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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, November 22, 2015

Disappearing Amazon Reviews: The Facts Behind Amazon's Review Purges

by Anne R. Allen

So yeah. We're still here on Blogger. Our tech guy's computer died a tragic death with all our new stuff on it. It even happens to the pros. Sigh.

So it looks as if our date for moving to WordPress has to be pushed up to December. Until then, you can still find us right here. 

If you're getting this in your inbox, we will soon have some changes to our mail program as well, so commenting and navigating to the blog will be easier. But right now you can comment by clicking on this link. That will take you here to the actual blog. (You'll know you're in the right place because the background here is green.) Hit the word "comments" at the bottom where it lists the number of comments, and a window will open where you can read the comments and leave one of your own...Anne 

So what's this about missing reviews?

Go to any author forum or social media group for writers and you'll see the plaintive posts:

  • "Help! My Amazon reviews are disappearing."
  • "Amazon rejected my review because they say I 'know' the author. I don't. All I did was friend her on Facebook!"
  • "Amazon has banned my favorite reviewer because they say he got paid for his reviews. He didn't. His blog is on a book blog tour. But they don't pay him a penny."
  • "I offered to give people a free book if they wrote me a review and now all my reviews are gone!"
  • "I got a nasty note from Amazon accusing me of 'manipulating reviews'. I've never done any such thing. I gave reviewers a gift card to buy the book, but they disclosed that."

These sad cries from the Amazon jungle can sound pretty over the top. Is this stuff really happening?

In a word, yes. Amazon has been conducting a review purge.

All review sites remove reviews. According to Forbes, Yelp removes 25% of its reviews. But Amazon has been stepping up the review removal lately and it has been freaking out a lot of authors.

Amazon has a history of periodic review purges, starting with the huge one in 2012 that came after a massive paid review scandal hit the New York Times. 

Another purge happened last May. I wrote a post about it, Why Authors Should Never Pay for Amazon Reader Reviews. Amazon had just sued a number of paid review companies and was in the process of removing all their reviews. In October, the Amazon review police went farther: they sued 1000 individuals who were selling reviews on Fivrr.

"But," sez you, "That has nothing to do with me because I would never pay for a review!"

Thing is, you may have "paid" without knowing it, according to Amazon's complicated interpretation of its review rules.

What is Considered a "Paid Review"?

The following are considered paid reviews according to people I've spoken to who have contacted Amazon on the subject. You can read more at Bookworks from marketing guru Penny Sansevieri, who got her info from an Amazon spokesperson:

1) A review by a book blogger whose blog is part of a paid blog tour, even if the book blogger is not paid. Often only the organizer of the tour gets paid, but the blog review is considered a "paid review," so it can't be posted on Amazon. (Although you can post a quote from it in the "editorial review" section.)

2) A review written in exchange for a gift card.
Even if that card is only in the amount of the price of the book. A reviewer could possibly use the card for purchasing something else.

3) A review written in exchange for another review. Review trading is 100% verboten.

4) A review written in expectation of a free book. A review copy must be given before the review is written or the book will be seen as payment for the review.

5) A review by a person you "know" online. Yes, you read that right. This can be someone who has friended you on Facebook, followed you on Twitter, or has done business with you in a way that's detectable to the Amazon review police.

Wha-a-a-t? Have the Rules Changed?

The "know the author" rule is a new interpretation of Amazon's rules, although the wording of the TOS hasn't actually changed.

Amazon spokespeople say that anybody who knows the author might "benefit financially" from the book's sales, and financial beneficiaries have always been forbidden to review. (I wish I knew how to benefit financially when one of my 873 Facebook friends has a bestseller, but I'm obviously not working this right.)

So how do they determine if you "know" an author, anyway?

They're not telling.

This is the message reviewers are getting from the Zon.


We removed your Customer Reviews because you know the author personally.

Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide information on how we determine that the accounts are related."

Book marketing  guru Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts explains it this way:

"According to Amazon, family and friends write biased reviews…It may seem unfair but, to be honest, I get where Amazon is coming from here. They want authentic, unbiased reviews. And so do we – the readers. Well-intentioned friends and family might post glowing five-star reviews that merely say: "I loved this book!" While their goals are noble (supporting you!), vague reviews don't help consumers deciding whether to buy your book. As authors, we don’t like getting 2-star reviews, but remember that readers will likely regard a book page with all 5-star reviews as suspicious."

But this doesn't keep authors from being pretty upset, since most publishers require that we have social media accounts exactly so that we can become "friends" with our readers and fans.

There's a petition going around at Change.org asking Amazon to change this new "know the author" policy, but it doesn't seem to have gone very far. I think most authors are afraid to sign for fear of retaliation from the review police.

Where does this New Rule Interpretation Come From?

Did Amazon hire a bunch of new employees to sit around all day policing reviews?

That seems unlikely, but they do respond to customer complaints. (And remember that as an author you are not a customer. You are a vendor.)

Unfortunately, some of their most loudly complaining customers are the anti-author vigilantes who haunt the Amazon fora, BookLikes and Goodreads. I wrote about them in my 2013 post, The Laws of the Amazon Jungle. You do NOT want to get on the wrong side of these folks.

A few badly behaving authors gaming the system have ruined things for everybody. And these vigilantes can be seriously scary. They've sent me death threats just because they didn't like one of my blogposts.

To me, Amazon's use of unhinged vigilantes to police their site is up there with the Rolling Stones' decision to ask the Hell's Angels to provide security at Altamont. But hey, they didn't ask my opinion, and Amazon is a private company. It's their circus and their monkeys and they can do whatever the heck they want.

So What Should Authors Do?

1) Do not trade or buy reviews.

Just don't. No matter how many authors do it. Or how many of them say you "owe" them a review because they reviewed you. Or how much they spam you with whiny newsletters.

While I'm on the subject: STOP SENDING FELLOW AUTHORS NEWSLETTERS THEY DID NOT SUBSCRIBE TO!!! I am beginning to sympathize with the vigilantes on this. The fact that you've read a blog or book does not mean the bloggers or authors owe you anything.  Ruth and I love all our readers and subscribers, but we have 24-hour days just like other people. We get up to 100,000 hits per month. We cannot read and review the deathless prose of all those people. We need to work and sleep and have lives just the way you do.

Unfortunately some newbie authors have been told there's a rule that says reviews, sales, and newsletters should always involve a quid pro quo. This is simply not true—and it can put you in serious trouble with the Zon.

The problem is compounded by the writers who don't happen to have been hit by a review purge and refuse to believe any of this is happening.

I still get Tweets and Facebook DMs from authors asking to trade reviews. I've been invited to join groups that are formed for the sole purpose of trading reviews. I tell them politely they're violating Amazon's rules. They ignore me.

When I warned the editor of an anthology about the new policy, a fellow contributor called me a liar in a nasty group email. She said she and her fellow contributors review each other all the time and nobody has ever caught her so nobody ever will. (Change apparently does not happen on her planet.)

People like this are the reason we have vigilantes.

NOTE: If another author happens to like your work, instead of a review trade, ask them for a quote you can put in the "editorial reviews" section of your buy page. Editorial reviews usually carry more weight with readers, anyway.

2) Accept that nothing entitles you to a review. 

Sending a reader or blogger a copy of your book—even a hard copy—does not entitle you to a review. This is a sore spot with a lot of reviewers. Even if they agree to review your book, the fact you sent them a copy does not mean they HAVE to review. They may hate your book. Or they lost interest. Do you really want that on your buy page?

If somebody you have given a book does not write a review, they are probably doing you a favor. Hounding them or demanding a review will very likely backfire. And getting your peeps to gang up on a reviewer who doesn't like your book is always going to make YOU look bad.

Reviewers who have been hounded or bullied by authors sometimes turn into vigilantes. See how that works?

3)  Expect more purges

Smart authors will pay attention: there's a new marshal in Amazon territory and he's going after the varmints who pay for reviews.

Just because you've been getting away with something doesn't mean you always will. Unfortunately, ignorance of the rules is not an excuse in the Amazon justice system.

According to uber-reviewer Big Al, there's more to come after the Fivrr lawsuits. Writing at Indies Unlimited in October Big Al said:

"Amazon isn't just looking to shut down these reviewers, but also identify their clients. The repercussions for that may go beyond just removal of the reviews. Conceivably they could go as far as to remove the seller and his or her products from Amazon."

With this new lawsuit, there will be more removals. Maybe the biggest review purge of all. The problem is, as Al points out, that a lot of legit reviews get thrown out with the bathwater. If you lose reviews, it's almost impossible to have them put back.

4) Save copies of Amazon reviews and post them to more than one site.

Sometimes, reviews evaporate for no discernable reason. Penny Sansevieri says sometimes they will come back just as mysteriously, but usually they don't.

This has certainly happened to me. When a book gets republished by a new publisher, often reviews fall away, never to return. So it's a good idea to always save copies of your reviews. I wish I had.

Another thing we can all do is post reviews we write to iTunes, Smashwords, Google Play, B & N or Kobo. You can also use review sites like Goodreads and Shelfari

That way reviews won't be lost forever if they disappear due to algorithm changes or review purges—and Amazon won't have the only review game in town.

Maybe someday somebody will start up a BookBub type newsletter that says. "50 five-star reviews on iTunes" instead of Amazon. BookBub itself says it prefers books that are available on multiple platforms, so maybe they'll pay attention to other platform reviews.

But we have to post them first!

5) Don't stop asking for reviews, but be ethical.

Penny Sansevieri thinks there's nothing wrong with asking online friends and fans to write a review but we need to keep in mind that Amazon may pull it.

