Where's My Slingshot When I Need It?
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*
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
• 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,
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 "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.