An Amazonian-Sized Problem

Hi, SEers! Happy Wednesday.

reviewsI wrote a post on my own blog recently about Amazon and reviews. If you’d like to read it, you can find it here.  That post was the inspiration for this one.

There are nine categories on the Amazon Community Guidelines page that dictate the rules for reviewing books (or anything else, I suppose). Some are just common sense. Others pose some problems.

For example, one of the categories is Eligibility. You must have spent $50 on Amazon before you are allowed to review a product.

  • What about people who don’t have an account or have just opened one? (And before you laugh at the absurdity of that statement, you should know I know people who have family members buy things for them on Amazon because they don’t want to enter credit card information online.)
  • What about teenagers who read the YA books their parents buy?

You think the answer is simple—just have the purchaser post the review for these people. As a bonus, the purchaser will have made a “verified purchase” so the review will be given more credibility. But, no, you can’t do that. Having someone post a review for someone else violates Amazon’s rules.

Another category is Be Helpful and Relevant. (Don’t get me started on the fact that their categories don’t adhere to the grammatical rules of parallel structure.) I touched on this in my original post, but I need to mention it here, primarily because book reviewers violate this rule all the time, and they’re never penalized for it. Some examples:

  • I didn’t like it.
  • Too many errors.
  • Derivative.

Not only are reviews like these too short to even count as reviews, they aren’t helpful. They might not even be relevant.

  • I didn’t like it.
    Why? What was wrong with it? Often the problem isn’t with the content. It’s with the reader. They don’t like the story because they don’t like the genre. Then why are they reading the darn thing? Amazon shouldn’t allow reviews like these because they don’t give enough or relevant information about the subject.
  • Too many errors.
    Please leave an example. Or better, as you claim there are several, leave many examples. I’ve read far too many authors complaining in private Facebook groups that they’ve gotten warnings from Amazon about complaints from reviewers, and if they can’t prove the reviewer wrong, their book will be removed. In EVERY CASE, the writer I know has proven the reviewer wrong. It seems reviewers don’t always know when to use apostrophes and commas, or when an author chose to use fragments, or how a word is really spelled. Amazon needs to stop putting the burden of proof on the author and pull these negative reviews down.
  • Derivative.
    I sometimes wonder if reviews claiming work is derivative are by other authors who don’t want their competition to succeed. I hate to think that, but I’m starting to be skeptical. They say every story that can ever be told has already been told. If that’s true, then isn’t all work derivative? Why would a reviewer say this about a story unless it’s a blatant plagiarism of someone else’s work? If it is, say what work was copied. And if an example isn’t given, maybe Amazon should pull that review, too. After all, an unsubstantiated comment like that is neither helpful nor relevant. It is damaging to authors, though.

Amazon expects reviewers to be respectful, to avoid solicitations in their reviews, and to avoid illegal or immoral comments. I don’t think any of us can complain about those rules.

But then there’s that section regarding the nebulous Additional Guidelines. That’s where they tell you that if they remove your review (for violating their guidelines, which aren’t fair and can be arbitrary), you can’t write another one. That’s also where they tell you that they will restrict the number of non-verified reviews you write, and that they’ll pull those even those reviews down if they think traffic is too high.

Okay. I read that over and over. And I know I’m beholden to their rules if I use their site, but that’s just not fair. See, they’ll pull reviews from authors of authors because they think the two know each other. Who’s to say they do? And more importantly, why can’t someone you know write an objective review of your work. Unfair.

And I understand a verified purchase review might hold more weight, but why should it? I know people who buy on iTunes or Nook but review on Amazon because that’s where the traffic is. Why should those reviews get pulled because Amazon thinks a particular book has seen too many reviews that day? Unfair.

On their Frequently Asked Questions page, they address some of these issues and raise others. For example, they say authors can review other authors. Then why are they removing so many of those reviews?  They say you can’t review your own book (obviously) but they also say family and close friends can’t. Yet we all know plenty of authors who have family and friends write reviews. Why do some authors get away with it and others not? Amazon says the family and friends can praise your book on their discussion pages, but I don’t know many people who read those.  I don’t know many books who even have active discussions ongoing. Maybe, instead, Amazon should allow family and friends to review, provided they have a disclaimer, “I know the author personally, but this review was not impacted by our relationship.” They let (require) readers of ARCs do that; surely family and friends could, too.

I guess my original post and this post are designed as a combination of me venting against unfair practices that negatively affect the author community and of me trying to start a dialogue with other writers, to see if any of us has any ideas about getting Amazon to relax some of their policies. I only see them getting stricter.

  • They’ve removed a lot of reviews I’ve received.
  • They’ve rejected several reviews I’ve written.
  • They’re sending authors notices that their work may be pulled because a single reviewer said there are errors.
  • They almost always reject appeals regarding republishing removed reviews; conversely, they don’t remove negative reviews that aren’t helpful in any way.

How can we combat this? I don’t know. I’m open to suggestions. Or maybe you think I’m way off base. I could be. Let’s talk about it in the comments section. In the meantime, if you’ve fallen victim to the machine that is Amazon, know you aren’t alone.

