It was Oscar Wilde who said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about – and how right he was.
The point was illustrated this week by the unmasking of the crime novelist RJ Ellory and his pseudonyms. Yes, he’s apparently been caught out writing his own reviews on the internet (magnificent) and rubbishing the works of his rivals – all under pseudonyms (I loved that he used Jelly Bean as one of them).
The practice of creating noise about oneself is not new. Joe Orton was one for stirring things up a bit, but he was a bit before the internet so he wrote letters to editors complaining about his own plays, and then responded under a different name defending them.
The worst, or even best, example I knew of was a guy who created his own sphere of admirers was someone I worked with years ago.
He was a very occasional guest on a TV show. After appearances he would spend his lunchtimes writing fan mail to send in to the show’s producer, using a variety of pens and paper (and indeed swapping hands) to disguise the fact that letter after letter was from him.
I think he did himself out of a job to be honest. All those positive messages about him just left people believing he was too saccharine sweet. He never made it to anchor anything, although he does pop up occasionally on daytime TV, smarming.
I can understand the temptation. You put something of yourself out into the public world and then wait, hoping that someone will say something about it, or at least acknowledge its existence.
I am 100 per cent confident that Ellory is not the only author massaging their own reviews on Amazon though. You can always tell the real reviews, as more often or not there is a spelling mistake or two, and they follow the rambling logic of a true fan.
I’m pretty sure that most of the reviews which are punctuated correctly – and somehow manage to rewrite the blurb on the back of the book to make it sound more enticing – are written by authors or their close family.
The internet offers us all such opportunity to fake new identities, and it’s somehow fitting that the world of crime literature is involved.