That's kind of my feeling too. I don't see anything unethical in asking people who know you—especially people who get to "know" you on social media because they like your work—to review your book. Fans don't always offer mindless praise. They often say "this isn't up to her usual standard" or "I liked book one better" or whatever. At least mine do.

Unfortunately, it's human nature to be more vocal with complaints than praise, so if we have to depend entirely on first-time readers who have never heard of us, reviews will be skewed on the negative side—if we get any reviews at all.

Authors have always reviewed other authors. It's a tradition as old as publishing. They are not always kind to each other. In fact many have been remarkably snarky. I'll be talking about that in future post.

For a good rundown of what is considered ethical reviewing, see the code of ethics for reviewers at Novel Finds.

6) Report abuse when you see it. 

When you see a misleading, unethical, or inappropriate review on a retail site, click the button for reporting abuse. It's easy. Every review on Amazon has a line below that says "was this review helpful to you?" followed by "yes" and "no" buttons and another saying "report abuse."

Amazon listens to its customers. But the complaints have to reach critical mass.

But What about Amazon's OTHER Review Problem?

The plaintive cries from authors aren't just about missing reviews. You also see a lot of stuff like this:

  • "I have 30 one-star reviews on my barbeque cookbook. They're all from PETA activists who say meat is murder…and Amazon won't remove them."
  • "My stalker ex-boyfriend had his friends leave a bunch of one-star reviews on my buy page saying my book is terrible. It's obvious none of them has read it. Amazon says the 'reviews' don't break any of their rules."
  • "I got a one-star review from a guy who left the same one-star review on 52 different books: 'I didn't read this book. I bought it for my wife'. I complained to Amazon, but it's still there."

Epic Fantasy author William L. Hahn pondered Amazon's review issues at The Independent Bookworm recently. He acknowledges, "Amazon appears to be cracking down on paid reviews and I think most of us would cheer that idea."

But he brings up the other BIG problem with Amazon reviews: 

"ignorant, hateful, racist/sexist/ageist trolls can come crashing through an author page and wreck the place with no penalty whatsoever. Just scratch up $3 of sourdough money to buy the first title: download, write a one-star/one-line review, then return the book. Get all your money back, while your review stays up naming you as a 'Qualified Reviewer' forever! Use the same money to lather-rinse-repeat through every title, just because the author’s a woman, or dared to praise Reagan, or said something nice on Facebook about the football team you hate."

Amazon is plagued by review trolls, revenge reviews and "reviews" by people with political and personal agendas that have nothing to do with the book.

There was a particularly nasty example of this recently:

A book by the mother of a child murdered in a school shooting was attacked by a group of conspiracy-theory loonies who claim there's no such thing as a school shooting.

Their "reviews" claim all those gun rampages are hoaxes and phony "drills" staged by mean (and remarkably clever) people who want to make the "happiness is a warm gun" community feel bad.

Yeah, I didn't know these guys existed either. The delusions of conspiracy theorists get more amazing every day.

But what makes this stuff even worse is that these people are free to torment a bereaved mother with impunity—and they use Amazon to perpetuate the cray-cray. The last time I checked, the toxic reviews libeling the mother were still there.

It doesn't make sense to me that Amazon would want its store to be used as a vehicle for spreading the propaganda of violent extremists. Amazon is a private company so the Constitutional right of "free speech" does not apply.

So I assume not enough customers are complaining.

People may not be reporting abuse because the mother's book is selling well and she has a 5-star rating. The nutjobs have probably done a lot to draw attention to her book and boost her sales and draw sympathetic reviews.

But at what cost?

If this stuff bothers you, you need to keep complaining until Amazon is as eager to remove phony "reviews" by people with personal and political agendas—who have obviously not read a book—as they are to block an author's social media contacts.

Unfortunately, Amazon spokespeople have stated that they do NOT require a reviewer to have read any of the books they review. That's how famously prolific Amazon reviewer Harriet Klausner (RIP) managed to "review" up to ten books a day, year after year.

Personally, I think if a retail site wants their reviews to be helpful to customers, they would be smart to weed out ALL misleading reviews, not just the positive ones.

But as I said, the Mighty Zon doesn't come to me for advice.

Note: Squeaky wheels get the grease. If you want Amazon to change their policies, pro-author voices have to be as loud as the anti-author ones. (But report abuse as a customer, not as an author.)

If—as a reader—you feel misled by reviewers who don't read the books they review, say so. If enough people complain, they may change their policy. Amazon really does believe the customer is always right and will go out of their way to please customers. (I had a great experience with Amazon customer service just this week when a cancellation by a vendor meant I wasn't eligible for free shipping and they gave it to me anyway.)

Amazon's Upcoming Review Changes

Amazon has reported there will be more changes to the review algorithms in 2016. They are introducing a new policy where verified purchase reviews will have more weight, as will more recent reviews.

Unfortunately, this doesn't solve the problem of the system gamers Mr. Hahn mentions, who buy a book, get "verified" then return it without reading.

But as I said, it's the Zon's circus.

I say we should go ahead and review according to our own ethics. (I personally believe in reading a book before reviewing it, and I'm going to continue to follow that rule.) 

But be aware that if you write a review of a book by somebody you "know" on social media, some vigilante may report you to the Zon police and the review will go away.

So post reviews on more than one platform and ALWAYS report abuse when you see it.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you lost any reviews recently? Have your reviews been rejected with one of these "you know the author" messages? Have you ever had an author demand a review from you because they reviewed your book? Do you think it's ethical to review somebody you "know" online? How do you react when you see a review that's obviously written by somebody who never opened the book? 


THE BEST REVENGE: Only 99c this week!

30 weeks on Amazon's Humor Bestseller list!

Read how it all began!

The prequel to the Camilla Randall Mysteries.

We meet Camilla and Plantagenet in the big-hair, pastel-suited 1980s. In this satirical romp, a spoiled 1980s debutante comes of ageand discovers strengths nobody knew she hadwhen she loses everything. The story takes her from the doors of Studio 54 to the coke-fueled parties of Southern California to a cell in the L.A. County Jail accused of murder. We know she didn't do it, but who did?

The Best Revenge is 99c at Amazon and Nook. (Also available at Smashwords, Apple, Kobo at $2.99.)

This book has been with four different publishers, and each time it gets re-published, most of its reviews disappear (and somehow never the trollish ones.) I don't think this is punishment for anything. Just tech glitches. I see today that the UK site has a new tech glitch: metadata from the 2005 edition has been substituted for the current metadata. I hope Author Central UK will be able to help. Anyway, if you happen to read it and like it, a review would be much appreciated. I don't think simply reading an author's blog labels you as "friends and family" so you can review without fear of being deleted. 


Amazon's Little A Poetry Contest. This is a brand new thing. NO FEE The contest will be judged by poets Cornelius Eady, Jericho Brown and Kimiko Hahn. The winner will receive $5,000 in prize money and a publishing contract featuring a $2,000 advance with Little A, Amazon Publishing's literary imprint. Poets who have published no more than one book of poetry can submit their full-length collections for consideration to LittleAPoetry@amazon.com. Deadline Dec 20th 2015

Platypus Press. A new UK small press is looking for literary novels and poetry collections. No agent required. Your book must be previously unpublished, but work posted on a blog or personal website is acceptable. They want to see your first three chapters (but the book must be complete). Simultaneous submissions accepted.

The Poisoned Pencil: New YA publisher open to submissions! The well-known mystery publisher The Poisoned Pen now has a YA imprint. They accept unagented manuscripts and offer an advance of $1000. Submit through their website submissions manager. Response time is 4-6 weeks.

Open call for the Independent Women Anthology: short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016 with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.

SCHLAFLY BEER MICRO-BREW MICRO-FICTION CONTEST $10-$20 ENTRY FEE. Fee includes a subscription to River Styx literary magazine or one issue depending on amount of entry fee paid. Submit up to three stories of 500 words or less each. All stories will be considered for publication. $1,500 first prize plus one case of micro-brewed Schlafly Beer. Deadline January 1, 2016.

The Writer Short Story Contest judged by Literary star Colum McCann. You can have your work read by the acclaimed author of Let the Great World Spin. $25 entry fee. Write a 2,000-word short story responding to one or both of the quotes below by Mr. McCann: "There is always room for at least two truths." or "With all respects to heaven, I like it here." Deadline December 6th

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

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OpenID sallyember.com said...

Thanks, Anne. Sorry for your blog moving problems. Please keep me on your email list: sallyember AT yahoo DOT com when you move. I'll also look for you on WP (where I am, anyway) and follow you there when you're "up."

Meanwhile, back at the Zon. So far, the review police haven't ticketed/removed any of my reviews, as far as I can tell (I don't have more than about a couple of dozen, total, so far, for my four books, and they are not all "legitimate" by the new Zon strict standards, since some of those folks are "known" to me...).

I hope to garner more "stranger" reviews (LOL) now that I also have paperbacks releasing this fall on CreateSpace/Amazon and so, not only ebooks. We'll see.

I wrote a post a while back about my disgust at the review swappers and requirements in some FB and other author groups for "trading" reviews. Glad to see that may be discontinuing, but I loved your remark about the one author who disparaged your warnings because she and her cronies hadn't been caught, yet, when you warned her: "Change apparently does not happen on her planet." Made me laugh.

I hope your health is improving and your long weekend upcoming is fun and restful.

best to you,


November 22, 2015 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

They don't require that the person has actually read the book? Now that is really wrong.
I'm careful about all of that stuff and have never paid for a book tour. I should probably check my reviews though, as some might've been removed anyway. Smart tip to copy them. I'll do that!

November 22, 2015 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Thanks so much for the shout-out Anne. It really boosts the ego to see one's own name in your post. I've been so fortunate to date, not having any troll-reviews on my books yet. But everyone says that's a necessary evil of being famous, so... yeah, pretty much that!
I am ready and loaded for bear if it ever happens to me, and really hoping we can all help each other with vigilance and support (as well as a healthy dose of multiple platforms where possible!).

