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All About Reviews and Amazon – A Quick Guide and Rules

do-not-panic-buttonThere’s been some panic in the self-publishing streets about reviews being removed from Amazon and who is going to get sued for their reviews – and a lot of outrage blogging about Evil Amazon. Here’s a quick guide to why you should stop worrying too much and start understanding the different types of book reviews a little better.

Firstly, there are three kinds of reviews on Amazon:

1. Customer Reviews

These are the reviews that Amazon is exercising their right, as a private company remember, to investigate more closely. What Amazon is trying to achieve is a clear picture of product experience. This picture has been muddied somewhat by several factors:

1. “Fiverr” style purchasing of 4 and 5-star reviews by authors – Not allowed

When you see an individual advertising to write and post a favorable review of your book on Fiverr, Craigslist, or other online marketplaces, this is the sort of review Amazon are now suing for. Never buy a customer review from a blogger or individual in this manner, nor from a company offering to get their team to directly write reviews for you and post them to Amazon. Aside from that, they will be badly written and and possibly copied and pasted over and over from other books. These reviews are most Unverified, i.e. the reviewer does not buy the book, which flags it even further to Amazon. Look for copy that says “We will write reviews and post them to Amazon,” that charge a low amount of money per review and typically without buying the book.

Outcome: Your review will be deleted, and possibly the user will be too. Your book may be demoted in Amazon’s shop lists if you have many of these. If the reviewer is part of a company, it’s likely Amazon already hit them.

Amazon says:

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.

2. Authors getting family and friends to write reviews – Not allowed

Amazon is crystal clear on the fact they frown on family and friends writing reviews. Why? Because these reviews are bound to be biased, because you personally know the person. If you have had personal contact and interaction with that person in real life, on a forum, or on email, it’s likely Amazon will delete that review. This is because you could have told the person what to write, or because they will be overly polite about your book because they like you!

Outcome: Most likely the review will be deleted.

Amazon Says:

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.

3. Authors swapping with other authors to gain reviews – Not allowed

Again, Amazon is crystal clear. If you have swapped a book with another author, and you think that book is a one-star book, and they have give you a five-star review, be honest: would you then leave a one-star review? No, of course not. So Amazon does not want you to do this, and it is not a good way to gain reviews. I feel like I am talking to the wall with this one. However much you want this to be true, it is just not true I am afraid. Because it is clearly stated in Amazon’s TOS that compensation of ANY kind is not allowed, these reviews will be deleted if a connection can be seen between authors with reviews because it could be argued that compensation was gained in the form of a reciprocal review.

Outcome: The review will be deleted. You also run the risk of losing book visibility if you have multiple offenses of this method.

Amazon says:

Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind

4. Bloggers being paid directly to add a customer review to Amazon

If you pay money to a blog to leave a customer review, or you run a sweepstake in exchange for a review, and that person leaves a Customer Review themselves – let’s say “Honey Raven Book Blogs” (disclaimer: I don’t know if there is a user called this!) puts your review that you paid for, gave a giftcard for, or gave any other kind of compensation for onto Amazon under her username “Honey Raven” it is exactly the same as if you bought a review on Fiverr. It is not allowed.

Outcome: The review and the user account may be removed.

Amazon says:

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.

Editorial Reviews2. Editorial Reviews

These are reviews written by companies that write reviews for publicity, such as Self-Publishing Review, Kirkus Reviews, Clarion, Publisher’s Weekly, Blue Ink Reviews, and Indiereader. These reviews are allowed by Amazon, and are posted by the author themselves in the section Amazon provides for these reviews (and sometimes self-populates in the case of Kirkus Reviews) called Editorial Reviews, found in the Book Details page. You can read about how Amazon supports these reviews here.

Outcome: Totally fine, and will help promote your book on Amazon. These are marketing for your book. These reviews will be staying on the site and are an integral part of the Amazon Book Page – built by Amazon themselves.

