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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should NEVER Buy Amazon Reader Reviews

by Anne R. Allen

Last month the Seattle Times reported that Amazon is suing a bunch of paid review mills.

Unfortunately, many paid review sites don't feel they're doing anything wrong. A spokesman for one of the companies Amazon is suing said:

"We are not selling fake reviews. However we do provide Unbiased and Honest reviews on all the products…and this is not illegal at all." (Caps are his. Apparently using mid-sentence caps makes you look more sincere.)

This stuff may not be technically illegal. (We'll have to see this play out in the courts.) But buying customer reviews is definitely against the Terms of Service of most retailers and can get you kicked off Amazon for life.

It can also draw the ire of the vigilantes who hang out in the Amazon fora, Goodreads, and BookLikes, who are some of the nastiest cyberbullies on the 'Net. To them, an accusation equals guilt and you are never allowed to prove your innocence. These are people who learned their ethics from the Salem witch trials.

So you really want to stay under their radar.

I understand why they are annoyed. It seems as if every day I get followed by another paid review mill on Twitter. And their sites are slick. They make it seem as if paying for reviews is a part of the process of self-publishing.

It often does seem as if paying for an online "customer review" is an accepted aspect of doing business these days. You hear all the time about businesses paying for five-star ratings on Yelp and other review sites.

But don't do it for your books. If you've been tricked into paying for reviews, ask that they be deleted.

Otherwise, you could get in big trouble. Soon. 

What's the difference between a customer review and a professional review?   

It's OK to pay for a professional review from established magazines like Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, or Midwest Book Review. I don't know if they're worth the price, but they're not in the same category as paid "customer" reviews.

The reviewers at those journals are trained and vetted professionals writing for well known magazines that have a reputation to uphold—not a bunch of guys in a cafe in Sri Lanka stringing together a few words for five bucks.


I just saw this comment from author Anthea Lawson on The Passive Voice, which picked up this post:

 "Actually, PW has dropped their paid review service (and kudos to them for doing so!). They offer other paid promotional opportunities to indies, which may or may not be of use.

If you go to the PW Booklife website and click around, you can find how to submit your indie title for free for consideration. Then it’s a multi-step process, but if your title meets their criteria, you’ll get a review in PW. My most recent historical romance picked up a starred review that way." 

Thanks for the info, Anthea!

Professional reviews like the ones from Kirkus can't be posted on retail sites in the review section. You can paste a small quote from one of them into the "editorial reviews" section, but not in the review thread.

The consensus from authors who have bought them seems to be: they are not worth the hefty price!

What is considered payment for a review? 

Unfortunately, a number of common practices in the traditional book world are considered "payment" in the online world.

Even a free book is considered payment by Amazon, so book review bloggers are required to post disclaimers when they review a book they received from the author or publisher. 

Reviews that come from a paid blog tour are also not eligible as customer reviews. You can only quote from them in the "editorial reviews" section.

Amazon also does not permit reviews (or votes on reviews) to be posted in exchange for any kind of compensation—including bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra products, or other gifts.

This means a free book must be given before the review is posted with no stipulations about what kind of review must be written...and no gifts should be given after the review is written, so there's no appearance of payment for a positive review.

If you do offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you need to make it clear that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. 

This includes trading reviews

Review barter between authors is strictly forbidden as well. Anybody who says, "I'll give you a five star if you give me one" is asking you to pay for a review in kind.

No author should review another with the expectation that the review will be reciprocated. I see authors all the time who complain that author "X" hasn't given them a review, "even though I gave him a rave." Let go of that expectation. Nobody owes you a review. If you did get it, you might not be pleased, anyway.

Some unscrupulous authors may approach another with this blackmail game: "I gave you a 5-star, now you give me one, or I'll change it to a one-star." Don't fall for it. It's better to lose the one review than get on the wrong side of the Zon or its vigilantes. Do report the blackmailer to Amazon.

Amazon doesn't always pay attention to reports of abuse, but any author who gets reported for blackmail repeatedly might find themselves banned from the site. When abuse reports reach critical mass, something is usually done.

Some of the vigilantes believe no author should be allowed to write a review, but this is silly in these days where nearly everybody who reads has tried their hand at writing a book. But you do need to make sure your reviews are always honest and there is never a direct trade or a quid pro quo.

But be careful when reviewing something in your own sub-genre or any author who might be considered "a competitor". Amazon's TOS say "You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. This has been interpreted in different ways, but everybody agrees it's a no-no to trash a competitor's books.

And please, please, please don't send me your book expecting me to review it. We average 100,000 hits a month, have nearly 4000 subscribers, and we LOVE every single one of you, but I have at least 200 books in my TBR pile. I read in a limited number of genres—I prefer cerebral comedies and classics—and I do leave an Amazon review if I enjoy a book, but I'm a very slow reader.

This blog is my way of giving back to the writing community. I get no revenue from it. It takes time I might otherwise spend reading and writing. So please do allow me some time to write my own books. (And deal with some heavy-duty health issues I'm fighting right now.)

But we do appreciate every one of our readers. We just reached 2 million hits yesterday!

The new plague of paid review mills

I'm sure the current spike in fake reviews comes from the rise of the e-book bargain newsletters—like Bookbub, Kindle Nation Daily, and Ereader News Today—which have become the advertising medium of choice for indie authors. (The Big Five make liberal use of them for marketing their backlists, too.) .

Unfortunately, most of the big newsletters require a large number of 4 and 5-star reviews on the US Amazon site to accept a book for promotion. I wish they'd find a more reliable method of choosing books, because this has brought authors a major incentive to game the system.

It also gives a huge weight to reviews at the US Amazon, so other countries' sites, plus B & N, Kobo, Apple, etc, get very few reviews at all.

The problem is momentous for authors who write for an older demographic. If your readership is older people, it can be an exercise in tooth-pulling to get even a handful of reviews, even though readers may gush about how they love your work on FB or email.

Several years ago, there was a big expose of review mills in the New York Times, and Amazon removed 1000s of reviews and most of the review sites were shut down. But they're back...with a vengeance. My friend who blogs as The Wordmonger said he got something like 19 tweets a week last month from different review mills promising 5-star reviews for a price. And Mr. Monger doesn't even have a book out. 

The worst are the review companies who say they will write "honest" reviews with no guarantee of stars. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS. If you pay, the review is not acceptable to Amazon, even if it's honest.

This happened to a friend of mine. She paid for three or four of what she believed would be "honest" reviews.

Now a vigilante group is harassing the author, stalking her, trashing her reputation online, and making threats against her and her family.

This author is nearly seventy and has been writing her whole life, but she's new to the Amazon world. She didn't realize that all paid reviews are a no-no.

There's a reason for her confusion. The review mills are very clever at lying to their customers. Some even use the Amazon logo on their site and claim to be Amazon affiliates. I've seen them when they follow me on Twitter. They say that they provide "the correct way" to get Amazon reviews tell newbies it's the only way to make the bestseller lists.

But they are flat-out lying. 

So how do we get reviews?

I know it's not easy, especially if you write for my generation. (Yes, I'm a Boomer who is very much feeling my age this week.) The problem is we simply aren't in the habit of writing online reviews. And we're usually put off by those emails demanding we do "homework" after buying a product. But we need to start writing them. It's one of the few ways to fight this stuff. Bring in some grown-ups! 

