their hearts, anonymity on their side, and the tools at their disposal to cause chaos in the professional lives of innocent authors; these people are seemingly shielded from reproach or repercussion, and it’s a bit maddening to me.

    Until that happens, I will continue to forge ahead and keep my head high, knowing I’m not alone in my frustration. Yes, real reviews are much harder to come by than false ones, but it is also much more gratifying to see the honest and hard earned results of labor and tireless promotion.

    Thank you for talking about this.

    John Mulhall

  53. Hugh, you’ve been an inspiration from the beginning. You love to write and it’s evident in your writing, and you love your fans and that is why they adore you. I don’t think any of us would even contemplate you going the dishonest route for reviews. That’s just not your brand or how we perceive you to be. In a world where accusations are thrown easily without remorse or fear of consequences, sometimes the best defense is consistency in ones own conduct and trust that those who love you truly, know better. I’m just sad that there are people who would want to spoil this for you.

    Anyway, from what I’ve seen, jealousy tends to bestow on people the ability to see things that do not exist in this reality, possibly an alternative earth in another dimension. That’s a true gift right there–interdimensional eyesight. It’s very similar to tunnel vision, I’m told. But it comes with a price: Severe headaches and heartburn and the inability to maintain inner peace.

  54. I missed the first of this “controversy” so I’m a bit puzzled by the emotional loading. Why would anyone think that a writer like Hugh would need to pay for reviews? I work for a small publisher and we decided years ago, when the paid review services first started rearing their ugly heads (and formerly legitimate venues like Kirkus went the paid route), that a review you had to pay for was a negative, no matter how positive it was. Give’m hell, Hugh

  55. Geoffrey Tompsett Avatar

    You have my support Hugh.
    Great to meet you in Boston on Saturday.
    The fact that you glad to meet fans and help budding authors,
    as well as our dedication to the craft speaks volumes.
    Thanks and keep up the good words

  56. I agree with you Hugh – silence is the best recourse. These people are small minded simpletons who can’t stand that some might have more success they do. Or else they just despise the success of others in general and live to tear them down.

    While reading your bullying paragraph, it reminded me of many incidents in my past. I take much solace in the knowledge that it’s we nerds that end up ruling the world. ;-)

  57. Thanks, Hugh, for writing this. I never had a doubt in your mind about your integrity. One of the chief pieces of evidence in your favour is your indefatigable dedication to your craft and your readers, regardless of your level of financial success.

    I told my partner and my friends after your visit to Sydney last April that I was astounded by your benevolence. It shone through in your happy-go-lucky manner, as well as your thoroughness in your answers to all of our questions. Ive gone to many many author events over the years and bar none, yours was the best.

    I always hold in contempt those small minded people who seek the negative in everyone. As someone who values my life and that of the people with whom I choose to associate, I stand behind you 100%. As a soon-to-be-published author myself, I also pledge never to seek paid reviews for my work. My work will stand on its own, and that’s what matters to me.

    1. I should have said I never had a doubt in MY mind. Darn that editing!

  58. When I saw that article/list posted, I knew right away that it was falsified. Too many of the authors on that list I know well enough to know they’re honest people who came by their success the old-fashioned way: writing good books that readers loved. I laughed out loud when I saw your name on it particularly, Hugh.

    You’ve got nothing to prove or defend. We know you didn’t buy reviews.

    1. I did the same exact thing. “Hugh Howey, nuh-uh.”

  59. Think too, of how this will possibly effect people who want to write *genuine* book reviews. I can see people being reluctant to review if they think they might get accused. Not myself, of course.

    But yeah, well said.

  60. […] to the accusation that he purchased reviews.  He responded with a well written, and thought out post on his blog.  One of the things that struck me in his blog post is his statement that he had tried for so long […]

  61. Amazon and the other bookseller websites could easily put a big dampener on fake/paid reviews (positive or negative) by implementing three simple rules for book reviews:

    1 – Only reviews from accounts with confirmed purchases are considered for posting
    2 – Reviews cannot be submitted until at least 72 hours after book delivery/download
    3 – Reviews from any account holder are limited to no more than 1 per week.

    They aren’t perfect, but I think they would raise the overall quality and integrity of the system.

    1. 1) Amazon already implemented that (I know because it wouldn’t let me post a review on an arc I’d read; 2) Having read said arc two months prior to publication, I was ready to post my review as soon as the book went live; 3) It was one of three arc’s I’d read, and I generally read a book or two per week.

