Missing Any Reviews Lately?

by Gina Burgess

This past couple of weeks there’s been a hullabaloo over some reviews taken down by Amazon. It seems some people are not obeying the rules, so their product reviews were removed and their accounts were closed. Of course, no one reading this ever abused the system or offered something free in exchange for a review, correct?

Amazon is cracking down on abusers of the virtual cycle.

It seems the more reviews a product has, the more sales, and the more sales, the higher the rank, the higher the rank the more product views and more sales happen, and then more reviews.

There is this insidious movement to “crack” the system and get more reviews in the hope they will generate more sales that will raise the product rank. So there is often this push to offer free products or deeply discounted products in exchange for a review, some even stipulated a positive review. Some beg their relatives and friends to post reviews. Some offer review exchanges: “I’ll review yours if you review mine!” Some give away products as promotions, but require a review in exchange.

Amazon disallowed any compensation for any reviews back in 2016. No monetary exchange for reviews were ever allowed, but before 2016, as long as a reviewer disclosed the fact the product was given free or discounted in exchange for a review it was allowed. Not anymore since the change in 2016, and now Amazon is cracking down on abusers by removing reviews and closing the reviewers’ accounts.

The only incentivized reviews that are allowed now are the Vine Voices indicated in green. These reviewers are given products for free, but pay taxes on the value. The reviewer is asked to review the product, and as long as reviews are posted, they can keep receiving free products from a pool of products.

So what does this do to book reviewers and authors?

You can wade through all the rules for Amazon Community here. For our purposes, here are a few highlights:

  • In order to post a review, a reviewer must have spent at Amazon $50 using a valid credit card or debit card within the last 12 months.
  • Reviews must be relevant to the product. (Big duh! But some competitors have tried to point people to a different product—their product.)
  • Must be respectful of others.
  • No business promotion (editor’s reviewing books they’ve edited).
  • No reviews of close friend’s, relative’s, or employer’s products.
  • No URLs to any non-Amazon site.
  • You may answer questions about product features (Does this series’ book have a cliffhanger ending?) as long as the author discloses, “I am the author of this book.” But poking at someone who gives you a bad review is not allowed.
  • You cannot exchange reviews with another author. (I’ll review yours if you review mine.)
  • No reviews in exchange for a contest entry, a sweepstakes entry, or membership in a program or club.

I have often heard people recommend that authors need to gently ask any person who gives their books a bad review some delicate questions that might get the person to rethink that 1 or 2 star review. After studying these rules, I think there is still a way to do this without risking Amazon closing down the account.

As long as you disclose you are the author, and you are gentle in asking about the 1 star review when the reviewer has no other reason for the 1 star except the book isn’t his cup of tea, or she didn’t like the main characters (yes, I’ve seen this), go for it. It doesn’t hurt to ask why.

If the bad review is a personal attack, forget about it. Other readers see it as a personal attack and don’t pay attention to it because they are interested in reading material not character assassination.

If you are having a hard time sweeping those bad reviews out of your mind, try a little exercise. It may take some time to analyze the reviews, but there is merit in breaking them down.

If there is no critique, toss it out. If a person says, “I didn’t like it,” but doesn’t tell you why, there is no value, so redact it from your brain. Or, ask the reviewer why, gently, of course.

If there is critique but it addresses the genre or the essence/premise of your story, toss it out. Obviously, the reviewer didn’t get it. No value.

If there is critique and it addresses plot points, plot holes, character development (and more than just “characters weren’t developed well”), then you’ve got someone who is taking the time to tell you what to work on and how to make your writing better. There is great value there. Quite possibly commenting back and forth with this reviewer would help others to see value in your book and writing.

One psychological way to redact bad reviews is to type into a blank page all the critiques in just a few words such as “Didn’t like it, no reason.” Get them all on a page. Then go back and delete, delete, delete all the unhelpful complaints. Done, over, finished. Then go back over the ones you have left and see if they actually are helpful or just more hot air. Delete those that are unhelpful. Voila! You have garnered some advice that will help you write better.

Readers looking for a book to read will skip over unhelpful reviews as mere hot air. Seriously, they realize different people have different opinions.

34 thoughts on “Missing Any Reviews Lately?”

  1. Thanks for this important information, Gina. WHEW! The worst of the new rules in my opinion is that a reviewer must have spent at least $50 on Amazon with an eligible card the past 12 months in order to leave a review. This will not effect my posting reviews as I spend that much or more per month on Amazon with an Amazon card, but I’m concerned many of my potential reviewers might not meet this requirement.

