UDPATE – also read this: Are advanced reader copies (ARCs) for book reviews illegal (against Amazon’s terms?)
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.
“Authors need to take control of and be responsible for their own author platform, and develop reader relationships to handle crises.”
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)
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.