      I understand it’s a solution, but instead I think educating the consumer about such fake reviews would go father towards combatting the problem than restricting honest reviewers.

    2. I’ve been asking for #2 for years. Also: Amazon knows how far into the book you’ve read. Why not show if the reader finished it? That doesn’t mean their review isn’t valid, but it’s more info for other readers to take into account. The more info, the better.

      On 3, I would make it 3 reviews per week. There are some avid readers out there.

      Great ideas.

      1. Ooooo! I like your idea of Amazon posting how far into the book the reader got. That could probably be gamed, though. It appears everything is gameable.

        Never thought for one second that any of your reviews were phony. Your stuff is just too good!

      2. Great post, and this was a great comment you just had. A good idea. Amazon DOES know how much has been read, however, once the ‘offenders’ get whiff of that news, would they go so far as hitting the last chapter and sliding through it until they reach the end? Will this show up as completing the book?I guess there are no real easy solutions. It’s just such a shame that there has to be such callous and vindictive people in the world. I heard about this whole thing before seeing your post, and I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe someone was so hell-bent on trying to ruin the career of the innocent author, not to mention the list of other clearly innocent people. We need to rise above it somehow. Good luck.

      3. I think a weighting algorithm would be interesting. Highest weighted reviews would go to consumers who give a broad (star value) range of reviews to books they read after purchasing them. Lower weight for reviewers that didn’t buy the book, didn’t read the kindle book, never purchase anything, only give 1 or 5 star reviews, use the same text in multiple reviews, etc.

        I think the problem of internet bullies exists everywhere now. I’m not sure what the solution is, but clearly people do stuff online they would be embarrassed to do face to face. If people had to be more personally accountable for their actions online I think they’d be less likely to be bullies online.

      4. Additionally, I know of readers who will wait and write reviews in chunks – reading several books, then sitting down for an hour or so and writing all of their reviews in one sitting. So limiting to two or three per week would discourage these types of legitimate reader/reviewers.

      5. And on point #2 if someone purchased an ebook from Amazon (which is the bulk, but ignores ARCs or hard copies) then Amazon not only knows if they’ve read the book, but how quickly, whether they looked at every page, how often they read and can detect if they only opened the first and last page, etc. It would be very easy to correlate that and say, “Nope, you can’t review this book because YOU HAVEN’T READ IT”


    3. I get what you are saying COMPLETELY here, but when I finish a book I love I run to Amazon (knocking over my small children and stepping on pet tails along the way) to post my review. Otherwise I forget the ‘feel’ I had when it was over, and why it left me awe-struck.

      If a book doesn’t do that to me in the end, I usually don’t review it. Which is why I don’t have a lot of reviews online and my ratings are always 4+. I mean, really, what is the point of leaving someone a negative review. LOL

      1. I feel the same way. I have a very difficult time leaving a negative review. There have been a couple of books I’ve read in the last few years that made my head ache they were so poorly written. Those books should have a negative review, I just can’t bring myself to write them.

      2. I’m right there with you, Trish!

        I read quickly and voraciously – can finish a new download in 24-36 hours, and can’t wait to put up my reviews!

        I may be Amazon’s best customer :D

    4. For voracious readers, one review a week is probably insufficient. I read rapidly and commute on a train one hour each way every day. But one a day maybe?

  62. I believe you, Mr. Howey. I believe you, because I, too, have a Jolie in my life in the form of my Teddy. I don’t take your words lightly.

  63. Wait. People will pay me for reviews? :) I could use some extra income.

    Just kidding. Hopefully the real reader reviews overshadow any of the fake ones out there.

  64. […] the list of the accused as being factual. Having had enough, Howey responded with his “Very Small Rocks?” post that explores the experience of being accused as well as a heartfelt declaration at the […]

  65. I hear you, I believe you, and I agree. Friends of mine have been attacked and when I blogged about it, I got attacked. I was lucky, though. My books didn’t get even a passing glance. It’s shameful, the way people hide behind anonymity of the internet. (Not that it’s ever really anonymous, if you know where to look.)

    Good for you for speaking up. And when the trolls show up (it may take a couple days), let them hang themselves – and then shut off comments. Good luck!

  66. I found out about this yesterday from another author friend on this ‘list’ who vehemently denied paying for reviews. I trust him, he’s a good guy, and it made the validity of the original post not only questionable, but laughable.

