Amazon and the Amazing Variable Book Review Policy

By Katherine

Review count is importantHere is the challenge – you wrote a book and you know you need reviews on Amazon for it to sell BUT how do you get natural customer reviews UNTIL the books sells? A classic Catch-22 scenario. Many of the more popular newsletters will even require a certain number of reviews (they almost always specify Amazon), and a certain overall ranking before they will feature your book. Is it any wonder then that inventive authors have created some slightly shifty methods to get the requisite reviews posted?

Forbes again does a good job in outlining the underlying issue this has created, affectionately known as “sock puppet” reviews.

And the rather infamous, and inarguably successful indie author darling, J. Konrath penned a code of ethics in response to this when the “scandal” first broke last fall.

Note, he did this totally tongue-in-cheek as you will see should you click over and read them all.

This one is a favorite:  10. I will never allow any review from anyone I’ve ever met. Every review must be from someone who has never met me, heard of me, or read me before, and must come with a signed affidavit proclaiming such.

And this one:  20. I will publicly chastise, denigrate, ridicule, mock, and lynch anyone who has breached any of the above.

Clearly, Amazon had a serious – and very public – problem on their hands. So they did what any good corporation does, they started getting serious about policing their own policies. The challenge here is that the policies are totally open to interpretation by the very human customer service agents on the other side of the screen. And the appeals process essentially results in another human being interpreting the same policy. There are no questions asked, the interpretation is based entirely on what they can view within their system.

Some examples of people who are not permitted to review your book:

  • Close friends and family members
  • Anyone standing to gain financially from the book
  • Anyone who appears to have “swapped” reviews

As near as we can tell, certain reviews set some sort of automated system in motion, which then escalates the review for a closer look by an Amazon employee. That employee then renders verdict on whether the review “appears” to have been written by an invalid reviewer. If you disagree with their assessment, you can request they look at the situation again, but I have never seen the review reinstated or approved following that secondary review. An example of just such a situation where this happened to a Booktrope author last month is shown here. Note that the author in question does not write in the same genre, and aside from both being Booktrope authors, there is no grand scheme in place, and neither author receives any financial benefit from the others’ work.

screenshot of Amazon denying a removed review appeal

To my mind, in an attempt to crack down on the “sock puppet” problem, they have enacted changes that encourage it. Instead of people actively helping one another to promote their books openly, the temptation to create a separate persona in order to avoid violating the policies on reviews, has increased. Now clearly, this is prohibited to those authors working with Booktrope, and I would never suggest someone deliberately violate policies. I merely make the point, that in attempting to rectify a situation, I would bet hard earned money, that they have made it worse.

As a final point in this – what about book bloggers, who routinely receive free review copies, and then use an affiliate link to the book in their review. Don’t they stand to gain financially? So far, I haven’t heard of a situation such as that one coming to light, but it does seem like it could happen.

So, if you read a book, review it. Just be sure you don’t know the author too well. And be sure you don’t then ask them to read your book. And. And. And.



Posted Under: Nuts and Bolts

About Katherine

Katherine is the Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder of Booktrope Publishing. Prior to Booktrope, her background was primarily in technology and online marketing in both Seattle and California, working at companies such as NetApp, ADIC and Siemens. Her life-long love of books, and a desire to bring a new type of focus to marketing them, had her join forces with some other bookish folks to create Booktrope. She is the co-author of How to Market a Book and has served on the University of Washington’s Digital Publishing Certificate Program advisory board. She has presented at many bookish events such as the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference and the Northwest Bookfest. She has also worked as an actress, and a corporate trainer. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater from the University of Southern California. Katherine currently lives in Fall City, WA with her canine and human family members.