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Common Author Questions about Reviewing

Reviewing 101 | Common Author Questions about Reviewing

Today I’m answering three questions I often get asked in relation to reviewing:

  • Should I recommend books I haven’t read?
  • Can I copy my reviews?
  • What can I do if my reviews are deleted?

Should I Recommend Books I Haven’t Read?

Can you review books you haven’t read on Amazon?

Yes—just look at all the people who’ve reviewed Three Wolf Moon T-Shirts or Bic For Her ballpoint pens (I only wish I was joking). I’m sure they haven’t all bought the shirt or used the pen. And that’s okay. Amazon doesn’t require people to have experienced a product or read a book in order to review.

But should you review a book you haven’t read? I think that depends. If you started the book and didn’t finish it for valid reasons (e.g. the “Christian” novel has a sex scene in the first chapter), then it might be good to write a review explaining why you didn’t finish the book so other people don’t have the same problem.

But if you’re wanting to use Amazon’s book review space to vent about the latest Clinton or Trump biography or memoir, then you might consider venting on a blog post instead. Or going to the gym and venting in a boxing class. It’s healthier, and your words won’t come back to bite you.

Should you recommend books you haven’t read to your readers?

Many authors use their newsletters to recommend books by other authors. These are often part of a “newsletter swap”, a marketing technique used by many authors to grow their mailing list. They dont’ actually swap email lists (that would be illegal). Instead, they cross-promote their books: Author A recommends This Book by Author B in his newsletter, and Author B recommends That Book by Author A in her newsletter.

I’ve come across situations where an author I know of recommends an author whose work I’ve read and consider sub-par. I’m left wondering if the author didn’t read it, or (worse) if they did read it and didn’t notice the issues. If so, what does that say about their writing? I’m also left wondering about the quality of the books by the authors I don’t know of. Are they as bad?

Personally, I’d rarely recommend a book I haven’t read. If I did, I’d say why I haven’t read it, and why I still think it’s worth checking out. However, I know not all authors hold this view. They say they can’t possibly read all the books. I agree that we can’t read all the books … but surely we can at least crack open the Kindle sample of books we’re effectively advertising to our readers?

Yes, you can review and recommend books you haven’t read. But should you?

Can I Copy My Reviews?

Yes. When you post a review online, you give that website (e.g. Amazon) a non-exclusive licence to use your review, but you retain the copyright to the review. Here’s the exact wording from Amazon:

If you do post content or submit material, and unless we indicate otherwise, you grant Amazon a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media. You grant Amazon and sublicensees the right to use the name that you submit in connection with such content, if they choose.

This legalese essentially confirms that you retain copyright to your reviews, but give Amazon permission to use your reviews, for example, to cross-post a review from Amazon US to international Amazon sites, which have fewer reviews. This can lead to the situation where my review is featured twice on an Amazon UK book page.

You can also post your review on as many other websites as you like, as long as their terms are similar to Amazon’s. You shouldn’t post reviews to any website that claims ownership of your copyright.

Some people read these Conditions of Use as meaning Amazon owns the copyright on your review:

Copyright
All content included in or made available through any Amazon Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, and data compilations is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws.

This is incorrect. The statement must be read in full: “Amazon or its content suppliers”. By writing a review on Amazon, you become a content supplier in the same way as an author or publisher is a content supplier (if this wasn’t the case, no one would sell books though Amazon. No publisher is going to allow a retailer to claim copyright).

But I didn’t mean reviews I wrote. I meant reviews on my book.

This is often what authors mean when they ask if they can copy ‘their’ reviews. The answer is straightforward:

No.

You can’t copy reviews of your book, because they are not ‘your’ reviews. They belong to the reviewer. They are the intellectual property of the reviewer, in the same way as your book is your intellectual property.

You might argue that their review is only 300 words, while your book is 80,000 words, and surely it’s okay to copy 300 words?

No.

What’s important isn’t how many words are copied, but what proportion those words comprise of the full work. Copying a 300-word review is copying 100% of the entire work. The reviewer quoting 300 words out of your 80,000-word novel is 0.4% of the entire work—which is allowable under the doctrine of Fair Use.