    You’ve handled this with tact (more than so I would – I’d be on the floor in a ball, just crying until my body ran dry). Just keep writing your awesomeness and remember there are some out there with the facts wrong, or are quite simply, bored asshats.

    By the way! Good luck with the 2013 Best Indie awards! I nearly fell off my chair when I saw we were in the same category together. A bit ‘star-struck’. LOL I wish you the best!! Try not to let this mess interfere with life. ;)

    1. Congrats, Trish! I’ll be pulling for you.

      1. Thank you! It’s an honor just to be nominated. So I’m happy with that. ;) Happy week!

  67. Teresa Piscatelli Avatar

    I am a great fan of your work, and I will tell you the same thing that I told Elle Casey when she blogged about basically the same thing awhile back:

    Haters gonna hate, Hugh.
    Haters gonna hate.

    It was her link to your blog that brought me here, and although I have read the first three Wool books I don’t think I have reviewed them. Shame on me.
    I will post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon for them, and will follow your blog.

    I think the haters might have just created a backlash. I love it!

    Teresa Piscatelli

  68. First of all: Hurrah! Bravo! Thank you for an articulate, heartfelt, and well-said post. I have never bought (or read) a book based on reviews. I go by the content. If the writer is unknown, I will find the book in the Library, and will sample the writing there. If it is good, I will then purchase. When I leave reviews, they are based on content as well. My usual review is not a review, but the fact that I will buy a book by an author whom I know to be good.
    I respect the art and craft of writing, and wish that I had the discipline it takes to write good stories. I know that reviews, especially the less-than-positive ones, can be traumatic. Just know that there are probably more of us who love to read, and who buy books for that reason, than there are bad and/or fake reviewers.

    PS: I am not (yet) one of your fans, Mr. Howey. I found this post from a link on another blog. However, I will check out your writing, as I am most impressed by the writing in this post.

  69. I like to use the internet as a tool to help me with my planning for purchases or projects and reviews have often been part of the research. It frustrates me to no end when I come across reviews, or discussions in forums, that are either guided by greed (corrupt reviews) or anger (at the world it would seem) and add NO VALUE to the decision making of the buyer. Sadly I feel that too many review readers can not tell when they find a fake and as such the greed and anger wins.

    I really wish that web sites were not so easily manipulated by those people who wish to have multiple identities such that they can manipulate so effectively with a crafty approach to fit their need.

    I hope that in time that smart people (like us ;-) will find an identity system that we can trust to link all of our activities so that we cannot hide. I think this would help….

  70. Contessa Timmerman Avatar
    Contessa Timmerman

    Thank you for sticking up for the little guy. I write a little, but not really published a lot yet. But with all the encouragement from writers. I will be ok. As now I will remember, I write for me and my friends and family. if someone doesn’t like it and oh well.


  71. Just wondering if the desperate publishing industry would stoop to hiring fake reviewers to attack indie publishers. They have deep enough pockets. I realize it’s kind of a conspiracy theory….

    1. Major publishers have been busted for buying positive reviews. It wouldn’t surprise me if, on their own time, people in the industry didn’t try to tear down the competition a little.

  72. I have not had to deal with this. Perhaps it is because if these are purchased in groups of 10 reviews for $50, you must first HAVE $50 and 10 reviews in order to be accused. haha. I know this is not a laughing matter, and it is sick how people will do this. It is not just with books either. Our world has become a breeding pool of filth. People who travel around the internet looking for ways to bring someone down by using a long list of topics and plans. I am sorry you have had to deal with this issue and I will stand with you even though I have not dealt with it.
    I, Eric Rappe’, hereby condemn the actions of these pathetic human beings who would waste their lives away in the search for ways to hurt other people for pure amusement. I pray that instead of making false accusations about “purchased” reviews, they learn to make opinions of their own. I hope they find a path that leads them to a life where joy fulfills them instead of hate.
    Feel free to share my comments anywhere you wish. I have 7 reviews for my book. a group of poor reviews could really hurt my sales, but the fact is I am not very good at marketing anyway so screw it! Good luck to you and to all my fellow authors out there in all that they do!

  73. Good for you! I’m glad you’re standing up. It needs to be done. You can add me to the list of the carpet-bombed. I stood up in support of you the other day, and within 24 hours, a GR user had one-starred all my books, even the two that aren’t published yet and have no ARCs. Gotta love the cowards who won’t comment in threads in an intelligent disagreement, but instead hide behind private accounts that only rate 1 stars and leave no reviews. Now that’s what I call a mature response.

