Why Amazon is deleting book reviews: understanding Amazon’s new review policy and how to get back deleted reviews

Amazon has been doing review purges for some time, but today was a massive glitch, with many authors seeing ALL of their reviews disappearing – both indie and traditionally published authors lost hundreds of reviews at once. Luckily, some of them have started being restored, but it’s still scary. It’s not exactly *new* since it’s been going on for awhile, but every “review-gate” affects more authors. In this article I’ll try to explain why reviews are being deleted and what you can do to fix it.

Making sure reviews are honest and trustworthy is important for Amazon’s business; so they delete reviews from friends, family members and anyone they think has a personal relationship with you. However a few days ago they made a big announcement: people will no longer be able to give a free or discounted product in exchange for reviews. Many reviewers have been getting messages like this one.

 

 

Amazon said this will not apply to books.

The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books. (Source)

However in practice, many authors are having reviews disappear.

And these seem to be the ones that say “I got this book free in exchange for an honest review.” Even though that’s basically the wording that Amazon has encouraged authors and reviewers to use over the past few years.

A friend of mine, Lena Mae Hill, got a response back from Amazon and was told: “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.”

So it’s fine to give copies of books or ARCs away as long as you don’t require a review in exchange. Jennetta Penner recommends language like “I received an ARC at no cost from the author” – so you might want to ask your readers to stop using the word “exchange” in book reviews.

However if you’re not giving books away in exchange or expectation of book reviews, I don’t think you need to tell your readers to comment on how much they paid for the book (giving away ARC or free books for reviews used to be a special circumstance – no free books are pretty common and it isn’t unusual). I have 4 permafree books that get 500+ downloads a day. I’m not giving them away for reviews – I’m giving them away to reach readers. If readers like the book enough, they’ll leave a review, but I didn’t ask them for it and it’s not why I gave it to them for free, so there is no secret clandestine transaction that needs to be publicly disclosed.

You *can* ask Amazon to restore your reviews; you can also ask you reviewers to edit their reviews if they still can (unless they’re just deleted/missing). Or if you have a following, you can tell them what’s going on and ask them to check and see if their reviews were deleted and ask them to post a new one, without using the any of the keywords Amazon seems to be targeting (in exchange for… etc).

In the future it might be a good idea to copy and paste all the reviews you get, just in case they get deleted, so you’ll have a backup.

Amazon will always do what’s best for its own business and survival, and authors need to be flexible and adaptable if we want to keep taking advantage of its platform. Although this sucks for authors, and the reviewers who spent time writing the reviews, it’s a reminder that authors need to take control of and be responsible for their own author platform, and develop reader relationships to handle crises like this one.

 

How to get more book reviews

Book reviews are the Catch-22 of book launches: You can’t sell books without reviews… but you can’t get reviews without selling books (or can you?)

There are two strategies to getting more book reviews. The first is to reach out to specific reviewers one-by-one (way too much work). And the truth is, you may need to email 100 potential reviews to get just one book review!

So don’t feel frustrated if you sent out 10 ARC copies and only got a couple reviews. Don’t nag or nudge your friends and family to review your books (you don’t WANT friends and family to buy your book, because they’ll screw up your “also-boughts” – which are important for long term visibility).

The second strategy is to build an email list of potential reviewers, and offer them a free ARC copy. Don’t worry about getting professional reviews from big organizations or famous people. Often, regular reviews from ordinary people seem more authentic anyway. 

My review strategy:

  • Build a targeted email list with either book giveaways or data scrapping
  • Offer them a free copy of my book (I usually set up ARC copies on BookFunnel)
  • If you’re in KU, you’re allowed to send out ARC copies to potential reviewers, but not to offer free books to build your email list
  • Don’t worry so much about piracy – build a qualified list of 1000 actual readers and aim to send out around 200 ARC copies (limit the number of copies, the rest of your list may still buy the book on launch)
  • OR launch the book with a free campaign using my free days (if you’re in KU) – reviews will show as “verified purchase” if they’re downloaded during the free days (however, don’t worry much about that, it doesn’t matter if they’re verified)

 

 

2018 Updates

Amazon also decreed a $50 spend limit, so ONLY reviewers who have spent $50 will be able to review (or they may get a message like the one above, saying they can’t review. 

