Hi, SEers! Happy Wednesday.
I wrote a post on my own blog recently about Amazon and reviews. If you’d like to read it, you can find it here. That post was the inspiration for this one.
There are nine categories on the Amazon Community Guidelines page that dictate the rules for reviewing books (or anything else, I suppose). Some are just common sense. Others pose some problems.
For example, one of the categories is Eligibility. You must have spent $50 on Amazon before you are allowed to review a product.
- What about people who don’t have an account or have just opened one? (And before you laugh at the absurdity of that statement, you should know I know people who have family members buy things for them on Amazon because they don’t want to enter credit card information online.)
- What about teenagers who read the YA books their parents buy?
You think the answer is simple—just have the purchaser post the review for these people. As a bonus, the purchaser will have made a “verified purchase” so the review will be given more credibility. But, no, you can’t do that. Having someone post a review for someone else violates Amazon’s rules.
Another category is Be Helpful and Relevant. (Don’t get me started on the fact that their categories don’t adhere to the grammatical rules of parallel structure.) I touched on this in my original post, but I need to mention it here, primarily because book reviewers violate this rule all the time, and they’re never penalized for it. Some examples:
- I didn’t like it.
- Too many errors.
Not only are reviews like these too short to even count as reviews, they aren’t helpful. They might not even be relevant.
- I didn’t like it.
Why? What was wrong with it? Often the problem isn’t with the content. It’s with the reader. They don’t like the story because they don’t like the genre. Then why are they reading the darn thing? Amazon shouldn’t allow reviews like these because they don’t give enough or relevant information about the subject.
- Too many errors.
Please leave an example. Or better, as you claim there are several, leave many examples. I’ve read far too many authors complaining in private Facebook groups that they’ve gotten warnings from Amazon about complaints from reviewers, and if they can’t prove the reviewer wrong, their book will be removed. In EVERY CASE, the writer I know has proven the reviewer wrong. It seems reviewers don’t always know when to use apostrophes and commas, or when an author chose to use fragments, or how a word is really spelled. Amazon needs to stop putting the burden of proof on the author and pull these negative reviews down.
I sometimes wonder if reviews claiming work is derivative are by other authors who don’t want their competition to succeed. I hate to think that, but I’m starting to be skeptical. They say every story that can ever be told has already been told. If that’s true, then isn’t all work derivative? Why would a reviewer say this about a story unless it’s a blatant plagiarism of someone else’s work? If it is, say what work was copied. And if an example isn’t given, maybe Amazon should pull that review, too. After all, an unsubstantiated comment like that is neither helpful nor relevant. It is damaging to authors, though.
Amazon expects reviewers to be respectful, to avoid solicitations in their reviews, and to avoid illegal or immoral comments. I don’t think any of us can complain about those rules.
But then there’s that section regarding the nebulous Additional Guidelines. That’s where they tell you that if they remove your review (for violating their guidelines, which aren’t fair and can be arbitrary), you can’t write another one. That’s also where they tell you that they will restrict the number of non-verified reviews you write, and that they’ll pull those even those reviews down if they think traffic is too high.
Okay. I read that over and over. And I know I’m beholden to their rules if I use their site, but that’s just not fair. See, they’ll pull reviews from authors of authors because they think the two know each other. Who’s to say they do? And more importantly, why can’t someone you know write an objective review of your work. Unfair.
And I understand a verified purchase review might hold more weight, but why should it? I know people who buy on iTunes or Nook but review on Amazon because that’s where the traffic is. Why should those reviews get pulled because Amazon thinks a particular book has seen too many reviews that day? Unfair.
On their Frequently Asked Questions page, they address some of these issues and raise others. For example, they say authors can review other authors. Then why are they removing so many of those reviews? They say you can’t review your own book (obviously) but they also say family and close friends can’t. Yet we all know plenty of authors who have family and friends write reviews. Why do some authors get away with it and others not? Amazon says the family and friends can praise your book on their discussion pages, but I don’t know many people who read those. I don’t know many books who even have active discussions ongoing. Maybe, instead, Amazon should allow family and friends to review, provided they have a disclaimer, “I know the author personally, but this review was not impacted by our relationship.” They let (require) readers of ARCs do that; surely family and friends could, too.
I guess my original post and this post are designed as a combination of me venting against unfair practices that negatively affect the author community and of me trying to start a dialogue with other writers, to see if any of us has any ideas about getting Amazon to relax some of their policies. I only see them getting stricter.
- They’ve removed a lot of reviews I’ve received.
- They’ve rejected several reviews I’ve written.
- They’re sending authors notices that their work may be pulled because a single reviewer said there are errors.
- They almost always reject appeals regarding republishing removed reviews; conversely, they don’t remove negative reviews that aren’t helpful in any way.
How can we combat this? I don’t know. I’m open to suggestions. Or maybe you think I’m way off base. I could be. Let’s talk about it in the comments section. In the meantime, if you’ve fallen victim to the machine that is Amazon, know you aren’t alone.