  74. The problem we writers have as soon as we’ve offered our work for public scrutiny is that there will always be those jealous types out there who have an unhealthy psychology need/obsession with throwing verbal tomatoes and stones at anything they themselves have not created. These cowards are on a power trip—but they will never, EVER offer a creative work of their own that can be exposed to the same public and critical scrutiny. They are worse than schoolyard bullies in that they attack from hiding, behind the shield of their keyboards.

    They are doubly reprehensible because they attack the small “Indie” writer who can be most affected by the single-star and damning words they post. These trolls would never make public critical comments attacking the way Big Publishers get their books onto Bestsellers lists: it’s the number of books SHIPPED each week to big box stores that count, not SOLD to readers. Whereas, an “Indie” author such as Hugh made it onto those lists by the number of books he SOLD!

    The best way to fight these one-star trolls is by continually writing good books, offering free samples, and getting good word of mouth. If a writer has a tough enough skin, troll words will eventually wash off and their stars will be buried by readers who are the TRUE modern gatekeepers.

  75. Wow, that is so sad that people feel the need to do that. I know I’ve had my own doubts where reviews are concerned on ones that I’ve read but it’s like you said, there is no way to prove that so it’s just ridiculous and mean to do that. If you truly don’t like a book, you should just give it your rating (whatever it is) and leave your review, without freaking out on other reviewers because you’ve decided that they don’t agree with you so it must be fake. It really is quite brave of you to post something like this being it’s such a heated topic right now but I know for myself, and your other readers out there, we’ll back up every 5 star rating we’ve given you.

  76. Hugh, you are a class act. I figured that out when I saw you in Tim Grahl’s marketing workshop a couple weeks ago. This blog post confirmed it for me, even before you brought up your baby. Kudo’s to you for speaking out AND taking the high road.

  77. Hugh, I love Jolie. I’m currently rehabilitating a rescued dog who looks very much like her. She’s, sadly, not had even close to the wonderful life I’m sure Jolie had with you. You’re an awesome person for loving her so long, for loving her still. (I’m one of those weird dog owners, too.)

    As a total stranger, I’m 100% objective. I believe you, Hugh. And I love the stand you’ve taken on this. Yes, silence is the be-all, end-all, blah-blah-blah–but it’s also frustrating. I get it. I especially like what you say about (I’m paraphrasing) the ones that matter won’t mind (or believe, in this case) and the ones that mind don’t matter. It’s exactly right, but it takes a strong character to live by it. Kudos. Hat off. Much, much success.

    P.S. — love the covers of your books.

  78. Hugh – thanks for speaking up. As the publisher for a couple of the authors whose names have appeared on these lists, I can assure you no reviews were paid for by them, or by us.

    I will say this, if all reviewers have to have purchased the book via the retailers directly, it will make it very hard for those of us who work with book bloggers to continue to do so effectively. By providing them with eARC’s we are able to *legitimately* solicit real reviews ahead of publication. If we are supposed to only allow unbiased, non-friend, non-author reviews, and then have to limit our ability to give away copies of the book in favor of purchasing them through the respective retailers – well – that would the internet marketing equivalent of “with one hand tied behind our backs”. ;) I wish I had a brilliant solution to the problem.

    Love your work by the way. Yours was one of only two print books I brought home from BEA this year!

    1. Yeah, there are some problems with requiring purchases for reviews. I go back and forth on whether or not the gains outweigh the losses. There has to be some solution, such as qualifying bloggers and professional reviewers so that they bypass the requirement. They could even be given a “Blogger” badge that shows up on Amazon. I think you could make requirements such that the cheaters couldn’t qualify themselves.

      The fact that you carried my book home from BEA is the highest of compliments! I know how difficult that decision is. :)

  79. Hugh,
    I would never have guessed that you would plant reviews for your self or against other authors. So Jolie be spared, I wouldn’t have believed otherwise. I don’t think anyone whose actually READ your books (the silo series at least which is all I’ve read so far) would think so either. Great looking dog, BTW.

    I’ve both been the target of calumnies sore, and a defender of others so attacked. Sometimes not dignifying the act with a response is precisely write (“Do not answer a fool according to his or you will also be like him.” Proverbs 26:4). More often though, one must maintain their innocence even in the face of mass incredulity while maintaining and preserving one’s credibility (“Answer a fool as his folly deserves, “) and come to the aid of others equally disparaged

  80. […] Hugh Howey’s Very Small Rocks? is an unusually sad, difficult article for him. The bestselling writer, who will appear October 8 […]

  81. […] has even gone so far as to swear his innocence on the life of his dead dog. Could anyone be any more […]

    1. Tirade? Is that writer serious? Since when is a thoughtful, well written blog posting a “tirade”? Or does that anonymous “writer” get an “F” in reading comprehension?