If you want to know the right way to get reviews, here's a helpful piece by Kimberly Grabas at Your Writer Platform and another great one from marketing guru Penny Sansevieri.

Do follow all the steps they suggest. Randomly sending queries to the top-rated Amazon reviewers can lead to grief. Many of the established reviewers are very anti-self-publishing. So carefully research each one. Mass-querying hardly ever works, and it can backfire, big time. Don't do it.

Here are some tips from a bunch of pros about how to market your book. None of them involve paying for reviews. (I'm one of 18 people interviewed for this piece. I don't know if I've ever been called a "one of the world's foremost thought-leaders" before. LOL.) But there are some fantastic tips from some of the best marketing people out there!

How about Amazon's other review problems? 

I know a lot of you are thinking, um, paid reviews aren't exactly the only problem on Amazon.

Every article I see about the paid review lawsuit is followed by comments from authors who feel the whole Amazon review system is in serious need of a clean-up

I agree there are BIG problems beyond the paid review stuff. Almost any author who is trying to sell books these days has run into the trolls and sock puppets who seem to spend their days leaving nasty or idiotic reviews (for books they obviously haven't read) for no particular purpose except to wield the power they probably don't have in their real lives.

There are also armies of Dana Carvey wannabes who love to one-star random books for "profanity and too much sex" (which they probably don't realize may actually boost sales). Others are trying to push some other political or religious agenda.

And lots of humor-challenged politically-correctibots seem to have nothing to do but lurk around Amazon attacking works of humor or satire that go over their tiny heads.

There's also lots of unpleasantness generated from the Amazon fora, which are the domain of long-time Amazon denizens who predate the ebook era and tend to hate ebooks and indies. These Amazon message boards (as opposed to the Kindleboards) started as a site for discussion of videogames and game reviews and are still dominated by a pervasive old-school gamer mentality.

If you heard anything about the #Gamergate controversy last summer, you know the attitude I'm talking about.This is an aggressive, intolerant, testosterone-fueled universe where innocence is a crime and everybody is assumed to be guilty of something. It's an attitude that can be dangerous to readers and writers alike.

(Remember people judge others by themselves. People who accuse everybody they meet of gaming the system are only telling you about themselves.)

The gamers-of-the-Amazon-system are often in competition with each other for the lucrative "top reviewer" status which gets them free stuff to review (not just books: they get electronics and videogames and other cool, expensive stuff.) A lot of their antics have to do with competition amongst themselves, but innocents often get caught in the crossfire.

And there are other petty-theft games some scammers like to play on retail sites, like leaving a one-star that says "I never received a copy of this book." Usually the person has placed the same "review" on dozens of books—sometimes all in one day—the only day that "person" has ever reviewed anything. If there's no "verified purchase" tag, it usually means this "reviewer" is a sock puppet for a scammer trying to blackmail the author into sending them a free book or product.

Sock puppets (multiple fake identities) are used for all sorts of nasty purposes. Amazon seems to have no restrictions on the number of aliases a person can have, so a handful of malevolent trolls with time on their hands can wreak serious havoc on any number of vendors at the same time.

Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't often respond to complaints about sock puppets and bullying behavior. Maybe this is because the bullies seem to be doing a good job of policing the site for free. But it's a bit like hiring the Hell's Angels to work security for your rock concert. That kind of stuff can backfire in nasty ways.

I hope Amazon will consider doing something to fight the bullying and scammy behavior on their site as well as the paid review people.

They could start by limiting the number of identities a person can have. I can't think of any reason a person would need more than five pseudonyms for review purposes. If they have hundreds, I think that would be a pretty strong signal they're up to something.

How to Fight Abuse: #1 Write Reviews

The best way you can fight the abuse of the review system is to leave honest reviews of the books you read. Amazon no longer requires 20 words for a review. Even one or two words will do, although a thoughtful review saying why you liked or disliked a book is always more helpful.

Every real review dilutes the pollution coming from review mills, scammers, trolls, and out-of-control vigilantes.

How to Fight Abuse: #2 Report It!

When you see abuse, report it through the drop down menu next to the review. They ask you if you find the review helpful or unhelpful, and right next to those buttons is one for "report abuse".

If you're a customer, you can also make a comment on the review, but never comment on a review of your own book. (An author shouldn't use the comment thread even to thank the reviewer. This is against the Goodreads TOS and much frowned-upon at Amazon as well. If you want to thank a reviewer or offer a copy of your next book, do it through Author Central.)

In my forthcoming mystery novel, SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM: The Camilla Randall Mysteries #5, an author comments on a review and ends up being terrorized—online and off—with swarms of obscene one-star "reviews",  destruction of her business, hacking her accounts,  death and rape threats, and other horrors.

This isn't so farfetched. I know authors who have gone through this, for much smaller offenses than my heroine. It happened to me early in my blogging career when some moron in the fora decided to misinterpret one of my posts.

These vigilantes don't just fight fire with fire. They fight a glow-stick with a nuclear bomb. And they never let facts get in the way of their need to find somebody to torment.

It's always best if a customer reports abuse, rather than the victim. As authors, we are vendors, not customers, so if the bully/sock puppets pose as customers, they're the ones who are "always right."

But if customer complaints achieve critical mass, Amazon might act, the way they're doing with the paid reviews. I have discussed the problem with a number of well known authors, and their complaints fall on deaf ears. Complaints need to come from customers, not vendors.

Meanwhile, do not fall for the pitches of the paid reviewers. As much as you want to qualify for that Bookbub ad, the risks are too great. The vigilantes know how to game Amazon and use the rules against you in sadistic ways most of us can't even dream of.

Don't risk being a target. Don't pay for reviews and stay safe!

For a great analysis of the cybertroll and book bully problem and how to deal with them, see Shari Stauch's post at Where Writers Win. And Eden Baylee has a great post on Bad Reviews and Bad Author Behavior on her blog this week.

What about you, scriveners? Have you ever been approached by paid-review companies? Did they tell you they were Amazon affiliates? Have you ever been bullied by the vigilantes on Amazon, Goodreads or BookLikes? What do you think we can do about the problem? 

For more on what authors need to do to stay under the radar of the vigilantes, see my post on May 18th at The Kill Zone. 


 Sherwood Ltd. 

"It's an hilarious lampoon of crime fiction, publishing and the British in general. Anne Allen gets our Brit idioms and absurdities dead to rights...Its digs at the heroic vanities of micro-publishing and author narcissism are spot on...Whether you enjoy crime suspense, comedy or satire - or all of them together - you'll have enormous fun with this cleverly structured romp. Highly recommended!" Anne is "obviously a Brum lass masquerading as a Yank"...Dr. John Yeoman

Follow Camilla's hilarious misadventures with merry band of outlaw indie publishers in the English Midlands. Always a magnet for murder, mischief and Mr. Wrong, Camilla falls for a self-styled Robin Hood who may or may not be trying to kill her. It follows Ghostwriters in the Sky, but can be read as a stand-alone. (And sets the scene for Camilla #5, due in July)

available at 


Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Big Beautiful Wellness Creative Writing Contest. NO FEE Poems up to 30 lines Fiction or Nonfic between 1000 and 2000 words. $100 first prize. Theme: Body-positive living. Looking for inspirational, positive stories. Deadline July 1.

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015.