You can’t copy a review in its entirety without the permission of the reviewer. Ever. You can’t copy a critical review to your blog and refute it point-by-point. In doing this, not only have you breached the reviewer’s copyright, you have made yourself look petty. Yes, I’ve seen that blog post.

You can’t copy passages from the review without permission or attribution. Ever. Not to use the review to brag on your Facebook page, and certainly not to criticise the reviewer in your next edition of the book.

So what can I do?

What you can do is name the reviewer, copy the first line or two of the review, then link back to the full review on the reviewer’s own website, or on Amazon. As a reviewer, I’d like you to link to my blog site to improve my traffic and possibly get another subscriber. As an author, you might be better linking to Amazon, so if the reader is impressed they can purchase your book immediately. For example:

“Falling for the Farmer is just perfect” – click here to read a new five-star review on Amazon!

Or go one better and create a meme you can share on social media.

Besides, linking looks more professional. It shows an unknown person wrote the glowing review, and that you haven’t just quoted your mother, sister or BFF (or made the review up yourself).

What can I do if my reviews are deleted?

Reviews can be deleted in two ways, by Amazon, or by the reviewer. Amazon can—and will—delete reviews which fall outside their reviewing guidelines in some way:

  • Paid reviews
  • Reviews written by someone with a financial interest in the book
  • ARC reviews where the free book has not been disclosed
  • Reviews where the author has gifted the book to the reviewer and this hasn’t been disclosed.

A review may also be deleted if it includes specific words (e.g. ‘nazi’) which Amazon does not permit to be used on the site. This might be difficult to avoid if you were reviewing a book about, say, politics in Germany in the 1930’s. In some cases these reviews will be deleted automatically, in others they will be deleted if enough customers Report Abuse on the review.

Amazon will edit but not delete reviews where the review links to an external website, or where the reviewer has linked to their own book (which is seen as promotional, and therefore against the Reviewing Guidelines).

Review deleted without reason

If you believe a review has been deleted without reason, you can contact Amazon and ask them to review their decision. This usually results in a standard email saying the review was deleted because it was against the Amazon Community Guidelines. No, they don’t tell you which guideline.

The other way reviews can get deleted is if the reviewer deletes them (e.g. because they are closing their Amazon account).

I didn’t mean reviews I wrote. I meant reviews on my book.

There’s nothing you can do about reviews written by other people. They are not your reviews, so you can’t ask Amazon why they have been deleted. If you remember the reviewer name and have their contact details (e.g. if it’s a review you solicited), you could ask the reviewer to ask Amazon, but they’ll probably just get the standard email (and may be threatened with having their review privileges revoked if they keep asking).

You can take some proactive steps to ensure reviews of your book aren’t removed by Amazon:

  • Don’t review your own book
  • Don’t ask/allow family members to review your book
  • Don’t ask/allow editors or your publisher to review your book
  • Don’t gift your book to potential reviewers through Amazon (this proves to Amazon that you have a relationship, which Amazon might interpret as you being friends). Post them a hard copy, or email the pdf or mobi file.
  • If you do give a copy to a reviewer, ask that they include an appropriate disclosure statement (e.g. “Thanks to the author for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes”).
  • Ensure reviewers don’t use their review of your book as a platform for promoting their own book, either in their reviewer name, through links, or by mentioning their own book in the review.

Finally, ensure reviewers don’t say they received a free copy of the book “in exchange” for a review. That’s against the Amazon Community Guidelines, and will trigger a deletion (and reviewers can no longer edit and repost reviews of the same book or product).

What is the most useful thing you’ve learned from this series? Is there anything else you’d like to know about reviews and online reviewing?

Should Authors Review?

Should Authors Review? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

This week I’m addressing a question many authors ask: should authors review? First, let’s back up to a more important question:

Should authors read?

Yes!

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

My personal view is that authors should read both inside and outside their genre. The odd writing craft book doesn’t hurt either!

  • Authors should read inside their genre to understand current trends in subject and voice.
  • Authors should read outside their genre to get ideas and inspiration for their own books.
  • Authors should read writing craft books, because we all need to be teachable.

But should authors review?

Yes.

Well-written reviews influence sales, so writing reviews blesses authors you enjoy reading, and influences others to try their work.