    Onward any way,
    Elva Cobb Martin
    http://www.elvamartin.com

  2. I appreciate your article on latest in reviews on Amazon…I stopped doing any type of product review other than books, unless I purchased the product. However, with book reviews, that activity has been long-standing and seen as needed given the many different books that are available…as well as a need for a basic overview of the storyline that you can’t get from a blurb. I’ve been reviewing on Amazon for over 10 years at least and have had none of my reviews deleted. However, given the electronic issues that had allowed rampant misuse, I sympathize with Amazon. I’ve had at least one of my reviews hacked on my blog! I would recommend to anybody who reviews a book that they help in the vetting of “bad” rankings. I have been amazed what some have said, including misinformation about what is in the book, a bad ranking because of order problems, and all those that say they didn’t like it but don’t explain why. I vote no for helpfulness on many and report some when I know they are fake. I do this for many books I have already read for reviews. Book lovers should be vigilant, in my opinion, to help keep scammers out of the book trade…

    1. Those are good ideas, Glenda. As authors, we should also seriously consider giving reviews of books we read simply because the review is really not about the author, but for the reader.

  3. Amazon’s effort to control review-spamming is overdue, but as with many new initiatives, still insufficient and occasionally ridiculous. As with many publishing upheavals these days, this is a product of amateur or guerrilla tactics by Amazon’s own self-published authors, who can rack up more reviews than sales with unseemly schemes. (Amazon’s own behind-the-scenes tactics promote Amazon’s own books over books from other publishers, so its hands aren’t clean, either.)

    Amazon’s definition of free speech is wacky. If you are a friend of an author, you don’t have it … but if you’re a troll intent on damaging sales … let’s say, posting “reviews” that spoil a mystery novel’s ending and/or giving away key plot points … that’s OK because, well, “free speech.”

    In general, I like the changes but I don’t think they’ll forestall abuses by spammers, underhanded competitors, and trolls. As long as Amazon’s algorithms elevate books by the quality and number of reviews, somebody will be gaming the system.

    (And in general I advise beginning authors to read Amazon reviews only occasionally, and to never respond, good or bad. It isn’t professional to dispute, cajole, or “up-sell” for stars. If you wrote a book without realizing there are people who won’t like you or your writing—a few of them barely literate, some with unseemly intentions, most of them never taught how to properly analyze a story—you weren’t paying attention.)

    1. I heartily agree, Ron. Reviews are only as good as the reader’s understanding. Some think that saying, “I didn’t like it,” is good enough. That doesn’t help the author write better. As an avid reader of reviews of products I’m thinking about purchasing, I skip over those that sound mocking or personal or gushing to sound like the mom of the creator of the product LOL. They just aren’t helpful to determine if the product or book is worth my money.

  4. Very good advice, Gina.
    When I first began writing reviews on Amazon, they didn’t require me to purchase an item for any specific amount. Recently I purchased an item but was unable to submit the review because as you have stated Amazon requires a purchase of $50.00 within the last year. I prefer not to make online purchases and rarely do I purchase an item on Amazon. That being said, with their new policy, I use other means to write the review.

    I also like your input on responding to those who write negative reviews. Personal, when I read an Author’s book and see errors, I find the good in the book and focus on that for my review. And since I am very careful the types of books I will read I don’t come across a book I don’t connect with. So, I limit, if any feedback about spelling, grammar, etc. Usually, I make a note of the page it’s on and gently with sensitivity, notify the author of such. Unless it’s something major, I won’t allow that to cause me to write an unfavorable review. But it will knock my rating down to a 3.5 0r 4 instead of five. Thanks for such a good article.

    1. I try to be as kind as possible in my reviews, too. I also try to be constructive. The ones I’m harder on are those from established publishers such as Baker, Thomas Nelson, Bethany House, etc. because they should know better, and they are not indie published books.

  5. This isn’t true in the slightest, and what Amazon did to me is a perfect example. I had a review mysteriously removed without any warning or notice, which was a completely legitimate review from an actual customer. Then, there is another review for the same book, which I asked Amazon to remove because I know it is NOT legit, and Amazon refused to take it down. So, the above article is a bit inaccurate and a little dishonest.