Ink & Insights 2015 is a writing contest that comes with a detailed critique. Send the first 10,000-words of your book. The entry fee is $35: pricey for a contest, but a fantastic deal for a critique. Each submission is read by four judges who score 18 areas of your novel. This looks like a great opportunity! Over $5,000 cash and prizes. Deadline May 31.

WOW Spring Flash Fiction Contest: Fee $10, or $20 with critique. The critique is a fantastic deal. These quarterly contests are judged by an agent. 750 words.  First prize is $350 plus a $500 publishing package, publication and an interview. 20 prizes in all. Enter early. They only take the first 300 entries. Deadline May 31.

Page and Spine--a literary magazine for emerging writers. Submit your stories and poems and get payment plus feedback! Stories get up to $20, quips and poems $5. Submissions considered between Oct. 1st and June 1st. 

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations on two million hits!
I have a couple one star ratings and reviews that were probably done by someone who didn't the book. But for the most part, I've escaped a major attack.
Paying for a review isn't something I ever even thought about doing, either.

May 17, 2015 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Ann Bennett said...

Social media is truly the wild west with all the anonymity. I post nothing unless I use my name. I am so tired of cowards using fake names and posting such shameful messages. There should be a financial consequence for trolls that cause economic damage. An individual should be able to uncover the identity of a troll. In the United States we have a right to face our accuser.

Many don't know the power. A student at Kennesaw in Georgia videod a rude receptionist at the college and posted it online. From his comments, it took a life he tried to correct with future messages which no one listened to. The woman was rude but did not deserve public shaming.

May 17, 2015 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

Mostly, I've had writers emailing me to do reviews. Though I suppose I'll start getting spam eventually (I have my first short story up, and another two are lining up behind one being edited now). I'm mostly just ignoring the whole thing, though. I think reviews have gotten really polluted, by people trying to game the system, by the vigilantes, and by oversensitive writers. I actually had a writer tell me that people giving one star reviews were clearly trying to destroy sales of the books. Seriously? People can't have an opinion other than "I give it five stars"?

Though I don't agree necessarily about writers writing reviews. There's way too much focus on writers doing this as a form of promotion. I honestly can't say I've ever even clicked on a reviewer's information to see what they've written. But I've done reviews -- professional level ones -- and they are very time consuming to write. The time is better spent writing the stories.

May 17, 2015 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Aaaargh! Whole thing is like an alligator-infested swamp. You're brave even to address it! Me? I'm going to have an ice cream cone instead. ;-)

May 17, 2015 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--Some of those one-stars can be so comical or mean that they actually get readers to buy to see for themselves, so they're not always a bad thing. But they do sting.

I'm like you about paying for reviews. I'm too darn cheap, anyway. :-)

May 17, 2015 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ann--Anonymity is one of the problems, that's for sure. People wearing masks do lots of things they'd never do if they thought they'd get caught.

This is all compounded in this era of public shaming. Jon Ronson's book "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" explores this in depth. People's lives can be ruined by one bad day.

May 17, 2015 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--Congrats on getting your short story up! The review system has really got toxified by all these elements. I hope by having civilized talk about it we can bring attention to the problems.

I used to think I didn't have to write reviews, but now I think any honest voice can help the situation. I've spoken to some well-known big name authors who have also reversed position on this. They write customer reviews too--not because they're asked, to, but in the course of their regular reading. We're all in this together, and there's really no more writer/reader dichotomy. So many readers are also writers.

I'm not talking about a long, time consuming in-depth professional review. Just a line or two to steer readers and join in the dialogue.

May 17, 2015 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--You're right. The Amazon jungle is alligator-infested. But I think if we ignore them, they just multiply.

Ice cream sounds good though. :-)

May 17, 2015 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

Another brilliant post, Anne. Ay, the old quid pro quo - "I'll review your book if you review mine" - increasingly doesn't work. First, Amazon is getting very cute about detecting reciprocal reviews, and deleting them. Second, suppose an author who has given your book five stars asks you to review theirs? Yet you find, on reading it, that their book is utter dross? (Perhaps there should be a star lower than one.)

I've faced this problem three times in the last ten days. My solution? I've given the books four stars plus anodyne reviews. (The terms 'interesting', 'thought provoking' and 'fast paced' rarely go amiss.) And I've hated myself.

Now I've resolved to review only those books I truly loved. And to review no others. When I gave your Camilla book Sherwood Ltd five Amazon stars, it was because it was brilliant and I truly loved it. But suppose I'd hated it? I'd have been in an ethical quandary.

I admire G Bernard Shaw's reply to a newbie author who promised to send him his manuscript: "Thank you so much, my dear. I shall waste no time in reading it!"

May 17, 2015 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger D.G. Hudson said...

Paid reviews are bad practice, but greed (and how much are you willing to pay) seems to be the inroad to most things and especially to get enough reviews for that extra promo by the book purchasing systems. I do reviews for what I read, whether the author is a retired journalist, or self pubbed. I don't get paid for any of them, I'm a lover of books, but not a book blog. I can usually spot a paid review by the enormous amount of gushability.

May 17, 2015 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

John--I figured Amazon has been able to ferret out traded reviews, because so many of them disappeared in the last purge. I was amazed at how many reviewers got furious because I hadn't reciprocated. I didn't even know it was a thing.when I was trad-pubbed.

If you hadn't liked my book you could have just told me you couldn't review it because it wasn't your cup of tea. That's what I usually do. But sometimes, if you think a book's blurb is misleading or people are being sold a bill of goods, you need to veer into negative territory. I've never done that with a book, but I do it with products.

The Shaw quote is priceless. I'll have to remember it!

May 17, 2015 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

D.G.--Greed is certainly the motivator here. And the whole system is geared to help the people who cheat. But the Amazon lawsuit suggests they're at least aware of the problem.

Good for you for reviewing books you read. I left a review yesterday on a book I loved in my childhood that is now back in print. It only had 20 reviews, so I may have helped it get an audience. That's the kind of review that can make a difference.

May 17, 2015 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger Katarina West said...

Wow! It's a jungle out there! And it's true, the best gift for any author is a review, even if just five words or one star. But it means someone has been interested enough to buy your book. Congrats on the 2 million milestone!

May 17, 2015 at 1:03 PM  
OpenID lisemcclendon.com said...

My new years' resolution is (was? do they ever last?) to review every book I read or listened to this year. I'm behind but I'm glad to see that's the #1 way to combat the jungle of trolls. I didn't know about the blog tour review ban though. Gad. That's a bummer.

May 17, 2015 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline Howett said...

Congrats on two million hits, and a wonderful blog!

May 17, 2015 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

A ban on blog tours is no bad thing, Lise. I once spent $200 on a blog tour. When I saw no impact on my sales, I looked closely at the 15 review sites on my schedule. Only one had any Google page rank or Alexa rating whatsoever . Conclusion: review sites get few visitors. One reviewer asked me: ‘What was the name of your first pet?’ It spoke volumes about the quality of the site, and its visitors.

May 17, 2015 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Katarina--Amazon IS a jungle. And as Ruth Harris said--it's alligator infested. But if you follow the rules, you're more likely to keep safe.

And you're right that even a one-star is a gift if the person actually read the book. Most people don't bother at all. Thanks!

May 17, 2015 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Lise--Good for you to make the resolution anyway! I usually forget to review too, but I'm trying to at least leave a line or two.

