Where's My Slingshot When I Need It?

Alternate title: The Itty Bitty Reader Takes On the Marketplace Monopoly Giant

If you do any advance copy reading of books or are in any book groups or authors’ groups on Facebook, you’ve probably seen authors and readers alike discussing their reviews disappearing from Amazon recently. Not long ago, all my reviews were deleted by Amazon, and I'll share some suggestions on what to do, should you find yourself in this situation, and some tips on how to hopefully avoid it happening to you in the future.

Sadly, Amazon’s review system, especially for books, isn’t perfect and there are certainly abuses to it, but reviews really are critical to both authors and readers.  For authors, the more reviews their book has, the more notice it gets, which translates to more sales.  For readers, reviews hopefully give us accurate information so we can decide if a book is worth our time and money or if we should just move along to the next one.

I’ve been reading advance copies and reviewing for about nine months and had amassed nearly 400 reviews on Amazon.  One day this generic email showed up stating Amazon had determined there was a "perceived bias" with my reviews, that I violated Community Guidelines, and continued with, “We do not allow any form of compensation in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.  This includes free or discounted products.” Then it went on to discuss incentives such as money, gift certificates, free or discounted content, bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases and other gifts.  Whew!  I sent a polite reply asking them if they would be so kind as to tell me specifically what the problem was so I could be sure to avoid any perceived bias in the future.  I got a generic reply spouting the same stuff from the first email with the addition of “Any further violations may result in removal from your Amazon review privileges or other enforcement action. We cannot share any further information and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.” Wow!  Now that’s some kind of customer service. *insert eyeroll*

Shortly after, I got an error code when I tried to post a review and, poof!, all my reviews were gone.  First I tried a live chat, which gained me the ability to post a review for one specific book.  Next I got on the phone.  I went from one representative to his supervisor to her supervisor who finally told me that Review Moderation only communicates via email, even with Amazon employees.  So the lovely Emma, Amazon supervisor, wrote an email on my behalf.  I received an automated response shortly thereafter stating a customer service associate would get in touch within the next six hours. Having not heard anything by the next day, I sent a brand new email politely asking what I needed to do to get reviewing privileges reinstated and suggesting they evaluate my purchase history regarding books for which I had received an advance copy.  I also pointed out that even with authors I claim are my favorites, some of their books have three stars or less from me.  Within twelve hours I had a reply stating my privileges were reinstated and my reviews would be restored within five to seven days.  Of course there was the warm, fuzzy statement, “We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.

Something that muddies the water is the fact that Amazon’s standard about not reviewing a free product does not apply to advance reader copies of books. From Amazon's website: “Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review,”  but they clearly have a problem with reviews tied to advance copies. Add to that the requirement by the Federal Trade Commission that a reviewer must disclose that they received the product at no charge someplace in the review and it gets a bit confusing. (See this video for more on the FTC guidelines.)

If you find yourself at the mercy of Amazon’s Review Moderation the following may help:

The only communications with Review Moderation, even for Amazon employees, is via email sent to review-appeals@amazon.com. You’re likely to get a response from a couple of emails you initiate rather than emails you reply to. (Another email address that has been helpful to others is community-help@amazon.com.)

If you speak to an actual person and then a supervisor, their sending an email on your behalf should “escalate your case" and get it addressed sooner. See screenshots at the end of the post if you want a step-by-step guide, since Amazon is great at hiding how to get help.

Persistence and politeness produce the best results.  Be persistent and polite.  And persistent. The person you speak with on the phone is not the one responsible for your reviews looking like David Copperfield has worked his magic on them, and the customer service rep genuinely wants to help solve your problem.

Point out anything that helps prove your case.  Have you purchased a large amount of the advance copies you reviewed?  Do you have a number of reviews that are critical, especially with authors you usually rate favorably?  Does your account show you’ve spent more than the $50 that is rumored to be needed for posting reviews? Did they remove reviews on verified purchases?

