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Constant Scrutiny

As I was chatting with a fellow author last night, the topic came up of Amazon and their predilection for pulling reviews they find suspicious, or suspending the accounts of authors they think may be gaming the system. It was something John van Stry had talked about on the trends in Indie Publishing panel he and I were on, along with Jim Curtis and Lawdog. (Great panel, I was listening more than talking, and we had almost two hours so we got into the meat of the matter).

The upshot of that conversation, and the more private one later, is that as authors we must avoid all appearance of evil. Evil, in this case being any hint of trading favors for reviews. Even more than that, John van Stry spoke of websites and forums where you really don’t want to hang out as an author, because the tactics being discussed I’ll get you tarred by the same brush when the ‘Zon casts its all-seeing eye in that direction.

This is, as you might guess, unsettling to hear. I joke around about tipping your authors by leaving a review – nothing wrong with that at all. But don’t offer to give anything tangible for a review, without the reviewer making a very clear disclaimer. That’s gaming the system, and Amazon does not like review stuffing at all. Which doesn’t stop it from happening. I was shopping for a coffee pot last week and in a Q&A section there was a comment about a site you can run an amazon product through, to get a grade on how likely the reviews are to be fake.

I think we all know how to recognize the egregious fakes. Bad grammar, vague attributes that could be talking about anything, not just a specific product. And of course the penultimate: nothing but five-star glowing reviews. Which is why I’m kind of waiting for Possum Creek Massacre to achieve a three or four star. Or one of those lovely one-stars that makes people want to read in defiance. But I would never ask for such a thing, much less offer goods for services.

What troubles me is the idea that an innocent interaction with a group of miscreants could lead to an Amazon seller account being switched off. This is… within the TOS. Which you should read immediately if you didn’t know this. And I am not a lawyer nor knowledgeable about this area of the law, but I am fairly sure guilt by association is dodgy at best in court. None of that makes a difference. As an author, proceed with caution if you find yourself signing up for some newsletter peddling Ten Tips to Win at Selling Books or such crap. First of all, it’s probably crap. Second, if you find algorithm gaming or review cramming… run. Unsubscribes and unfollows and get outta that Facebook group but quick.

Amazon is simply trying to protect their business interests. As a business woman, I am sympathetic. They are in the game to make a profit. So am I. I’m going to work in tandem with them to make this happen for both of us, because ultimately if the ‘zon collapses under the weight of scammers and fraudsters, it takes my work to find other more viable venues to sell through.

It could be far worse. It could be ConVergence trying to play Big Brother with their menacing threats to monitor all public interactions, all year long, and if you don’t fit their nebulous standards… these are my middle fingers. I strive to be a Lady in word and behavior. But I refuse to be coerced into that. It’s a matter of my principles. My honor. Not yours, whatever that is.

What does it matter? It’s a private party and they can do what they want.

Indeed they can. I, on the other hand, can look back at history and shiver. I know what this sort of thing brings with it, and it is not healthy. And it’s not like, in the SFF world, they haven’t heard of the Eye of Sauron. They know what they are doing. And they know others will follow.

50 Comments
  1. 23 skidoo.

    July 6, 2019
  2. George Phillies #

    A fine point. Thank you for not reviewing my books on Amazon.

    Having said that, yesterday I encountered another Amazon policy, which may affect some low-price items. I came across something that was about $5, and the comment from Amazon ws that this item would only be shiped as part of a package of $25 or more. This was a CD from Fuller French. To quote Amazon:

    “Buy Add-on Items

    Add-on items are available for purchase with over $25 of items shipped by Amazon to the same address, excluding gift cards. The Add-on program allows Amazon to offer thousands of low-priced items that would be cost-prohibitive to ship on their own.

    To buy Add-on Items:

    Look for the Add-on Item logo while shopping on Amazon.com.
    Add-on items must be part of an order containing $25 of items shipped by Amazon.com to the same address. Your order can include a mix of Add-on items and other items shipped by Amazon, or be entirely made up of Add-on items

    Note: If your cart contains a mix of Add-on items and other items with a total value of less than $25, you can check out with the other items, but your Add-on items will automatically be saved for later and added to your next qualifying order that contains $25 of items shipped by Amazon to the same address. If your cart consists entirely of Add-on items with a total value of less than $25, you will not be presented with a ‘Proceed to check-out’ option but will have the option to ‘Continue shopping’.