Dr. John--Blog tours can be great for new authors if they are well planned and target your genre efficiently. But the majority are worthless.

May 17, 2015 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jacqueline--Thanks much!

May 17, 2015 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Barry Knister said...

May Day! May Day! and I'm not talking about the holiday.
Anne, If I missed something here, or misinterpreted, please let me know. I've been combing lists on Google, seeking out review blogs, and sending queries. seven or eight sites have agreed to review the book. I see no other way to get the word out about my forthcoming novel.
Are you telling me that Amazon views my giving ebook and print copies of this novel literary payola, as buying a review? and I am therefore at risk of being cashiered? I often see statements at the end of reviews acknowledging that the reviewer has received a free copy from the publisher or writer, but I find it hard to believe this process is forbidden. If it is, I'm toast. Please advise.

May 17, 2015 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Barry--Don't panic! Amazon considers a book "compensation" but it does not forbid it. It's perfectly okay if: 1) you give the book free before the review is posted 2) the reviewer discloses that "this book was given to me in exchange for an honest review."

And yes, that's what we all do. It's how it's done. We just have to jump through Amazon's hoops.

In the trad book world, hardcover books are given freely to reviewers, but in Amazon's world, where a free video game or computer may be given to a reviewer rather than a mere book, it can seem like a bribe. So we need to make sure everything is disclosed.

Keep at it. You're doing the right thing. No violations there. It's up to the reviewer to write the disclaimer.

May 17, 2015 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Barbara Silkstone said...

A terrific post, Anne. Thank you for addressing a major hot button...head on. :)

May 17, 2015 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Barbara--Maybe it's the meds I'm on this week. I'm not in a mood to pussyfoot around issues. :-) I'm tired of sociopaths who game the system and then blame everybody but themselves.

May 17, 2015 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger Kristiana Gregory said...

Anne, re paid reviews with professional magazines, whether they're worth it or not. They're not!! When I wanted to try self-publishing after two dozen MG and YA books with traditional publishers some pros recommended hiring Kirkus. This prestigious magazine doesn't promise stars, which is good because I never want it said that I paid for praise. My historical thriller, "Stalked: Danger and Fury, Ellis Island 1912" had already rec'd some gracious comments on Amazon, so I felt hopeful. Kirkus took nine weeks then the review appeared on their website's labyrinth. No stars, and it wasn't a rave, but I was able to extract a few words for "marketing." I wish I could say my $425 was a wise investment, but it wasn't. It resulted in no sales. Not one.

May 17, 2015 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Barry Knister said...

Thank you. Now I can stop sucking my thumb and holding the security blanket to the side of my head.

May 17, 2015 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kristiana--Thanks so much for a report from the trenches! I've heard that Kirkus is really important for library sales, and since your book is one you'd really want in school libraries, I can see why conventional wisdom would say it was worth the price. But it's NOT. Thanks for letting us know. This is super-valuable information!

BTW--I really look forward to your guest post for us next month. You've been in those trenches a long time and can give us a real in-depth report.

May 17, 2015 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger Kristiana Gregory said...

Thanks Anne! Me too, I'm looking forward to being a guest in June, and telling a friendly little story about you from long ago :-)

May 17, 2015 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger ZR Southcombe said...

Since becoming an author, I've learned the importance of leaving reviews, and now review pretty much every book I read.

I have traded reviews with other authors in the past, but only with people I know. We set out from the start that it will be an honest review, and as long as we both know that we can hold each other to that condition then I feel review trades are acceptable.

May 17, 2015 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger Florence Cronin said...

Anne, thrilled that you reached 2 million. Another great post we all need to read and remember.

Hope you are feeling better. we need you hear as our sounding board :)

May 17, 2015 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Two million congrats would not be enough Anne, that is as well-deserved as it is fabulous.
Let me see if I have this straight. I write about fantasy worlds, but evidently there's one inside our world that I missed. There's an entire country online where the words "review" and "blog tour" are so often "paid for" that people just assume they don't need to use the word?
And in this bizarre world, if I pay to get enough five-star reviews on my book, I can then earn the privilege to PAY SOME MORE for ads on that book? And THEN I will get lots of sales? Maybe, probably, in some countries...
Yeah, know what? I'm just going to continue writing over here in my corner, and when a book gets published I'm going to celebrate, and when someone, without prompting from me, posts a review, I'm going to celebrate again.
And with the money I save, I could just buy lottery tickets!

May 17, 2015 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

ZR--Bless you! You're fighting for the side of honesty in this business. "Trading reviews" is really not okay. What is okay is if you know an author and you talk about your books and give each other copies as gifts and later you might feel like leaving a review. Or not.

It should be understood you may or may not review the books, and if you don't want to, you DO NOT OWE THEM ANYTHING. Otherwise, the reviews don't mean anything.

May 17, 2015 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--Those numbers are so weird. I'm not sure what they mean really. I am closing in on 8 million views on Google Plus and I hardly spend any time there.

I think I'm starting to pull out of the woods. I finally have some medication for the pain in my knee (which turns out to be gout--how's that for a geezer disease?) and I get my first bout of oral surgery next week. Growing old is NOT for sissies.

May 17, 2015 at 4:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Will--Thanks. I hear you about the money racket. We''re supposed to pay and pay and pay and....maybe nothing will happen.

So many people are making money from authors, but authors are making less. The lottery tickets might be as good a business plan as ever. Porter Anderson has a great post on the subject this week at Writer Unboxed http://writerunboxed.com/2015/05/15/the-dreaded-training-debate-what-if-it-cant-be-taught/

May 17, 2015 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger LG O'Connor said...

Oops! Tried to post a comment, doesn't look like it made it... Here's my second attempt. Anne, congrats on the 2 million - awesome accomplishment! I posted the link to this on my publisher's closed Facebook group for its authors, many of which are debut and don't know the ropes yet. I think this is a very valuable post!

May 17, 2015 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger Patricia Lynne said...

Because of some of the horror stories I've seen on Goodreads and around Amazon, I don't interact much. I do post reviews of books I've read, but that's it. It seems too risky and scary. You never know when something will blow up in your face.

May 17, 2015 at 5:23 PM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Hey Anne - thanks for another fine post on another salient subject.

May 17, 2015 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger Florence Cronin said...

Hell no, it is not. I think they called gout the rich man's disease :)

Feel better !!

May 17, 2015 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

LG--I'm sorry about the annoying ways of Blogger. It loves to eat comments. Thanks for spreading the word, especially to vulnerable new writers. It's a scary world out there in Amazon-land.

May 17, 2015 at 7:47 PM  
OpenID writerchick said...

This really seems to be reaching nuclear mass (or whatever that cliche is). I've blogged for a lot of years and have been on the Internet for even longer. It really does attract trolls - people who have nothing better to do than torpedo others and torture them. And as you observed, probably because their lives are so empty they have nothing else to live for.

I would never pay for a review, that's just seems counter-intuitive. Although now I understand some of those weirdsmobiles on Twitter a bit better.

Great post Anne - as always, you tell it like it is and I really appreciate that.


May 17, 2015 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Patricia--I think you're wise to keep your interactions to places like blogs and closed groups where you're safer. I don't interact on Goodreads at all. Too scary.

