Yeah, it’s a big club.
First, a bit of history about Amazon reviews, so you can understand why Amazon are doing what they’re doing.
Amazon have always had a “review policy” that determined what was an appropriate reader review and what wasn’t. But they were fairly laid back about applying it, especially when faced with the US First Amendment right to free speech. Even without the First Amendment, their philosophy was that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and sharing that opinion helps other readers figure out if they would like to buy the book or not.
Then a writer called John Locke burst upon the indie publishing scene, with a book telling everyone how he made a squillion in book sales.
Which was all fine and dandy — even I read that book.
About a year after he published the book, Locke confessed that he hadn’t included everything in his how-to book. There was one crucial strategy that had made all the difference to his sales, and that was the strategy that he had failed to share.
He had been buying 5-star reviews!
Everyone was horrified by this, including Amazon, who promptly reviewed their review policy and most importantly, began to enforce it.
They took baby steps, the first being that they deleted any review that was written by an author. That was when I first heard about this whole mess — not because my own reviews were being deleted, but because author friends were noticing that a lot of the most in-depth and well studied reviews, that just happened to be written by authors, were melting away.
By sheer coincidence, I was lucky. I have always maintained a personal policy that I would not review another author’s work. As a result, I have few-to-zero author reviews of my own work.
Since then, Amazon have gone through phases where they ramp up their culling of “inappropriate” reviews. Their review policy states that reviews written by anyone with a personal relationship to the author are inappropriate. So reviews by my mother or my sister-in-law should be rightfully deleted.
But lately, Amazon have applied that “relationship” ruling to anyone who appears to know the author in any familiar way at all, including being friends with them on social networks like Facebook.
That’s why there have been a lot of totally innocent reviews that have been axed.
Amazon are also ruthless about culling what they consider to be “paid” reviews. This is more fallout from the John Locke thing, of course, but how they determine what is a paid review is where it gets tricky.
If the author has ever given the reviewer a gift card, anywhere in the past, then all the reader’s reviews are considered “paid for” and deleted.
If the author provides the book to the reader after the review is posted (say, they’re providing a print copy in thanks for the review, for example), then that is considered financial compensation for the review, and it is deleted.
Anne R. Allen has written a post about disappearing reviews that is slanted toward authors, not readers, but it gives even more detail about the tricky relationship stuff that trips up both readers and reviewers.
You can find that post here. It’s good background information.
What you can do to minimize Amazon’s deletion of your reviews.
Here are 4 tips that will help you avoid Amazon’s magic delete button.
If you like having your say, and enjoy publicly reviewing the books you read, and also like being able to contact authors and get to know them a little, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, these tips will help you have the best of both worlds.
Don’t make friends with your favourite authors on social networks.
This seems counter-intuitive, but think about it.
Amazon sees you are a friend of author X on Facebook. They have no way to measure the degree to which you are a friend. You might have been college roommates with the author, in which case, the chances are good that any review you write will be biased.
But you may have friended the author simply because you liked their book and the only page you could find on Facebook was their personal profile. Again, Amazon don’t know that and can’t tell. All they see is that you’re a friend.
Authors are slowly starting to realize that they’re better off having a public “page” rather than a personal profile on Facebook. If your favourite author has both (I do), then “follow” them on their public page, but don’t friend them on their personal page, because that will throw up red flags with Amazon.
Also be wary of Twitter follows for the same reason.
Don’t become friends with an author on Goodreads — just follow their page/profile.
Don’t Link with an author on Linked-in. This isn’t a good site for keeping up with an author’s new releases and other news, anyway.
On Pinterest, follow a single board of interest to you (or two or three), not every board the author has. I haven’t heard of Amazon dinging reviews for relationships on Pinterest, yet, but it’s a good general policy to limit how you publicly interact with an author, anywhere.
All of these are traceable relationships that draw a line directly between you and the author.
Don’t enter contests where the prize is an Amazon Gift Card
This one is a bit of a bummer, but Amazon track cards that authors send out by email, and consider that to be compensation for a review, even if the review is years into the future (or past).
Authors can buy Amazon gift cards from their local supermarkets, and mail them out to readers, which doesn’t draw that direct line between them, but not many authors realize that this additional expense will prevent review erasures.
If you care about the author, and want to be able to review them in the future, don’t enter contests where a gift card is the prize. If you really care, and know the author well enough to email them, you might perhaps even point this out to them.
I’ve stopped offering gift cards for this very reason, and I’m telling every author I know, too.
Always add the disclaimer line to your reviews
If you’re a beta reader or Street Team member for an author, you’re going to be doing a lot of reviews where Amazon can’t confirm you bought the book (a “verified purchase” review). In these cases, cover your butt. Add a disclaimer line. There’s a dozen versions of it, but it goes like this:
“I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.”
What you can do instead.
Instead of becoming public friends with authors, use direct email, sign up for an author’s newsletter, subscribe to their RSS feed, follow their public pages, follow them via their Amazon author page and sign up for their updates. All these methods will keep you in touch with the author and keep you apprised of their latest releases. But they won’t incur Amazon’s wrath.
Don’t Stop Reviewing.
You might have reached this point in the post and started to think “why even bother?” It might seem easier to simply stop reviewing altogether.
Here’s a few reasons why you should keep right on truckin’.
Reviews are immeasurably useful for authors — especially indie authors.
I am always grateful for every review I get, even the stinkers, because that shows other readers that readers have read my book and experienced an emotional reaction to it (regardless of whether that reaction was good or bad). As an author, I encourage you to keep reviewing if you already review regularly. If you don’t review regularly, think about doing it more often — even think of it as your reward to the author for writing a book that moved you in some way — even if that movement was a forceful toss against the wall.
You can post your reviews everywhere.
Amazon is not the only game in town, but reviews on Amazon DO help an author’s sales rank and drive sales. There is no research or statistics on whether reviews help sales or rankings on other sites. But nearly every on-line bookseller accepts reader reviews or ratings, and readers are influenced by them. Think of your own reaction to a book with over three hundred reviews and an average rating of 4.5 stars, compared to a similar book with only five reviews and an average rating of only 3.4…which book are you more likely to buy?
Posting your reviews everywhere, or even one other place besides Amazon is a way of voting for a book several times over.
Your review will help you sort out for yourself what makes a book good or bad.
The act of writing down what you think of a book forces you to analyze your own thought processes. Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself with aha! moments, when you look at what you’ve written and realize you’ve stuck a core truth you weren’t aware of, until now. You’ll find the review process will refine your reading tastes and help you gain insight into the human condition in ways that simply reading does not.
Reviews are a way to journal and record your reading adventures.
On Amazon, your review dashboard is a great way of keeping track of favourite books and authors (ditto, Goodreads). Want to find a “comfort read” after being bitten by several stinkers in a row? Browse through your five-star reviews and find a book you haven’t read for the longest time, and get to enjoy it all over again.
Seriously heavy-duty reviewers get rewarded.
Dedicated reviewers who like reviewing and have built up a long track record can be rewarded in unexpected ways. You can elevate yourself into Amazon’s Top 1,000 or Top 500 reviewers list. You can get jobs reviewing for the professional review associations and sites. You can be asked by Amazon to become a Vine Reviewer…a laurel that brings enormous respect.
You could start your own review blog or site, and monetize it to make actual money.
Plus, you get to keep reading the books you like, only more of them. How cool is that?