    Add-on Items are eligible for Free Shipping in qualifying orders. See About Free Shipping by Amazon for more information.

    Prime Members: When you include Add-on items with over $25 of Prime items shipped by Amazon, you’ll also receive Prime shipping benefits on these Add-on items. Prime items shipped by other sellers do not apply towards the $25 minimum to purchase Add-on items.

    Subscribe and Save: Many Add-on items are eligible for the Subscribe and Save program. If you choose the Subscribe and Save option for these items, the $25 threshold does not apply for the auto-deliveries of the item.”

    July 6, 2019
    • I have reviewed at least one of your books, but I bought it. I like to have that ‘verified purchaser’ tag on all my reviews. That’s my personal policy with almost any book I review – I either buy it or fully read it through KU

      And the Add-on makes perfect sense. I see it all the time. Low-cost items just don’t make a lot of sense to ship alone.

      July 6, 2019
      • Even if you MUST have it ASAP?

        Happened to my son just last Fall, actually. He had managed misplace his Lance Corporal insignia – and realized it only on the day that he was going to take his blues in to the cleaner / tailor. The week of the Marine Ball.

        Marine insignia are not something you find on the shelf in Tucson. One – count it, one – company of Reservists based here; the BX on the Air Force base doesn’t bother with any of their stuff. So he ordered them; of course, he paid about twice the amount in shipping as he did for the insignia. No option, though!

        July 6, 2019
  3. Harry #

    Regarding that CONvergence letter linked, “Holy ery Batman…”

    I think that’s most blatant appeal to “Get Woke Go Broke!” I’ve seen yet.

    Has someone have a way to profit off this convention going bankrupt or what???

    July 6, 2019
    • Harry #

      there were supposed to be two instances of “redacted” before the “ery” above, but apparently WP considered them tags, sorry.

      July 6, 2019
    • Popcorn sales? Hawk snacks to the crowd watching as the flames leap higher?

      July 6, 2019
    • TheOtherSean #

      Given that “convergence” and “intersection” are effectively synonyms, should it surprise anybody that CONvergence has gone full in on intersectionality and other wokeness?

      July 6, 2019
    • Zsuzsa #

      I’ll admit that I’ve never heard of CONvergence before. Is there something so spectacular about this particular con that it’s worth submitting yourself to the Stasi in hopes that you will be considered one of the elect allowed to attend?

      July 6, 2019
      • Harry #

        I would hope even Worldcon couldn’t get away with this sort of thing, & their core demographic these days seems to be the sort of people who’d author that letter…

        July 6, 2019
        • It’s Minneapolis. They used to have fun there.

          July 6, 2019
  4. Luke #

    So my being an anti-social recluse can occasionally work to my advantage?
    (Tongue in the cheekish area, or somewhat close o)

    July 6, 2019
    • In this case? Maybe. Unless they decide no presence means something to hide. Or that you associate with the likes of us.

      July 6, 2019
  5. First, it was great meeting you last weekend.

    I wanted to see that panel but had other panels myself. On my newest book alone I’ve had four reviews pulled for obscure reasons. Two were from advance readers who clearly identified themselves as such. Reviews from other advance readers were left up. And then two verified reviews from friends of mine were yanked. They bought the book, but Z took them down anyway. I used to get upset at such things but now just roll with it.

    July 6, 2019
    • Good to see you too! Reviews are a funny thing. My mom has reviewed – and identified herself as such! – my books and it’s been up for years. Others, as you say, have vanished for no apparent reason. I’m more worried about the ‘Zon shutting down your entire account, and making you unable to sell books through them.

      July 6, 2019
  6. In as much as an active internet presence and a sizable friends list on FB are a large part of Indie authors’ marketing, Amazon yanking a few reviews here and there on books with not many reviews anyway is stupid.

    July 6, 2019
    • Reviews are not the issue here. The entire account being zapped, and banned from ever coming back…

      July 6, 2019
    • mrsizer #

      I was on vacation and started re-reading Wine of the Gods. Apparently, I first read them in my “unless it’s Shakespeare, four stars is good” phase and missed some altogether. I’m updating the ratings as I go.

      Some don’t seem to be linked to “next book”, but you may have already fixed that. I rarely download updates.

      July 8, 2019
  7. Christopher M. Chupik #

    “as authors we must avoid all appearance of evil”

    Unless you’re advocating physical assault against “Nazis”. Then you can appear as evil as you want to be.