I was in what I thought was a friendly group for Boomer Lit readers and some crazed sadist stomped in and said she hated old people and any authors not published by Big Five corporate publishing. She called me awful names--simply for the crime of welcoming a new member. No admin stepped in, so I stepped out and never went back. I only go to Goodreads if somebody comments on my blog over there. It's a cesspool. It's hard to believe so many people who claim to be able to read and write can be such sociopathic monsters. It's one of those places that would need a tsunami to clean out the muck.

May 17, 2015 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CS--Thanks! We love being salient :-)

May 17, 2015 at 7:57 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Annie--These days, nobody knows what the "norm" is, so it's easy to dupe people into thinking that paying for reviews is accepted. Especially when a lot of people appear to be doing it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people too mentally unwell to leave their parents' basements, but they all have computers and tablets, so some of them go online and terrorise everybody they envy and fear. Which is the entire population of planet earth.


May 17, 2015 at 8:07 PM  
OpenID writerchick said...

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of people too mentally unwell to leave their parents' basements, but they all have computers and tablets, so some of them go online and terrorise everybody they envy and fear." Oh my Gawd, Anne - LMAO! You put it so kindly. :D

May 17, 2015 at 8:15 PM  
Blogger ryan field said...

This is a great post. But the fact remains that many are paying for reviews and the system is set up in such a way that the most reviewed books get the most attention. I don't even know how many reviews I now have over at Goodreads, thanks to readers who have left them all over the years. They are good, and they are bad. Some are in between. But I still thank them all because they took the time to leave those reviews for my books. However, I really do feel for new authors these days when they have to compete against other authors who are paying for reviews...because the system is set up that way.

May 17, 2015 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger Sibel Hodge said...

2 million hits, Anne, wow! Super congrats. Fabulous post, as always! And thanks so much for giving the Bad Boys Boxed Set a shout out. :) xx

May 17, 2015 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Sibel Hodge said...

2 million hits, Anne, wow! Super congrats. Fabulous post, as always! And thanks so much for giving the Bad Boys Boxed Set a shout out. :) xx

May 17, 2015 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

This was a fabulous post. I have never liked the idea of paying for reviews, so it hasn't been a temptation. But I do constantly get new "followers" on Twitter offering to review my books. I never respond to these and eventually they disappear. Thanks for the warnings here.

May 17, 2015 at 10:59 PM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

'The vigilantes who hang out in the Amazon fora, Goodreads, and BookLikes ... are some of the nastiest cyberbullies on the 'Net. To them, an accusation equals guilt and you are never allowed to prove your innocence. These are people who learned their ethics from the Salem witch trial.'

I can relate to that, Anne. In a long life, I had never met a troll until two days ago. I tumbled into a nest of trolls at Scribophile. Someone had taken exception to the sales page at my story coaching program - which has run without incident for nearly four years - and terms like 'snake oil artist', 'con man', and worse, were being hurled about. By kiddies who knew nothing whatsoever about me or my program. They just didn't like the fact that my program charges a subscription and Scribophile is free.

I answered all their points in a mature and civil way and, to their credit, some sane Scribophile members waded in to support me. But the trolls had smelled blood. Whatever I said in polite reply, they ridiculed. Eventually, the site moderator took down the thread. It was just as well. Some of that defamation was legally actionable and I was about to phone my lawyer.

Yes, public fora attract psychopaths. The Golden Rule is: Don't engage with psychopaths. I forgot the rule. But I did have enormous fun :)

May 18, 2015 at 1:29 AM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

I know ASI is notorious for offering "reviews" with their various packages (even sadder that ASI is owned by Penguin books I believe). And no, I have not been approached about reviews, paid or otherwise. I do know that my former publisher really harped on people to make sure that they didn't write reviews for books in their own genres.

May 18, 2015 at 3:11 AM  
Blogger Eiry said...

I usually only lurk because I'm a novice writer, but I really wanted to thank you so much for the warnings - I had no idea that these online places you've mentioned are such swamps - I thought they were 'relatively' mature.

In a strange way I feel reassured by your descriptions and I recognise my own response of horror to some of the nastiness that I've seen elsewhere online. I know it sounds naive [Baby Boomer] but pre-web, I'd never heard such psychologically damaged voices which allow of no distorted voices but their own. I knew they existed, but assumed they were in relatively small knots in deprived areas or on the bus not having taken their medication. Now the voices from hell are on the loose and having a wonderful time and seem to be getting worse and worse. I have felt sick after reading something, then cursed myself for doing so.

Anyway, congratulations Anne on your 2 million! And thank you for the wonderful posts, they’re really, really helpful. You do work hard.

May 18, 2015 at 5:34 AM  
Blogger Mark Tilbury said...

Hi Anne,

Great article. As soon as I started using Twitter I had bots follow me trying to sell me followers and since I've published my first book I've also had other bots trying to sell me Amazon reviews. As you say, the way their ads are worded make it seem as though buying the reviews is 'the done thing' if self-publishing.
I haven't, and never would buy any following or reviews for my book. I currently have a very good 4* review and I'm hoping to get some more if people like it and have the time to write them them.
I hope that Amazon can get some sort of control over the fake reviews soon.

All the best,


May 18, 2015 at 5:37 AM  
Blogger Eiry said...

ps. I have gout too, so I know something of what you're going through.

May 18, 2015 at 5:56 AM  
Blogger Hayley N. Jones said...

I'm about to self-publish my first ebook via Kindle Direct and it would never occur to me to pay for a review or try to influence reviewers. I'd rather sell fewer books and keep my integrity, thanks! I know receiving bad reviews can seem soul destroying, especially if you don't deserve them and the reviewers are giving you a bad review for the wrong reasons, but engaging in unethical reviewing practices would actually *be* soul destroying.

May 18, 2015 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger Claude Forthomme said...

Congrats for the 2 million hits - well deserved, your blog is always interesting and makes one feel like one is chatting with an old friend! And I am looking forward to your next book! I can see you did an awesome lot of research for it in the this icky area of trolls and the like going on cyber attacks...So I'm sure it all turns up in a very contemporary cerebral comedy, as you call your book genre (if I'm right?)

Sorry to hear about your knee - gout? Well, over here in Europe, it's a classic ailment of old families, Churchill had it, I believe - so you should feel honored, you're in a very high up class! Sorry to hear you have to undergo surgery, me and all your other fans, we're all thinking and rooting for you!

May 18, 2015 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ryan--The GR TOS say we're not supposed to thank reviewers on GR, so I never do. You must have lots of goodwill over there if you've never been called on it. But be aware it can happen. They don't want authors to interact with readers at all. At least not in the comments.

I hope that Amazon cracking down on paid reviews will help clean this up It's not a level playing field when so many people are cheating. But those reviews can be detected and I think there will be mass removal of paid reviews very soon.

May 18, 2015 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks a bunch, Sibel!

May 18, 2015 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Elizabeth--Ignoring them is the best thing. But they do have convincing pitches, don't they? I wish Bookbub were aware of how much harm they're doing by favoring authors with lots of paid reviews.

May 18, 2015 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G.B. I know Author Solutions is notorious for scamming authors, but I didn't know they actually offer paid reviews. They're even scummier than I thought!

For a while Amazon was cracking down on any author who reviewed in their own genre, but they have let up on that.

