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On reviews

Once again, there are rumblings among indie authors about how big, bad Amazon is being mean. I’m the first to admit Amazon isn’t without fault. It takes actions, mainly due to automation, without warning. Innocents can and sometimes do get caught in the massive bans wrought by Amazon bots. For those wrongly caught up in the bans, the process of getting their accounts reinstated can be long and frustrating. They are why Amazon needs to look at their process and change it.

However, a number of those who claim to be innocent victims of Amazon purges really aren’t. Oh, they might not have set out to violate Amazon’s ToS but they did. Every time an author says, “If you review my book, I’ll review yours,” they violate the ToS. Every time someone receives a free book and gives a review without also noting they received the book without buying it, they violate the ToS.

So how do we get around this? I want to be able to review books my friends write and I know they want to review mine. But we have hesitated because we don’t want to violate the ToS — or get caught up in the latest ‘bot review even though we didn’t trade reviews.

The answer is simple: review the book on your blog. Link your blog to Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms. But don’t review it on Amazon. Yes, there are negatives (mainly, by not reviewing it on Amazon, the author doesn’t get a review that counts to that magic number that starts the “if you bought this, you might enjoy that” sort of recommendation). However, a number of readers really don’t read Amazon reviews. They might look at the number of reviews a book has, or at least the overall number of stars, but they don’t read the reviews.

So why bother reviewing it on your blog? There are a couple of reasons. First, that review will come up every time someone googles the title of the book or the author’s name. So, you are not only promoting book and author but you are adding to your own discoverability.

There’s another reason. If you have an Amazon Associates Account, you can use it to monetize your review — and your site. When you link to the book in your review, use the associates link and you will get money for everything someone buys when they follow that link. Money is good. But this also lets you see what sort of follow through you have on a post and its links.

As an author, you want blog reviews of your work. Why? Because you can go to your Author Central page, pull up your book and add quotes from blog reviews under the “editorial reviews” section. That will then show up on your books Amazon page. More readers do look at those than customer reviews simply because it is part of the overall product description. Also, it makes your book look more “legit”, more like a traditionally published book, because readers are used to seeing those editorial reviews on trad pubbed books.

There can be power in these blog reviews or even from pushes by more well-known authors on their blogs. But that all comes from networking. Before you can do that, you need to do your homework and see who is writing in your genre and who has fans you believe will enjoy your work. Then, if you don’t already have a relationship with that author, you need to develop one. That doesn’t mean going straight to them and proposing a blog swap or something. Quite the contrary. It means taking part in discussions on their blog. Become a commenter. Become part of their community. Then do reviews of their work or posts referring to their work when it comes to the craft of writing. Link it back to their blog or social media site.

It is now time to start thinking outside the box. Hell, it’s been that time for years, ever since indie publishing started taking off. Let’s get started here. What are your ideas for getting reviews, bringing them to the public and doing so without violating Amazon’s or any of the other platforms’ ToS?

26 Comments
  1. Wish I could review a couple books. Friend of mine has an interesting series of Irish history that he’s worked on. And on Picts, and has a King Arthur book coming out soon. According to the Amazon ToS I can’t review them and get them to qualify. Might have to use my blog to go over them then.

    April 24, 2018
    • Do it there, share on social media. That will, honestly, get more potential eyes on the review than an Amazon or BN or Apple review will. Then, as I noted, he could use quotes from your review as part of the “editorial reviews” if he wanted to on the product page.

      April 24, 2018
    • Please do review them. Or at least give book names. I’ve some research I want to do on some of those topics. (Yes, devious motives!)

      April 24, 2018
      • Give me a little bit. Have to dig up links. He has a few interesting thesis about the Irish.

        April 24, 2018
      • Here’s the link to his author page. Book four is in the process of being edited and will be about King Arthur.

        https://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&field-author=Clayton+N+Donoghue&search-alias=books-ca

        April 24, 2018
        • *runs off squeeing loudly* These are books I have needed but did not think existed! Thank you!

          April 24, 2018
          • You’re welcome. Old army buddy now. Used to be my platoon sergeant. Has a few interesting theories and beliefs that aren’t out there. Going to have to dig out his books and read them again. Have the first two and the third one is on my list.

            April 24, 2018
    • Luke #

      Well, you made another sale.
      ‘though the Lord alone knows when I’ll have the chance to read it.

      April 24, 2018
  2. TRX #

    > “if you bought this, you might enjoy that”

    A lot of authors seem to feel that is important, but as a reader, recommendations are seldom useful. If anything, they’re negatively useful.

    April 24, 2018
    • I’ll be honest, as a reader, I very rarely go far enough down on the page to see those. Shrug.

      April 24, 2018
    • Harry Russell #

      My problem with that bunch of recommendations is that, AFAICT, there is only one visitor whose history is being cross referenced with mine, mine…

      Seriously, I very rarely find a recommendation that isn’t for something I haven’t already bought (or gotten free), borrowed from Kindle Unlimited, or viewed (repeatedly) but not proceeded with.