    July 6, 2019
    • Then you can get a Hugo award nomination for best fan site.

      July 6, 2019
    • Mary #

      Who, whom? determines who is evil.

      July 6, 2019
    • I see that your bolt struck a camel, Mr. Chupik. Well shot sir! ~:D

      July 8, 2019
  8. “It could be ConVergence trying to play Big Brother with their menacing threats to monitor all public interactions, all year long, and if you don’t fit their nebulous standards…”

    Wow. That letter though. Should I run out and get my yellow armband now, or wait for the government issue one?

    On the bright side, it was nice for them to self-identify like that. One more place that doesn’t want any of my money.

    July 6, 2019
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      Your poor-taste humor has been noted, comrade.

      July 6, 2019
      • Yeah, I guess I’ll never be able to wear my “The Phantom” nametag at CommieVergence now.

        Time to polish up “The Spectre!” Or I could go as Charles Babbage. None of those idiots would get the joke.

        July 6, 2019
        • Harry #

          I suspect I am not unique amongst SciFi fans in not being aware, prior to specifically researching it (in this case due to your “joke”), that the inventor of the Difference Engine had also tried his hand at occultism (though it’s not a surprise really).

          July 6, 2019
        • Christopher M. Chupik #

          You mean they’d be . . . indifferent?

          July 6, 2019
  9. This is why I don’t review books I write the blurbs for. I do sometimes review books of authors I like that I bought – but it’s rare. Usually I just review the physical items I’ve bought, if I review at all. So far, none of the reviews I’ve done have been yanked, so there’s that.

    On the other hand, the total number of reviews on my books has fluctuated up and down… I made the decision that as long as they don’t all go away en masse, they’re three for the reader, not the author, and I shouldn’t stress about it.

    July 6, 2019
    • I think I needed to specify in this post it’s not about the reviews. It’s about losing your entire account.

      July 6, 2019
      • All of us have had reviews disappear, sometimes for good reasons (I had a one-star that started with “I gave up on the book and didn’t finish it” and then listed all the flaws they thought they knew would be in that unread chapters. The ‘Zon pulled it. I hadn’t said anything.)

        Very, very few of us have gotten warning letters or had our accounts blocked, and I suspect that the cases we DO know about are the ones that everyone else points to as the horrible warnings – flagrant TOS abuse, protesting because they got caught gaming the system, trying to get reviewers banned from Amazon because the reviewer didn’t like the author’s book… So we focus on what we see the most. After all, “we’re the good guys. They won’t block our access to their market!” [*cough*Alphabet/EweTube*cough*]

        July 6, 2019
        • Yep. I don’t think it happens often. I do think that when you see someone protesting too much, I give them serious side-eye about just what they were doing to land in trouble. We make Amazon money. They aren’t in the business of slapping people down at random. It still needs to be said that you don’t do the things you know lead to trouble.

          July 6, 2019
          • Oh yeah! As JY has put it, “There’s a difference between tempting Fate and running up to Her, slapping Her in the face, and then yelling ‘neener, neener, neener!'”

            July 6, 2019
  10. Reblogged this on Colfax Den and commented:
    So I forgot about this being mentioned in a panel while at Libertycon. Yes, as Cedar says, if you’re in a group that seems at all sketchy, get out most ricky tick. The ‘Zon has been really cracking down on trying to find people gaming their system. From all appearances they may be indeed using neutron bombs on snipers. This is also why your humble narrator doesn’t even joke about quid quo pro for reviews online. One can make their own decisions on whether that’s paranoid, but memory is a fickle thing.

    July 6, 2019
    • I’m with you James. I see no point in risking it. Bad reviews are one thing, getting nuked off the site is quite another.

      July 6, 2019
  11. Once I get a book up I more or less expect to do very few reviews. I don’t do all that many now but I *try* to do as many as I can.

    July 6, 2019
  12. The ConVergence thing is unreal. I guess they wanted it in writing that they could ban anyone they pleased for anything they’d done outside of the convention. Even a trusted party might want to make their prerogative to do so clear. And I think that actively inviting and recruiting is a good thing, overall, certainly much better than driving people away. But the bit about how kind and wonderful they’d be in working with people of good intentions who made a mistake just made my skin crawl.

    July 6, 2019
    • ” But the bit about how kind and wonderful they’d be in working with people of good intentions who made a mistake just made my skin crawl.”

