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On reviews

The other day, I opened one of my social media accounts to the chest beating and teeth gnashing of a number of authors. No, it wasn’t a mass rejection by publishers that caused their angst. Nor was it news that their Amazon KDP accounts had been canceled. It was the sound we hear every couple of years when Amazon decides to enforce its terms of service when it comes to reviews and authors — and other product suppliers — suddenly realize their review numbers have diminished, sometimes drastically.

In a conversation with several author friends about this last night, I wondered if I was odd. Okay, okay, I know I’m odd. I meant more odd than I already knew. You see, other than occasionally checking my reviews to see if there’s a common thread in them, I don’t pay that much attention to them. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate every review I get. But like many writers, I’m insecure. Putting a new book out is like shoving my baby out into the world on his own for the very first time. I’d much rather keep him home and safe, whether that’s what he wants or not. When it comes to writing, it is too easy to obsess about negative reviews or to start to believe the positive ones — if that happens, it can keep a writer from turning a critical eye to their own work.

Because of that, I have an idea about how many reviews each of my work has but I don’t check on a daily or even weekly basis unless I have a new book out. Checking reviews is part of my monthly “business” I take care of along with paying bills, etc. That’s why seeing so many folks up in arms on Facebook and elsewhere about it brought me up short. It also had me thinking about who the people were, what their relationships with one another might be and then it sent me scurrying to the Amazon TOS for authors and for reviews.

In this case, all my questions were answered in the “Customer Reviews Guidelines Frequently Asked Questions from Authors“. If you haven’t read these FAQs recently, I recommend you do so. Amazon makes it clear what their rules are. Below are a few of the most important ones.

2. Are authors allowed to review other authors’ books?
Yes. Authors are welcome to submit Customer Reviews, unless the reviewing author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process (i.e. as a co-author, editor, illustrator, etc.). If so, that author isn’t eligible to write a Customer Review for that book.

That one’s pretty straight-forward and goes hand-in-hand with the rule against authors reviewing their own books. If you helped create the book in any way, you can’t review it. I know at least one author who will not review a book if they helped write the blurb. Since that is part of the creation process, at least in my mind, I agree with that decision.

The other caveat in the rule is that you can’t have a “personal relationship” with the author. That would appear to be open for interpretation. But what we know for sure is that members of the author’s family cannot post reviews of that author’s work. From past experience, we’ve learned that also means Amazon can and will remove reviews where it feels there is too close of a relationship between the author and the reviewer. This relationship can be determined by checking their own databases to see if Author X and Author Y make a habit of reviewing one another’s work. (The reason this could raise a red flag is because it comes close to the offering of a reward for leaving a review. That is also against the rules Amazon has set out.) Amazon can and possibly does check social media accounts when something raises a red flag.

3. Can I ask my family to write a Customer Review for my book?
We don’t allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book. Customer Reviews provide unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers and aren’t to be used as a promotional tool.

So, as noted above, if you share a household with an author (or an Amazon account, just saying) or are a close friend, reviews can and will be rejected by Amazon. It might not seem fair but it comes down to trying to keep the review pool unbiased (not that they are always successful. How many of us have seen the negative reviews Larry Corriea or others have suffered simply because people don’t like their politics?).

Other rules preclude paying for reviews or compensating reviewers in other ways. This is why you will see reviewers noting as part of their review that they received a free advanced copy, etc. According to Amazon, if you offer e-ARCs or ARCs in the hope of garnering reviews, you must make it “clear that you welcome all feedback, both positive and negative. If we detect that a customer was paid to write a review, we’ll remove it.”

So, why will Amazon remove a review?

6. A Customer Review is missing from my book’s detail page. What happened?
We take the removal of Customer Reviews very seriously. Reviews are removed from Amazon for one of three reasons:

1. The review didn’t meet our posted Customer Review Guidelines.
2. The review was removed by the customer who wrote it.
3. We discovered that multiple items were linked together on our website incorrectly. Reviews that were posted on those pages were removed when the items were separated on the site.

If you see a review has gone missing, don’t go ranting on social media about it. Contact Amazon. Sometimes mistakes happen. Reviews have gone missing before during equipment updates and switchovers and Amazon has later reinstated them. But it has to know the reviews are gone. Also, Amazon is a huge company and it makes mistakes. Let them know if you think they’ve done so — but do it in the proper manner. Contact Amazon. Work your way up through the system if necessary. Get your responses in writing. Hell, contact Jeff Bezos if you aren’t getting satisfaction. His email isn’t hard to find. However, before doing that, make sure you’ve exhausted all reasonable avenues first.