May 18, 2015 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Eiry--You've nailed it. I think we Boomers are most upset by all this because we simply have never been exposed to the kind of mental disorders and damaged souls we see every day on the 'Net. In real life these people are wearing tinfoil hats and no pants and eating invisible bugs off the sidewalk. But online, we don't see the warning signs. And I agree that sometimes they seem like glimpses into Hell itself.

I'm so glad my posts are helpful. And thanks for the empathy with the gout. Speaking of Hell....I never felt pain like this in my life. Getting old is not for sissies.

May 18, 2015 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mark--You're handling it the right way. Unfortunately, lots of new writers get duped. And then the vigilantes attack them. It can be a nightmare. Stay safe! (And thanks for all the shout-outs on Twitter!)

May 18, 2015 at 9:50 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Hayley--Congrats on your upcoming launch! You'll start to get approached by these people as soon as you publish, but forewarned is forearmed. Just ignore the snake-oil salespersons and keep your integrity. They'll tell you what they're doing is "the norm" but it isn't for ethical people.

May 18, 2015 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Claude--Thanks a bunch. Yeah, me and Henry VIII with the gout. Dehydration and too much protein. A first world disease.

Thanks for your kind words about my new book. My editor has been sitting on it forever. I hope he doesn't hate it. Yes, it's contemporary comedy-mystery. My umbrella category is "mystery" but I don't write cozies and there's very little blood. It's really satire, but that's not a viable genre these days. That's another subject--categories are so arbitrary on Amazon and it's hard to find the right one.

May 18, 2015 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dr. John--I am so sorry you've had a troll attack. It's amazing how these morons can just make stuff up about you and repeat it as if it had any relationship to fact. Engaging with them is like trying to argue with a swarm of bees. There is no brain. Nothing to interact with. Just buzzing, irrational anger. (I'm glad it was fun, though)

May 18, 2015 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Kathryn Goldman said...

As a bona fide reader (but not always a verified purchaser -- library, etc.), I just left a review at your behest. I'll try to be better about this because it matters so much to the authors.

Personally, I don't read reviews. Too many of them summarize the plot. I want to find out the plot by reading the book. I'm a genre-jumping, blurb only kinda' girl. Then when I find an author I like, I read everything they've written.

May 18, 2015 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

Thanks, Anne. Yes, it was fun - after I'd cooled off. I've never been mugged in my living room before. As soon as I began to have fun - and answer the trolls in Latin, which wound them up delightfully - the moderator took down the thread. Spoil sport. It has inspired me to write a new blog post: The Psychopathia of Imbecility. I shall invite all my new friends at Scribophile to contribute...

May 18, 2015 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger Frances Caballo said...

Love this post! I always cringe when I hear authors requesting five-star reviews in exchange for a free book. And I don't like the idea of paying for a review from a publication such as Kirkus. I prefer to get my book reviews the old-fashioned way, over time from people who purchase and read my books -- or from experts in the field who read my book and offer to send me a review if they like it. I think this keeps the system honest.

May 18, 2015 at 2:41 PM  
Blogger Frances Caballo said...

Not sure why the Blogger symbol is next to my name. I deleted that account (or at least I thought I did) years ago!)

May 18, 2015 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kathryn--Thanks so much for the review. I wish they didn't matter so much. I'm like you--I read blurbs and endorsements, but I usually only read the reviews for their amusement value.

May 18, 2015 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Frances-- Thanks for stopping by! I agree. And there's nothing better than getting a request from a reviewer who wants to read your book. But I feel so bad for authors who beg blatantly for 5-stars. Sometimes I step in and tell them they're setting themselves up for trouble, but they usually don't appreciate it. "Everybody does it" is what they all believe.

Blogger is like a street gang. Once you're in, you're theirs for life. ;-)

May 18, 2015 at 3:03 PM  
OpenID abigailpadgett said...

Oh boy. Two million hits, great post! The review problem is a cancer nobody seems to be able to fry into re/submission, despite an obvious fix the Zon (reasonably) has no interest in funding. Books account for a fraction of the company's revenue too small to justify the expense of real, professional, vetted, paid reviewers. There are plenty of out-of-work pros around, having lost their jobs with the decline of print media. Also plenty of academic specialists and English teachers who'd be happy to write terrific, NYT-style reviews, but not for nothing. Writing a book review is WORK. I keep waiting for somebody to do a BookBub-type, subscription review site in which publishers/authors are allowed to pay for real, legitimate, professional-level work by reviewers with vetted credentials. Talk about a crying need!
And now for a soapbox on which I am, alas, compelled to climb. The vicious trolls who spend their time trashing writers are, unlike people struggling to live with crushing psychiatric disorders, highly organized and coherent personalities. Angry, nasty and cruel, yes. But FAR from "mentally disordered." The caricatured pantsless, bug-eating soul in the tinfoil hat suffers agonies immeasurably surpassing those imposed by a hateful book review and deserves nothing but sympathy. Drawing parallels between despicable behavior and serious psychiatric disorder only reinforces the stigma against which everybody with a psychiatric disorder must battle to survive. One of these is my family member, all my books are written with an eye to diminishing the stigma, so I couldn't just let this slide.

May 18, 2015 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Abigail--I'm so sorry if I seemed to diminish the problems of the mentally ill. I only meant to show that engaging with these people may mean dealing with a person who has no control over what they do. I have a friend who works with mentally disabled adults who says at any given time half of them are on Reddit arguing with people.

I only meant to emphasise that engaging with people who behave badly online is a bad idea. They may be simply unwell and deserving of our sympathy. They may be dealing with stuff we have no idea about.

We just need to ignore them and report the problem to site admin. if necessary. But don't engage.

May 18, 2015 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dr. John--That moderator deserves kudos. That's what they're supposed to do. When things get childish, we need a grown up to send everybody for a time out. Engaging with them is so tempting, but it could have backfired if the admin hadn't stepped in.

But writing a funny blogpost on the subject is a great way to deal with it!

May 18, 2015 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger ryan field said...

Oh, I never actually go to GR...I think I stopped leaving my own reviews there about two years ago. It's a place for readers and when I thank them I'm talking in a general sense. I do that on my blog, too. But GR just isn't a place I frequent anymore. In the same respect, I am glad readers do go there. I don't think I've ever experienced the things some other authors have experienced there. Maybe I've been lucky? I honestly don't know. But I do leave GR to the readers. As for the gaming and the paid reviews, I don't see that changing any time soon. I could be wrong, but it runs such a wide spectrum, from books to pasta machines, I don't see how it would be possible for Amazon to take down the paid reviews.

To be totally honest, I'm not a fan of Kirkus or reviews that charge authors an ungodly amount of money for a review. What makes them any better at reviewing books than the average reader? Why should an elitist get paid hundreds of dollars? Those are rhetorical questions I often ask myself. I'm really just very on the fence about the whole review "thing." The one thing I'm adamantly against is when a paid review is a complete sham. That the reviewer didn't even read the book. But I'm really on the fence about it when I think the reviewer did read the book and did give an honest review. Let's face it, in a perfect world all readers would all leave reviews. But they don't. That takes time and I understand and forgive that. So if someone is willing to give an honest review and get paid for it...just like Kirkus...and NOT over charge an author, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing anymore.

And, there are also other factors to consider. One author I know was recently promoting a book review written by a known plagiarist reviewer and I'm not even sure the author knew this.