    1. Hi Harley, perhaps it isn’t true for your experience, but there have been hundreds of reviews removed — not just books, but many other products as well. The information gathered for this article was from Amazon’s website, and several other sources such as the Post, a couple of respected blogs, and one respected Facebook group where authors were discussing the reviews removed from their books. It is happening 🙂

  6. I think it’s great that Amazon is cracking down on a false systematic way of outdoing your neighbour by giveaways and personal incentives for reviews.

    Hat’s off to Amazon for that one.

    1. Agreed! I want helpful reviews, and depend upon reading several before making a purchase. I’d like for the information to be as accurate as possible 🙂

  7. I try to review most books that I read, but I am not sure I always manage to tick all the rules – if I fail, it’s by oversight, not the intent. I hope that the $50 is across all Amazon sites as I buy my Kindle books on the UK site and my physical books on the US site. However, I post my reviews to both, as well as Goodreads and my blog. I try to avoid spoilers and nit-picking, but I will drop the star-rating for errors like poor editing – where possible letting the author know directly (not publicly) any specific places. That’s not always so easy to do.

    And if the book proves to be disappointing for any reason – usually as it’s not my personal taste/genre – and is destined for 3 stars or less, then I don’t review it on Amazon or my blog. [As a writer, I dislike low scores and negative, unhelpful comments.] Sometimes, I will give a brief comment on Goodreads with stars – but I’m aware that they are now part of Amazon. That could become a problem, I fear.

    1. I agree all that isn’t easy to do. However, letting an author know that the work has been poorly edited is very valuable information. Why go back to a poor editor for the 2nd, 3rd, etc. book?

      1. @GinaBurgess, the idea that we can learn something valuable from a review is not known widely enough. The fact that reviews that do include a critique are more effective for selling book is even less widely known.

    2. The spend requirement is now per site. I’m #70 reviewer on Amazon Australia, but can’t review there because I haven’t spent $50 in the last year (I shop at the US site).

      Strangely, I can still review on Amazon UK despite not having spent a penny there in over ten years.

        1. Roland? Automistake usually turns Iola into Lola, so Roland is a new one. Perhaps I’ll use that if I ever want a male pen name 😂

  8. Thank you for this article. Too many authors don’t understand the purpose of reviews and many just love to hate anything Amazon does. And the less authors (and their publishers!) know about reviews, the more danger their book is in for an early demise. And there is just so much to know! It’s why I wrote How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically (bit.ly/GreatBkReview ) and–as it happens–it is big, fat and has a lot in it on why Amazon is cracking down, how sometimes their “cracking” misses the mark, and how authors can best manage reviews on Amazon and everywhere else! Starting with never paying for one! That goes against journalism ethics. Trust me, gatekeepers in the publishing industry like bookstore buyers and feature editors will know the paid-for ones. And they won’t be impressed no matter how much you paid for it, even if it comes from otherwise well respected names like Kirkus.

    1. Carolyn, well said! I have never paid for a review, or been paid for a review–except for the book that I review, which I don’t consider payment. It is always best to say one has received the book from the publisher or author just to keep all things above board and transparent. I was a journalist for years, and then became an editor. To be objective, it’s best to not get too close to an author (as in doing author interviews) until after the review is posted. I fell into that trap. I got friendly with so many authors, it was hard to be really objective when reviewing books.

      Love your book idea! I hope lots of authors choose to pick it up.

  9. Oh, I have a LOT to say about this subject.

    My reviews of books of authors I have met at a conference but don’t know well have disappeared. And it’s over the past year plus, not just this month. I write thorough reviews and do not lambast or flame anyone ever. Even reviews of books I legit bought by authors I don’t know have gone away.

    Ronda

    1. You should contact Amazon right away, Ronda. Those kinds of reviews are much needed at Amazon. They are not very good at what they are trying to do just yet. They did send out an email (I got one) that told everyone who thought their reviews were removed by mistake should contact them immediately. Of course, I can’t find the link they had in the email. Let me see if I can find it, and I’ll post an update here.

  10. Not all reviews that have been taken down – or blocked – are rule-breaking. Think baby and bathwater. I know of reviewers that have appealed Amazon’s actions and had no reply, no explanation. My own queries receive unhelpful automated emails in return, after sitting in a 2-day queue. Their email texts are identical, no matter what the question is.

    Amazon’s algorithms are hacking away at good, valid reviews for scores of indie writers right across the board. Perhaps the programmers assumed that no-one below best-seller status could possibly attract good reviews? It is ironic that authors cannot appeal against vindictive 1-star reviews. Looks like a consistent mindset?