Will that get your reviews back? Not necessarily but it will get you answers about why they were removed.

But, before you start all this take a step back and then take a deep breath and ask yourself if you or the reader who left the review might have fallen afoul of the rules. I know how easy it is to tell your other writer friends that you’ll review their work if they review yours. You might not even do it in so many words. The problem is, in this day and age of technology, Amazon’s computers will start seeing patterns and will pull reviews that fit those patterns. Is it fair? Waggles hands. It is, however, in the rules and we agree to those rules when we open our Amazon accounts and when we then open our KDP accounts. This is why you need to be sure you read those ToS agreements before completing your account setup.

Reviews are the best advertising we have for our books. They are a way of telling potential readers we’ve put something out that is worth not only their time but their money as well. Amazon recognizes that. It also recognizes the fact the system is easily gamed and that is what these rules are designed to prevent. The rules aren’t perfect but they are the best we have right now. None of us want to return to the days of rampant sock puppet reviews — or at least we shouldn’t. After all, most readers will look askance at a book by an indie author with hundreds of reviews and not a one under 4-star. You need those lower level reviews to give legitimacy to your work.

So, if you are one of those authors who found reviews suddenly missing, contact Amazon and ask what happened. Review the ToS about reviews and move forward. Yes, it’s hard losing reviews but you’ll do yourself more good writing your next book than spending hours on the internet whinging about how evil Amazon is.

43 Comments
  1. Since I do not get reviews, I never lose reviews. 🙂

    March 13, 2018
    • I don’t get near the reviews I would like, especially not when I look at my sales. But I will take my sales and pages read over number of reviews any day. VBG

      March 13, 2018
  2. Haven’t gotten to that stage. That close friend part though is something I will have to keep note of. Both for myself and a couple friends that are also writers.

    March 13, 2018
    • I really think the key is not to review one another so often it starts looking like a tit-for-tat sort of thing — and don’t get caught on social media offering to review in return for reviews.

      March 13, 2018
  3. I did loose a review for my latest, Lone Star Glory – but I’m not going to fuss about it to Amazon. Not worth the trouble, and it was only one two-line item.

    March 13, 2018
    • Yeah. The “not worth the trouble” is why I said to move on if those yelling to the skies aren’t willing to go through the steps to find out what happened and why. I don’t know about them, but I’d rather be writing and putting out more books my fans want to read.

      March 13, 2018
  4. I check reviews once a week or so, mostly to see if anyone has reviewed certain books/stories/et cetera. Otherwise I don’t sweat it, even though I know reviews are important and I probably ought to be asking readers for more reviews. OTOH, if Amazon is thinning out the one star “I didn’t read this book, but I know it is horrible and the author is a poopy-head and here’s why…” reviews, good on ’em.

    March 13, 2018
    • Totally agree on the weeding out of the non-reviews. I do try to report all of those I see because the more they are reported, the more likely the chance they will be removed. That is one thing Amazon does — it will review reported reviews. It may not always remove them but the more complaints about a review it gets, the more likely it is to remove the review.

      Also, I’ve discovered that if you, as the author, contact them about a review and give them a well-reasoned argument about why the review should be removed as well as pointing them to what part of the review ToS it violates, you have a greater chance of the review being removed.

      March 13, 2018
  5. Christopher M. Chupik #

    I know that when I read reviews on Amazon, I check out the positive *and* the negative. Usually gives me a good idea of what to expect (or not).

    March 13, 2018
    • Same here. I will usually start with the 3-stars. Then look at the 4 and 2 stars, etc.

      March 13, 2018
      • Christopher M. Chupik #

        One-star reviews can be very entertaining. Even when they’re wrong. Heck, especially then.

        March 13, 2018
        • Oh yeah. Some of them have been quite fun to read. Of course, some of them leave me wondering if we read/watched/used the same item because they seem to be reviewing something totally different from what I got.

          March 13, 2018
          • I’ve got a one-star review for “The Golden Road” on Amazon UK. Unfortunately – it’s for a completely different book by a totally different author – same title, though. I’ve messaged Amazon about it several times, but no luck getting it fixed.

            March 13, 2018
        • Some of the best reviews on Amazon are the 1 star reviews that spend a great deal of effort being entertaining while telling you WHY this thing they’re reviewing is getting that 1 star.

          Like those sugarless Haribo gummi bears. Or the Nair review.

          March 13, 2018
          • SheSellsSeashells #

            I confess that when I’m bored, I look up the latest Anita Blake book and read the reviews. Not the book (dear LORD, not the book), just the reviews.

            March 13, 2018
        • Mary #

          The wholly negative three star one was kinda interesting.

