Information on price, packaging or shipping aren’t relevant to customer reviews, as Amazon has other forums for offering feedback on sellers or packaging.
If you find reviews which include information like this, you can Report Abuse.
Click on the link (“please let us know”), and you will be given the option to say why the review is inappropriate. It’s best if you mention a specific reason that is against the guidelines (e.g. the review is self-promotion, the review is written by the author/editor, the review is about price or delivery and not about the product, spiteful remarks about the author).
This feature can be used by anyone, author or reader. If, as an author, you believe the review is against Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines
or Conditions of Use
(often called the Terms of Service, or TOS), this is the responsible and ethical way to report it, rather than leaving a comment on the review. Note that Amazon do not remove reviews simply because they are critical—they must contravene the Reviewing Guidelines
in some way.
It usually takes several reports from different people before a review is removed (although I don’t know exactly how many).
Of course, the big question is: What is promotional content? Promotional content is explained in more detail on the FAQ page, where Amazon give some examples of reviews they don’t allow.
Reviews Amazon don’t Allow
A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
As discussed previously, this is a sock puppet review. Amazon doesn’t permit reviews of any product you have a financial interest in, which includes books you’ve written, edited or published. Not under your own name, and especially not under a fake name.
A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product
This is an example of multiple sock puppet reviews. Amazon only allows reviewers to review each product once (so you can’t review the hardcover and the Kindle edition of the same book), so anyone posting multiple reviews must be using sock puppet accounts or circumventing the system in some other way. It is possible. It isn’t permitted.
A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
This specifically refers to reviews from ffiver.com, but $1 or $1000, the amount of the payment isn’t the point. Amazon do not permit paid reviews in the Customer Reviews section, as customers expect these reviews to be from impartial customers. If you have paid for a review (e.g. from Kirkus Indie), you can quote it in the Editorial Reviews section of the book page.
A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits
In-game credits have a financial value, so this concept is a variation on a paid review. There isn’t really an equivalent for books, but I have seen some authors offer a prize or a free short story in exchange for a four-star or five-star review.
One famous Christian author using a variation on this is Karen Kingsbury, who has offered a free cruise-for-two to the reader whose review most “touches her heart”. As one reviewer says, that’s not going to be a one-star review, is it?
Author Kristen Lamb says:
I’d love to offer reviewers sweet prizes for reviewing my book, but it’s just too … what’s the term? Creepy. … It’s a fine line that can get writers in ethical trouble.
A fine line, indeed, and one with consequences. When Amazon found a puzzle company were sending Amazon gift vouchers to people who had reviewed their games on Amazon, they deleted all reviews for the games in question, and also deleted the entire reviewing history of some reviewers. Amazon saw the gift cards as compensation. Amazon’s Selling Policies clearly state that sellers cannot offer a refund in exchange for a review:
“you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free copy of the product. If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free product must be provided in advance; no refunds are permitted after the review is written. Product review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”
A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
Amazon prohibits reviews from people with a financial interest in the product, which would include family members like a spouse or dependent children.
My advice for people reviewing books by friends or family members is to be up-front about it. Start the review with “I’m the author’s mother (sister, favourite cousin)” or similar, so readers know to expect glowing praise.
This is one instance where I make an exception to my “Authors should never comment on reviews” rule. If Mum, sister or favourite cousin has written a glowing review and you can’t get them to delete it, add a comment to the review acknowledging the relationship and thanking them for their wonderful, albeit biased, review.
Don’t pretend to be an impartial customer. Someone might get suspicious that you and the author share an unusual surname—the review will be downvoted, reported for abuse, and possibly removed because then it looks as though it’s there to boost sales. That is the key phrase: “to boost sales”. If your friend or family member is reviewing as a way of encouraging you, they should have no problem acknowledging the relationship in the review.
A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange
This is another variation on a paid review, and is also against the Selling Policies. If Amazon find a reviewer receiving a ‘gift’ from an author (e.g. a 99 cent gift card) after the reviewer has reviewed a book by that author (such as a 99 cent Kindle book), they can and will delete the review. I’ve seen it “recommended” that authors “thank” their reviewers by gifting a $1.00 gift card for a 99 cent book. Amazon might be wise to this idea, or they might not be. I don’t know. But really? It’s a deliberate effort to circumvent the Amazon guidelines, and I have trouble believing that suggestion came from a Christian. But it did.
Amazon frowns on gifting Kindle copies of books to reviewers, as the reviewer can then either on-gift the gift or refuse the gift and use the credit towards any other Amazon purchase. You are better to either send the reviewer a copy of the book directly (as a mobi, prc or pdf file), or gift a copy through Smashwords.
A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product
This concerns authors, as it gives rise to the myth that authors shouldn’t review. Authors can review, but should be extremely careful about posting critical reviews of books in the same genre, as such reviews can be seen to fall foul of this guideline. For this reason, many authors chose not to review in the genre in which they write, or to only write positive (four-star or five-star reviews).