  82. Who ever is running the site accusing authors is nothing but a low life *&%#. The are probably jealous over the success of the authors they are accusing.

    To Hugh and any other author accused please be aware that you have fans and I am one of them. Please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to feature you on my blog to help promote. info AT kybunnies DOT com

  83. Ah Geez. Now you are protesting your innocence, so surely you are guilty, according to these “investigators.” I hope someone rips the mask off them soon and exposes them. They and their poisonous lies are sure to dry up and blow away in sunlight, like vampires.

    1. I can’t force myself to hate the people who think these things. I think many of them probably have books out, and they know how slowly reviews accumulate. They can’t imagine otherwise. I was in that boat once. I never thought I’d see 100 reviews on any of my books. But then my sales took off (for a book I never promoted, no less), and the reviews poured in. Until you see this happen, you can’t imagine that it’s possible. And so you doubt the veracity of anyone experiencing it.

      Compounding this is the jerks who HAVE resorted to these tactics. It really is like being a hardworking athlete and watching cheaters ruin the sport you love. It’s disheartening.

      I just wish these people throwing out accusations could step back and look at the evidence with a clear mind. They are talking about authors like HM Ward, Brandon Sanderson, Jasinda Wilder, and myself. We have all sold over a million books apiece (multiple millions in the case of some of these others). We sell thousands of books a day. Getting 100+ new reviews in a day is not unusual.

      But when you see this, as an author who hasn’t had the same success, it’s easy to assume shenanigans and throw everyone into the same pot. If those who did this imagined what it would feel like to be innocent and tossed in with the cheaters, I think they would feel a twinge of regret. Maybe not. I’m just thankful that the outpouring of support (not just for me, but for all of the authors implicated) has drowned out the antics of a handful of misguided folks. The world is full of good people. They just tend to make less noise until those moments when they’ve had quite enough.

      1. I was an active member of the KDP forums when Colleen Hoover published her first book. It took off like a rocket, with 50 5 star reviews in less than a week. A number of forum members vilified her, certain she was gaming the system with sock-puppet reviews. They could not conceive that her excellent book might have had something to do with her success.

        She went on to get three books on the NYT best seller list that year. She is another class act whose star is still ascending.

        Yes, wild successes do happen when someone manages, somehow, to touch the hearts of the reading public.

  84. This was a heartfelt, moving declaration Hugh. As always, it’s a comfort to know there are people who can find success and still keep their good heart. You are a great example for all of us to follow. I stand beside you in the same declaration. I have never paid for any reviews for my books, nor will I ever do so. I’m doing this the hard way and I know eventually, something good will come of it because I believe all we do comes back to us. Thank you for staying true to yourself and being there for others who look up to you. God bless you and your family and your wonderful dog.

    Linda (aka LM Fields)

  85. I try and read a few reviews of each, positive and negative, before I commit to buying a book. I feel like I can usually tell when a reviewer has read the book or not. I remember reading a negative review on Hugh Howey well over a year ago and it was along the lines of, “I’m so sick of these authors paying for reviews.” I never considered that before. But I could tell right from the beginning (well after the end of the Wool) that these guys were so full of shit. Their reviews can’t change the fact that the story is brilliant. I tend to always think the best of people until I’m proven otherwise.

    Hugh, you’ve done a great job interacting with your readers and I feel like we’ve all got to know you over the years. I believe that you would not jeopardize your integrity and career. You’ve worked hard to get where you are and you deserve all the accolades you’ve received. Its hard to sit back and let a few people try and hurt your reputation or your character, but there are plenty of us out there that know that you are legit. Does Amazon require reviewers to register under true name? Perhaps they could did something like Twitter does where you prove who you actually. Anyway, thanks for your post, sorry you have to deal with that, but you didn’t have to prove anything, we already knew that!

  86. Websites like link’d in and facebook for example sort of breed this kind of fake/false review system.

    For example if someone sets up a company page on Facebook it invites them to “spam” everyone they know and invite them to “like” their page. This may sound reasonable to some but, family and friends and casual acquaintances and the kid you kinda remember from high school may not (nor ever will be) among your clientele so a “like” from them would represent a disingenuous picture of the likeability of your business, yet too many would click that little thumbs up just because they know the requester. I have friends with businesses who request that I like their page(s) all the time but I don’t click that button unless I legitimately like their business and not just the proprietor.