Remind Amazon politely that this treatment of a person who reviews books from no motivation other than a love of books is inconsistent with the excellent customer service standard Amazon claims to uphold.

Fill out any Amazon Customer Service surveys you have an opportunity to complete with specific information about your issue and your dissatisfaction with their service. The more times Amazon hears it, the more they’ll realize their Review Moderation system needs fixing.

And, for what it’s worth, word on the street is that Amazon uses a 3rd party for Review Moderation, so there’s no telling what is necessary to justify their existence. *insert second eyroll*

A few other points to hopefully avoid a problem in the future:

Make sure your social media accounts are in no way linked to Amazon.  This includes Goodreads, an Amazon subsidiary.

Locate the book you’ll be reviewing via the Amazon search bar rather than following a link from the author’s email.  Those links have trackers that point back to the author.

Consider leaving your review later in the day (sorry authors!). The average book takes a few hours to read, so if the review is posted shortly after the book goes live, this could flag the review in the system.

Some have suggested using an email address for your Amazon account that is separate from  your social media accounts.

I would even go so far to suggest that, should you get an Amazon gift card, use it for purchases other than Kindle books, if possible.  I had just applied a $10 gift card someone gave me and purchased Kindle books with it.  Shortly after, I received the first email from Amazon.  Coincidence?

Be aware that if the vast majority of your reviews are unverified (the book was not purchased) this could flag you.

Avoid using terms like “ARC,” “advance reader copy,” “free copy,” “free of charge,” “in exchange for,” “I was given,” “I received,” “I voluntarily reviewed,” or any similar wording or combination.  Just like curse words are searched when a review is first evaluated, you can bet there are terms to target reviews on advance copies.

Consider placing an unmistakably clear disclaimer at the end of every review. Point out that you’ve made no promises to anyone and you haven’t received any type of compensation or gift in exchange for the review.

This is not a new issue with Amazon, and with each wave of their “house cleaning” it gets a little trickier.  Honestly, where did authors get the initial wording to pass on for readers to use in their reviews? Yep, Amazon.  So until there is another venue that can get a book the same amount of notice, we’re stuck.   Amazon may be the biggest game in town, but it’s not the only one, so consider posting your reviews in other venues, as well. Other book retailers like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes and Google all allow readers to leave book reviews. And have you heard of BookBub? They allow book reviews and are gaining in popularity. They’re a free service for readers, not affiliated with any retailers, and I’ve found some great deals and steals in their newsletter.

If you have any questions or additional suggestions please post them so we can support one another. And if this information is helpful to you and you believe it could be beneficial to others, feel free to share it so we can help more people like us who love to read and might post reviews.  Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself facing the giant, and don’t let it sully your love for reading.  Select your stones carefully and keep on slinging them.  Persistently. And politely.  Until next time, dear reader

Much love between the covers,

BookAddict

Step-by-Step Contact Amazon:

Scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on "Help."


In the next window that opens, click on "Need More Help."


In the next window that opens, click on "Contact Us."


Under "Tell us more about your issue," select an option (I used "Kindle ebooks," but another option may be better.


Under "Select issue details," choose one of the options.


Under "Select additional details," choose one of the options.


Under the third step, "How would you like to contact us?" choose the center button, "Phone."


After you verify your phone number, click, "Call me now.


Once Amazon calls and you answer the phone, this notice will pop up. You may get music initially, but a person will answer shortly.



Comments

  1. Wow! Thank you for the outline. I, too, got my review rights pulled mysteriously. I think it started when I accidentally forgot to pull a YouTube link, but they gave me the opportunity to fix it, and I did, then a few days later I got that rude email. I tried calling to complain (nicely), but no one up through the ranks would help me. I will try your method.

    I have been an ARC reader, but *always* buy the book before I review it, and never mention the ARC. And my social media is under a different email than my amazon account...

    Anyways, thank you so much for sharing your story!

