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Kola's Other Pen Names

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The entertainment gossip sites Zap2It and Gawker report that "Real Housewives" cast member Jill Zarin appears to have used a sock puppet on Amazon to attack a reviewer who criticized her advice book and to give a positive review of a download of her show. It's no surprise that some authors do this, but it prompts an observation that will be of some interest to readers here.

Zarin has nothing on our favorite sock puppeteer -- who appears to have created more fake identities on Amazon than she has on this board. Take a look through the list of Amazon reviews that mention Kola Boof and you'll see an odd phenomenon: there are lots of "reviews" of popular books that are merely pretexts for saying Kola's books are better. And the dozens of reviewers who engage in this practice share a distinctive trait: 100 percent of their reviews mention Kola Boof, no matter what book they're ostensibly "reviewing." For example, a reviewer called "Lolly" touts Kola and her books in all 17 of her or her reviews.

This is an extreme example of an intriguing marketing technique, but again, no surprise to people here that a severely disturbed, compulsive liar would do this. What's news to me, and I imagine to everyone else here, is that some of these fake reviewers are touting books and short stories Kola has published on Kindle under two additional pen names: "Tweet" and "Jackie Christian." The Tweet book, Love Is the Drug, is one she said she tried to sell to Viking years ago. There's a full-length book under each of those two new names, and a bunch of porn stories that sell for a couple of bucks each. The titles and descriptions of the short stories make it clear they're straight-out porn, but so does the fact that even someone as raunchy and anonymous as Kola doesn't want her main fake name on them. These Kindle offerings, along with the "Kola Boof" books, are presented as imprints of a non-existent Virgin Islands publishing house Kola calls Atlantic Library.

This is crazy, but she's got her stuff out there and it's selling. One of the short stories, "Story of a Jealous Birthday Girl," has a Kindle sales rank of 24,182. That means she's moving several copies a week.

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Interesting as well as fascinating information. With all of her cunning and guile you'd think that Kola Boof would have achieved better results in her ego-driven quest to become the darling of the literary world. But, her relentless self-promotion has yet to pay off big-time and she remains just another wanna-be hack.

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she remains just another wanna-be hack.

Her writing will never live up to the "classic," "masterpiece," and "literary" billing she gives it in her sock-puppet reviews, but she's definitely not "just another wanna-be." Like I said before, hers is one of the weirdest stories in American publishing.

Kola may have actually found her market niche with penny porn. One of her "Jackie Christian" stories, After the Club, has a current Kindle sales rank of 9,561. It only sells for $1, which probably translates to about $75 a month in income -- but pretty good for Kindle. Virtually all the top downloads are free, so to be making any money at all is an achievement. People just don't seem to want to pay for many ebooks.

Kola's bound books don't sell anywhere near as well as her eporn. For example, Mother Goddamn, her new poetry collection that is available for pre-order, has a regular books sales rank of 8,525,613. The fact that it has a ranking means that at least one book has been ordered, but the high number suggests it's been only one so far. And even the hard copy version of Birthday Sex, a $26 collection of the exact same "Jackie Christian" stories that are moving on Kindle, has a regular books sales rank of 1,622,568 -- which means virtually no sales ever.

So, in Kindle terms, I think you have to concede that Kola has found a decent measure of success (excuse the pun).

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Bookfan, yeah using aliases to hype or slam a book on Amazon is nothing new. I dislike the practice because it does not take many fake reviews to soil all the reviews. This is one of the reasons I ignore Amazon reviews in favor of reviews published by known entities/individuals.

I would be careful drawing conclusions about the relative sales volume and revenue, of books, as derived from Amazon rankings; unless the book is ranked in the thousands or better. The majority of books in Amazon's database sell less than a handful of copies. I would suspect that anything ranked a million or lower would fall in this category.

I knew a book seller who believed that clicking on a book effected the rankings. Since he was the only person selling his titles he could compare the Amazon ranking against known sales; the books clicks seemed to be a reasonable conclusion given the relative rankings of the titles he sold. Also some titles had not sold were ranked.

