Renee MillerVisit Renee Miller‘s website.
Need book reviews? Those little buggers are hard to get. I thought I understood the game, but my paltry review numbers on Amazon are evidence that I do not.
Or are they?
For a long time, I thought I was screwing it all up somehow. Why was I not getting reviews? People are reading. They’re telling me via social media and email that they enjoyed my books. I politely ask them to leave a review and they said they would. So where are they?
Recently, a few readers contacted me and said they tried to post reviews for recently published books, but Amazon never posted them or they were later removed because of the reader’s “friendship” with me. I talked to a few author pals, and they report that they’ve noticed some of their reviews had been removed. The most frustrating part of all of this is that many times, no explanation is given to the author by Amazon. Sure, you can send a strongly worded email, pester them a bit, and maybe get an explanation, but who has time for that?
I’m not sure how useful the policy of no friend reviews is to authors. Sure, Amazon’s anti manipulation policy is designed to weed out sockpuppet reviews and authors reviewing our own books (you disgusting little scamps), but it also removes real, honest reviews by folks that love their favorite authors so much, they’ve sought them out on social media.
I’ve had reviews I’ve posted, for books I purchased and enjoyed, removed by Amazon because I’m associated with the author in some way. These connections are often via social media, so “friends” is sometimes a very loose term. I’ve had readers tell me Amazon won’t post their reviews of my books, because of our social media connections as well.
This, I felt, was kind of a dick move, because the connection between readers and authors is important. Do we stop accepting reader follow/friend requests?
My short answer is no.
I’ll explain why in a minute.
Right now, let’s look at what can get a review either removed or refused on Amazon:
During my perusal of Amazon’s policies, I found these helpful guidelines:
For those of you that don’t feel like reading all the crap included there, here’s the important part:
Amazon reserves the right to remove feedback that isn't directly related to the buying experience or violates one of our guidelines. If your comments include any of the following, your feedback is subject to removal:
Promotional content: This includes anything of a promotional nature such as comments about or links to other merchants or websites.
Obscene or abusive language: Please use helpful and appropriate language when participating in the Amazon Community.
Personal information: You shouldn't include information that identifies other Amazon.com visitors.
Product reviews: It's more appropriate to review product on the product detail page.
So, don’t swear, threaten, promote your own shit, or be a dick in the writing of your review. Common sense, in my opinion.
Okay… so if we’re being good boys and girls, and keeping it book related, then why were our reviews removed? It took some searching, but I finally found this in the help section of the site. Again, for the busy kids, here’s an excerpt that defines inappropriate content:
Reviews that contain inappropriate or offensive content
Inappropriate Content – Reviews may not contain obscenities, profanity, phone numbers, mailing addresses, non-Amazon URLs, videos with watermarks , foreign language content (unless there is a clear connection to the product), or other people’s material (including excessive quoting).
Hate Speech & Offensive Content – We don't allow reviews that express intolerance for people belonging to identity groups including race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or nationality. Customers are allowed to comment on products and question the expertise of authors, sellers, or other customers as long as it is in a non-threatening manner.
Promotion of Illegal Conduct – Reviews may not encourage or support behavior that is illegal, including violence, illegal drug use, underage drinking, and child or animal abuse.
Promotional Reviews – In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.
Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.
The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact. Reviews from the Amazon Vine program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary. Read more about promotional content.
Well shit. There it is, I guess. Feels unfair, though. It is, and it isn’t. There’s a reason Amazon felt the need to step in. Remember when a few authors out there were being massive douchebags and 1 starring each other or paying for false 5-star review to bump their ratings and creating fake accounts to review their own books favorably? Those authors are why we can’t have nice things like honest reviews left by people we’ve become “friends” with over social media. One dick just spoils it for everyone, as usual.
In my opinion, I think we’re all smart enough to spot fake reviews, both good and bad. Do we need Amazon do figure that out for us? No. However, Amazon’s going to do what Amazon’s going to do. In the meantime, how does one go about getting precious reviews for one’s books?
You could pay a blog tour service, which offers reviews as part of their package, but isn’t that a paid review? Apparently not. I have a few reviews which were given as part of a blog tour. Amazon never took issue with those. I, however, felt dirty and skeevy, because in my mind, I paid for those. I know they say they’ll be honest, but I gave them money, so it’s natural they’d try to be as positive as possible. The ones left by “acquaintances” are more authentic, in my opinion.
So, we’re back to that all-important connecting with readers dilemma. Do you stop engaging readers on social media on the off-chance Amazon will never allow them to review your books, despite them being honest and real? No. Those connections are important for you and for your readers.
Reviews are what they are. We need them to bump our books to the top of search lists and to help new readers decide if we’re worth the risk. So, I’ve learned there are ways to reduce the odds your reviews will be taken down or denied. The first is being smart about how you link to your books.
It is said that if you link to your book via social media, as in on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog, and the customer uses that link to find the book so she can review it, Amazon may make the connection and delete the review on its “you know the author” basis. I don’t know about you, but when I’m posting promotional stuff, I search my name on Amazon and find the book. The link is right there in the search bar. We just copy and paste onto Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. and we’re good to go.
Don’t do that.
Apparently links like this: "http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01BNNY5SA?keywords=renee%20miller&qid=1456402054&ref_=sr_1_6&sr=8-6" contain information Amazon uses to connect readers to their buddy writers. Interesting, right? Now, you can erase the bold portion of the link below:
And then you’d have just this:
The link above is what you’d share instead of that big long one with all the tracking shit in it. Or you can simply use the share icons on your book’s amazon page to create a new link that doesn’t have all of that tracking gobbledygook.
The next step is to help readers understand the importance of verified purchases. We all love to give a freebie now and then, but those freebies may hurt the odds of getting reviews that “stick.” Instead of offering free e-books, give your readers a gift card. Of course, you’re taking a gamble. Some might buy a book by another author instead, but it’s a gamble worth taking. They buy the book, it’s legit, and Amazon can verify the purchase and is less likely to remove the review.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for reviews in general. Someone says “I loved your book!” Well, you say in reply, where the heck is your review? If reviews get removed, ask your readers to try again. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Never hurts to try.
Another option is to research book bloggers and review sites. For example, if you’ve got a little cash, sites like Kirkus are an option, but there are also free review services (that don’t feel as skeevy) available for the financially challenged, such as:
Underground Book Reviews (of course)
Book blogs (Links to handy little list of reviewer blogs posted on The Indie View)
Book Life (by Publisher’s Weekly)
And there are so many more, but this list should get you started.
At the end of the day, reviews are just one of many ways to promote your books. They’re important, but so are your readers. So, continue to connect via social media, if that’s what you want to do. Tell them their reviews are important. If Amazon decides to delete a few reviews, don’t get upset. Don’t despair. Don’t unfriend all those lovely people who’ve sought you out because your book wowed them. Research your options for reviews, and keep writing great books.