Part Nine: A Sockpuppet…Bestselling Author?


Note: hat-tip to a brilliant reader who brought the below to my attention. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that authors, having written and published a book, desire laudatory reviews from other authors to grace the description and back cover and help convince a reader to buy the book. Now, it’s true that many blurb reviews of this type are a professional courtesy: the author providing the quote may not have read the book in question at all, but this is standard practice. The flip side is that if an author frequently recommends books that are absolute dogshit, he risks alienating his own fanbase, so authors don’t just hand these out to anyone who asks.

Needless to say, if you’re self-published, don’t know any other authors, and are a generally terrible writer and/or Not a Very Nice Person, it’s going to be really hard to get those recommendations, which we’ve detailed before at great length. So what are you going to do?

One unethical method (if you didn’t mind opening yourself up to legal risk, and had absolutely no shame) would be to create a fake author with the same name as a famous author – say, Stephen King – and then use that fake author to give yourself a recommendation.

Obviously, that’s not going to work, for really famous authors – Stephen King, JK Rowling, George RR Martin – these guys are generally trademarked, and trying to pull that shit will get you sued, and for good reason. Even if you really wrote a book and your name happens to be Stephen King, you’re not going to get published under that name, you’ll need to distinguish yourself by publishing as Stephen L. King or something along those lines.

But what if you didn’t target the super-famous authors, but a bit lower, maybe authors who don’t have the pockets and publishing companies who would want to pursue expensive litigation, and who might not even notice unless someone brought it to their attention, but if a casual reader saw the name and popped it into Google and Amazon, the first result would be a popular author and they’d go “Huh, sounds legit!” and maybe go and buy your book.

But no one would do something like that, right? 

Which brings us back, once more, to our dear friend Robert Stanek. He published a series in 2014 called This Mortal Coil. And if you take a look at the Editorial Reviews section – which Stanek controls, since he’s self-published, he now has eight glowing reviews from eight…uh, authors?


Readers will note the hallmarks of fake Stanek reviews:

  • sniping at Patrick Rothfuss
  • name-dropping other, actually successful titles and authors
  • typos

But let’s analyze. Start with Sandra Brown. When you plug her name into Amazon, you get Sandra Brown. I’ve never heard of her, but apparently she’s written 60 New York Times bestsellers. That’s pretty good! And she’s giving glowing reviews to Robert Stanek!

Although. There’s another Sandra Brown, whose page doesn’t have an author photo. Who has written four children’s Kindle ebooks. One of which, if you use the “Look Inside” feature, is literally just pictures of animals for every letter of the alphabet. The publisher is listed as My World Books, but if you check the product details, you can see it’s sold by Amazon Digital Services LLC. Meaning, this was self-published via Kindle Direct Publishing. Might be affiliated with a legit publishing company, might not be. 

But if we click the publisher’s name on Amazon, we can see other books affiliated with that publishing company. And wouldn’t you know, there’s ALSO a book by Shannon Hale, who doesn’t have an author photo. Who was also on that list of “authors” giving Stanek glowing praise. Who has written five childrens’ Kindle ebooks. Including a low-quality book about baby animals that is literally just roughly photoshopped words over public domain images. If we plug the name “Shannon Hale” into Amazon, what do we get? You guessed! A NYT bestselling author!

Another author affiliated with this “company” is Margaret Brown. Who has written four children’s books, and who shares a name with Margaret Wise Brown…who wrote illustrated children’s books, and also who died in 1952.

I could go on, but let me just break it down in this handy little table:



Actual Author Fake Author “publishing” company Picture Notes
Sandra Brown Sandra Brown My World Books Nope! four children’s picture books
Shannon Hale Shannon Hale Wonderful World Press Nope! five children’s picture books
n/a Cathy Thompson My World Books AND Wonderful World Press Nope! five children’s picture books
Margaret Wise Brown Margaret Brown Wonderful World Press Nope! four children’s picture books
Mary Pope Osborne Mary Osborne My World Books AND Wonderful World Press Nope! Four children’s picture books. Of note that one title is in the series “Your Reading Steps” which is also a book in a series written by “Jennifer Blake”, a noted Stanek associate.
Emily Asimov n/a Reagent Press (Stanek’s self-publishing company) Nope! Not a fake author per se, however, Emily Asimov is A) published by Reagent Press, B) almost certainly a pseudonym for Robert  Stanek, and C) suspiciously shares a last name with Isaac Asimov…
Lisa Gardner Lisa Gardner Reagent Press (Stanek’s self-publishing company) n/a No books available currently at Amazon, but listed as one of Reagent Press’ authors:
n/a David Eastman My World Books n/a No author page, but credited as the author of a title from My World Books. Doesn’t appear to be impersonating a well-known author.