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The Rule of Three asserts itself with phony Amazon reviews: Jill Zarin, Kola Boof, and now Orlando Figes. I heard this last night on "As It Happens," a great current-events show from CBC Radio on NPR.

The career of one British historian is in critical condition -- because of his critical condition.

The historian is named Orlando Figes. He's the author of several critically celebrated books about Russian history, including "The People's Tragedy", "Natasha's Dance", and "The Whisperers". Furthermore, his works have garnered praise on the bookselling website Amazon, where "The Whisperers" was described as "a rich and deeply moving history, which leaves the reader awed, humbled, yet uplifted." That same review concluded, "I hope he writes for ever."

That review was posted by someone with the username "Historian". But "Historian" was no pushover when it came to other books on Russian history. On the Amazon site, he or she called "Comrades" by Robert Service "an awful book." And of a book called "Molotov's Magic Lantern", by Rachel Polonsky, "Historian" wrote: "This is the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published."

Well, that was the sort of review that made Rachel Polonsky wonder who might have written it. So she did a little research and found that Amazon user "Historian" had trashed several writers of Russian history -- and spared only Orlando Figes' work.

So she clicked on "Historian"'s online profile, and found that "Historian" had also posted under the name "orlando-birkbeck". You know how people are always warning you about lame passwords and usernames? This is what they're talking about.

Because Orlando Figes is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Rachel Polonsky contacted Robert Service -- another recipient of a bad review by "Historian". Mr. Service was livid, and sent an email to a group of other historians, exposing Mr. Figes. Thus exposed, Mr. Figes apologized and admitted he was a creep.

Just kidding. What he actually did was have his lawyer threaten legal action. Then he changed all his usernames and pleaded ignorance. And then he announced that his wife had written the reviews.

And now, a week after the kerfuffle began, Orlando Figes has admitted that in fact he wrote all the negative reviews himself. In a statement released to the Daily Mail, he wrote, "I have made some foolish errors and apologize wholeheartedly to all concerned." He specifically apologized to Mr. Service, Ms. Polonsky, and his wife. And now, according to the University of London, he's on sick leave.

And presumably, his future -- like his past -- is under review.

Reading further about Figes led me to a very interesting 2004 New York Times story about how even prominent writers like David Eggers surreptitiously review their friends' books on Amazon using pseudonyms. It mentions a few Amazon hacks I hadn't heard of before, like authors listing their books as alternate recommendations for other people's books.

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The story about how Figes was uncovered prompted me to dig a little deeper into Kola's Amazon sock puppets. Here's what I found out about "Lolly," whose 17 Amazon reviews all tout books sold by Kola's Potemkin publishing houses, "Door of Kush" and "Atlantic Library."

Lolly's Amazon Profile says her nickname is "pambi100." That led to posts under that nickname on Amazon's community support bulletin board for Kindle publishers. There, pambi100 identifies herself not only as the reviewer "Lolly" but also as the owner of Atlantic Library. She says she's a black woman and "a bestselling mainstream author who always wanted to start a publishing company." Kola said a year ago in this thread that she was setting up Atlantic Library.

Troy take note: she says her two best-selling Atlantic Library stories were selling "7-10 copies a day each" during the first half of 2009. At $1.00 each, that's $400-600 a month gross. That's even more than I had estimated based on the sales rankings. That's practically rent money. And that doesn't include her Mobipocket sales, where she markets her "Kola Boof" stuff as imprints of "Atlantic Library Digital."

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Well, bookfan, Kola certainly can't be unhappy with how you are playing into her marketing strategy by calling attention to her "successes". You are functioning as a surrogate sock puppet. But who cares? If all the world had to worry about was Kola Boof's chicanery, we'd be in pretty good shape.

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Well, bookfan, Kola certainly can't be unhappy with how you are playing into her marketing strategy by calling attention to her "successes".