Do authors have to review?

No.

Reviewing a book is one way of blessing the author. But it’s not the only way. There are other ways, tangible and intangible. Pray for them. Buy their books. Recommend their books to friends. Comment on their blog posts. Follow their blog. Sign up for their email list. Like them on Facebook and Amazon. Follow and Fan them on Goodreads. Like their reviews on Goodreads. Tweet their new release. Tweet helpful reviews.

Should authors review everything they read?

No.

You don’t have to review everything you read, and you don’t have to publish your reviews on commercial sites. Most websites have a clear set of reviewing guidelines, and authors need to bear these in mind when deciding what to review—and what not to review. We discussed the Amazon Community Guidelines in this post.

I believe that as Christians, we absolutely need to adhere to the rules of each website. In fact, I believe we should hold ourselves to higher standards, not just to abstain from unethical behaviour, but to abstain from the appearance of unethical behaviour.

For example, I’m a book reviewer and a freelance editor. While I have an obligation to review books I obtain from book blogger programmes (e.g. NetGalley), I can’t review any book by clients on a commercial site such as Amazon.

So where can authors review?

Commercial sites

Commercial sites are any sites which sell books to readers. These include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDespository, ChristianBook, and Koorong.

But just because you can review doesn’t mean you should. When reviewing on commerical sites (especially Amazon), ensure you only review within the sites reviewing guidelines. If you choose to review on Amazon, review a wide range of titles. Don’t only review books by friends or authors from your publisher, as that will look like a reviewing circle.

As a guide:

  • Don’t publish reviews which could be seen as promotional
  • Don’t denigrate books in the same category (books which could be seen as competing with yours).
  • Review under your author name, not a pseudonym
  • Don’t include the word ‘Author’ in your Amazon reviewer name
  • Don’t include ‘Author of …’ or refer to your own books in your reviews

Some authors do choose to review under a pseudonym (e.g. under their real name if they write under a pen name). If you do, you need to act as a regular customer, not an author. This means:

  • Review everything under the same pseudonym
  • If you copy reviews across sites (e.g. reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads), use the same pseudonym across all those sites (that’s good branding).
  • Never mention your own books in reviews or discussions
  • Never comment on reviews of your books. This catches a lot of authors out.
  • Always remain within the reviewing guidelines. Your real name might not be visible to customers, but the retailer has your real name and address. And someone with better Google-fu than you will work out your true identity.

Overall, I think it’s easier to use your own name.

Reader Sites

Reader sites don’t sell books directly (although they might link to retail sites, and they might earn an affiliate commission from those links). Reader sites include BookLikes, Goodreads (owned by Amazon), Library Thing, Litsy, and Riffle.

Reader sites are a more problematic than retail sites for author/reviewers. If you’ve been using a site like Goodreads for a while (months, if not years), and are a member of different discussion groups, then it might appear strange to change the way you use the site simply because you are now a published author. So continue using the site as you have done in the past.

If you are a published author and you’ve never used Goodreads, I suggest you set up an author page, perhaps link your blog, and then sign out. Do nothing. Observe for a period (perhaps months) before deciding if this is a community you want to be part of. Goodreads is a complex site with its own culture, and a lot of author-vs-reviewer angst could have been prevented if authors made the effort to get to know the site and its users before jumping in.

If you decide to participate in the Goodreads community, participate as a reader.

Don’t mention your books, or the fact you are an author. If people are interested, they will view your profile, see you are an author, and may be interested enough to try one of your books.

I think the major thing to know about Goodreads is that members use the rating system in a variety of ways. One star often means “I don’t want to read this book”. They might not like the cover. They might not like the blurb. They might object to the way the author behaves online. They might not like Christian fiction (in which case, it might be an example of Christian persecution, which calls to mind Paul’s pesky injunction from Romans 12:14, to bless those who persecute you).

I understand this behaviour annoys authors, who see it dragging down their average rating. But Goodreads is for readers.

Personal Website or Blog

This is your personal space, so review away. Host blog tours. Endorse. Influence. Interview authors. Guest post on other blogs. Gush about everyone and everything. Blog readers want to connect with the author, so give them the opportunity to connect with as many of your author friends as you want.