  • Amazon seems to have targeted non-verified reviews.

Previously, I didn’t think having verified reviews mattered much, because readers usually didn’t notice. And, when you give out lots of ARC copies with Bookfunnel or Instafreebie, reviews posted wouldn’t show as verified (that’s why I’ll usually use my KU free days and ask them to download, or start at permafree, because those seem to count as ‘verified’.

  • Authors can’t review

I haven’t been able to review ANY books on Amazon since last year. I finally cornered some Amazon reps and they said point blank, “Authors can’t review books.” The reasoning is that we can’t be unbiased; we’ll either give positive reviews to author friends or negative reviews to competitors. Obviously that’s dumb; I read dozens of books in my genre a year, and I’d like to write reviews for the ones I’ve enjoyed. The Amazon reps actually told me I should just create a new account with another email. The problem is using the same email to publish, and also for buying/reviewing. It’s ridiculous that’s necessary, but it’s a workaround.

  • No friends or family

This is nothing new, Amazon wants unbiased reviews by people who don’t know you at all. That means when you ask your fanbase, social media followers, email list or anybody you’ve ever spoken to online to review your books, Amazon will delete them.

The simple trick for this is usually to be careful with your Amazon link: you need to use the clean link that ends after the ASIN number – otherwise it will include a lot of tracking info so Amazon knows you shared the link with them.

You can set up a link to your book on your blog or website, then email your list or post on Facebook for them to go to that page, then Amazon, rather than sharing links to Amazon directly on Facebook. However, that doesn’t work 100% of the time. Other authors have suggested unlinking your blog or social media accounts from Amazon.

My main strategy is to get LOTS of book reviews, so I don’t mind if a few go missing (thankfully, I still have over a hundred reviews on most of my books and the latest purges haven’t affected me, but who knows what will happen in the future.

Here’s a video on how I got my first 1000.

 

Basically, Amazon has a problem with fake reviews and has been building teams of robots to solve the problem; they look for questionable behavior and try to flag and delete suspect reviews. As an author, you still need to work hard to get as many reviews as possible, despite Amazon’s brutal assault.

Amazon is doing the same thing to authors who sell too many books too quickly; the main book marketing strategy for years has been to try and sell a lot of books during launch, spike your sales rank up to #1, and get free visibility – but books showing a sudden surge of activity can be accused of “rank manipulation.” Recently I’ve heard from lots of authors who aren’t using any dodgy promotions, only AMS ads, or maybe an email to their list, and Amazon has kicked them out of KU or even deleted their Amazon account.

Scary times for many authors. The solution is to be careful, and to be aware, and know what’s going on… but things change quickly as Amazon struggles to combat its scammer problem.

 

Want to make a living with your writing?  Download my FREE book launch checklist and discover the step-by-step publishing roadmap I use to launch bestsellers.

 

 

About Derek Murphy

Hey there! I'm a philosophy dropout and book cover designer with a PhD in Literature. After spending a decade as a starving artist, I vowed to create the life of freedom my restless spirit demands. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write young adult fantasy novels and do a few editorial critiques to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles. FREE GUIDE: Book Marketing is Dead.

17 comments

  1. Very helpful to know! Thank you for the information.

  2. a ‘review’ is no different from a ‘celebrity testimonial’- except they got paid in hard cold cash.