November 22, 2015 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Louis Shalako said...

When someone contacts.me on Facebook and asks to swap reviews, my response is simple.

"I'm sorry, I don't swap reviews, but thank you for asking."

November 22, 2015 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Ann Bennett said...

My good intentions has been to write more reviews for books I have read. I have written very few. Too many other projects to do.
Many books come to my attention through bloggers I have met. Technically, I don't know them, they have no influence on me writing a review; but, Amazon may regard me as a friend. But a troll's review may remain. This is why I don't use reviews to purchase anything.

November 22, 2015 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sally--You're on my private email list, so you'll always get the current link.

I think the Zon vigilantes aren't likely to police a niche book as much as they are after the big sellers, especially romance and thrillers. I'm really annoyed by those indies who seem to think authors owe it to each other to trade reviews. It's so obviously unethical. They always cite reviewers like Kirkus that charge big bux for reviews, but those are not posing as "customer reviews" and they can't be posted to Amazon. (Not that I'd pay them anyway.)

But people like that woman who claimed Amazon doesn't police its reviews at all make me furious. They'd be the first to scream bloody murder if their own reviews started disappearing, but if it didn't happen to them, it doesn't happen. Reality-deniers are impossible to deal with.

I hope my health will start improving. Back for more tests this week. My dental implants are healing, anyway. Thanks!

November 22, 2015 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--I agree. Anne Rice is the one who told me that Amazon told her they absolutely do not care if a reviewer has read a book. She stopped trying to communicate with them after that. But I'm trying to be optimistic and I'm hoping they'll change their policy if enough people complain.

My reviews disappear periodically. I never know if they contained violations, or if it was just a glitch.

November 22, 2015 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Will--That was a great piece, and brought up a lot of issues authors need to be aware of. Multiple platforms can help a lot. When I contact reviewers now, I ask if they'd be willing to post to iTunes or Google Play. I think in the future those reviews will matter a lot.

November 22, 2015 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Louis--I'm a little more emphatic than that. I figure mostly people don't know they can be punished for trading, so I tell them to be careful and let them know it's against the Zon's TOS. Sometimes they thank me. :-)

November 22, 2015 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ann--I know it's hard to leave reviews and we all could probably do more. I think when an ethical person leaves an honest review, it fights the trolls in the best possible way.

I think if you "know" somebody through a blog, it's fine. Amazon doesn't have access to our subscriber lists. But some Amazon accounts are linked to FB and Twitter. If you unlink them, the Zon won't know who your social media "friends" are either.

November 22, 2015 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

First, thanks for the plug, Anne. I was trying to decide whether to mention that piece and discovered you already had. :)

Second, I have a theory that one way to protect yourself from having reviews removed due to being "friends" on Facebook is to not give Amazon or Goodreads access to your Facebook account. (If you already have, revoking that access is something to consider as well.) Goodreads *might* be safe, but since they are owned by the 'Zon, I thought I'd be cautious with them, too. Although there are other ways that Amazon could attempt to make those connections, they would be hit and miss and very problematic. How do they know for sure that this "BigAl" on Facebook is the same "BigAl" with an Amazon account? If you allow them to access your Facebook account, there is no question.

I'm surprised to hear the claim that they're removing reviews that come from blog tours. That isn't something I was aware of. Thus far, I haven't had that happen, although I don't have many blog tour reviews through such companies.

I would think the same rule interpretation through blog tours would apply to those companies that charge to coordinate giving books to regular readers who promise to read and review the book. (Book Rooster was the first of these although I'm not sure whether they are still around and I know there are others.) The problem Amazon would have doing that is determining which reviews came through that source.

November 22, 2015 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Just two more cents. What's wrong with a 'Zon policy that makes you put your money where your mouth wants to go? You can say whatever you want, in my opinion, as long as you paid for the book. But if you return the book, your review automatically disappears, full stop. Why not?

November 22, 2015 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Al--That was a great blogpost. It clarified a lot of things.

I have read a letter written to an author by an official Amazon spokesperson that stated that a paid blog tour review was considered a "paid review." We can't be sure that all of Amazon views things the same way, but this was from an Amazon employee. It was posted on FB and I didn't think to save it so I don't have the link. I don't know if companies like Book Rooster come under that umbrella. I have been approached by review companies that say they only provide quotes for "editorial reviews" so they seem to be walking a careful line.

Luckily my Amazon and FB accounts aren't linked, but thanks for the heads-up about Goodreads. I do have that linked to my FB account. I'll have to figure out how to unlink them.

November 22, 2015 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger CR Richards said...

Hi - Great post. Do you know if Amazon's new review actions extend to Goodreads.com? I wondered since Amazon owns them now. I've been doing most of my reviews (not swapping, but honest reviews) on Goodreads rather than Amazon. Thanks

November 22, 2015 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Will--I agree! We need to write and tell them that. I wish they had better ways of policing these things.

November 22, 2015 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Melodie Campbell said...

I hope readers can spot trolls as quickly as we authors can! I always get a kick out of the trolls who say "I hated all the books in this series." Darlin', why would you continue to read a series you hated? Not a smart use of time and money. Of course, I would never actually post this comment after the review (because I am a smart cookie and follow Anne's blog and advice!) But I sure think it.

November 22, 2015 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

They actually said a reviewer doesn't actually have to read the book? I'm having problems processing that. I'm sure I read that wrong--that makes no sense. ARGH, the whole buy, review, return thing is horrible, and sad.

November 22, 2015 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

Oo, good question.

November 22, 2015 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CR--Goodreads rules have always been a little different from Amazon's. For instance Amazon considers 3-stars a "critical" review, but on Goodreads, it means "OK". They also ask that you never respond to a review if you're an author. (It's not a good idea on Amazon either, but it's not in the TOS.

And I haven't heard of Goodreads removing paid or swapped reviews. Because it's not a retail site, "misleading" reviews aren't as much of an issue.You're probably safe there. But they have even more bullies and vigilantes than Amazon, so trollish reviews are a big problem

November 22, 2015 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Patricia Lynne said...

The only review I know I've lost was a duplicate review. The reviewer got the book for free for their website, reviewed under the site's name AND their own. One as a 3 star and the other a 4 star. They gave the book a 3.5. I expected one of the duplicates to be pulled (just wish it would have been the 3 star. ^_~)

I've heard the warning against linking Amazon to FB or Twitter and disconnected mine.

November 22, 2015 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Melodie--Doesn't that make you crazy? They are of course telling you they haven't read any of the books in the series, and what they really hate is your genre (all comedy writers have the same problem. You have to be smart to get most verbal comedy, and a lot of readers aren't, apparently.) But when they say they've read all your books, suffering all the while, you do wonder about the state of their mental health.

November 22, 2015 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Southpaw. They have indeed. Goodreads has said it for years. In fact they encourage people to write reviews before the book comes out. (This comes from the videogame industry, which uses such reviews to predict interest in a game.) And Anne Rice wrote me personally saying she was no longer going to fight for author's rights on Amazon because they told her in writing that they do not care if a reviewer has read a book. She was pretty disgusted.

November 22, 2015 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Patricia--I've had some duplicate reviews that got pulled eventually. Often a reviewer forgets they left a review and then Amazon sends a request for a review, so they post another within the window, without looking at the buy page. It's an easy mistake to make if you read and review a lot. Too bad it was the 3-star, though. :-(

Very wise to unlink your Amazon account from FB and Twitter. Luckily mine were never linked, but sometimes Amazon does it without your knowledge.

November 22, 2015 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger Sue Coletta said...

Most of these rules I agree with, but the "know the author" rule is ridiculous in the way they use it. Heck, I'm FB friends with some of my favorite authors, and I don't "know" them. We're taught to engage on social media; it's how we sell books. So, how can Amazon say we're breaking the rules? Makes no sense. On the flipside, it doesn't appear that Amazon is taking down any 1 or 2-star reviews. My friend, Larry Brooks, was just hit hard by trolls who obviously never read his book. I commented after the bad review so people would know the review was bogus, but we can only do so much. It's truly discouraging. What I didn't know was that we're allowed to post reviews to other sites. How do you do that? By using that reviewer's name? I'd love to have my Amazon reviews on different sites.

November 22, 2015 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

It's been a few years, but I sent an email to Jeff Bezos' address complaining about all the reviews on a book complaining about price where they hadn't read the book. (Those reviews are obviously of no use to anyone when the price of the book changes.) This was, IIRC, one of Ken Follet's books and a big to-do no long after the Big 5or6-ish had implemented agency pricing the first time. Since it fit Amazon's interests, they let it get way out of hand. I received a response from Jeff's designated customer-mollifier saying that the price was one aspect of a product that customers could express opinions about. *shrug*

November 22, 2015 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

I don't think it is possible to enter duplicate reviews unless the reviewer has multiple accounts. If you go to enter a review on a book you've already reviewed (assuming you're signed in under the same account), it tells you that you've already reviewed it and allows you to edit that review. However, you can enter the same review on more than one Amazon site if you have accounts eligible to review on more than one (you have to have made at least one purchase there). I enter my reviews on .com and .uk, but the UK site displays reviews from .com after the .uk reviews, so they could appear to be duplicates if someone missed the note at the start of the .com section.

November 22, 2015 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

Sue, I think Anne meant the reviewer can post them to other sites. Or for sites that have an editorial review section, you could post quotes there. But one thing you should keep in mind, posting an entire review whether in an editorial review section or on your own site is technically copyright infringement. (At least in my non-lawyer opinion.) Not that it is likely to become an issue, but it could. A reasonable length quote should always be okay under fair use.