    Add to this the mass termination of indie KU accounts and it just looks as though Amazon just doesn’t care about indie authors.

  11. What is the difference between the Amazon Vine Review program and gifting someone with a book?? They read it, like it, and post a review? (And not at the author’s request.) The Amazon Vine reader program is a blatant example and is in essence “paid” reviews. They’re getting free products for posting reviews! Several of my longtime fans have been blackballed, their accounts closed, and their reviews taken down because the Amazon police saw them as “friends of the author.” They’ve been reading and reviewing my books for the last twenty years. But they’re fans who give honest reviews. How does an author combat that? It’s the most ridiculous, unfair thing I’ve ever heard.

    1. Linda, I understand your pain! It really isn’t fair, and I think Amazon has gotten a bit too big to handle this review system sensitively. I don’t know how they determine a reviewer is a friend or fan.

      The Amazon Vine(r) Voice program is not really paid reviews. Some products have a value of less than $2. Nor is giving a book away considered paying for a review, by the way Amazon still allows publishers and authors to give away books without penalty. However, the key to the VV program is that it is an Amazon program that people who want to launch new products or want to test new products pay Amazon to distribute for them in a controlled environment. People who are Vine Voices have proven themselves to give objective reviews, basically professional reviewers. They are not required to give a review of the product they receive for free, but it is expected. If the reviewer declines to review the product that’s one less other product they can order to review.

      The people who give away products in exchange for reviews (most often favorable reviews expected) are trying to circumvent this VV program. These people don’t follow the procedures in place, and they are sneaky about it. In the Amazon community, a lot of suppliers have complained bitterly about the underhanded business dealings these circumventers practice.

      Best advice: If any of your reviews have disappeared, contact your fans and ask them to contact Amazon and complain about their reviews being deleted.

  12. The easiest thing would be for Amazon to drop the star rating system. At best, it only makes readers less likely to read reviews, not more. Stars are far too crude a way to grade books, period.
    The real, honest and consistently accurate reviewers would have a chance of standing out if the star system was abandoned. Readers would then hopefully follow reviewers as many still do in newspapers and journals.
    As too bias, friend reviews, bought reviews, favour reviews- these are not the sins of only the independent self-publisher, they are variably seen from all areas of the publishing world, and always have been. If self-publishers have to go through hoops then so should ALL writers.
    My view is that Amazon is doing its best to tackle a real problem, but unfortunately for them and us, the proof of the pudding is only in the individual eating. Perhaps the answer is for Amazon to ask solid reviewers to read free copy of suspicious books- that is perhaps the only way of being truly fair. Real reviewers love reading, and I’m sure many would relish being asked to give fair judgement. Also, surely if a reviewer declares a close connection in a review, shouldn’t that more than suffice. What is wrong with a review from Granny, if she says who she is? In fact, could any review ever be more honest, even if it should be ridiculously flattering?
    One thing seems certain, though I would love to be wrong. Amazon isn’t checking reviews by reading the books.

  13. I agree you should not pay for reviews or have made-up reviews. I will not ask individuals to review my book (too proud), but I may say in a book blurb “reviews welcome” as a general statement to all. I am missing two very good reviews this week and I am scratching my head. They were sincere reviews and it was a surprise when the person purchased and reviewed my book. (I wondered did the person die and the account was removed for that person–what happened? The review should have stayed up anyway–it was sincere) Sadly, we indies are not big publishing companies with advertising departments. Trying to get books noticed is not our talent–our talent is writing not marketing. Also, a sad fact of life are these people known as “carpet bombers.” They are people that for sport or their own entertainment got through book lists and give one-star reviews. Mostly it is a random event–the people go through and demean books randomly without reading them. In a very few instances they are other writers that are trying to hurt their competition in a genre. As writers, we have no recourse that I know of to remove the bogus one-star reviews. Our little-known, seldom-seen books are given another cruel blow. Yes, let’s be fair and not cheat–but let’s figure out away to get rid of these awful random bad reviews. Isn’t that only fair? How do we figure this out? It seems impossible. Meanwhile our lives trickle down like sand in an hour glass…

    1. Sara, I’ve heard of that happening. Marketing help is one reason that Tom and I started this community. It’s crucial that authors have the tools to not just publish, but market their work. There are way too many people out there trying to circumvent the system. The best way is for authors to network and work together — not reviewing each other’s books, but helping each other reach as many readers as possible!

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