Let’s recap. Stanek writes and publishes This Mortal Coil, and in his Editorial reviews, he includes praise from eight separate authors:

  • Five of the eight share names with actual bestselling authors
  • On Amazon, six of the eight pretend to be published through the same two companies that has no Google results, but according to OverDrive, (which captures information on books and publishing houses) all eight authors are actually published by Reagent Press – Stanek’s publishing company.
  • Six of the eight have written inane children’s picture books
  • Of the six that have author pages on Amazon, NONE have a photograph of themselves

Probably just a crazy coincidence?

Emily Asimov, who is published via Stanek’s Reagent Press (and is almost certainly a Stanek pseudonym) also has reviews from Margaret Brown and Mary Osborne listed. And from Shannon Hale and Lisa Gardner.

Probably just a coincidence?

Or consider Jennifer Blake, who wrote Baby Animals on Safari , is published by Reagent Press, shares a name with a bestselling author, and who also “wrote” the hilarious “A Tribute To William Robert Stanek, an American Author Who Should Be on Everyone’s Must Read List” – on Robert Stanek’s fucking blog.

In a way, though, it’s actually kinda brilliant. Why bother creating sockpuppet fan accounts when you can create sockpuppet authors. It works on multiple levels:

  • You create a fake author who shares a name with a bestselling author and publish a few cheap, boring titles that take next to no effort to create, with some overlap in genre as the bestselling author. Then people not paying attention search for a popular author’s titles and accidentally buy yours
  • You then use these same accounts to write glowing reviews of your own books to make people think that bestselling authors have recommended your titles, while maintaining plausible deniability in case anyone finds out so you can argue, “No wait, it was THIS completely unknown Sandra Brown who gave me that review, who also is self-published through my company and almost certainly doesn’t exist.”

I mean, “plausible deniability” is kind of a stretch, but you get what I mean.

Fun fact: Washington State, where Stanek lives, has a law against criminal impersonation if someone “assumes a false identity” with “intent to defraud”. It’s a class C felony which can land you up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines, and as we know from Robert Stanek, prison is where you get shanked. 

Good luck, Robert! You might need it! And don’t bother deleting anything, I have copies of it all.

  13 Responses to “Part Nine: A Sockpuppet…Bestselling Author?”

  1. Wow, nice sleuthing. Stanek has issues.

  2. Looked up some of the reviews Emily Asimov’s books, and the negative ones suggest that “her” writing style shares more than a few similarities to Stanek’s. She also seems to share his recent habit of splitting up their books into to tiny, over-priced novellas that just come to a stop rather than having any sort of actual ending.

    “…was never quite understandable to me. The leading man, “Ty”, is apparently some kind of space wanderer with ill described powers to heal himself and “jump” between planets. Initially, he is on this planet which has a small colony and staying with a family whose patriarch wants him to wed his youngest daughter, Shilastar. The patriarch dies “the slow death” apparently inflicted by some overarching space power (which is ill defined) and Ty flees the planet with Shilastar to arrive at another dark planet in the same system where they meet a character (Paily) who seems to have some sort of control over the whole planetary system (again, poorly defined). The story end there.”

    “The writing style of this author makes a simple story much harder to read than is needed. Perhaps with some more experience……”

    “The story line is difficult to follow, and just seems like a lot of rambling.”

    “I wanted to like this book as I have read everything her grandfather ever wrote. This was hard for me to follow and I got lost in trying to figure out what was happening. I just couldn’t get into this novel.”

    “This story should have been a 5 star, but it just ended. The writing was great, the story was even better, then it just stopped. Bummer. Nope, I would not recommend this story. What’s the point?”

    “Very short. The writing is decent but it’s a blatant copy of the style (and even a lot of the situations) of Interview with a Vampire (Anne Rice). I was curious enough to want to read more, but unwilling to pay for the next ‘book’ as it’s only 21 pages long. Come on, Emily… put together a full length book and I would be more likely to make a purchase.”

    Given that Stanek seems to have gone very quiet in recent years, and hasn’t released any new books (even re-titled versions of old books) since This Mortal Coil and The Cards in the Deck, I wonder if he’s now focusing his efforts in trying to make sell books under pseudonyms whose reputations aren’t as damaged as his own is now.

  3. Stanek. Stanek, buddy. Get help. Seriously, this almost goes beyond funny (although Rorshach’s commentary is always amusing). It’s honestly starting to worry me. If your books aren’t selling, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe they just aren’t selling. Or maybe you need to take a closer look at them and see if they’re actually any good.