November 22, 2015 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Barry Knister said...

On being entitled to a review on the part of someone to whom you've sent a copy: "They may hate your book. Or they lost interest." Add this, too, Anne: Or, they may "smile and smile, and be a villain," promise a review, but only to collect nice new books they can sell without blemish or review on Amazon, Ebay, etc.

November 22, 2015 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Sue Coletta said...

Thank you, BooksAndPals. It sounded strange to me, which is why I asked. Appreciate you taking the time to respond.

November 22, 2015 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sue--Yes, I meant when we review a book, we can post it to other sites. Some reviews are long and thoughtful and it's a shame when they disappear. But no, as authors we can't post to other sites. Except we can quote book bloggers' reviews in the "editorial reviews" on B and N. I'm not sure other sites have a spot for "editorial reviews."

I agree that it's time for Amazon to start cracking down on the trolls who give one-stars to books they've never read (and often returned so they didn't even pay for them.)

It's good to let readers know what's up. But BTW, voting a nasty review down doesn't do much good. But it does some good to report abuse. If enough other people do it too.

November 22, 2015 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Barry--You're right! Alas, that's a very common scam. A regular cottage industry. Especially on Goodreads. In fact, I don't recommend that anybody give hard copies away on GR. It has become more common to see your book on sale at ebay than to get a real review from those people. I only give hard copies to regular reviewers who have a reputation they want to uphold.

November 22, 2015 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Al--Very interesting. That shows that these aren't really book reviews at all in the traditional sense. They are just as often comments about packaging, promotion, pricing and delivery (I have a one star from somebody whose Kindle was on the fritz. She left identical "I can't download this book" reviews on five ebooks in one day.)

That's why I really hate it that the bargain newsletters rate books entirely on Amazon customer reviews. The "reviews" often have nothing to do with the content of the book or the author's work.

November 22, 2015 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Maggie Dana said...

"A review by a book blogger whose blog is part of a paid blog tour, even if the book blogger is not paid. Often only the organizer of the tour gets paid, but the blog review is considered a "paid review," so it can't be posted on Amazon."

I wonder if this will extend to Netgalley reviews. Or, to take it one step further, suppose Amazon bought MailChimp or another newsletter service and decided that people who get newsletters from you also "know" you and are therefore to be banned from reviewing.

November 22, 2015 at 3:45 PM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

To my knowledge, I haven't lost any reviews, nor have I had reviews removed.

I have 8 reviews for the 1st version of my novel, which I moved to my book blog and link to it as well, just in case those people who are interested in the new version of the book want to see proof positive that others like it.

Beyond that, the only book reviews I do are from books I check out from the public library, and since those are few and far between, I have about 100 degrees of separation. About the only items I review with some frequency are music c.d.'s, and even then, it's rarely current stuff. I usually review older stuff, mostly because I've been building my c.d. collection via the public library. The fundraising arm of my library always has used c.d.'s for sale (usually $1-$2), so more often than not, that's the type of stuff I review.

I did have someone e-mail me about a year ago requesting a review of their book, but frankly, it really raised my antennae, mostly for the reasons you've stated. So I politely declined.

Father Nature's Corner

November 22, 2015 at 4:06 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maggie--Somebody else asked that about review sites and I'm not sure if Amazon counts those as well. Let's hope they don't buy MailChimp! I suppose that could happen.

November 22, 2015 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger Maggie Dana said...

Anne, meant to say in previous post that this is a hugely helpful article. I've shared it with my writers' group (we have a niche audience--horse lovers). I never connected my Author Central account to Facebook, but I did to Twitter (I maybe tweet once every other month) but I disconnected it. Thank you again.

November 22, 2015 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G. B.--I think we're all wary of those requests for reviews if we're not regular book reviewers. I've had the oddest requests--people always seem to ask me to review genres I never read. So I figure they took my name off some list and they've got no idea who I am. I sometimes decline politely, but these days I'm more likely to simply delete requests from people who obviously haven't done their homework.

Smart to preserve those reviews on your blog, although Amazon technically owns them so you could get in trouble, but I've never heard of them going after them for that.

I love that you review books and CDs you get from the library! You probably want to put those on GR as well as Amazon, since they're giving more weight to "verified" (Amazon customer) reviews, but I'm going to pay just as much attention to somebody who says "I got this from the library". I approve of supporting our libraries! We need them.

November 22, 2015 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Great information. So far the Amazonians haven't bothered me about my reviews (about half are for books by people I either know digitally or in the flesh). Here's hoping the whole mess gets straightened out speedily.

November 22, 2015 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maggie--Thanks! That's good to know. We're trying to help our fellow authors here. Are you the "Maggie" that my friend Barbara Morgenroth talks about? She writes horse books too. Smart to disconnect that Twitter account!

November 22, 2015 at 4:49 PM  
Blogger Maggie Dana said...

Guilty ;-)

November 22, 2015 at 4:51 PM  
OpenID fornow said...

The whole public commenting arena has become problematic for many sites. A combination of feeling anonymous and getting into the habit of speaking harshly dominates the net. The conversation degrades into lowest denominator. I suspect that eventually it will convert to online verified identities on many sites.

November 22, 2015 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CS--Unfortunately, the Zon doesn't think things need "straightening out" as much as they want to stop authors from reviewing each other. But I think this is silly. Right now there seem to be at least as many people writing books as reading them. I don't think they realize how many of their customers are also authors. (And a lot of those vigilantes are failed indie authors themselves.) But I hope the Zon sees the light soon.

November 22, 2015 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Jan M. Leotti said...

This is great information, Anne, thank you. Giving a reviewer a book has always been part of trad publishing, but I can understand how it might be skewed in the e-age--sort of. However, I really think fans should be able to leave reviews even if you are friends with them on Facebook. I think Amazon should re-think this rule. Usually, fans want to be supportive or give their opinions about an author's book, and I think this should be allowed. I once left a review for a teacher of mine. I love his writing and wanted to show support. I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. I'm a fan. I admire his work--that's why I took a class with him. BTW, I didn't know people paid attention to editorial reviews. Thanks for shedding light on that. Sorry you are having trouble with getting your new blog up and running. Looking forward to it when it's ready. Happy Thanksgiving! :)

November 22, 2015 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

fornow--You make a very good point. This is not just about reviews. (And Amazon reviews are mostly really comments) This about the general chaos and negativity that pervades so much of online interaction. Every site has tried to police its site in some ways. Even Reddit. Verified identities would help a lot. People could still use "pen names" for reviews, but maybe use the same one for all of them. Not 150.

November 22, 2015 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

It all seems so crazy. And hard to keep straight. Thanks for exposing the crazy and the help keeping it all straight!

November 22, 2015 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jan--A whole lot of what has always been normal in the traditional book world seems to be a complete mystery to the online people. That's because they treat book reviews as "product reviews" and it's a whole different game. I wish they'd learn about what is standard in publishing instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I've read that most people are more likely to value the opinion of a regular book reviewer or an author than some random customer. I'm much more likely to read a book if one of my favorite authors endorses it than some semi-literate customer. And I'm not alone. That's why if somebody gets Stephen King to endorse their book, they'll put it on the cover.

Happy Thanksgiving to you too! I sure hope we'll have the blog going by December 6th. Next week Ruth will be right back here. .

November 22, 2015 at 5:16 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Jensen said...

That raises an interesting question, Anne. I do not sign into Amazon with my FB account because I'm usually on the Zon with my business email and FB is my personal one. Does that mean Amazon doesn't know who my FB friends are? The frustrating part is when I read a book, like it and review it, and THEN go Like the author's FB page - if they can read our friend lists, they should also see which came first!

November 22, 2015 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Jensen said...

Oops, I wrote before I read down the rest of the comments. Sorry, but thanks so much for the article. Lots to think about. I sometimes post to Goodreads too, but I'll make a point of it now and maybe check out some of the other possibilities. Didn't even realize iTunes had reviews!

November 22, 2015 at 7:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Hi Maggie! *wave*

November 22, 2015 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Christine--It does seem a little unhinged to those of us who have been in the book business a long time. That's because all this stuff comes from the gaming industry, not publishing. Most of the people in the Amazon fora/vigilante groups know very little about how the publishing industry works. And unfortunately, they don't care.

November 22, 2015 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jennifer--To check to see if your Amazon and FB accounts are linked go to your Amazon account and check My Account > Manage My Account > scroll down until you see PERSONALIZATION - COMMUNITY and click on "Social Settings" If you're linked, you can uncheck it. But it sounds like you use a different email, so you're probably fine.

November 22, 2015 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger Maggie Dana said...

*waves back*

November 22, 2015 at 8:29 PM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I can't say I'm surprised at the changes. I've seen far too many books where it was obvious that the author had gone out and gotten his/her friends to give the book five star reviews with "It's a fantastic book!" It's a backlash against all that, because Amazon still is a business and still gets a black eye when review scandals get into the news.

Most readers will look at those one star reviews like PETA ones and know what they are. They aren't stupid. Those don't reflect on the author, but on the people or group that is posting. When there's a bunch of friend-style five-star reviews, that does tend to point back to the author.

The best thing for me has not been to worry about it, but to write more books.

November 23, 2015 at 3:54 AM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

Goodreads scares me. I had issues early on with my first book when a fellow author/ex-FB friend uploaded it there as a favor after she had reviewed it. Things kind of went downhill with their customer service (couldn't remove it), so I wiped out all metadata and deleted my account. This was four years ago and haven't been back since.

November 23, 2015 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger Claude Forthomme said...

