The Giller Readers Choice — is there cheating?

When I checked this morning, The Beggar’s Opera was out in front in the Giller Prize Reader’s Choice. Tanis Rideout’s brilliant Above All things  was in second place and Aga Maksimowska’s wonderful Giant was in third. The lead has been switching back and forth daily; CBC Books tweeted yesterday that it looked like a photo finish. 

Now I saw a few comments on the CBC website this morning which implied there might be cheating. Those comments were posted on August 28th (when my book wasn’t in the lead) so I’m not exactly sure who they were directed at. One commentator, however, said he or she couldn’t figure out how a book with hardly any presence on social media could rally so many troops.

Since almost all the authors are active on social media with twitter accounts and websites and blogs, I don’t know who that was aimed at. But I suppose the possibility of cheating on an internet contest is always there and I know it’s easy to get caught up in these contests.

I remember during the CBC Bookies contest when some followers posted comments on another contending author’s Facebook page urging others to cast multiple votes. One bragged that she had voted until she was shut down by the CBC website (and that she intended to do it again as soon as she could get back on). 

I think what surprised me wasn’t so much that those posts were put up; it’s that no one said, “that’s not fair.” Instead, they asked to be emailed instructions!

Obviously, people can get a little carried away. For example, I couldn’t help but notice when I was looking at the Readers Choice comments this morning that there were a number of “thumbs downs” beside books (including, but not restricted, to mine) that other readers had recommended.  And I found that puzzling. Surely people can “like” someone’s book without having to “dislike” someone else’s? This is not a “zero-sum” game.

I think maybe people need to stand back and try to remember why CBC and Giller ran this contest in the first place. It was to get people talking about books, and to celebrate Canadian literature. These are all fantastic books; there’s no need to “thumbs down” any of them. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all winners.

If I’m out in front at the moment, it doesn’t make my book the best, it simply means my supporters have been more diligent about voting than someone else’s. (Although that can, and probably will change, before this contest ends.)

But I agree that there should be a  more transparent way to determine the Readers Choice Award than through a daily vote that requires readers (and authors) to engage in what essentially amounts to an endurance test and which opens up at least the prospect of on-line cheating. 

What I really loved about the original nomination process for  Reader’s Choice was that people had to register with CBC and post a comment as to why they liked the books they were nominating. It meant a lot to me, in those circumstances, when The Beggar’s Opera snagged second place behind Vince Agro’s The Good Doctor.

One of the commentators on the Reader’s Choice website suggested CBC should require voters to register their email addresses to vote, and that strikes me as a really good idea. If it was done for the nominations, why not for the vote? It would certainly remove any concerns over the credibility of the contest. If the ultimate vote also required comments about each book that was being voted on, it would also provide readers with great information.

I think readers are hungry for that. When I learned that CBC Books decided to turn the Readers Choice into another Bookie type contest, I decided that instead of campaigning actively for my book this time, I’d promote all the books. I posted up the synopses for each of the Top Ten here and and talked about the differences between genre and literary fiction; I even guest blogged on CBC Radio.

From the thousands of hits I got, I know readers are interested. I’m sure they’d love a contest where they felt their opinions really mattered.

But for now, the contest stands. Just remember, the rules are one vote, once a day.  And let’s see some votes for people who aren’t front-runners, shall we? Here’s a plug for Missy Marston from Ottawa, and Sheila Dalton (another CWC mystery writer), as well as Yejide Kilanko and Rob Sawyer (also with Penguin Canada). (I’d love to see a photo finish!)

Clarification: Interesting that a comment posted below suggests that if I wasn’t campaigning, someone must have set up a computer program for me to take the lead  in this contest because I wouldn’t have it otherwise. I’m not sure whether I should be amused or offended, but I will clarify what I meant.

By “not campaigning,” I meant that I didn’t do what I did in the CBC Bookies when I emailed hundreds of people every day and posted daily Facebook status updates, pleading for votes. For one thing, I don’t have the time right now, and secondly, I didn’t like doing it.

What I did do was send out details of the contest in my monthly newsletter which goes to hundreds of people, both clients and book clubs, urging them to vote for their favourite author. I also work in a hugely supportive office with around 200 agents, most of whom tell me that they have been voting daily. And of course, this blog gets lots and lots of hits. I think if you Google “Giller Prize” and my name, you’ll probably find I’ve been all over social media about this contest but I’ve tried to encourage people to vote for the book they loved, even if it wasn’t mine. 