It's all very complicated...so complicated I find myself rethinking many things these days.

May 18, 2015 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

I was sent a comment from a former top 50 Amazon reviewer who needs to stay anonymous because the Amazon trolls and paid review people are so dangerous. This is a brilliant reviewer who no longer reviews for Amazon at all because of all the fraud and bullying::

"A very well-crafted column about a constantly growing problem on Amazon.

Anne, and this formerly frequent reviewer thanks you for speaking out. Everything you've stated is 100% on target, and I can only hope that more people take the time to read it.

Speaking as a former Amazon Top 50 reviewer, I slammed on the brakes last summer and virtually stopped posting Amazon reviews due to some of the practices that you mentioned. It's tough to give up reviewing and sharing viewpoints, but last summer realized that it wasn't worth fighting a system that allows for canned reviews, increasing plagiarism (and yes, I got hit), and wholesale down-voting on reviews.

It's just not worth the fight when there is no accountability. But kudos to you for raising the issues of these insidious practices!"

May 18, 2015 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anonymous--Thanks so much for confirming what I've been observing on Amazon. It's time for them to clean house!

May 18, 2015 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger Fiona Ingram said...

Regarding the one-star onslaught from Amazon 'reviewers': I also write Regency romance under a pseudonym and recently revamped my books and am putting them back onto Amazon. All my books have received charming and fair comment reviews on other sites. I saw one of my books (with no reviews on Amazon) had received a review. Excitedly I logged on. It was a one star, no actual review, just saying there should be a category for 'no stars.' I was stunned, then curious. It is amazingly easy to track down a reviewer in their 'den.' This reviewer had read (or maybe not?) loads of other historical romances and trashed them soundly, castigating the authors, saying the most dreadful things about characterization and writing. I escaped a vitriolic harangue, it seems, by being too inconsequential. I had to laugh. This person reviewed everything from toasters to chandeliers on Amazon and denounced everything. The only thing that merited a 5-star was a set of table decorations for her daughter's wedding... After that I had a big laugh.

May 19, 2015 at 2:45 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

It's great to see you here, Fiona! Yes, I can relate to crazies, having just met a few at Scribophile. One chided the very politeness of my response as 'passive aggression'. I daresay she has now left me a one star review at Amazon. Kristen Lamb has an excellent post about how to handle book trolls. Apparently, you can even hire people to hunt them down, with extreme prejudice.

May 19, 2015 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

True, Anne. Bear-baiters don't like it when the bear shakes off its chains and shows its teeth. You're going to love my new post: Troll Busting For Fun And Profit. To be fair, the Scribophile moderator Alex Cabal did come back to me privately today, in a very civil way. And most of the folk at Scribophile appear to be sane and decent. But when a forum allows anyone to join, free, without any pre-vetting or even a PayPal profile in place, it's bound to attract a few crazies. (Whereof, see Scribophile, Goodreads and Google+.)

May 19, 2015 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Fionna--I totally sympathize! I didn't have time to go into it here, but this is another type of Amazon troll: the "I hate your genre" troll. Stuff like,. "I would never read chick lit. One star". Looking to see what else these people review can be hilarious. One who gave me a "I hate rom-coms" one-star had reviewed 12 different dildos! Several got one-star for being "too small".

Dr.John--Thanks for including that link to Kristen Lamb's great post. She really is a "warrior writer" fighting for all of us.

And yes, you'll probably get some one-stars for that. And Amazon won't remove them. :-( Scribophile sounds like a place to avoid!

May 19, 2015 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ryan--That's different. I think it's great to thank reviewers on your blog or Twitter or FB. I agree about Kirkus. It's way too much money. And I'm hearing from authors like Kristiana Gregory who say it's a total rip-off.

I think paying a fair price for reviews on a blog or someplace like the Midwest Book Review is okay, as long as there are no guarantees. I think insisting that all reviewers work for free is kind of silly.

That's why I put "Amazon Reader Reviews" in the title. Reader reviews are supposed to be amateur customer reviews. Real, polished, in-depth reviews take time and expertise and they are a different animal. Half the Amazon reviewers haven't even read the book.

Plagiarist reviews are a new thing to me, but the top 50 reviewer who wrote anonymously mentioned them. I'll have to look into that. Sounds awful.

May 19, 2015 at 9:59 AM  
OpenID roughwighting1 said...

This is a wonderful, helpful post. Thank you. I've never understood writers who are willing to 'pay' for a review. That's cheating, plain and simple. But being a boomer, I also have a difficult time getting reviews from friends/acquaintances who tell me how much they LOVE my book but then look like deer in headlights when I suggest they write a review on Amazon. I write reviews of books that I read and enjoy - I don't write a review of a 'bad' book - why bother? Despite the problems over at Amazon, I still appreciate that I can publish my books on there, and people who find me from throughout the world (and many from reading my blog) buy my books. That's the wonder of publishing these days.

May 22, 2015 at 4:56 AM  
OpenID helenj0303 said...

Hey Barry, I had the same panicked thoughts as you! Thanks for asking the questions, and thank you Anne for your answer. When I worked in a bookstore the publishers sent loads of free copies to us for review, so it does seem harsh that Amazon feels that way about indie authors sending their books to reviewers. I've just started the process so am relieved to hear that, as long as they add the disclaimer, it will be considered legitimate. Certainly I'm genuinely interested in honest feedback, not some puffed up fake review. I did join a book club recently that promised reviews but it seems to just be an endless amount of Twitter spam and smoke blowing, so I may withdraw my book from there just in case.

May 22, 2015 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Roughwighting--Paying for reviews is not always unethical. People pay for blog tours where reviews are included and I I do think professional reviewers deserve to be paid. They used to be paid by newspapers and magazines, but those venues are disappearing.

But the Boomers who are scared of posting to Amazon pose a different problem. I hope we can help educate them to realize how important their reviews are..

This post is in no way meant to diminish Amazon's importance to authors. And I commend them for cleaning house. I just want them to do dust in a few more corners!

May 22, 2015 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Helen--I worked in bookstores for years, and free review copies have always been part of the life-cycle of a book. The problem arose when Amazon wanted reviews of computers, tablets and video games. The stakes got higher, so that's why it's important to disclose if the product--even if it's just a book--is a gift.

There are lots of those Twitter book rings around. The operate on the false premise that Twitter spam sells books. I think it's a waste of time.

May 22, 2015 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Robyn Lee said...

Thank you for that informative post, Anne. I'm a first time self publisher and finding my way round the system is not easy, however, thanks to your post, at least I know to be on the look out for the review mills. I have reviewed books on Amazon and use the tenet that if I can't say anything nice, I won't say anything at all. I don't read reviews of my book (if there are any!) as I'm content just to know someone has found my book intriguing enough to buy it.

May 24, 2015 at 2:33 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Robyn--It's tough to know who to believe, since the scammers tend to be the most confident. It's also hard to ignore our reviews, especially when we're starting out. But the nasties tend to have a sameness about them that shows the people probably didn't read more than the "look inside" and are just slinking around Amazon gunning for indies or genres they don't like. But a good review can make your heart soar, so reading them isn't all bad. You just need to wear your psychic armour.

Doing your part by reviewing books you like will do a lot to make the review system more useful for everybody!

May 24, 2015 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Iola Goulton said...