Anne, excellent post as always! And yes, I've lost reviews too now and then, and have no idea why! But I totally agree with Alex's comment: I find it absolutely unacceptable that Amazon would accept reviews from people who have obviously not read the book. With a printed book, it might be impossible to check, but with a digital book, it should be technically possible for them to know when the book is finished. So they really should require that books be read (and finished!) before posting reviews in the Kindle Store...

November 23, 2015 at 4:58 AM  
Blogger John W. Mefford said...

While this might not change a great deal, Amazon only does what is necessary to increase profit and provide shareholder value. They are not a private company, but a publicly traded company (traded under AMZN on the NASDAQ). Because they care first and foremost about shareholder value, petitions and bad PR (poor perception by the buying customers and powerful vendors) can impact their decision-making, just like it can with any other publicly traded company. Therefore, if the "movement" is well-organized and can be communicated in a fashion that shows abuse or at least them taking it too far, then things will change.

November 23, 2015 at 5:42 AM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Number five on the list is the reason we stopped contacting potential reviewers on Goodreads. Now that Amazon bots can roam freely there, I do all my communicating with potential reviewers via direct email and not the Goodreads messaging system. I am glad Amazon is purging reviews because it needs to legitimize its reviews, but am sorry for the authors whose legitimate reviews are getting dumped. I wish there was a good answer for all of this, but I don't believe there is.

November 23, 2015 at 5:50 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Lance said...

Anne, Thank you for all the info! I have yet to have my reviews pulled, but I'm sure there will be a first time. :) I did want to mention, I recently left my publisher and went back to Indie Self-publishing, in doing so, when I uploaded the books with new covers, the original reviews didn't automatically show up, I had to email the Zon with the links to the reviews and the new book link and they were able to connect them. It took about three days for them all to show up again, but they did. :)

November 23, 2015 at 7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post, and found it pretty helpful and informative - just left a little cold when the author began pressing her own political agenda, and even worse, presenting it as the only "moral" or "healthy" view. Not a big fan of the bait and switch, no matter what I'm reading. Good info, but please save the political agenda-pushing for an article in which you're honest about that being your goal.

November 23, 2015 at 7:09 AM  
Blogger Suzie Quint said...

I actually have a one-star review from someone I know who thought I "owed" her. Hm. Wonder if I reported this to Amazon if they'd remove it.

November 23, 2015 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 23, 2015 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

I stopped posting thoughtful reviews on Amazon after a couple were bumped back, presumably by their robo-screener, with a generic explanation that said only something about it violated their TOS (with a link to same). After deleting a couple words the Church Lady might have frowned at (including the title of one of the books that included the word "bastard," and it still not getting thru, I gave up and posted it on Goodreads without a hitch. Ironic, perhaps, considering Amazon owns GR. Anyway, now at Amazon I click the stars and leave a little cliched sentence or two about page-turning and excellence, etc. and then note that the "real" review is on Goodreads. I never post negative reviews, because the books I do review are not the smash-hit kinds that don't need my input anyway. If I don't especially like a lesser known book I don't review it at all.

Thanks for addressing this, Anne. I'd begun to wonder if my browser needed to change its deodorant. BTW, speaking of paid reviews, this thing has been on Twitter for months now. I wonder how they get around the review police, if, in fact, they do. https://twitter.com/AmazonReviews6

November 23, 2015 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--You're right that we need to mostly ignore it all. People get really fixated on reviews because the newsletters like Bookbub depend on them entirely for indication of a book's worthiness, but I agree with you that most readers don't care all that much about them. And an off-the-wall attack may actually produce more sales. Writing more books is indeed the best place to put your energy!

November 23, 2015 at 9:11 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

John--The fact they have shareholders does make them especially interested in avoiding scandals. I agree. (When I said they're a private company, I meant as opposed to government-owned. The right to free speech is only valid when dealing with the government.) But big scandals do make the company look bad, which is why I urge everybody to report obvious abuse when they see it. I agree with you that there is hope for change if we speak up!

November 23, 2015 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Chris--I find Goodreads iffy for a number of reasons. It's also serious troll habitat, although they have kicked out some of the worst in the last year or so. But it hadn't occurred to me that Amazon might be monitoring the Direct Messages there. Chilling.

There's no doubt a crack-down on paid reviews was overdue, but they are removing a lot of legitimate reviews as well. I wish they'd crack down on all bogus reviews with equal zeal

November 23, 2015 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Elizabeth--Author Central is great in doing their best to restore reviews when you make a publisher move. I've done this with most of my books at least once. But some reviews always seem to stay lost. I'm not sure why that is. I'm glad to hear you were able to restore yours.

But I second your recommendation to contact Author Central (via email through their "help" menu is best) They have been great in solving all sorts of tech glitches with my books, too. They solved a weird tech glitch on the UK buy page of The Best Revenge just yesterday--within hours!

November 23, 2015 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Suzie--It might be worth it to try! I don't guarantee they will do anything, but hit "report abuse", and also try contacting Author Central and say this is someone who was trying to blackmail you into trading reviews. even if they don't remove it, they will have that info in their database and it may do some good eventually. Let me know how they respond.

November 23, 2015 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anon--I'm not sure what you mean about an agenda. I said I didn't think PETA people writing "meat is murder" or violent extremists should be using book reviews to push their agendas.

November 23, 2015 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Katherine Hajer said...

This! I've always been confused by the whole "if you're an author, you can't be a reviewer" mentality. I mean, Roger Ebert wrote screenplays and yet never lost his film reviewer job. Paid book reviews are often written by published authors. So why kill it all for Amazon?

Okay, sure, there are scam artists, but there are always scam artists. And as you pointed out, these steps are not entirely getting rid of the scammers and trolls.

November 23, 2015 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

It's a blog, Anon. Bloggers are assumed to express their opinions. Isn't that what blogs are for?

November 23, 2015 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Claude--I wish they'd do that too. They know exactly how many pages we've read of any given ebook, so they could even say you have to read at least 20 %, which wouldn't force people to keep reading something they don't like.

November 23, 2015 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G. B. I'm wary of GR too. I never go there myself. But there are other places you can post reviews, like Barnes and Noble and Kobo. I should have suggested a non-Amazon owned site.

November 23, 2015 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mathew--Thanks for your comment above. :-) I guess I do have political bias against violent extremists. Proud of it, in fact.

You may have violated the Amazon TOS in some other way, like the way your signature was formatted or something. It can be hard to tell when you've stepped over one of their lines, since their interpretations are so murky.

I think it's kind not to review a book you didn't love. I do the same. It can be a fine book that's not to my taste. I figure it's like my agent with white chocolate. She said "I hate white chocolate, so I'll reject it, but that doesn't mean it's bad white chocolate."

That link goes to one of those companies Amazon is suing. They even use the Amazon logo, which is breaking a whole bunch of laws. But obviously they're so brazen, they're still running their scam. I hope the Zon gets them good!

November 23, 2015 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Katherine--I agree entirely. Authors have always reviewed authors. John Updike was one of the New Yorker's regular reviewers. So was Dorothy Parker. And they weren't always nice to each other. Mary McCarthy once said that every word Lillian Hellman wrote was a lie, "Including 'and' and 'the'. " Or maybe that was vice-versa. It's a tradition as old as publishing.

November 23, 2015 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Karen Jones Gowen said...

I'm an avid reader of reviews before I purchase or download a book on Amazon, and I especially enjoy the 1 or 2 star reviews as they give me the best information to judge whether I'll really like the book or not. I'm very hesitant to purchase a book that has only positive reviews. This is as a reader. As a writer, I cringe whenever I get a negative review but because they make my books legitimate, I really wouldn't want them removed, even when they're obviously clueless about how wonderful my book is (hehe.)

November 23, 2015 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Yelp used to have a pretty robust system for letting business owners compain about trolls (haters that really hadn't been to your business) but they were never able to get around the fake positive review stuff either. They just went to verified reviewers, I believe, which is where I hope Amazon goes. I am probably one of the minority but I believe you either have to make a verified purchase or jump through the hoops to be a verified reviewer. Otherwise, we cannot close the door on the scammers. In all these "crackdowns" there will always be people that get screwed. There should be a protest system where you can deal with a human but we may just have to live with this latest debacle. Sad, but needed. I know I have reviewed books of friends that I really did like so I suppose those are in danger--I haven't even scoured Amazon to see. Trolls are easier for Amazon to spot.

November 23, 2015 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Terry Tyler said...

I bet every writer on Twitter has read this post by now, I've seen it everywhere!!! I lost about 15 reviews during the 2012 purge, but, cross fingers, only a couple so far this time. I write blog posts about authors reviewing authors, and the way in which review trading and buy-but-don't-bother-to-read reviewing groups ruin it for all of us - looks like I was right! I KNOW you are massively busy, but you might like to read this, I wrote it a year ago (it also has a follow up a week later) http://ukartsdirectory.com/terry-tylers-literary-blog-29/ - I know it's not quite the thing to put links in blog comments but I seriously think it might interest you!

Last week I got 2 x 1* reviews from someone I'd blocked on Twitter. You know, he thought the first book was so bad he read its sequel, too, just to make sure.... I found out who it was from (the idiot put his Twitter handle on on of his other reviews!), and told him I would report him to Amazon. He said he wasn't violating the guidelines, I told him that I'd taken screen shots of his comment confirming that he'd written the reviews because I blocked him on Twitter. Scared him off, he removed them. I hadn't really taken screen shots, by the way; I don't even know how to.

One solution, if your readers (whether other authors or not) find that they can't review your books, or that the reviews get removed, is to get them to write them via a friend's account. I asked one of my regular readers to do this recently (when her review took a week to appear and we thought it wasn't going to!), and she was happy to do so.