An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them
I have seen review swaps offered on Facebook and Goodreads. Authors mean well, but review swaps are explicitly prohibited by Amazon, and are frowned upon by readers—because we don’t trust the reviews. Think about it:
We agree to swap books and honestly review each other’s books. I read yours and hate it. It’s not just that the main character is too stupid to live, it’s that it’s supposed to be a romance but they don’t meet until Chapter 38, and it’s full of spelling mistakes (the heroin lives in Sidney, New South Whales, and wheres a high-wasted dress). Do I:
a) review honestly, knowing the other author is going to be reviewing my book and might take this as an excuse to drag me and my book through the mud; or
That’s not a decision you want to make. So stay away from review swaps and reviewing circles (where several authors agree to review each other’s books).
This doesn’t stop authors supporting fellow authors in other ways. Authors endorse books all the time. They post reviews and recommendations of author friend’s books on their blogs. The problem is these influencing reviews often read more like an endorsement, and therefore might be better placed in the Editorial Reviews section of the Amazon page.
To summarise, please don’t try and come up with a creative way to get around the rules. It’s not ethical. It’s not honest. At the most basic level, if you are trying to use Amazon reviews to promote your book, it’s likely you are going to fall foul of Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines or the Selling Policies, and you need to think again.
Popular Author Marketing Books Reviewed
If you follow my blog through email, you’ll have noticed I’ve been posting reviews of marketing books over the last three months. This post is a brief summary of all those reviews (with links), along with my recommendation of the two books any savvy author should buy and read (and why):
How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn
The best book I’ve found on the basics of marketing as applied to books, and includes dozens of useful web links. It can be read at any stage of the writing and publishing journey, but the earlier you read the book and apply the lessons, the better. Applicable for self-published and trade published authors. Click here to read my review.
Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran
Explains the Amazon algorithms (the way the computer programmes select what goes on the best-seller list and what books are recommended to customers). Understandable and actionable. Best for self-published authors who are about to publish on Amazon, or those who are already self-published through Amazon. Small publishers will also benefit from reading this, as they too need to maximise their exposure on Amazon. Click here to read my review.
How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon by Theo Rogers
For those who are about to publish or who have published. My only complaint with this book is that I didn’t think to write it myself. A solid batch of Amazon reviews is seen as an essential part of the marketing plan, and this book will show you the best ways to get reviews. Click here to read my review.
Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran
Some of the information is outdated (even though it was only published in 2011), but still provides an excellent introduction to why authors should consider self-publishing, and how. An introduction to Let’s Get Visible. Click here to read my review.
The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke
Written by a literary agent, so useful for that perspective, and targeted towards the almost-published author. I found the most useful information was in the Kindle sample—the rest of the information is available free on her blog. Click here to read my review.
10 Keys to ebook Marketing Success by Karen Baney
Good, apart from the awkward spelling mistake on the first page (just before she starts talking about the importance of good editing and proofreading). She has some good tips on promoting and pricing a series, but despite having an MBA, she doesn’t seem to understand that there’s more to marketing than promotion (a mistake I see with a lot of self-published authors). Click here to read my review.
Is $.99 the New Free? by Steve Scott
Short and to the point. The information is good, but nothing new. Click here to read my review.
Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl
Good information, but seemed to focus on non-fiction authors who already have at least a couple of books on sale. I see this as being of limited use for first-time fiction authors. Click here to read my review.
The Book Publishers Toolkit
A series of essays from members of the Independent Book Publishers Association. Interesting enough, but the articles are fairly broad-brush and in some cases contradict each other. Only worth reading as a free download. Click here to read my review.
How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days by Austin Briggs
A step-by-step process to build a writers platform in the 90 days before your book launch. Unfortunately, the editing and reviewing processes are cramped into too short a timescale, which makes me question the whole concept. Click here to read my review.
How to Launch A Christian Best Seller Book by Lorilyn Roberts
Only useful if you are considering joining the John 3:16 Marketing Network, in which case it’s an essential read. Just be aware that the advice isn’t always good, and in some cases actually goes against the rules and guidelines of online communities such as Amazon and Goodreads. Click here to read my review.
Advanced Book Marketing by EJ Thornton
In fairness, I didn’t actually read this (which is why I haven’t written a full review). It was recommended in a blog post I read, so I downloaded the Kindle sample which was rather too self-congratulatory for my tastes. However, my major issue was that it was it was published in 2009, before the advent of Kindle Direct Publishing, which means any information about publishing is so outdated it is useless. The rise of social media will have rendered much of the information on marketing equally outdated. This was also the most expensive book I looked at. I’m happy to spend $3.99 or less and risk a dud, but not $9.99.
This is my final post in this current series on marketing, but I will be back later in the year with a series on building your platform.
In the meantime, what is your favourite marketing book? Why would you recommend I read it? And what books on marketing have you read that weren’t helpful? Why not? Would you like to review it for us?
Next week, I start looking at Plot. Sign up to follow my blog by email to ensure you don’t miss any posts.