    I really don’t understand people who are intent on the “glamour” of being a published author but not actually putting any effort into their books so they deserve that glamour. Is it just that they want to be “glamorous”, don’t actually care about the arts, and writing is just the one art where you can actually fake a career? It’s that, isn’t it?

    I just…I don’t get why you’d go to all this trouble. Find a hobby or something, man.

  4. Oh my gosh. He’s actually faking her being a descendant of Isaac Asimov, and no, he can’t say, “Well, I never said that,” he knows perfectly well what he said, and it clearly worked in one case as seen above.

    I wonder what the Isaac Asimov estate would say about this, indeed.

    Someone should tell them.

    On a sidenote, I’m really worried about the one person who said that “the writing was great and the story was even better”, but they didn’t like the way the book just ended. It can’t be Stanek, because Stanek would never admit that one of his books had a flaw. So that can only mean one thing…someone out there likes Robert Stanek’s writing.

  5. Also, that blog post, my gosh…there’s just so much to unpack. If you’re not sporking it, Rorshach, can I have it?

  6. I’m pretty certain he genuinely believes his books are excellent, and is infuriated that they don’t get the recognition they obviously deserve. In his mind, all the sockpuppetry and deception is completely justified, because they aren’t lies, really – if he could only get some exposure, actual readers would be saying exactly the same things and his books would be genuine bestsellers and he probably would have got his lifetime achievement award by now, and then all his claims would be the truth. He just pre-empted things a bit.

    At least, I imagine that was his reasoning to begin with, and then it spiraled out of control and he’s now stuck having to perpetually maintain the lie.

  7. I have read occasionally positive (or, at least, not entirely negative) review of Stanek’s books in the past that seemed genuine, mostly because they are still critical of certain aspects or didn’t like the book being reviewed but stated they liked other Stanek books (I distinctly recall a pretty scathing review of Pieces of the Puzzle which ended with “stick to his Kingdoms of the Elves and the Reaches books, they are a lot better.) Check out his Audible reviews, where, unlike on Amazon, all the glowing sockpuppet reviews and baffled “why is this so popular” one-star reviews are still they in all their glory, and you’ll see a genuinely positive review once in a blue moon.

    Some people just don’t ask for very much from a book, or have pretty low critical faculties. And Stanek’s, er, style, means that, if you’re not bothered by clumsy prose, it can take a bit of time for the complete lack of a logical plot or character development to fully sink in. Given how many of his books are split into tiny little mini-books with no real ending, it’s probably quite possible to finish the first book without realizing the story doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

  8. That does all make sense, in a terrifying kind of way. Of course, the thing to do would be to back out and say, “You know what? Never mind, these books do suck and I did ghostwrite all those reviews that say otherwise”, but I think he’s got too much pride to do that.

  9. I guess I understand that. If you put it out there, eventually there will be someone whose standards are low enough that they actually like it, no matter what it is. I suppose I had just gotten used to the idea of Stanek as the author Nobody Likes Unironically Ever. We’ll just have to reserve that title for Gloria Tesch.

  10. Stanek’s worldbulding and characterization, what what I saw from the sporks, is basically the most generic fantasy ever, and some people like that stuff. He doesn’t have any kind of success, even as a niche author of mediocre books, because his writing style is clumsy and his plotting non-existent. If he managed to write a simplistic, but a complete plot and took some writing classes, he’d see his share of genuinely positive reviews increase, but he, apparently, prefers to concentrate his efforts into misleading people to think that Asimov’s granddaughter liked his books.

  11. On Goodreads, there’s a brief “Rather confusing NSA type spy yarn. Ok ” 3/5 stars review of Pieces of the Puzzle.

  12. Yeah, pretty much. Just your average Tolkien rip-off, but with added terrible writing and excessively twisted “plot”. And you’re probably right about him improving, but the trouble is that you have to have some humility in order to do that, and if you’ve already managed to delude yourself that you’re so great, Asimov’s granddaughter would love your books, you’ve already got your nose so high in the air, it’s a flight hazard.

    His attitude kind of reminds me of this one DuckTales comic I read once. The basic plot is that Donald Duck thinks his uncle Scrooge’s McDuck’s way of selling soap is “strictly stone-age” – it’s called “Scrooge’s Plain Old Soap” and the slogan is “It Cleans” – and sets out to prove that a flashier ad campaign will get more people to buy soap by setting up his own soap company. And at first he does get results. But then pretty soon he starts letting them get to his head and both decreases the quality of his soap, and rents billboards that say famous celebrities use his soap (and then has tiny fine print at the bottom saying “Probably”). His nephews call him out on this, and he says that he’s not telling a lie; he said right there where you can’t read it that they probably use his soap. It’s not a lie if you add probably, is it?

  13. Please spork it.