November 23, 2015 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Karen--I agree that sometimes the "bad" reviews can help make a decision about a book. If I see a review that says, "This buk hz two menny big wurds" I might be more likely to buy it. :-) (Ruth thinks Amazon needs to have a category for "upmarket" books, and I agree. It's sometimes hard to tell the target audience and reviews can help.

Legitimate negative reviews are great for readers and authors too. because they do help know the audience. But bogus generic personal attacks by people who haven't read the book don't help anybody.

November 23, 2015 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Terry--This is proving to be a popular post. Looks like we'll have a 5000 hit day, which doesn't happen as often as it used to.

I read your post and it's great. Blogger doesn't let that link be live on the site--it's an anti-spam device. But I recommend people cut and paste it! Lots of good advice about not trading reviews.

And I do think if you get a one-star from somebody who tried to blackmail you into a review swap, you need to report it to the Zon. They can't act on what hasn't been reported. They know this stuff is going on, but it's hard to police.

People who hate your books so much they read every one are a hoot. Melodie Campbell mentioned them in her comment, too. People are strange....

BTW I take screenshots of everything now, and it's easy if you download something called Awesome Screenshot. It puts a little icon on your toolbar and all you do is click it and you can even put a circle around the pertinent words. Then hit save and save it to your own computer. It's great! Good on you for making that idiot back down. People who try to force you to trade reviews are a menace!

November 23, 2015 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

Great thoughts, Anne. (Sorry that I'm late to this party.) I'm currently being plagued by good people who ask me to review their book. I've usually obliged. But now that Amazon owns Goodreads - so looking up our 'friends' there (even if we don't know them) is duck soup - and it can discover all our Facebook friends as well, it will sniff out any innocent person who has ever breathed a happy word in our direction. And declare them a 'friend'. And delete their reviews.

So I've stopped doing reviews.

Has anyone detected a hint of McCarthyism in Amazon's tyranny? Is it - in itself - verging on un-American behavior?

The good news is... you don't need (many) good reviews to sell a book on Amazon. I was looking at some best-selling titles recently and was surprised to see how few reviews they'd received. Conversely, some authors with 100+ reviews showed a sales rank of 300,000+. (Transl: they were selling no more than one book per day.)

Re: poor reviews. Ay, I've had my share, as we all have. One reviewer said my historical novel was absurd because I had a man eat an orange in 16thc London and 'oranges were unknown in England at that time'. Duh? Seville oranges had been imported into England since at least the 14thc and abound in medieval recipes. Queen Elizabeth I visited an orangerie in central England in 1597. The man was a fool. I yearned to comment on his comment but Amazon wouldn't let me.

Yes, McCarthyism...

November 23, 2015 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Chris--Unfortunately, the trolls know how to get fake-verified by buying and returning a book. Then there are the people who get books from the library, and I think they should be able to review too.

If Amazon set up a verification system separate from simply having bought a book, that might be wise. Also if they had a better system for protesting an undeserved removal.

And if they tried to police the troll reviews as well as the paid reviews, that would be a huge step.

I think the solution may be to post on other retail sites. Make the Amazon reviews less crucial to our careers. Kobo has reviews again. They didn't have them for a while. But Kobo is a major retailer, too.

November 23, 2015 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Andrea Domanski said...

I've noticed that amazon doesn't give the "verified purchase" tag to reviews posted on KU/KOLL borrowed books. How can they give more weight to reviews with that tag if thy aren't using the tag properly? They made such a big deal about saying "This tag proves the reviewer read the book" but then only use it for a small percentage of "sales."

November 23, 2015 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dr. John--Thanks for stopping by! Sorry you've decided not to review any more, but I sure do get where you're coming from. I used to urge everybody to review everything they read, but now...it can be awfully discouraging if your reviews get bleeped for no good reason.

I truly hate being bullied into reviewing. So many people send me unsolicited ebook files and then get furious when I don't review. I just don't have time! And I only enjoy a limited number of genres. Most romances, thrillers and fantasy simply don't interest me.

I'm not sure Amazon is as much like McCarthy's HUAC (although there are some overtones of witch-hunting here) as they are like the Russian oligarchy that took over after the fall of the Soviet Union. We no longer have a democracy in the US, since all elected officials are up for sale in our never-ending election-entertainment machine. A handful of companies own the government, no matter who we vote for. And the tech companies are some of the most powerful oligarchs. .

I know how upsetting it is to get reviews like that one with the orange. Often the reviewer is just plain wrong and we can't point it out because responding to reviews is a no-no. (Although we can hope some other savvy person may make a rebuttal) I get all the "this isn't realistic" ones. Of course it's not realistic. What farce is? Go watch paint dry! That's realistic.

Those reviews we just have to grin and bear. But hey, at least they read the book!

November 23, 2015 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Andrea--I did not know that! My goodness. It doesn't seem like Amazon to deliberately discriminate against Amazon Prime members. As a Prime member, you should send in a formal complaint. As I say, they do listen when complaints reach critical mass. Thanks for alerting us to this. I think it's unfortunate.

November 23, 2015 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

Thanks, Anne. I think that Amazon is proceeding to the point where any book review will soon be ignored by the savvy reader. In its bid to make all reviews 'impartial' Amazon is making reviews meaningless. Anybody who has any expert knowledge of the book - or genre - will be disqualified from reviewing it. The only people who post reviews henceforth will be those who are unqualified to do so. So if SexyLegs of Brooklyn (a true example) says 'This book sucks' we can be assured it's a darned good book! Or so I pray ;)

November 23, 2015 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Anne,

I've never encountered you or your work before, but this is a great newsletter!

It boggles the mind that Amazon will remove reviews by people who actually read a book but who happen to know the author, but will allow reviews by people who did not even READ the book.


Thanks for an excellent treatment of this subject.

November 23, 2015 at 7:44 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Lisabet--Welcome to our blog! The Zon's new policy does seem a little screwy. I hope if they get enough complaints, something will be done.

November 23, 2015 at 7:55 PM  
Blogger Carol Hedges said...

I've blogged about the 'buy a 5 star review' before ...and am glad Amazon are prosecuting. I've also come across a couple of US writers advising people how to play the review system by offering their ebooks free, then re pricing and putting them on various Kindle sites to bump up stats. It's the anomalies in Amazon's policy that irks. I have a 1 Star review from someone who couldn't download the book. Der? I complained to Amazon that this was a publisher prob not mine. The review stands. I have also seen reviews by family members on certain writer's sites. It's clearly a family member, coz the review is in the same surname. Still there. Either they apply the policy correctly, or they abandon it. Such actions only serve to infuriate writers.

November 24, 2015 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger Helen Hollick said...

Thank you for sharing this informative and enlightening post Anne. I don't like asking for reviews because - well, I don't like asking! I feel its a bit presumptious, assuming readers WILL like my books (of course I hope they do, but wouldn't it be a boring world if we all liked the same things?) There's nothing wrong with a 3 or 4 star honest review - but oh those Trollies (the people off their trolley!) As for knowing authors - I've been published for over 20 years and I know quite a few - some just via Facebook, some personally. Why shouldn't I write an honest review of a novel, even if I do know the author if I enjoyed the read? Authors are readers too! I must make sure I post on Goodreads as well though - thanks for the reminder!

November 24, 2015 at 1:23 AM  
Blogger Florence Cronin said...

Oh gees, I'm here late again. Better late than ...

I think if one looks over the history of amazon as a bookseller, a retailer, a promoter and publisher ... you can see an interesting curve. He started ... our loving Zon ... as a speculator who was willing to operate as a loss for years. Sixty Minutes did him twice while he was nothing but wrinkled jeans walking in his Seatttle warehouse. Folks laughed, predicted each year how long it would take for him to go belly-up.

So what happened?

What happened to our young rebels who wanted to operate outside the rules? Facebook mega-millions. The Zon. The young men who everyone thought were jokes.

We are all having the wrong conversations. There is nothing you can do. Nothing about who gets on your Facebook timeline. Nothing about reviews Amazon thinks are legit.

They learned from the best, Anne. From Gates when the government thought they could defeat him AFTER he changed the face of modern technology for life. The little guys he squashed on his way are not even a memory and Gen-Xer's wouldn't know a Word Perfect from a hole in their head. Remember folks, Gates brought down the Big Blue ... IBM.

The Zon beat the BIG SIX. He has done that and more. And it has nothing to do with what any of you do with reviews or book give-aways. It has to do with him marketing HIS books.

We cheer for the under-dog. We felt sorry for the "pigs" until they carted the horse away to the glue factory. We help create the monsters that eat us alive and then wonder why.

I guess I am making up for being absent BUT it is not about anything anyone does or does not do. Facebook and Amazon will continue to do as they please because they can :)

November 24, 2015 at 6:46 AM  
Blogger Rosalind Minett said...

Another post that is truly informative and fair. If a reader has bought a book from a bookshop, their review does not have 'verified purchaser' at the top, so that label is not too great a guide. Rosalind Minett, www.characterfulwriter.com

November 24, 2015 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Carol--I agree that authors who game the review system give us all a bad name...

I hate those one-stars from people who have download and Kindle glitches. Amazon states clearly that those should be addressed to customer service, not the author, but I've never got any of mine removed either.

And yes, there are those reviews that say "This is a fabulous book and I should know because I'm the author's mom!" But they often remain if "mom" wrote the review on a different server from the author's. But if somebody from work writes an honest review from the same workplace server, that will be removed.

This is the problem when we have robot overlords. :-)

November 24, 2015 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Helen--I'm with you. I hardly ever ask for reviews because it feels braggy. And yes! Life would be boring if we all liked the same things. I write comedy, which is subjective, so I'm always going to get some humor impaired troll-y types who hate humor on principle. LOL that troll-y people are off their trollies!