          March 14, 2018
          • emily61 #

            The ones that confuse me are the glowing one star reviews.

            March 14, 2018
            • It’s a proven fact that some people online are drunk.

              March 17, 2018
    • GWB #

      I go straight to the 1-stars (not just on books). I look specifically how many of them are useful compared to how many are … WTF? or generally useless. Then I skim the 4- and 5-star ones to see how many are actually specific about the book and not just “ZOMG, the best fiction in the universe!”

      March 20, 2018
  6. danielshumphreys #

    Largely agree with this post with a couple of caveats. The only review I lost in the recent purge, as best I can tell, was a one-star on the Kindle version of a book complaining about the choice of narrator for the Audible version.

    What DID happen, however, and I think this is something to raise an eyebrow at, was that every single review I had EVER written since becoming an Amazon customer was wiped out.

    That included a $1500 elliptical machine, multiple pieces of computer hardware, kids toys, and many other items other than books. Verified purchases all, for the most part. On books that were not verified purchases, I indicate the source as a rule of thumb, whether it be an ARC, Kindle Unlimited acquisition, etc.

    What triggered this? Hard to tell, and Amazon isn’t saying. I sent a couple of inquiry e-mails and my reviews (and, as noted by them, my reviewing privileges) were restored with no explanation as to what happened. Given that all the reviews were brought back, I can only assume that I hadn’t broken any rules, but they didn’t bother to tell me why they nuked them in the first place.

    March 13, 2018
    • Ex Amazon Reviewer #

      You got lucky, I have no clue what triggered the process that removed 10+ years of reviews with no warnings or chances to change my actions and ended like this:

      Hello,

      We have determined that you have violated our Community Guidelines. As a result, we have suppressed all of your reviews, and you will no longer be able to post community content on Amazon. This includes Customer Reviews.

      Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. Because our goal is to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions, any accounts and reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or biased will be removed.

      Your community privileges may have been revoked for one or more of the following reasons:
      — Elements of your account indicate a relationship to sellers, publishers, or other reviewers of the products you review.
      — Your reviews were posted in exchange for compensation, such as gift cards to purchase the product, product refunds, review swaps, or free or discounted products.
      — You requested free or discounted products in exchange for reviews.

      We made this decision after carefully considering your account. This decision is final, and your community privileges will not be reinstated.

      We cannot share any further information about this decision, and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.

      March 14, 2018
      • If you have not yet contacted Jeff Bezos’ office I would.

        March 14, 2018
        • danielshumphreys #

          Yup. jeff@amazon.com, that was what resolved my issue.

          March 14, 2018
  7. Ironically, although I seem to have lost a couple of reviews (I’m not sure, I don’t keep a close count) I still have reviews up my mom posted. But she puts in a disclaimer that she is my mother! I have no idea what the algorithms are.

    March 13, 2018
  8. Nick Cole makes the argument that the reviews are no guarantee of anything, other than the book got a review. But what do I know? Apparently nothing.

    March 13, 2018
    • I’ve seen him say that. All I can tell you is that I will check reviews, especially for an author I’m not familiar with. I also check the preview section but the reviews do help me make my decision.

      March 13, 2018
      • Me too, and I always read the one star ones; mostly for shits and giggles. If a book has a bad “stupid” review it tends to make me look more favourably on the positive ones left by others. I know, that’s odd, but people leave reviews for all kinds of reasons, and it helps me get my bearings.

        March 14, 2018
  9. Let us not forget two things. First, Amazon is a private company, they can and will do exactly whatever they want with their property. As soon as you post a review, it is running on their server and its continued existence is up to them. They can be as capricious and unfair as they like. You have no recourse. That’s how it is.

    Second, Amazon lives in Silicon Valley California. They draw their workers and engineers from the same labor pool that Twitter, Google, Farcebook and Apple do. That location comes with a culture which is becoming increasingly militant and hostile to outsiders.

    http://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.ca/2018/01/worldcon-and-google-lawsuit.html

    We know Google fired James Damore specifically for voicing a politically incorrect but factually accurate opinion on their internal network, because they told us so. We know that Twitter is openly silencing Conservative political views. We know that YouTube is openly demonetizing and removing Conservative videos. We know that being pro-Trump gets you kicked out of WorldCon. We know that Apple products phone home their owner’s location every ten minutes, that they slow down older phones deliberately, and do a variety of other unsavory things to their customer’s data.

    Which is all cool, its part of the culture. Users are stupid, keep their fingers out of the gears.

    Amazon is part of that culture. Wearing a Trump hat at Amazon will probably get you fired.