    On link’d in my job skills have even been endorsed by people I have never worked in a professional capacity with. (Because the site pesters users into doing so.)

    Other sites like Netflix even allow people to review movies that haven’t come out yet. So people are reviewing movies based on nothing. How can a review of a movie based on no movie be anything but false. Netflix should not let users publicly review movies that they have not rented or streamed from them.

    Online reviews are running the risk of becoming about as credible as looking to the bathroom wall for dating advice.

  87. […] The most common advice given is silence, to just ignore it, and I have mostly heeded this advice. I … […]

  88. Just read one of the inserted articles about your so-called week long rant, Hugh. Here’s my response to it.

    OH my God! What are they? Head Hunters? Why are they doing this to begin with? What is their purpose for “seeking this truth” Hugh? They don’t have facts, and yet they stand on their soap box with their accusations and for what end? You defend yourself, as you should, and they accuse you of being guilty because you are defending yourself “TOO MUCH”? Who is setting this defense standard bar now? Who gives them that right? And again, what is their purpose for doing this?

    The way I see it, whether reviews are purchased or not, if someone likes a book or not, the consumer will stay or leave. That is the beautiful thing about capitalism. If you create a good product, one everyone likes, they’ll keep coming back for more. If you create crap, guess what? You’re not going keep any customers and via word of mouth, you won’t see new people showing up either.

    Obviously you’re doing something right Hugh! While I do believe you and everything you posted here in your blog, if I was asked what evidence I had to support my position I’d have to say none. I don’t know you, though I would be happy to call you friend. But likewise, these head hunters could be asked the same question and they would have to answer the same way, none. They don’t have evidence either. They have no right to make accusations against you or any other writer until they can prove someone of wrong doing and they admitted as such they can’t! Shame on them!

    The proof that’s out there is that your fans love you and your stories, Hugh. The proof can be found in your integrity that speaks volumes. The way you reach out to others, the way you treat everyone the same regardless of your success, shows exactly what kind of character you have. You are honor bound, true to yourself, and in my world, all you and anyone else does, good or bad, returns to you.

    These head hunters will get what’s coming to them. I only wish Karma didn’t move so damn slow. As always, I wish you and yours, the very best Hugh.

    Linda (aka LM Fields)

  89. I get the Monty Python reference, but the title also suggests that those who buy fake positive reviews and those who post fake negative reviews should both be put to making very small rocks out of very large ones.

    1. I was more thinking how the tiny insults over the years are like “sticks and stones,” but they do add up, and they do hurt.

      I was further thinking of the line “And what else floats?”, which was the title of my Tweet about this. Shit floats. That’s what. And these accusations are just a huge pile of that.

  90. The “zon alert” reaction to this post by Hugh is downright comical. It reads like a parody of a witch hunt. Every action (or inaction) you take is further proof of your guilt:

    “Howey has even gone so far as to swear his innocence on the life of his dead dog. Could anyone be any more guilty?”

    Seriously, if I had set out to write a parody of a witch hunt, and I had thought of that line, I would SO have made it the centerpiece of my article. This whole thing is simply bizarre.

  91. Without personally knowing you i believe that you love your work and that you always do what you say and act according to fair and Human rules. Thats all what i need to believe in in this freaky discussion. I Never thought you would so that!
    (I always only read the Amazon Stars 2-4, so not the best and not the worst. Thats my Way, Test it. I think if Star 4 is the best and 2 is the worst the System is more free of Manipulation. )

  92. The I-Ching says “the best way to combat evil is to make energetic progress in the good.” You’re way ahead of the game.

  93. I would not know how to get fake reviews let alone hundreds of them. I did have a fan stalker though who tried to blackmail me out of thousands by saying they where going to publish lies about me supposedly owing them money that I did not owe, I ignored a comment they made on facebook, but it has been reported to facebook anyway. Seems that even relatively unknown authors like me get their share of nutty people trying to down them anyway they can think of! All this makes me think of Stephen Kings ‘Misery’. I do reviews but I have never been paid for or charged anything for doing one, was offered payment by one author that I refused, all my reviews are up front and honest.
    Anyway good luck, my advice just put it all behind you, know one is really that interested, people are only interested in reading what they like and most will take a look inside a book and go by that before buying rather than what any review might say!