3. Customer Reviews Gained by Mailing Lists

We at SPR have several BestSeller packages that include getting Verified Customer Reviews. The reason our reviews are allowed is simple: you are not paying us to write the Customer Reviews, and we don’t know the reviewers. We are using our mailing lists to get your book seen, bought, and reviewed by members of the public. We have hundreds of readers on our list who signed up to receive news about books, and when they see a book they like, they told us via a survey a long while ago that they will most likely buy it and review it on Amazon. We have no control over their reviews, and our communication is not interactive.

Therefore, these kinds of reviews are fine to acquire – because you are buying our marketing skills to get your book out there and a happy side effect of the advertising is that you get your Verified Reviews (guaranteed numbers because we have enough people to know the minimum amount of reviews you will get when we market your book). Other companies that have a method like this include Awesome Indies. Here, you will get an unbiased Customer Review by someone you didn’t pay to review your book.

Mailing lists are the most effective way to get genuine, verified customer reviews, and is the method favored by traditional publishers and bestselling authors everywhere.

Outcome: Totally fine, and will help promote your book on Amazon if a sale is made before the review is posted as a Verified Review.

The Ten Commandments of Reviews:

  1. Don’t ask anyone to review your book for free if you know them socially in any way including online forums and groups
  2. Don’t pay or promise gifts to an individual to review your book even if they promise an honest review
  3. Don’t swap your book with other authors for reviews even if you intend to give an honest review
  4. Never write your own reviews:

    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

  5. Use a link in the back of your book to ask readers to leave a review for you direct from their Kindle:
    • Go to your Amazon book page without being logged in
    • Click “Add A Customer Review”
    • Copy the link given for this sign-in page
    • Add this to your book page and your readers will go directly to the review page!
  6. Don’t confuse the types of review available to you – you can still buy Editorial Reviews within Amazon Guidelines to use on your book page, and you can even buy mailing list marketing services to garner Customer Reviews within Guidelines too
  7. Don’t get outraged – Amazon is a bookshop, with no public responsibility to you or anyone else lucky enough they started this revolution so we could all publish our books freely. Try to follow their very reasonable guidelines without too much kvetching and gain understanding of their very fair policy to sort the fakes from the real – it will be to your benefit as an author in the long run, and will mean Amazon is a healthier environment to sell books in
  8. Unverified Reviews (no sale made to the reviewer before the review is written) are far more likely to be flagged as fake than Verified Reviews. Verified Reviews (written after a sale to the reviewer) are the only reviews that help with sales and visibility in the Amazon algorithm. Encourage readers to buy your book under their Amazon username, not just review it
  9. Don’t get hung up on reviews. Many bestsellers have few reviews when they hit hot. Sales are always going to be more important than reviews to Amazon. Around ten to fifteen reasonable (3.5 – 4 star) reviews and a few strong editorial reviews will do nicely. You don’t need 300 reviews.
  10. Build your own mailing list to advertise your book to avid readers by adding a sign-up link to the back of your book and on your websites and pages. If you cannot do this yourself, use a respected service that has mailing lists to garner customer reviews within Amazon TOS such as Self-Publishing Review, Awesome Indies, or BookBub.

 You may not like these Terms of Service, but them’s the rules.

  • InklingBooks

    This rule stands out: “Don’t pay or promise gifts to an individual to review your book even if they promise an honest review”

    That’s precisely what Amazon does with its Vine reviews, which include books and a host of other items, some costing $100 or more.

    • http://www.indiebookediting.com Cate Baum

      Yes, but Amazon owns the company. So they are allowed to do whatever they choose. They are under no obligations, as a private company, and this point is often forgotten by many authors using Amazon’s very convenient and free service to sell their books.

    • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Cate Baum

      Amazon’s prerogative as a private business!

  • DED

    IMO, it’s about time Amazon did something about the purchased 5-star reviews (Item 1.1 above). Maybe integrity can be restored to their review system.