      April 24, 2018
      • Harry, I often find the same thing. That is the problem when recommendations are run by metrics. More often than not, I’m being referred to books I’ve already read or books I wrote.

        April 25, 2018
  3. Draven #

    and your review on facebook only gets shown to your friends that have already read it, and not the other 98% of your facebook friends

    April 24, 2018
    • Which is why you tie it to your other social media accounts as well. And have your friends who do read it, like it and share it.

      April 24, 2018
  4. kali #

    I wonder if this is what caught the conservative-libertarian fiction alliance https://pjmedia.com/trending/amazon-deletes-reviews-conservative-authors-no-explanation/. Were they reviewing each other?

    April 24, 2018
    • Synova #

      A lot of people who write mostly read their friend’s books, so that’s who would leave reviews, right? It’s sort of “no win” in some ways.

      April 24, 2018
      • As long as you buy the book and you aren’t trading reviews, there are ways to do so under the terms of service. Also, you need to be upfront about it. For example, Cedar’s mother (maybe her grandmother?) reviews her books but she notes at the beginning of the review that there is a relationship between them. It is the need for transparency that Amazon is working toward and we can’t blame them for that. Note, too, a lot of the review rules have to do with products that aren’t books. That is why it is very important we review the ToS from time to time.

        April 24, 2018
    • I know it caught a lot of them because they were actively recruiting along the lines of “I’ll read your book if you read mine”. Just because you do that sort of thing on social media doesn’t mean they don’t have crawlers that find it.

      April 24, 2018
  5. Synova #

    One thing I never quite got the hang of was figuring the “tags” to put on a blog post. So most of mine have no tags at all. But I’d understood that it was the tags, not the title or even the text, that got “searched”.

    I don’t put stuff on Synova.blogspot.com very often and most people would consider it dead. I do “own” homeplanetpress.com now and intend to set up a web page. That’s in the planning stages but I’m thinking in terms of setting up sections with links to resources for independent publishers and also author interviews and book links. As I said “planning stages” so now’s a good time to figure out how to do things in a way that would be most helpful to authors, editors, and artists.

    In other words, opinions on this are very welcome. 🙂

    April 24, 2018
    • Tags are useful for search inside your site, but don’t expect search Engines to value them very highly. At Rocket Stack Rank we use tags heavily, but they’re entirely to help users navigate the site. For example, on a review page, the name of the author is always a tag. If you click on the author’s name, you’ll see all the reviews we’re published of stories by that author. Likewise the magazine and the year are tags. So is the “category” (novella, novelette, short story).

      For blog posts, readers often wants tags they can click to show them related stories. If you occasionally post about the Hugo Awards, it makes sense to tag those posts for the benefit of your readers.

      Finally, unless you have a lot of posts, you really don’t need to tag them at all.

      April 24, 2018
    • As Greg said, the tags are mainly for search purposes on your blog. However, there is a nifty little plug-in (you can use it if you are a WP blog but not hosted by WP) called Yoast SEO. There are both free and paid versions. What is nice about it is it helps you increase your SEO with keywords, etc. You might take a look at it.

      April 25, 2018
      • Synova #

        Thanks. I’ll make a note. 🙂

        April 25, 2018
  6. Something that can make a big difference is using Google’s structured markup for reviews.” If you want to see how that works, do a Google search for “the secret life of bots” and look for the Rocket Stack Rank result. Notice how the Google result shows my star rating, credits me with the review, shows my “blurb” for the story etc.

    Structured data is just HTML that tells Google things like the fact that this really is a review, who the author was, where the story was published, etc. You have to apply it to things that are actually on the page visible to the user. They don’t like it when you markup invisible things, because it looks like you’re trying to pull a fast one.

    Google claims they don’t give extra points to stories with markup, but, my gosh, it sure makes them pop off the page when they do get displayed. Also, all that extra data unquestionably makes it easier for Google to find the page in the first place. It certainly made a big difference for us. It increased our traffic a lot and it increased the quality of the traffic too. That is, people who arrive via Google spend more time on the site and look at more pages than they did before. It’s not just attracting more people; it’s attracting the right people.

    Google doesn’t always show the stars, depending on (I think) how good a match the page was to the query, but it also varies from day to day (and maybe even user to user). Finally, even if you start using structured data, Google takes about six months before they trust you enough to show the stars.

    Anyway, it’s a bit of work, and it takes patience, but if you’re thinking of posting a lot of reviews on your site, it’s worth at least taking a look at structured data.

    April 24, 2018
    • Synova #

      I’ll be sure to mention this to the computer-sorts who have offered to help me set up the web page.

      Thanks for information. When I eventually get this set up I want it to work for people – maximize the utility offered.

      April 25, 2018
  7. kali #

    Forgot to mention, very useful post. Thank you, Amanda.

    April 24, 2018
    • Thank you!

      April 25, 2018

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