  94. As someone who knows many of the authors on that list, I’d find the accusation laughable if it didn’t cause so much pain and stress to good people and talented authors. I, too, don’t understand on an emotional level (even if I get it logically) why others try to tear down the people who are successful instead of concentrating on improving their own lives. All the best, Hugh!

  95. I don’t know if this is any particular help to the argument, but I rarely ever read the reviews of a book or CD or movie before I purchase it from Amazon. When I do read the reviews before I buy, I read them ALL–the positive and the negative–to get an overall impression. I find it easy to discern the true reviews from the b.s. ones, and I dismiss the ones that don’t seem genuine. I can honestly say that I have never decided NOT to buy something based on the reviews. This is because, when it comes to artistic endeavors, everyone has their own tastes. For example, critics loved the movie PULP FICTION, while I hated it. Conversely, critics almost universally panned ALIEN vs. PREDATOR, but I rather liked it.

    I usually only read the reviews AFTER I’ve read a book or seen a movie or listened to a CD in order to see if others opinions of said product matched my own. I’m always amazed at the disparity of opinions. Additionally, when I read movie reviews, I find those on Red Box’s website are overall more negative than the ones for the same movies on Amazon. (On a side note, it annoys me when Amazon lumps all the reviews for movies and TV together despite the format. Sometimes I want to get a review of the quality of a bluray release but have to weed through reviews of the DVD and digital downloads to find them. And on those occasions where a particular movie has had several different DVD (and even VHS) releases, this gets rather frustrating.)

    Overall, I would say don’t worry about reviews. I think I can speak as a typical consumer that they have little to no effect on my purchasing decisions.

    As far as those who accuse one of purchasing reviews, I think most of those are the same haters who leave the arbitrary negative reviews. They have no lives of their own; so they feel the need to inject their unhappiness unto others. Don’t let them. If they can’t get a reaction out of you, they’ll move on to other targets. Don’t let yourself believe you are being a coward by remaining silent. Just embrace the truth that those who attack you are the real cowards.

  96. Sadly, we live in a time where people can trash and belittle others using aliases. Some, as you mention, do indeed “enjoy” tearing down others. But these are people who probably don’t have the backbone to use their real name, and face to face, they are people who wouldn’t dare make such accusations. These are people I will never understand. The world is full of this. It’s like kids ringing the doorbell and running away, but thanks to the internet, these childish people are doing much, much worse.

    Already, on the news this morning, 19 NYC restaurants are being fined for writing/buying fake reviews. Maybe now, Amazon will take a more serious look at the “fake negative reviews” being slammed against Indie Authors and start removing them, too.

    While you were in Boston, I was on vacation in Salem. I learned something new that I never had known before. NO “witches” were EVER burned at the stake in Salem. They were hanged. One (79 year old man, I believe) was pressed to death with stones. Some in Europe were burned at the stake though. None in Salem.

    Naysayers will continue to rise. It’s a sad part of how this world works. Just keep writing! We know the truth.

  97. It’s an interesting philosophical question – what happens when good people do nothing? Sometimes ignoring mean people (who are in need of healing their own emotional issues) works. But when people have the tools to hurt, and a bit of anonymity, I’m not convinced that ignoring them is the best option. While I haven’t (yet) been attacked, I’ve been given the same advice – ignore them if they come. But doesn’t that grant them free access? Have we really become so cut off from each other in this crowded world? These questions lead to more unhappy questions in my mind.

    But I agree with you, Hugh. If your friends and family and fans know you are a man of integrity, that’s what matters most. And you know they do. :) Thanks for posting an article to make us all think about what we can do to dampen the effects of Internet bullying.

  98. Hugh,

    Your authenticity shines through for all who “know” you. Rock on!

  99. It upsets me that Hugh Howey has been accused of having fake reviews…it really does. Makes me mad! So mad!

    I know haters are going to hate, but accusing such a great person & author, its just wrong.

    Don’t they see the interactions he has with this readers? How approachable he is, he is the real deal, and I am 100% positive that all the positive reviews that have been left for any of his books are the real deal.

    I have been a huge fan of Wool since 2010, have loved the entire story from Wool 1 up to Dust. All his books have been amazing, he has created a whole new world, that so many other stories from fan fiction have branched out.

    I cant be more grateful, thank Hugh, thank you for your work.

    We have your back buddy.