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    1. I remember seeing your post about that Jennifer. I hope they leave you alone in the future. It would be nice if they took a different approach than "guilty until proven innocent."

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  2. Excellent information (and sorry to hear about your woes). Thank you for sharing!

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  3. Thanks for the great info. Hate it when the long arm of the law over reaches.

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  4. Thanks for the information - it hasn't happened to me *yet* as a reviewer, but I'll bookmark this post for the inevitable. The problem is, until there is another credible place for readers to find a variety of opinions on a given book they want to purchase, we're all stuck with Amazon. And Goodreads, an Amazon company. And authors have less recourse than reviewers about losing their reviews. It's a frustrating business to be sure. Thanks for persisting!

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    1. You're absolutely right Katie, and that's a big part of the frustration. Amazon has little competition regarding a book review site, so they can do whatever they like. I would love to see another venue too.

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  5. Keep in mind that if you do NOT use the term "ARC" or some version of that, and you have not purchased the book through Amazon, you also run the risk of having that same review pulled for a different reason. I am in the top reviewers on Amazon, I always use the term "ARC" or "given a copy by ________", etc. I am always excruciatingly honest that my opinion cannot and will not be bought, and that anything I write is of my own free will. That covers a lot of ground with Amazon. I don't blame them for cracking down. I've seen the two word, five star reviews for some authors, and cringed because I know that the author sent out 500 ARC's and now has 200 5-star reviews, even though they are all "great book". As long as people keep trying to "game" the system, Amazon is going to come after them. My advice to authors, from a readers standpoint, and as an editor and proofreader, is that sending 500 ARC's is a problem, telling people to only post "good" reviews is a problem, having your ARC readers NOT buy the book is a problem.

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    1. Excellent points, Lizzie, and a great example of someone abusing the system. I'm curious, if you don't mind disclosing, do you also purchase the books you're reviewing?

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  6. Thank you for this awesome post and the helpful information!

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    1. Glad to do it. I'm hoping the more aware we are as readers, and the more we take appropriate action, that Amazon will realize the readers aren't the problem.

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  7. I have a question regarding this post. If we happen to receive the ARC thru a 3rd party (ie: NetGalley) Are they pulling those as well?

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    1. Lynn, they pulled ALL my reviews, including verified purchases, so initially they weren't even considering where I got the books. I've obtained ARC's both through third party sites and directly from authors. I'm still fighting and will update with any new developments.

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  8. I followed the above steps you did. However, I did not get my reviews reinstated. I live chatted, numerous phone calls to Supervisor after Supervisor and emails. Yesterday I received an email directly from the "Executive Customer Operations" that basically said their decision was final. Do you all suggest I start over?

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    1. ALL purchases: clothing, auto accessories, movies, cds and the hundreds of books both verified and arc (disclaimer stated) all gone.

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  9. Wow, Sarah, I'm so sorry to hear that! Did they tell you why they reached that decision? That's something that could help us avoid making mistakes, yet I was never able to get any answer from Amazon. You always have the option to use a different account, but I realize that you'll be starting completely over. If you choose to, I would be extremely careful with everything. I wonder if it wouldn't be better to have a separate account just for books and keep it squeaky clean - all verified purchases, no gift cards, etc. And it's not out of the realm of possibility that IP addresses are tracked. You also have the option of moving to a different purchase and review platform like Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo or Google.

    Personally I would love to see an alternate venue, such as BookBub, become the preferred place for book reviews so Amazon has less influence. There are abuses to their system, but by and large, it's not with individual readers like us who post reviews out of our love for books and reading. It's disheartening to hear your case was resolved this way (I actually feel a bit sick on your behalf) but I hope you don't let it rob you of your love of reading. Authors have been very understanding about readers being stripped of reviews, so I'm hopeful you'll keep right on reading and reviewing. Thanks for sharing your experience because it could be very helpful to other readers. I wish you the best of luck. ❤

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