So I certainly wouldn’t assume that my votes (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are the product of cheating. I was simply pointing out that CBC should perhaps consider other ways of running these contests to deal with a concern flagged on its website a few days ago.

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27 Responses to The Giller Readers Choice — is there cheating?

  1. I think your approach is a good one, Peggy – I know we authors appreciate how you are mentioning our books as well as your own. And I’m glad to see you well out in front today. I’m rooting for you! I’m still low down (and thanks for the kind words), but I’m 7th place right now, not tenth, and that makes me feel good! I’m just glad I got into the Top Ten. I truly didn’t expect to. In fact, I only found out because someone from Library Thing let me know. I hadn’t even checked, I was so sure I wasn’t going to make the cut!
    I don’t know about cheating. I do know I asked my friends to vote, and reminded them, and made sure they knew they could vote once each day, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t cast multiple votes each day, or I’d be higher up in the rankings! I think perhaps there is something in place to prevent that, though – maybe they can tally someone’s i.p. address so that if more than one vote comes in on a certain computer only the first vote registers? Not sure, of course, because people vote from public computers too, and it wouldn’t make sense in cases like that.
    I have what I thought was a fairly healthy Internet presence, plus I promoted my book via blog tours when it first came out. I think that explains how I got in the Top Ten in the first place. But beyond that, I’m not sure what makes a difference. My book had good sales for an obscure author’s literary/mystery work, and almost all the readers I heard from liked it – I just figure other authors have wider readerships. For books such as your own, I’m sure of it. But the other “obscure” authors on the list with high standings must have legions of fans! More power to them! It seems like sour grapes to talk about cheating, but I do think the voting could do with some tightening up next year!

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      Thanks Sheila for your comments! I know CBC is always looking for feedback and ways to improve these contests. I would love to see one person-one vote, personally. Congrats on moving up the ranks (I haven’t read your book yet but plan to!). What city are you in?

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      • I live in Newmarket, about 45 km from Toronto. Btw, I should have said, “friends who liked my book”! Anyway, I think that having people vote day after day makes the contest, as you said, more of an endurance test than it should be. Yes, one vote person would eliminate at least one factor that has nothing to do with people’s appreciation of the books involved. I also wish they had allowed international voting in the first round. I have quite a few U.S. and U.K. readers, and they weren’t allowed to vote. I know it’s a Canadian award, but it’s also a bit of a popularity contest – should it matter where the readers live?

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  2. BigWords says:

    I don’t understand the negative response people are leaving against the books – I’ve had to vote in circumstances where there were more than a dozen books I loved (like, really, absolutely adored), so when folks are going out of their way to say they disliked a title it makes me wonder just why they are bothering. It seems petty and immature to make clear that something isn’t to their taste… I can’t think of ever making it clear that I disliked a book (films, sure, and I have dissed television shows repeatedly) as it is somehow more personal.

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      Thanks for that. Yes, I kind of thought that too. If someone takes the time to say why they love a book, why essentially criticize them because you like another one? I thought it might have been done to discourage people from voting, perhaps? But it may have just been petty, as you say.

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      • Maybe people just get into the spirit of competition, too – rooting for their favourites in kind of a negative way, thinking that a “thumbs down” for a book means letting people know they think another book should win, not that one. Who knows? All rather baffling, really.

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  3. Peggy Blair says:

    I’m sure that’s it, Sheila.

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  4. Guest says:

    Is there cheating for the Reader’s Choice? Absolutely.

    It’s not sour grapes. Since the third day of the contest, someone (or multiple someones) have been clicking for your book for hours at a time, or (more likely) have been running a program to do it.

    You won’t see a photo-finish. Over the course of this contest Agro, Ridout and Maksimowska have all come close or for a short amount of time been slightly ahead of your book, and within a couple hours your book will shoot ahead by 3 or more percentage points. Particularly since you are not doing any campaigning, there is no way this could happen, at least not if voters are following the rules. None.

    You will win. Since CBC didn’t make any effort to make voting secure, technically there’s nothing wrong with how. People saw a flaw and took advantage. I think this becomes a situation where winning could feel pretty terrible, though. Feel badly for you. No, I really do. This prize has become nothing more than a joke.

    Going forward, CBC must require a user account to vote. In the days before the internet, we used to have to mail in votes. Creating a user account is still much easier than that.

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    • Has anyone asked CBC if they have put any checks and balances in place? I’d really like to know what they’ve done. If they haven’t, then they should have. What kind of a contest is it if people can vote over and over again in one day for the same book?? Kind of disturbing to think about!

