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.