      That’s the kind of talk you expect to find in a molester newsletter. So creepy.

      July 6, 2019
      • I was thinking of “reeducation” camps and the new Chinese boarding schools for ethnic minorities, but the same mindset applies…

        July 7, 2019
        • Oh yeah, that too. Also extremely creepy. There’s nothing like stealing people’s children to put everyone in a nice receptive calm frame of mind.

          Hard rain gonna fall.

          July 7, 2019
    • Sounds to me like they’ve turned into a religion, complete with rigorous church discipline. Who among that fandom knew they were signing up for that?

      July 7, 2019
      • Worse than that. At least with religion there’s some kind of outside source for what constitutes an offense besides some random person’s opinions.
        With this mess the only criteria is that somebody, somewhere, was offended enough to report you for insufficient wokeness. And everyone is insufficiently woke on some topic near and dear to the grievancemongers.

        July 7, 2019
        • They need a new witch to burn every couple of weeks, or the rank-and-file outrage junkies lose interest.

          Any witch will do. If they can’t find one, they’ll -make- one.

          July 7, 2019
          • Draven #

            does she weigh the same as a duck?

            July 7, 2019
        • Exactly. Whereas in cases like this, “They” make their own rules, and there’s no external authority (scripture, creed, long-standing tradition) to which the accused sinner can appeal.

          That said, I’ve had firsthand experience with a recognized denomination where the regional leadership’s SJW convictions trumped the church’s official constitution. The line I got from them sounded very similar to what was written in that ConVergence letter, and thanks to their machinations I’ve been out of a job in my profession the past 15 years.

          So never fear, when I say it sounded like a church, I wasn’t minimizing things. In a very real way, it makes what they’re doing worse, since they’re impinging on matters that should be the prerogative of God.

          July 7, 2019
          • Synova #

            For someone raised in church and who paid attention there are so many parallels to every last single dysfunctional church dynamic that it’s not even funny.

            And yes, at least in church you’re supposed to have the option of an appeal directly to the scripture, but there isn’t any scripture, nor any doctrine of forgiveness involved.

            In particular, the incredibly damaging errors of methods of enforcing proper doctrine are rampant. Shunning and ostracizing as well as methods of indoctrination that if they’re present in a church would indicate something truly toxic.

            People think that cults are defined by being wrong about doctrine, they’re not. Cults are defined by the methods of social control within the group that are used to exert that control.

            July 8, 2019
            • Satoyama #

              In this case, it is a fun mixture.

              In doctrine, they are heretics. The doctrine pretty much came from the Soviet Union. It is essentially a heresy of Christianity, because it first grew in cultures heavily shaped by Christianity, and does not really have answers for perspectives that are hostile, and neither Christian nor Jewish nor socialist. Pretty much all the defining features are there because people high up in state cult of the Soviet Union thought that they would be useful. Though, it is far more functional than everything else they’ve touched, which is probably more evolution than good judgement on their part.

              In terms of practice, suppose you were the gullible sort who could be persuaded that because it flatters your vanity, there is nation state doing it, and they are throwing excessive money, that it is a good way to live life. You don’t convert to World Socialism because you were raised to know nothing but, say, a Bolshevik snake pit in 1930s Russia. You come to it from some other cultural and religious background. The practice in the Soviet Union came with secret police, the censorship, the state terror. Where those aren’t permitted, people following the doctrine filled in the holes in their practice with what they could scrounge up from local inspiration.

              The emotional patterns of Protestantism were influential in North America for a reason. Those chords are still strong, even with the doctrine of socialism transposed into them.

              July 8, 2019
  13. Stanley Miller #

    The “Seller account yanked” isn’t something I’m experienced with, but having my personal Amazon account permanently flagged and unable to submit reviews as well as having all past reviews erased is something I’m all too aware of.
    Amazon made it clear that I was not going to be told why this was done to me and that I was to quit asking. Not wanting to risk my rather extensive Kindle book collection, my ability to use KU or even shop at Amazon I have not made any more waves.
    My advice, do not do anything that could interest Amazon in your account.

    July 7, 2019
    • snelson134 #

      “Not wanting to risk my rather extensive Kindle book collection, my ability to use KU or even shop at Amazon I have not made any more waves.”

      And this is the definition of tyranny. It is no less a tyranny when a monopoly corporation does it than when a government does so.

      July 8, 2019
  14. c4c – have to run out door.

    July 9, 2019

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