There still seems to be some confusion around what Amazon calls its Editorial Review section. Despite there being very strong evidence that it is a good idea to have editorial reviews for your book, authors are still, yes, still, muddling these up with the dreaded “paid” review. As COO of one of the major services delivering editorial reviews and mailout services, it’s about time I made yet another attempt to clear up this misinformation.
Paid Reviews are NOT Editorial Reviews – May this be your mantra
When authors talk about “paid reviews”, they are talking about individuals who offer their services to write 5-star reviews on your Customer Reviews section on Amazon. These are usually a low-cost, quickly-written review that does not include the individual buying your book. These reviews are usually biased, and will not have any substance to them, using general quips such as, “Wow, what a page-turner, I loved this book!!!!!!”
ALLOWED ON AMAZON
For some reason, professional editorial reviews have been somehow mixed into this category and confused as “a bad idea.” Editorial reviews are offered by around six credible companies online, and are part of your marketing armory. Amazon puts these reviews where buyers see them first. A completed book page ranks higher than an empty one. Amazon says, “In the Editorial Reviews section of your book’s Product Detail Page, you can update Product Description, About the Author, From the Author, From the Inside Flap, From the Back Cover, and Reviews.” You can find instructions here.
- Is the service offered by a review company that lists reviews on its site? (Good ones are us of course, Self-Publishing Review, Indiereader, Blue Ink Reviews, Clarion, Kirkus, and Portland Review)
- Is the service priced at more than $50 per review?
- Does the service offer an unbiased and honest review in their terms and conditions?
- Is the review published only on their site and not on Amazon?
- Do you get a copy of your review after it is published to use as you will?
- Is the review credited to the company and not an individual reviewer?
- Is the rating given unrelated to Amazon?
Then it is an Editorial Review, which is encouraged on Amazon in the Editorial Reviews section of your Author Central Page.
Mailout service offering Customer Verified Reviews
The mailout package offered by services like BookBub, SPR, and Book Gorilla offers you a way of garnering Customer Verified Reviews.
Mailout services are identifiable:
- The service will offer to get you an estimated number of sales and reviews combined
- You will never have contact with the reviewers themselves as they are members of a public mailing list
- Reviews will be unbiased and honest with a range of star ratings you have no control over
- The service will give you a boost in ranking due to the fact members of the public will be buying books to review
Customer Reviews From Free Book Giveaways – Non-Verified Reviews
It’s OK to send out copies of your book for a free review. However, bear in mind that the reviewer MUST disclose, “I am writing a review in exchange for a free copy of this book” and that the review will not be Verified, i.e. proof of purchase recorded. Gifted books don’t count. To leave a review, the reviewer must have spent over $5 on Amazon, so this also is an issue to consider.
This means the review has little pulling power in terms of ranking and swaying buyers. This method also takes a lot of time and energy because you must first find reviewers willing to make time to do this for you for free. Maybe you’ll get three or four reviews like this that are any good, but mostly reviews written for free will be as valuable as the amount you paid for them. Amazon says, “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.”
NOT ALLOWED ON AMAZON
These reviews can get your book taken out or dropped in the search engine of Amazon and affect your ranking if Amazon finds them on your book. I know you want it to be OK to spend zero money on marketing, but…
An author swap is when you buddy up with another author and swap books for free. These reviews are NOT ALLOWED on Amazon, as there is no way they can be unbiased.
How? If your swap partner gives you 5 stars, you will have to reciprocate, even if you hate their book. Amazon sniffs out these sorts of connections and will delete accounts that game the system this way. Amazon also tracks Facebook to see who is connected to who, so forget your Amazon Swap groups. However, if another author wants to buy your book and leave a review out of interest, this is fine.
Amazon says, “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.”
This is covered off when they say, “We do not permit reviews … 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.” They also say, “We don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion and if we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we’ll remove it. If you have a direct or indirect financial interest in a product, or perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we’ll likely remove your review.”
You can argue this is a grey area all you want, but remember Amazon deletes reviews manually, and it will be the lightning decision of an employee who will push the button on this during their long shift processing data. Note their word “perceived.”
Family and Friends Reviews
Same reason as above. Your mother is not going to say your book is lacking. You need to avoid these reviews entirely, as they are not allowed on Amazon and could be deleted, affecting your book page and the person’s account may be deleted entirely from Amazon. Amazon says, “Customers in the same household cannot submit a review for the same product.” They continue, “family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.” Again, if they perceive “a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we’ll likely remove your review.”
The paid review is dying out due to bad press. But here’s how you can tell:
- Is the service offered by an individual?
- Is the service listed on Fiverr or other author forum or platform such as Craigslist?
- Is the website for that service only listing the service and not any of the reviews?
- Is the service really cheap? I.e. $5 a pop etc.
- Does the service tell you upfront how many stars your book will receive?
- Is the review published in the Customer Reviews section of your book page only?
- Is the review credited to an “Amazon Customer”?
- Are the reviews added without a purchase of your book, i.e. without being Verified?
Why do I need to spend money on reviews and marketing?
Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, right?
At the end of the day, I’m not going to convince the purists who think they don’t have to spend money on their book marketing to be a success – rather egotistical, no? Even Stephen King spends hundreds of thousands over months with a professional team of marketing experts to publicize his books. To even imagine that is not necessary for an unknown author boggles the mind. I’m not suggesting you need hundreds of thousands of dollars – we offer promotion from $99 up for example – but before you judge if you need marketing for your book, go take a look at these authors’ book ranking, and see how many books they have sold, and the quality of their book reviews.
Straight From The Horse’s Mouth – What Amazon Said
I’ll leave you with a quote direct from Amazon’s letter to Self-Publishing Review on the question of reviews policy, 3 July, 2016. “Reviews are allowed till the time they are biased. If the reviews are biased Amazon would be removing the reviews from the product.” So in a nutshell, it seems Amazon doesn’t care how you procure the reviews, as long as they remain impartial.