Cynique,

I'm sure some people who write books with better intentions feel frustrated that Kola makes any money telling lies and peddling porn. But you can't change the banality of human nature. McDonalds and "The A Team" and gangsta rap make money not because they're good but because there are people who like dreck.

If Kola were a healthy person, I would be more judgmental about the bad things she does. But considering the alternative, I think it's great if she can pay her rent this way. Better that she participate in the sex trade through the written word now than in the flesh, like she used to. Better that she shred the DTP support techs than slit her wrists again. Can you imagine how hard it is to be that unbalanced and make any kind of living? Remember two years ago, when Troy met her in person and posted some snapshots of her? Normal people would have welcomed that kind of publicity. She dissolved into a paranoid rage and read him out of her church because those photos portrayed a reality she cannot bear. Do you suppose for one minute that any normal job she's ever held hasn't ended with the same kind of meltdown? Do you remember what she said recently about how hard it is to be "different"? Being "Kola Boof" is something she can do from the safety and solitude of her bedroom. Being Kola Boof at least allows her to have a bedroom, I hope.

You don't like my approach to Kola, but like you said, if that's the worst of your problems you've got no business complaining.

P.S. Don't forget that this forum exists for people to talk about writers and the publishing business. Whether you like it or not, this is how this particular writer is engaging in the publishing business.

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I wasn't complaining, bookfan. Unlike you, I was making an observation instead of presuming that I know what kind of life Kola leads away from this board. In spite of all your delving into her activities, you don't know whether the scenario you have created for her is accurate or not. For all we know, Kola might be leading a perfectly happy extroverted life, content to co-exist with her neuroses.

You just can't resist casting creatures as underdogs who need the compassion and sympathy you have an excess supply of.

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You just can't resist casting creatures as underdogs who need the compassion and sympathy you have an excess supply of.

Excess compassion and sympathy -- the scourge of the 21st century. ;)

Why "creatures," Cynique? She's not from a different species.

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She's not a "different species" from what?? Creature is a general term which includes humans.

Like anything else, sympathy and compassion can be misplaced, especially if they are motivated by people who have a need to feel good about themselves.

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She's not a "different species" from what?? Creature is a general term which includes humans.

Well, there is a duplicity of possible meanings.

Like anything else, sympathy and compassion can be misplaced, especially if they are motivated by people who have a need to feel good about themselves.

Thanks for your concern.

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Can you imagine how hard it is to be that unbalanced and make any kind of living? Remember two years ago, when Troy met her in person and posted some snapshots of her? Normal people would have welcomed that kind of publicity. She dissolved into a paranoid rage and read him out of her church because those photos portrayed a reality she cannot bear. Do you suppose for one minute that any normal job she's ever held hasn't ended with the same kind of meltdown? Do you remember what she said recently about how hard it is to be "different"? Being "Kola Boof" is something she can do from the safety and solitude of her bedroom.

(Do you think she is really unbalanced? Or maybe just very high strung and dramatic. You forget that she is an actress. Once an actress, always an actress.

The actors and actresses I have known always seem to have some sort of drama going. They thrive on it. I think, in fact, that it is part of their mojo, that they need it and create it when there is none.

I think it comes with the territory of having to use your emotions to work. Sometimes,you get carried away.

This holds true for other artists, too. Everyone always touts realism in artistic work--but the artist is the ultimate illusionist.

Take for example, Charles Shulz, the creator and author of the comic strip Peanuts. Part of the so called charm of that half baked crap was that it represented the real view point of some children--and a beagle or two.

Everybody forgot that behind it was a cranky old man.

I think what the artist does is very normal--unless he or she forgets they are acting.

Apres la--Le Deluge.

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Do you think she is really unbalanced? Or maybe just very high strung and dramatic. You forget that she is an actress. Once an actress, always an actress.

She has a severe personality disorder. She's never acted in any movies. It is true, however, that her entire public persona is an act. As I said before, I consider her more of a performance artist than a writer. Her primary manuscript is not the printed pages between her book covers, but the Internet tale of Kola Boof.

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