  3. I have been using a standard “disclaimer” that does not include in exchange, free, given, or discounted. to date – I’ve not had reviews deleted. However, with many who are finding themselves deleted there is that frequent occurrence (not all – MANY) of reviewers/authors with large street teams with reviewers who tend to rate all of the books HIGHLY and then go through and ‘up vote’ reviews that are ‘positive”… all in an effort to boost said authors standings. Other repeated issues I find are “OMG I Loved this book” stretched out to a 25 word minimum and saying nothing, essentially the same review copy/pasted through all of a particular reviewer’s account, reviewers ONLY reviewing books for a particular group of authors (you never once read something by someone else?) and consistent 5 star reviews with no variations. It’s far more complex an issue than many care to investigate… but in many of the cases I’ve seen – people are causing many of their own issues.

    The other piece that amazon is now requiring is a minimum of $50 spent on orders – thus helping to restrict if not eliminate the multiple ‘spammy’ accounts out there.

    And Steve- I wish that writing book reviews actually did bring cold hard cash. I work far harder to provide an honest review than I ever did in a basic day job. and all of the ‘supporting’ pieces I have – blog, social media, prizes, giveaways – are all out of my own pocket…. reviewing books, unless you are a NYT or Kirkus reviewer is not a paying gig. Please be sure your facts are right before you tar every reviewer with your brush.

  4. Thanks so much for the info, Derek. It’s quite a gauntlet!

  5. Very interesting article. I’ve seen many people on FB say their reviews were deleted by Amazon, plus Amazon’s new policy. You did an excellent job of explaining it. Thank you.

  6. Great article. Explains a lot for me, and gave me info I didn’t know.

    Thanks so much.

  7. Amazon has been messing with reviews since they started. To my knowledge they have never restored a single review after they’ve removed it. Here’s an example of how Amazon works. In 2013 Amazon removed thousands of book reviews. When the authors asked about their missing reviews Amazon told them they could only discuss it with the reviewers. When the reviewers asked they were told Amazon could only discuss it with the authors. They basically lied to everyone and never gave a reason why they did it and they never restored a single review they deleted. So any hope of getting reviews restored by Amazon is delusional.

    • I agree. I lost two thirds of my reviews and NEVER wrote I reviewed a book in exchange for an ARC or free copy. “I received an arc/free copy of this book; I freely choose to review. This is my honest review.”

  8. How do you see them if they have been deleted? I can see the total count dropping but if I have 100+ reviews how can I identify what has been deleted?

    • You can’t really see them easily unless you notice they’re missing. That’s why I try to get 100+reviews on my books… I won’t care if a dozen goes missing. But if you only have a dozen reviews and they all disappear, that’s tragic.

  9. Yeah, but what about all of the ebooks I’ve purchased since the beginning of amazon until now that are totally gone? Amazon has removed ever review I’ve ever written verified purchase or not. I keep asking them why and keep getting told they’ll have to look into it and get back to me. Amazon has gotten too big for their britches and is now making it up as they go along.

  10. I usually preface my ARC reviews: I received [book name] as a free copy from the author/publisher. The gifting did not determine the review/rating, which reflects my honest opinion. For my own books, I’ve seen 3 drop off in the past couple weeks, although, unsurprising, a book review accidentally posted against my book –referring to a different title and plot– still remains after two requests to delete it. Amazon needs the Wizard to give it a fresh brain.

  11. I’m a book blogger who purchases the books I review so my reviews say “verified purchase”. Amazon still removed all my reviews. I started calling and talking to Amazon agents and now my account is suspiciously banned from leaving reviews on ANY product. No reason given. I have not broken any policies. This has happened to many fellow bloggers.

    • that sucks! They did it to me also, I can’t review anything. I tried getting in touch with support but they are firm and won’t budge. Maybe open a new Amazon account with a different email? I may have to do that, I read so many books, and I want to support authors when I find something I like.

    • This just happened to me also and I am a book blogger. 4 years worth of reviews gone, I can’t post anymore they even removed product reviews. And I buy or grab the free books or use Kindle Unlimited for anything I reviewed 🙁

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