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      • Guest says:

        There are no checks and balances. Indeed, people can “vote over and over again in one day for the same book”

        And they have.

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        • Do you know this for absolutely sure? I’m afraid to test it, in case I get exposed for cheating! But I’m betting that if I did, any vote after the first one from this computer would not register and/or change my ranking. I think there is a loophole in that the same person could vote from multiple computers, but that would involve running all over town, if it was to make any real difference.

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          • Guest says:

            It’s been tested. Clear browser cache, vote registers again. It takes 2 votes to increase by .01%. Extrapolated, it takes at least 200 unchallenged votes to move ahead 1%.

            These types of polls are very commonly compromised.

            After x number of votes (hundreds!), the user is locked out for a short time, but within a couple hours can resume again.

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            • OMG. One bright spot – I don’t mind losing then!

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              • Peggy Blair says:

                So does that mean, Guest, that you’ve tried to vote more than once, or have done so successfully, using this technique? I’m just wondering how you’d know that, since all I see when I go to the site is whatever the count is after I vote, not how many votes it takes to increase the percentages.

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                • Guest says:

                  Yes, it was tested with a book that was trailing significantly. No change to the “winning” outcome, of course. If you’re wondering why I’d bother? I’m a reader, naive though it may be, I thought a Reader’s Choice award actually meant something.

                  As the poll is not secure, all it means is some authors have friends with more spare time than others.

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                  • Peggy Blair says:

                    I really don’t know why CBC used this format instead of doing what they did during the nominations process when you had to register and indicate why you were supporting a given book. But I’m going to pass your comments onto Adrian Ma at CBC books, so he can pass them onto whoever is handling these polls.

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                    • Peggy Blair says:

                      Actually, Guest, now I’m wondering if your “test” on the trailing author was what caused people to speculate on the CBC website how an “obscure” author could move up so quickly in the rankings and if there had been cheating. Anyway, I have emailed these remarks to Adrian Ma so he can pass them along to his webmaster, and I’m sorry to hear that anyone’s results may have been compromised in this way. I know CBC plays close attention to feedback; I’m sure they’ll work to close any gaps like this for the future. Thanks again for your comments.

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              • Guest says:

                No, you should not.

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                • Well, I sincerely hope it wasn’t my book it was tested on, as it would take away any of my pleasure at advancing just a little, as I have done, in the ranks. And if it was another book, that isn’t much more reassuring, as my place did matter to me!

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                  • Guest says:

                    It wasn’t your book, and further it had no effect on placement. % increased, but the book is still in the place it would have been otherwise.

                    Sorry, but when I see results that don’t make sense, I have to find out why.

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                    • That’s okay. I’m kind of grateful to have this brought out into the open. Some of the results weren’t making a whole lot of sense to me either, and I wasn’t as smart as you about figuring out why. Still, I’m sorry to learn that the whole contest was little more than a farce. What a shame. But I suspect the order would have been much the same, cheating or no. As there’s no way of knowing who cheated, if they cheated, and whether they knew someone was cheating for them,I’m going to continue to think the best of all the entrants.

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      I can’t comment on this because I am only go to the site once a day each morning to vote and I’ve seen the votes go up and the votes go down each day. (I have no idea where they’re at right now; I heard from Tanis Rideout on Twitter that the lead kept changing and assume she meant today too).

      If there’s a program that’s stacking up votes it should be blocked by CBC.

      When I say I didn’t campaign the way I did in the Bookies, what I meant is that I didn’t email people every day, or post daily FB status updates with the link, as I did then.

      But I did mention the contest in a newsletter and on this blog, obviously. I should point out that I do have 200 colleagues at Royal LePage who vote every day for the book and a large contingent of followers from Facebook and bookclubs who knew of the contest. I wouldn’t assume, therefore, that the votes I’ve achieved come from a program; that’s unfair to the hundreds of people who follow me on Twitter and on this blog.

      But I do agree there should be a user account or some kind of mail in votes, for sure — the contest should have credibility, which is why I posted this blog up in the first place. Thanks for your comments.

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      • Good for you, Peggy. And congratulations. It’s looking good for “Beggar’s”. I’m offline now for the weekend, so though I’m jumping the gun a bit, I think it’s safe to say you’ve won. We’ll see!

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        • Peggy Blair says:

          Haven’t gone into look yet – thought I’d wait til we were closer to the noon cutoff to vote, but thanks so much and enjoy the long weekend! Hope the sun shines wherever you are going (pouring rain here).

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