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.