My only proviso with promoting other authors through your blog is that readers will judge your writing based on the writing of those authors you choose to endorse and influence. If you write Christian romance, you probably don’t want to be endorsing an author who specialises in erotica. If you review a book with obvious writing or editing issues and don’t mention them in your review, I’m going to think you didn’t notice them—which makes me wonder about the quality of your own writing.

Should Authors Review?

I hope I’ve convinced you that authors should review. Do you review everything, or do you only review titles you can recommend and endorse? This is something you will ultimately have to decide for yourself, but I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:
Promotional Content

Reviewing 101: Understanding Promotional Content on Amazon

Last week I introduced the Amazon Community Guidelines and the concept of promotional content. Amazon give examples of what isn’t permitted on their About Customer Reviews page. This week we are going to go through those examples:

A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posting as an unbiased shopper.

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

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 multiple 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.

Amazon expand on this on their About Promotional Content page to veto reviews in exchange for:

  • Cash
  • Free or discounted product
  • A gift certificate
  • Discount off a future purchase
  • Entry into a contest or sweepstake
  • Entry into a membership programme

Why are contest entries not allowed? Because they can be valuable. Karen Kingsbury once offered a free cruise-for-two to the reader whose review most “touches her heart”. As one reviewer commented, that was never going to be a one-star review, was it?

Posted by Karen Kingsbury on Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Note that 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. 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.

The key phrase is: “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.

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.

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. This is 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 BookFunnel or 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 (which we’ll discuss next week). 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
b) lie.

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. Great. But these are endorsements, and are 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 Community Guidelines or Selling Policies, which could get you banned from Amazon as a customer and as a seller. It’s not worth it.

Best of the Blogs: 18 March 2017

Best of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

Best of the Blogs from Christian Editing Services

Writing

Plot vs. Character (the Rematch)

Last week I shared a blog post from James Scott Bell on why plot is more important than character. This week, Kristen Lamb takes the opposing view: that Character Determines Plot.

Discover Your Writing Voice

Jeff Goins tells us that the way we discover our writing voice is by reading and copying others. Lots of others. Who do you copy?

Editing

Do you use editing tools? I tried Grammarly for about a week, and while I liked the idea, it’s an online programme … which means it slowed down Word too much for me to work with, and I couldn’t use it at all when out of wifi range.

Anyway, April Bradley visited Writers Helping Writers to give an introduction to ProWritingAid, which sounds good–especially as it can apparently be used online, with Word, or as a separate desktop application.

Have you tried ProWritingAid? Do you recommend it? Read more here: ProWritingAid: A Useful Tool.

Publishing

Attorney Susan Spann visits Writers in the Storm to share 10 Questions to Ask before you sign a publishing contract.

I’ve covered several of these in Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction. If you don’t already have a copy, sign up for my monthly newsletter and I’ll send you a copy.

Networking

I’m an introvert, so I never felt comfortable networking in the corporate world. The writing and editing world suits me so much better, because it’s full of introverts, and most of the networking is done like this, using the written word. This week, Kaye Dacus has a post on the importance of Networking for Building Name Recognition in the writing world—especially important in the small world of Christian fiction.

I’ve come across several other writers who have been published because of their connections, for better or worse. Romantic suspense author Dani Pettrey thanks Dee Henderson in her acknowledgements. Forensic thriller author Carrie Stuart Parks thanks her BFF’s husband who coached her in writing until she earned a contract—a guy named Frank Peretti.

Marketing

Book Reviews

As a long-time Amazon reviewer, I try (try!) to keep up with what’s changing in the world of Amazon reviews. In fact, it’s something I must write a blog post on, because a lot of what I wrote in my last series of posts is now outdated. Anyway, here is Big Al at Indies Unlimited commenting on one of the changes: how customer reviews are displayed on Amazon.

Improving Your Reach

Nina Amir at How to Blog a Book posts on How to get Better Mileage Out of Your Blog Posts. Basically:

  • Deliver them in different formats (video, audio, written)
  • Make them shareable
  • Share your posts (you can automate some of this using a tool such as Buffer).

I haven’t yet tried video or audio. Would you watch a Facebook Live question-and-answer session? Let me know in the comments. And add your questions!