Posting to Goodreads is good and posting to iTunes, Kobo or Google Play is even better. Those retailers are getting more and more of the market and sales there will become significant in the future. And your review will stand out because it will probably be the only one!

November 24, 2015 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--Good to see you! Thanks for the long, thoughtful comment. You are absolutely right. We have handed over our futures to the tech oligarchs without any thought to what that really means to our own lives. Gadgets became "cool". (The opposite of what was "cool" when we were growing up. Can you imagine saying that a slide rule was "cool"? Ha!)

What we can do is participate in healthy competition. Buy an off-brand smart phone. Post a review to Kobo, Give the competition a little love. And every so often go into an independent bookstore and buy some reading material printed on a dead tree. :-)

That's how I'm spending Thanksgiving: unplugged except for my CD player, reading a lovely paper book. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2015 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Rosalind--Thanks! As I said to Florence above, I buy paper books and enjoy them. I also get books out of the library. And yes, I review them on Amazon. But in future, I'm going to review them on other sites (where I also didn't buy them). "Verified" reviews mean more for Amazon's bottom line, but they don't mean the review is more valid.

November 24, 2015 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Daniel Rodrigues-Martin said...

The information conveyed in this blog post makes me want to beat my chest in a testosterone-fueled show of aggression.

November 24, 2015 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Daniel--It's good to acknowledge feelings. But when we act, we have to behave like wise grown-ups. That is, quietly plot revenge:-)

Seriously, there are things we can do. Using other retailers for reviews is one. Another is to systematically report abuse whenever you see it, both from authors gaming the system AND the anti-author trolls. And keep posting honest reviews. The Zon won't delete them all. And every real review makes the bogus ones less powerful

November 24, 2015 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

'Facebook and Amazon will continue to do as they please because they can :)' Indeed, Florence, that is the premise that has driven Auschwitz monsters, Saddam Hussein, Nero and countless other tyrants throughout history. An entity that has total power, and is not accountable or regulated, will always revert to the norm: whimsical barbarity. Amazon started with good intentions. Now, like Google, it cries out for regulation. But who will bell the cat?

November 24, 2015 at 11:39 AM  
Blogger S.J. Francis said...

This is a fabulous and enlightening post, but I disagree that authors are not customers, they're vendors. Every author was a reader first. Every author is still a reader. Yes, we're vendors now, but we're also still readers. Thanks for sharing!
S.J. Francis

November 24, 2015 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

S. J. The vendor designation isn't an opinion. It's a fact that Amazon puts an author in that category. As authors we are vendors in direct competition with their own publishing imprints. But if we contact them as customers, not as authors, we're more likely to get results.

November 24, 2015 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger Maggie Dana said...

Anne, I've checked kboards (Writers' Cafe) several times today to see if someone there had posted a link to this article. But no ... so I started a new thread about it with a link almost two hours ago. So far, just over 100 views, but no comments!

I am surprised nobody there is discussing it, given the numerous and voluble threads kboards has on Amazon reviews, many of which are speculation. You'd think they would be all over this one!

November 24, 2015 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maggie--Thanks much for posting to the K-boards. This may be old hat to them. I think the first things I heard about the "know the author" review purge came from there. It did get picked up by the Passive Voice today, where there's a lively discussion.

November 24, 2015 at 6:40 PM  
Blogger Piper McDermot said...

Thanks Anne and William - you both make excellent points in the post and here in comments. One can hope that sufficient complaints will (eventually) penetrate the Zon's intractability, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

I sincerely believe the only way they will be forced to reconsider such blunt, unrefined policies is if authors have the courage to speak with their actions - by not tying themselves to the Zon apron strings with exclusivity, and by using mutltiple platforms to sell their work.

The more authors who can shout out their success with such a strategy all across the Indieverse, the more other Indies will let go their fears and dependency on Amazon, the better other platforms will then work for them as readers also discover the world beyoned Zon - and then finally perhaps someone at Zon HQ will have a rethink!

November 24, 2015 at 10:03 PM  
Blogger Veronica Sicoe said...

I would much more welcome the curate reviews based on the buyer actually reading the book, as opposed to having some online connection to the writer. That would make a lot more sense, and it's technically absolutely do-able.

November 25, 2015 at 12:25 AM  
Blogger Joelle LeGendre, Floridaborne said...

That's terrible!

New writers make a lot of mistakes (most of us could write a book about that). We generally stumble on the bad advice first before finding sites like yours.

I haven't asked for a paid review, hoping people would read my book and be fair about their opinion. But I had considered seeking a professional review when I could afford it. Now, I'm not so sure I want one.

Never did I think that people would use the review section to retaliate against another person or that Amazon would ever allow these kind of reviews to stay on a site. A grieving mother shouldn't have to see those reviews littering the reviews from people who have read her book.

If you're an Indie Author, you're using social media to advertise. People who like your book will follow you! To remove a review simply because the writer knows the person on social media is discrimination against Indie authors.

Every one of my reviews came from people who are intelligent and don't just spit out sparklies if that's not what they feel. My book will appeal to a narrow range of people and I fully expect a review to reflect that someday. As long as it's an honest opinion, that's the way I like it.

In fact, Amazon might be interested to know that I met an acquaintance while shopping who had started reading my book. She liked the writing style but just couldn't get into it because it wasn't her preferred genre. I thanked her for letting me know and encouraged her to share her opinion for other readers. Am I going to be kicked off Amazon for asking her to do that?

To say I'm appalled that Amazon would be so mindless about which reviews to purge is an understatement.

November 25, 2015 at 5:10 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Veronica--With ebooks, it IS possible to see if somebody has read a book, but they can't do it with paper books. I guess that would be their argument. I wish they would at least urge people to read some of the book before reviewing, but that is very much against their policy, which allows people to say "I would never read this book," and give it one star.

November 25, 2015 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Joelle--I agree that this policy is misguided. They want "fair" reviews but they aren't fair if the reviewer hasn't read the book. But remember that when Amazon started with KDP, they needed indies. Now they are a major publisher and indies are the competition. They do not need indies (or trad pubbed books) as much as they used to.

November 25, 2015 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Piper--I agree that staying exclusive with the Zon is not in an author's best interest (unless they are with an Amazon imprint.) Amazon's market share is shrinking. More and more readers are reading on tablets and phones. Getting into iTunes, Google Play and international sites is the way to go these days. I'm not sure Amazon needs us any more, and they may deliberately be working to get rid of indies, but other sites like Smashwords and D2D can get you into many other retailers. I think that's the future.

November 25, 2015 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Beth Havey@Boomer Highway said...

I just checked and haven't lost any reviews. I will copy them. Thanks for this. My little book is living in the shadows in more ways than one!!

November 25, 2015 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Beth--Right now, the shadows is probably the safest place to be! But do copy your reviews, just in case. They're also in your Author Central account. Sometimes the deleted ones will stay at Author Central.

November 25, 2015 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger N. R. Williams said...

Hello Anne, nice to meet you.
I have long wondered about the guy who was a best seller, posted often about how he did it and then sold a book on how he did it. A big part of that were hundreds of Beta readers he paid and who left a review. I don't remember his name but you probably know. I have left reviews for authors that I am friends with and a few have done the same for me. I already copied those reviews to my blog. I've also had people leave a review that started, "I never read this book because it looked stupid." I admit to laughing at that. The worst review I ever got was my first one on Goodreads. As it turned out, he was also a writer who was angry because all his reviews trashed his book. He didn't learn the rules of writing or pay for an editor. I think this is a little scary since it is going to extremes. I only publish on Amazon, it's time to change that.

November 25, 2015 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger William Vaughn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 26, 2015 at 9:35 AM  
Blogger William Vaughn said...

Anne, I have been a published author for nearly forty years., I got my start by self-publishing in the early '90s before the Internet and Amazon made it easy. Since then, I have had nine books published through “traditional” publishers and as many self-published. I took great interest in your blog post as I also find Amazon’s review tyranny to be oppressive. (I now write dystopia fiction, so everything seems dire.)
In regard to your post, I have about 2000 Facebook “friends”—mostly authors, but many readers and “real” friends as well. Some of them would never say a bad word about me, while others…well, they’re brutally honest, so discounting “friends” as reviewers is (as you said) unfair.
I have another reviews-related issue which might not have been mentioned in the 110 comments (I did not read them all). I wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos about it and I include the meat of that correspondence here:

Mr Bezos, I have an issue: A significant number of my books are sold through local independent bookstores and author events—probably over 70%. I buy books from CreateSpace at wholesale and distribute to my retailers or sell them myself. For example, the bookstore at the Underground Tour in Seattle bought 30 books (from me) and I sold over 60 books in Everett at the Authors and Autographs show. Unfortunately, none of these sales were reflected in the book's Amazon rankings—apparently because they were not sold by Amazon online. This does not seem fair. Amazon is still making money on these sales, so I think my book’s (and every author's) sales rankings should reflect all copies sold by Amazon—either online or through distribution—even if the distributor is the author.
Marketing is one of the toughest jobs an independent publisher/author has to face. New titles are sold to people based on other readers’ recommendations and the sales ranking places popular books higher in the list of books shown to potential readers. Of course you know this. So do we. Getting a bump in our ranking pushes up national (and international) recognition and visibility. It’s vitally important. A highly-ranked book is easier to market to a mainstream publisher or at least make the authors upcoming works more attractive to these publishers.
I have also found (based on first-hand reports from readers) Amazon won’t always accept reviews from non-online readers. Again, this does not seem to work either in my or Amazon’s best interest. I have a growing list of fans who would like to share their enthusiasm for my books, and thus help Amazon (and me) make more money on increased sales.

Yes, I think Amazon (in their own interest) needs to review how reviews are handled. Thanks for raising these issues. I have posted a meme to encourage my readers to petition Amazon to deal with these issues.