  • http://bookreviews1966.wordpress.com Jackie Paulson

    outstanding article

  • diana_SD

    Most of this makes sense, but asking people not to have friends and family write reviews seems unnecessarily draconian. For a novice, self-published author, these may be the only reviews they’ll start out with. If there are only a few reviews up, I’d expect the first ones to be positively biased.

    • http://www.indiebookediting.com Cate Baum

      See Amazon Terms of Service. It’s not allowed. This is because these reviews are bound to be biased. Friends and family will say your book is great, which, although that’s nice for the author’s ego, that does not give a consumer any real idea about the product. Amazon aims to only give unbiased opinions on its customer review section, and rightly so.

    • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Cate Baum

      Unfortunately Amazon is a private business and only wants unbiased customers to review products, including books. Therefore there’s a chance these friends and family reviews would be deleted or worse, their account could be removed.

      • diana_SD

        I think the rules should be changed. Beginning and first time authors may have ONLY reviews from friends or family to start. Therefore, I think the rules should be appended to allow for them to get the psychological boost they need.

        Consider having a time limit and a number limit for reviews by friends & family Alternatively, allow those friends and family to write whatever they want. Add a category tag to reviews: [ ] Friends & family [ ] Solicited review in exchange for free or discounted copy [ ] Unsolicited review.

        This would allow customers to evaluate the reviews and still let a beginning author get support. Someone might LIKE a book that only a mother would love. :)

        • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Cate Baum

          Yeah, but this is not the purpose of Amazon reviews. It’s not a hobby site. How would you even vet that? Who is your friend? Your colleague author on a forum? Your best friend of 30 years? It’s an impossible idea, and all of those reviews would be worthless to Amazon and any customer looking to buy the book. So it wouldn’t work. I think in that way the system is fair – it should be members of the public reviewing to keep it unbiased.

          • diana_SD

            Agreed. It’s not a hobby. But a new author must start somewhere. Chances are that they will have very few people who are aware of their book to start. Perhaps imposing a number limit and require a Relationship to Author field would help. I would find some of these reviews at least marginally informative compared to some of the trashy and poorly written reviews I find on Amazon. I’ve found a large fan base for books that are written in amateurish style with atrocious grammar.and poorly constructed sentences. Reviews of these books written by “the public” can be grossly misleading and not representative, and they skew the ratings.

            I expect that some reviews written by family and associates associates may be as good as or better indicators of content quality than these.

            Does the public include only total strangers? Then how do they learn of the book in the first place? Again, a new author must start someplace, and databases are infinitely modifiable to include and expose the relationships of the reviewers such that they do not have to be excluded.

      • David_N_Wilson

        If that was true they would never have created their “Top Reviewer” program and pushed people like the late Harriet Klausner who reviewed ten books a day with worthless drivel and was gifted, for that, with a #1 reviewer rank that gained her tons of free books… They are trying to fix a problem they caused by being unwilling to police their reviews early on and then coming in with a hatchet later on to try and fix it.

  • David_N_Wilson

    While you are correct that they are merely using their rights to investigate customer reviews and regulate them, how is it a fair policy to do so – and cancel accounts, etc. without a warning that in any way shows that they DID said research. I run a company with 170 plus authors and 1500 titles. I am not familiar with every review… if a rule gets broken, all of us could be shut down, so the very least they could do if they actually cared about the authors they work with – who they have a contract with that only seems to matter if the user violates it – is a warning system that actually points out what they believe is wrong so it can be fixed, avoided, or deleted.

    • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Cate Baum

      Yup, totally unfair, I know! For instance, what if a friend of yours through no volition of your own buys and reviews your book – then you know that person and it’s likely they may only have reviewed your book – does this mean their review will be deleted? There are a lot of problems with it. I would advise a spread of different streams of advertising and marketing to ensure a good cross-section of customer review sources.