  100. Thanks, Hugh, for speaking out. Self publishing is a huge step for many of us who write simply because we love to write. Though getting paid so that we can continue to do what we love would be a plus, many of us don’t know if we can stomach the haters who take absolute joy in degrading the confidence and hard work of others. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be that hate-filled.

    Hugh – as so many others have said – I HAVE YOUR BACK. Just as I know you have mine as a fellow (soon-to-be) self-published writer. You have been a true inspiration to me, and were the single biggest motivator (by generously sharing your passion and your journey) of my decision to finally take the big step. I will publish something very near, dear and personal to my family within the next week, and will make your dignified example my lead. Haters be damned!

  101. I’ve been in this biz for a long time. I cautiously shifted my allegiance to entrepreneurial publishing because of writers like Hugh Howey and Barry Eisler-solid storytellers who chose this path and attracted a following. I’ve never thought either one bought reviews. Why? Because they know how to tell a story and that’s evident from page one. That said, a lot of writers do. I read a lot. I have lots of connection to the indie writing community. Though I’m asked often, I rarely review a book because most of the books I read out here are poorly crafted. I’ve tracked them on Goodreads & Amazon just to see if my impression matches readers who do review these poorly crafted books. My conclusion? Someone is paying someone to write reviews that deliver 5 stars. Reviewers that give 5 stars to book ‘drafts’ are motivated by something. Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
    I now have one more reason to dig Hugh Howey–his love of pit bulls. My Roxy just finished her chemotherapy…She looks a lot like your Jolie…they are great dogs.

  102. Thanks for this post. I, for one, get so frustrated and disheartened by this public vilification that some think they are entitled to dish out. We put everything into our books, only to have a certain few deliberately search people out to tear apart what we’ve taken so long to achieve. And we’re not *supposed* to have an opinion, or be able to defend ourselves? They can say whatever they please, but God help anyone who actually tries to correct a misunderstanding. I believe if they have to right to degrade and belittle an author, that author has the right to stand up for themselves. Not in a mean, or nasty way, but at least have to right to say they disagree and why.

    A good friend of mine had this very thing happen to her over a blog post last year, and was eviscerated all over the net for having voiced her opinion. It’s a good thing she’s a strong woman, because many would’ve crumbled into a heap and sat rocking in the corner at the hate that came her way.

    You don’t have to love a book, you don’t even have to like it. But don’t be a total prat and attack the person who wrote it.

    Thanks for having the guts to stand up and say, ‘enough’. My opinion on all this with the hate reviews, etc, channels Thumper the rabbit — If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.

  103. Jolie knew and trusted Hugh. I do too.

  104. […] was not going to respond to the post, but reader outrage over the supposedly-outed authors prompted him to post on his blog and to state what many reader fans are now calling the “Jolie Pledge,” a statement […]

  105. […] was not going to respond to the post, but reader outrage over the supposedly-outed authors prompted him to post on his blog and to state what many reader fans are now calling the “Jolie Pledge,” a statement […]

  106. […] was not going to respond to the post, but reader outrage over the supposedly-outed authors prompted him to post on his blog and to state what many reader fans are now calling the “Jolie Pledge,” a statement […]

  107. I’m offended that you’ve been accused of this! Anyone who has bothered to read your books (especially WOOL! OMGosh, what a GREAT series) would know just how great that your writing and storytelling is. There is no need for your to pay for reviews. I found out about this on Elle Casey’s blog as I was looking for examples of successful self publishing authors for a friend who is just entering that market. I immediately thought of Wool.

  108. A great column. I for one read the Wool Omnibus on a whim, (paid full price for it), and so thoroughly enjoyed it that I HAD to write a review on my blog–it was my first book review ever. This was back when you had only 400-500 five star reviews:)

    I have also, without any payment, recommended the book to everyone I know, and will continue to do so! Keep up the good work!

  109. Myself, I would have titled this post, “Very Small Stones.” aka the jackasses who live to stick pins in dolls.

    I’ve taken a keep your mouth shut unless you love it stance. And then, really LOVE IT!

  110. I hate to be the conspiracy theorist but i know enough of the world to know there is always a bigger richer group who uses the little guy as a patsy for there own end. I would not doubt at least in some cases that these negative reviews, im assuming mostly targeting indie writers have a purpose behind them. The publishers are losing the upper hand and they are more than capable of causing a ruckus for those trying to pave the new way of reader and writer connection. They stand to lose a LOT of money. This isn’t the first time the “MAN” didn’t give up so easily. Just sayin. something to think about.

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