Thanks for the forum. William Vaughn

November 26, 2015 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nancy--That guy was John Locke. I don't blame you for forgetting his name. He's not mentioned much any more. 5 years ago, Amazon was an indie's playground and almost anybody who had a half-way decent book could make money there. And like the guy on Goodreads, even people who had rotten books could make a few sales. Now Amazon no longer needs indies because indies are in competition with their own imprints. It is definitely time to spread a wider net.

November 26, 2015 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

William--Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree that it would be a whole lot better if CreateSpace sales counted in our overall sales ranking. I wish Audible sales did too. They're both owned by Amazon, but they're treated as separate entities. (Create Space distributes to Barnes and Noble and Audible distributes to iTunes) It might be a lot more complicated to include them than with their present system. They probably don't have much incentive to change. After all, they're worried about customers, not vendors. And no big corporation cares about what's fair to vendors, unfortunately.

I think we have to spread a wider net and give less importance to Amazon. Focus on other retailers for ebooks. Urge your readers to review on iTunes, Kobo, or Google Play.

If you can get some of those readers who buy your paper books to review locally--say in an entertainment weekly or a local website--that may make more sales than an Amazon review.

I think a lot of writers who went indie early on started to think of Amazon as being super indie-friendly. As indeed they were. But Amazon doesn't need indies now they have their own imprints.

November 26, 2015 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...


Excellent comments.I wonder if Amazon doesn't count books sold through Creatspace because those would often be bulk sales to the author and distribution to bookstores. One of the perceived weaknesses in the various best seller lists is that they can be gamed by large bulk purchases. By limiting what they count in their sales rankings to individual retail purchases by consumers, Amazon makes it harder to game the system and the rankings better reflect what readers are actually buying at the time. But I can see how that doesn't adequately reflect what is going on for an author like you whose sales are weighted more heavily to paper than the average indie.

As for accepting reviews from "non-online readers," Amazon calls those reviews "customer reviews" for a reason. However, anyone who has an Amazon account and has purchased at least one item using that account can review anything in the store. I wanted to post my book reviews to Amazon UK site. So I setup an account and sent a UK friend a 5 pound gift certificate. That's all it took to be able to post reviews there. It isn't a high threshold. If they allowed anyone to post reviews without even the minimal requirement they have, I'm afraid the negative issues they have with phony reviews would get much worse as a result.

November 26, 2015 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Al--Thanks much for your explanation. You did better than I did (I'm running back and forth basting a turkey) As you say, Amazon's ranking reports RETAIL sales at the Amazon store--not WHOLESALE sales of paper and audio books which are then sold in other bookstores (whether local indie stores, B & N, or iTunes) That makes sense.

And customer reviews are supposed to be reviews by actual Amazon customers. That's perfectly fair. In fact, it's more than fair since you don't have to have bought that specific book. You just have to have purchased something from Amazon at some time. I review on Amazon UK, too, since I was a customer there when I lived in England.

William may have been talking about the priority they're planning to give to "verified customer" reviews--which can be gamed. It would be nice if they'd consider banning reviews of books that have been returned unread by that customer, but that could be a slippery slope.

November 26, 2015 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger ryan field said...

I've never had any of my Amazon reviews taken down...the reviews I've left. But I've never exchanged reviews with authors before either. As for the reviews people have left for me, I honestly couldn't tell you whether any have been taken down or not. I never checked and I don't read reviews often. Unless someone points a review out to me, I'm pretty much clueless about reviews for my own books. I obviously fall short in that department compared to some of these authors who are so aggressive with promotion, but I'm just thrilled anyone took the time to leave a review that was unsolicited. I think that's the part about reviews I don't like the most...solicited reviews. Not that they are wrong. I just prefer random unsolicited reviews.

November 27, 2015 at 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Phyl Campbell said...

But now that GoodReads has been bought by Amazon (happened in 2013), I no longer support reviews either place. As small as I am, anyone I ask to write a review for me is a person whose review would be rejected by Amazon TOS/TOU. So although it's slow and painful, I ask readers who like my stuff to tell others directly to buy my stuff. I don't ask for Amazon or Goodreads reviews anymore.
Thanks to your article, though, I will look into putting my books on iTunes and Google Play. I have not liked the [process] Amazon used to format my books for Kindle, so I either need to hire someone who just does that or put more time and effort into doing it correctly myself. My books are not flying off the shelves, but I'm running the cross country marathon, not the 100M dash.

November 27, 2015 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ryan--I'm with you. I don't do enough review soliciting (which means I can probably never get a BookBub ad.) Once in a while I go check and I'm over the moon if some random stranger has left a positive review. I've only queried a few book bloggers, but that usually doesn't result in a review, so I mostly just leave it all to chance. But I don't actually advise that. I think authors who take the time to research reviewers and query them get more and better reviews. But like you, I hate "soliciting."

November 27, 2015 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Phyl--Goodreads has actually improved since the Zon bought it. They kicked out a lot of the most toxic bullies. But it's still not an author-friendly environment. The reason I mentioned putting your review there is it's less likely to be removed. They don't use the same algos as the Zon.

But it's even better to put a duplicate review on Kobo, B and N, iTunes, or whatever. If you are a reviewer who puts time into writing reviews, it's kind of heartbreaking to have them lost forever.

As an author, I think it's important to spread a wide net these days. That means getting a professionally formatted epub file as well as a mobi (Kindle) file. Epub files are what all the other retailers use. I believe Scrivener will format for epub if you don't want to pay a formatter. If you put it on Smashwords, they distribute to a lot of the other retailers. D2D also does a great job of distribution.

November 27, 2015 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for the tip to disconnect from Goodreads as well as breaking the Amazon/FB & Twitter links. Here's how to disconnect your Facebook and Goodreads accounts: you can do it here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/edit?tab=apps.

If you are connected, at the very bottom next to your name it will say "disconnect" in pale gray. Click it and Goodreads won't know who your FB friends are.

November 28, 2015 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Joe Brewer said...

Hi Anne,
As a relatively new ebook author I find this state of affairs disappointing. Of the many mistakes I have made I have not bought a review but I have requested reviewers to review, with little success. At this point, with no money for advertising and a slow uphill climb in social media (re: name recognition), I am focusing on producing the best stories possible. I suppose it's wishful thinking that good reviews will follow a great story. I see this situation as just another means of discouraging writers. So I soldier on, with few reviews but grateful for the support I have. Your blog helps. Thanks.

November 30, 2015 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Joe--I know it's discouraging to be starting an indie writing career at this point. With something like 500K new books being published every year, the competition is fierce.

Asking reviewers for reviews is not a mistake. But with so many new authors out there, reviewers are swamped and most quit after a year or so.

The only mistake is to believe the hype of the people making money from self-publishers and expect success right away, These days, you need to have at least 5 books out in order to see a profit, so keep at it! .

November 30, 2015 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

"... and most quit after a year or so."

An apology for the tangent, but what are your theories for why that is? I could spin several theories, but I'm curious as to your thoughts.

November 30, 2015 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Al--You know way more about this than I do, but here goes

1) Book bloggers often don't get the respect they deserve (from the Big 5 OR indies.) When publicists query me asking for reviews (which I don't write) they are often pretty demanding--as if bloggers were underling employees instead of volunteers. And indies can often be pretty whiny about their "needs"--as if the reviewer didn't have needs too. (like eating and sleeping and having a life.) And it's no fun having to turn down 90% of the queries you get. Just reading queries takes time and often people query way out of genre and guidelines.

2) Many reviewers just get burned out. Reading stops being fun, and they always feel they're falling behind. It's hard to keep up with reading a huge number of books a week.

3) Author melt-downs. This is not just indies, although the most unprofessional reactions usually come from the beginning writers who decided to self-publish the rough draft of what should have been a practice novel and then scream about the "unfairness" when they're compared with professionals. (Something I know you've had some experience with.;-)

4) Maintaining a blog takes a whole lot of work. You need to worry about plugging it on social media and making sure your posts are up on time. You want to respond to comments in a timely way and treat your readers with respect, but that all takes time. When you're doing this for free or for a few pennies from affiliates, it loses its charm pretty quickly.

5) Cookie cutter books. I've heard reviewers say that both Big 5 and indie books in some genres can become so samey they get bored to death. But if they branch into other genres, they get sent a lot of books they don't like because of the genre.


November 30, 2015 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

Anne, I think you're aware that I run The IndieView ( www.theindieview.com ) which has a list of indie friendly review blogs. Based on feedback from bloggers asking me to take them off the list, often because they're quitting, I'd put #2 on the list for sure. In fact, my list would have been almost the same as yours. I'm not sure I'd have come up with #5. But that doesn't fit my situation since I'm open to all genres and have multiple reviewers so I don't feel an obligation to personally try a genre that doesn't interest me at all. (And I have expanded what I personally read which has been a positive overall.) However, thinking that through for a typical blog, I can see it playing out the way you describe. From a marketing standpoint, a tight genre focus is probably ideal for a one person blog, but there are only so many basic stories and if your focus is too tight you'll start recognizing that and getting bored with them quickly.

November 30, 2015 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Al--I've heard #5 mostly from romance and mystery reviewers. If they don't want to read erotica or gorefests, they get cookie-cutter sweet romances and cupcake cozies. If they say they'll take some "steam" or "grit" then they end up reading 50 Shades stuff or gory serial killer thrillers. Romance and cozy mystery subcategories tend to get pretty formulaic. Especially in trad. pub lines, apparently. But those complaints may all be a part of the burnout of #2.

I'm glad to hear that expanding your genres has been a positive experience!

November 30, 2015 at 9:22 PM  

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