Sunday, January 6, 2013

Authors and Amazon Reviews: a nasty turn of events

I was just reading some of the posts in the Amazon Vine forum when I came across a thread that focused on a newer aspect of Amazon's review rules that I wasn't aware of:

Authors are allowed to review books on as long as they are not in the same genre as the reviewer's own book. Also, the reviews must be positive and within guidelines. Please see our posted guidelines on what is acceptable content:

The poster in question asked for a little more information and she was told this:

As stated in our previous correspondence Authors are allowed to review books on as long as they are not overly negative reviews in the same genre as the Author's own book. This is in place to prevent competing Authors from attempting to drive sales away from others and attempting to increase the

m on their own books.

What this ultimately means is that a lot of people are seeing their reviews removed because they're an author in the same genre and because their review tripped some sort of arbitrary trigger to where it was "too negative". This would be grand if it meant that only the reviews along the lines of "LOLOLOL, this author sucks donkey balls, I would't read this out loud to a dying gerbil, every time you buy this book an orphan gets cancer, etc etc". No, I've been hearing that a lot of the reviews aren't the type of reviews that are soul crushing or anything to that extent.

I'm worried about what this could mean for a lot of reviewers. Does this mean that all it takes is for one person to say that their feelings were hurt that Rosie Romance's review of the new Nora Roberts book was too harsh and that since she's a romance author, that review should be removed? What constitutes the difference between an attack review and a review that states a person's honest feelings? If Rosie really didn't like the new NR and wants to leave a one star review comparing the book to morning dog breath and the stench of a hockey team's locker room after playoffs, then she should be able to.

I am aware that there are people out there who purposely set out to create a smear campaign for their fellow authors. They do exist, but they're in the minority. I'd say that they make up less than .01% of the authors out there. But this new rule lumps all authors in with that small minority and encourages people to leave ratings and reviews that they really don't believe in. A reviewer shouldn't set out to write a hateful review because in the end those reviews really only help that reviewer and a handful of other people, although it is their prerogative to write it if they so choose. But neither should they feel like they have to raise the star rating to a higher grade or sugarcoat their words because they're afraid of setting off some sort of censor bar.

I just feel like this is an attack on honest reviewing in general. There are serious problems out there in the review world. This much is obviously true but punishing everyone will only breed resentment and maybe even decrease interest in a lot of authors in general. Not to mention that it's more than a little insulting to us consumers. Like we can't tell the difference between a helpful negative review and an unhelpful one? Sure, we'll laugh at the ones comparing the author to an asteroid intent on negating all life on earth, but we then roll our eyes and move on to the next review. Most of us can tell the difference between a valid negative review and one where the person just wants to hand out a quart of haterade. Besides, even the overly negative reviews have their merit: how many of us picked up one of the infamously bad books this year because the negative reviews made it seem like it'd be a lark? I can name at least three that I picked up, so the idea of a negative review decreasing readership is somewhat a myth.

Further reading:

*The Value of Cover Quotes
*Why is Amazon deleting reviews written by authors of other authors' books?


  1. When I started really writing I really pared back my writing and with it my reviewing. It's been a tough spot to be in because I want to support other independent authors but I also know that I'm ~just~ a review. I'm a potential target.

    I've never worried about having a review pulled as negative, but I have, with nearly every review, wondered if I was going to incur some kind of irrational wrath directed at me.

    I know it's profoundly unlikely but I just can't afford it so I chose to avoid taking that chance. As a general rule if I can't say something positive I at least try to spin the non-positive as much as I can.

  2. Wow... teach me to post form an iPhone...

    That's meant to say that I "pared back my reviewing" and that I'm "Not just a review. I'm a potential target".

    My point is that even if it's profoundly unlikely that someone other independent author is going to get his knickers in a bunch over a non-glowing review, why take the risk and the drama that would follow? Plus I like to think my stuff is good enough as to NOT be a "look how bad it is" pick up, but not as "WOW!" as being able to stay on people's radar if it has enough negatives to push it down below the 4 star average.

  3. Trust me, your writing isn't so bad that it'd get snarked. :)

    In general I think that the average indie writer would have to be of Maradonia and the Seven Bridges level to get actively snarked and even then I think most of that snark came from people reacting to the self-marketing and attitude.