    Leading me along to my point: It would amaze me if Amazon -isn’t- playing games with the reviews. They might not be, and I freely admit that the Terms of Service are so vague they can do pretty near anything and still stay within the lines. But given what all the other companies are doing? Yeah.

    But let us be magnanimous, and grant the benefit of the doubt. This time, it is all legit.

    What’s going to happen when B&N goes under, and Amazon has a defacto monopoly? Absolute power corrupts absolutely, right? Are the Snowflakes going to resist the urge to make those Nazis (that would be us) shut up? Doubtful.

    So it might behoove us all to start in making a new review thingy to compete with Big Left. And a place to publish stuff too. Just saying.

    March 14, 2018
    • snelson134 #

      “First, Amazon is a private company, they can and will do exactly whatever they want with their property.”

      There’s some bakers in Colorado and elsewhere that might quibble with that.

      March 14, 2018
      • And you had to bring politics into this why?

        March 14, 2018
        • snelson134 #

          Because I was replying to a political comment concerning what so-called private businesses could and couldn’t do. Or did you somehow miss that?

          The government forces private businesses to do or not do things all the time. And I’m absolutely loving the other two follow up comments, that are implying that the whole “equal treatment under the law” thing is dependent on geography, because a company is headquartered in a part of the country that will refuse to enforce laws it disagrees with. Shades of Jim Crow South, which I grew up in, BTW. Of course, we’ve seen that for 20 years on immigration, so it’s not surprising we’re accepting the de facto breakup of the country as the trend spreads.

          March 15, 2018
          • No, I didn’t miss that — I just don’t think your comment added anything to the conversation. Or did you somehow miss that?

            There is a very big difference between a company that has terms of service users agree to and a mom and pop bakery. Is it fair? No. but you bringing the one into the conversation is sort of an apples and oranges sort of digression that does nothing to add to the conversation.

            March 15, 2018
            • snelson134 #

              Apples and oranges? Both are “private businesses” — but one is allowed to arbitrarily deny service, and one isn’t.

              March 15, 2018
              • One is a company where you agree to terms of service in order to have an account with them — and to post reviews, sell items, etc. The other doesn’t. So yeah, apples and oranges. If you can’t figure out the difference, perhaps you should go back and read the post and the linked information.

                March 15, 2018
          • Also, I’d have been a lot more likely to have simply let your comment go if you’d actually done more than just “drive by”.

            March 15, 2018
            • snelson134 #

              And my commenting history here is extensive enough that drive by is inappropriate.

              March 15, 2018
              • No, it’s not. You came through with a single comment and no explanation or support for it. Don’t like being called on it, then don’t do it.

                March 15, 2018
    • Amazon lives in Seattle, FWIW.

      March 14, 2018
      • https://gadgets.ndtv.com/internet/news/amazon-leases-new-office-in-silicon-valley-270368

        Head office in in Seattle. They have a huge presence in Silicon Valley too. So does Microsoft.

        March 15, 2018
        • Draven #

          they also have a huge presence elsewhere, chunks of their devs actually live elsewhere, sometimes near their datacenters, sometimes not.

          March 15, 2018
        • I was a Senior Manager at Amazon for three years. I can confirm that 90% or more of the tech staff are in Seattle. The only thing of any size that I ever dealt with from Silicon Valley was the team that manages the search functionality.

          Likewise Microsoft (where I worked for 14 years) has a small presence in the Valley (and scattered around the world) but everything important still happens in Redmond (a Seattle Suburb).

          March 17, 2018
  10. When I was at Amazon, Bezos used to tell a story about how established retailers would point to the fact that he allowed negative reviews on the site as evidence that he had no idea how to run a business. “You’re supposed to sell this stuff, son!”

    He laughed and said that his philosophy was that if you took care of the customers–really put them first, not just talked about it–then, in the end, the customers would take care of you. Allowing bad reviews to say on the site was, in his mind, evidence that being honest with our customers was more important than making a quick buck. I don’t think most people realize just how rare this attitude is in companies, and the smaller the company, the more short-sighted they seem to be.

    Will Bezos eventually be replaced by a more traditional CEO who thinks the secret to success is to screw your customers and bamboozle them about it? Yeah, I guess that could happen, but the exciting thing is that he’s shown that if you actually do right by your customers, you can kill your competition.

    So when it comes to removing reviews, Amazon will only do this if it thinks those reviews were hurting the customers. If Amazon removes reviews from your site, the most effective way to communicate with them will be if you write in such a way that it sounds like you too are trying to champion the customer. And remember that, as an author, you are not the customer. The readers who buy books are the customers. Amazon sees you as a partner, and it expects a good partner to sign onto its mission of making customers happy.

    March 17, 2018

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