One of the "services" ASI offers is Kirkus reviews. I suppose the assumption is any author rich and gullible enough to sign with them won't mind paying $500 for a review than can get for $425 directly from Kirkus.
See http://www.westbowpress.com/Servicestore/ServiceDetail.aspx?ServiceId=BS-2181

May 24, 2015 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Iola Goulton said...

Plagiarist reviews: Check out "Shirley". I haven't read all her reviews, but the ones I have read have mostly been copies.

May 24, 2015 at 10:31 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Iola--Thanks for giving some concrete evidence of review plagiarism. That's shocking! And why doesn't Amazon delete this stuff?

And more baffling: why would somebody copy a review--especially the one right in front of it in the thread? They are advertising their own incompetence and theft. What do they get out of it? Can people really get onto the "top 500" review list with this kind of clownish behaviour?

May 25, 2015 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Iola--Thanks! Now I get it! Kirkus is now in bed with ASI, which erases any respect Kirkus reviews once had. I thought the reviews were pricey but prestigious. But if they are being used by Author Solutions to dupe authors, they are just a full-on scam. Thanks for letting us know!

May 25, 2015 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline Howett said...

I also have a difficult time getting reviews from friends/acquaintances who tell me how much they LOVE my book but then look like deer in headlights when I suggest they write a review on Amazon.

This gave me a good laugh! I can so relate!

May 31, 2015 at 9:21 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jacqueline--I can't figure out why so many people are terrified of leaving an Amazon review. It only has to be two words. But it's tooth-pulling to get them to do it!

June 1, 2015 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger Melissa Sugar said...

Congratulations on reaching two million hits. That's quite an accomplishment. I know I should take the time to review all of the Amazon books that I read, but with so many obligations in life, I admit that writing reviews isn't at the top of my list. I do write them and I think one of the reasons I don't do it more often is because I feel compelled to write a lengthy, in depth review that covers plot, pacing, character arc etc. My bad. I see now that a few honest lines could be just as useful and helpful.

I have read a few articles about the lawsuit. I am having trouble comprehending how these paid -for - review sites such as Favrr ( people selling reviews) make enough money to justify their time. One article said that reviews sell for $5 and that includes the reviewer purchasing a $.99 e-book. So they make four lousy bucks per review. I'm missing something - obviously.

Thanks for the article explaining so much of the review world that I didn't have a clue about. As always I enjoyed your thorough discussion and insight . Again- way to go on hitting 2 million

June 15, 2015 at 9:51 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Melissa--Thanks so much for the comment. Sorry it took a while to show up on the blog. Somehow I didn't get the usual email notice and only caught it checking my stats this afternoon.

I think most of the people selling $5 reviews return the book as soon as they buy it--which gets them a full refund. And they do dozens a day. Sometimes the same review over and over. A lot of Fivrr people are in third world countries where that would be worthwhile for them.

The more sophisticated US review sites charge a lot more .

Good for you for writing careful reviews. In depth reviews are always a big help to both the reader and author. Shorter ones are just as valuable for sales, but the longer ones are always nicer. You're more likely to get a "helpful" vote if you write a longer review. But most of us don't really care about earning Amazon "helpful" points. They only matter to the people who are aiming to get in the "top reviewer" categories.

June 16, 2015 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Deb Atwood said...

Hi Anne,

Thanks as always for your insightful posts. This one surprised me in several ways. For instance, I've reviewed books as part of a blog tour several times; I'd never heard Amazon didn't allow that, and certainly the tour hostess never mentioned it, either.

I was a little confused by this paragraph:

Amazon also does not permit reviews (or votes on reviews) to be posted in exchange for any kind of compensation—including bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra products, or other gifts. And the free book must be given before the review is posted with no stipulations about what kind of review must be written.

The second sentence seems to contradict the first sentence.

An author with whom I'm familiar is doing a contest that readers enter after posting a review (good or bad). Free book, then review, then enter contest for a gift card. Is that counter to Amazon policies? Thanks for clarification.

June 21, 2015 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Deb--Thanks for your comment. That paragraph is clunky, isn't it? What I meant is you can only give the freebie or prize BEFORE the review is written, not after. (Which would allow authors to reward only positive reviews)

So that author is breaking the rules. (I'm sure she doesn't realize it.) Whether Amazon will enforce them is another matter. Plenty of people get away with this kind of thing, but if there is a purge, those reviews will be suspect.

I'll try to fix that paragraph. Thanks for the heads-up.

June 21, 2015 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Kessie said...

I tried to buy reviews once, and the site took my money and ran. Nary a review did I see, positive or negative. So paid reviews are not only illegal, they potentially just rip you off, too. Now I know it's bad, I'll never do it again. Once burned, twice shy. :-p

June 28, 2015 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kessie--I haven't heard of authors being ripped off by these sites, but I'm not surprised. It's like all those pirate book sites that give our books away "free"...only they add malware so the "customer" trying to get a deal gets ripped off instead. It almost always pays to do things the ethical way.

Thanks for letting us know another downside to buying reviews!

June 28, 2015 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Ricardo Carlos said...

Troll (deliberately trashing) reviews are a bigger problem than paid reviews. Wouldn't both problems be largely removed if Amazon:
- allowed only reviews to be published if the person has purchased the ebook?
- stop 1 line reviews to be posted?
Amazon is it's own worst enemy here. They could enforce these measures easily. They can even detect the number of pages you have read on a Kindle. So they have the detection capabilities if they wanted to use them. My guess is that they know reviews bring improved sales, so they fear loss of revenue. So who is really at fault here ? Amazon clearly opens the door for anyone to write reviews, and then they complain when some rogue has entered through it.
I'm a big Amazon fan, but on this subject I think they need to get their own house in order.

September 3, 2015 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ricardo--I agree 100% that Amazon needs to get the bully problem under control. I think some of their worst trolls may actually be Amazon employees. I don't know why else they go to such great lengths to protect them, while going after legit reviews because they suspect the reviewer may "know" the author.

But making a purchase be required won't solve the problem. These trolls play games to get "verified" status. They buy the ebook and return it without reading it. Then they write their one star nasty review.

The Zon used to require 20 words, but now they only require one, so they don't seem to think that requiring a legit review is necessary.

Also they have recently made a very clear statement to a well-known author that they do not require reviewers to read a book. In fact they think reviewing books you haven't read is fine as long as you don't know the author.

This means they have a lot of misleading reviews. But they don't seem to mind a bit.

September 3, 2015 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Deb Stover said...

Tell me, please, how a self published debut author with a poorly edited book gets 1000 5 star reviews, then there are 1-200 1 2 or 3 star reviews with verified purchase classification who feel they were duped by all those bogus 5-star reviews. Amazon bitches about an author reviewing a book by another author? I think those 1000 5-star reviews are a much bigger issue....

September 3, 2015 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Deb--I think that's exactly the reason Amazon filed the lawsuit and started pursuing the review mills. Unfortunately, as I say in the post, writing fake reviews has become a major industry in some third world countries. And it's hard for Amazon to go after the review mills outside of the US.

But they really did go off the rails with removing reviews from people who "know" an author in social media. That's why we're on social media, to get to know our readers. And now no readers are allowed to review? Saying only trolls who have not read the book can review is a ridiculous policy. I hope they'll wake up and smell the stupid and go back to fighting the review mills.

September 3, 2015 at 7:35 PM  

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