Staci Troilo

77 thoughts on “An Amazonian-Sized Problem

  1. Well, you got my blood boiling, and it’s only 7 in the morning here in New England. You make so many excellent points. The acceptance/rejection of reviews does seem arbitrary. The good news: I’ve never had a review rejected. The bad news: Several of my friends have. And what’s this with a family member not being able to write a review? They’re book readers, and they love good books. But they’re not allowed to love MY books? I had to laugh at my daughter’s rejection of my book. Her last name is different from mine – how does ‘big brother Amazon’ know she’s my daughter? She reads a lot and buys a lot of Amazon books – but she can’t review a well-written romantic suspense because her mom wrote it. That wouldn’t make me as mad as it does except that the ‘trolls’ get on our book sites. A book can have 50, 4 and 5 stars, but this troll gets away with a 1-star and a review like “it’s horrible” – and Amazon accepts it. A lot of kinks to work out, I’d say.
    For me, when I consider buying a book and read the reviews on Amazon, I believe the 4 and 5 star reviews, and ignore the 1 and 2 starred reviews (unless that’s all that readers give a book). If I have nothing nice to say in a review about a book, I don’t say it.
    Glad I found your excellent, thoughtful post here.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m glad you found this post, too, if for no other reason than you now know you aren’t alone. It’s crazy that trolls get away with saying anything yet kind and thoughtful reviews get removed… and often for no good reason. As for how Big Brother, er, I’m sorry, as for how Amazon knows who is related and how they’re related? Well, it feels like privacy-infringement to me. But what do I know? I just write books that people may or may not be able to review.

      Thanks for posting.


  2. It just makes my mind boggle. We are told that reviews get our books noticed then we are hit with all these rules. It’s crazy, mad and confusing, so thank you for this informative post. Good luck with the beast that is amazon.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Curated Content 10 March 2017 | Story Empire

  4. Reblogged this on Steve Boseley and commented:

    Some really insightful comments on Amazon’s review policy. Every time I read something more about Amazon’s review policy, I cringe, because as a relatively new author, I’m becoming paranoid that I’m going to breach one policy or another. I’ve just completed a giveaway where 600+ copies of my book were downloaded. Is it even worth me asking those people for reviews? Join the discussion here…

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Amazon are weighted in all ways to the reader, not the writer. But we have to accept it because without them, we wouldn’t have much opportunity to publish. Catch 22. I have a 1 star review on one of my books which says “wouldn’t download.” How is that a review? Obviously they didn’t even read it, how could they? So it drags down my overall score. I dont care too much, its obvious to anyone what a plonker the reviewer is, but I have asked several times now for Amazon to remove it. They didn’t even bother to reply.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Those kinds of reviews are one of the reasons why I get so irritated. That Amazon didn’t answer you just makes it worse. But you’re right; there’s nothing we can do, other than trust people who read the reviews are able to see past the ridiculous ones.

      Thanks for weighing in.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve also seen people rate books as one star and say they loved them. Obviously, the person doesn’t know the review system. On the other hand, I have bought books because of one-star or two-star reviews. Something that particular reader doesn’t like is something I would like. So as a reader, I’m not turned off by bad reviews. As an author, that’s another story…

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Pingback: An Amazonian-Sized Problem | Story Empire – Joan Hall

  7. Thank you for hitting the nail, Staci!
    Amazon becomes more and more obtuse, permissive with the trolls and inventing accusation where there isn’t the case. I saw it happen. I had a review removed without any explanation. It was a review I wrote for a book I got via a Gift card. So, after all, bought form them. I reposted it, Removed again. I reposted it for the third time and it stayed. Neither I nor the author asked for explanation, afraid to stir the dragon against us.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I have yet to be exposed to Amazon’s review process (no published book — yet!) but this is a welcome “heads-up” for me. As tempting as I think it would be to forgo the Amazon review process altogether, they’re too big to avoid if one wants to get their book out and in the hands of readers. Here’s hoping things get better, and if they don’t, there’s always chocolate 😀

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Sorry I’m late in chiming in today. You’ve made so many good points and the discussion that’s resulted from the post is also eye-opening. I think all authors are frustrated with Amazon’s rulings, but also feel helpless in the face of a Goliath. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve only had one review removed from among all my books. I don’t even know what the review was about. Just that one day I had 70 reviews and the next time I checked I had 69. No notice, no nothing.

    I review a lot of books I buy elsewhere in brick-and-mortar stores, and so far the ‘Zon has always put them through. By the same token, I spend a LOT of money on Amazon, not just on books, but on other products too. I’ve yet to have any of my reviews not posted, but I live in fear of that day. Just as I live in fear of the day they’ll start pulling reviews from my books. In one respect, that $50 minimum is a slap to the competition–if you don’t buy it from us, you can’t review it here.

    I also wonder sometimes about the mentality of readers. In all of the reviews I’ve had among my numerous books (and not all are good) there are only 3 that have ticked me off. One I considered slander, and the other was one of those “book was riddled with grammatical errors” thing. Er, I think not. Kensington would never allow something like that through their line of editors–and, I’m sorry, but I wrote the thing and it just wasn’t the freaking case!

    The third review showed up on Barnes and Noble. This one left me shaking my head:
    Someone reviewed one of my books and gave it 4 or 5 stars (I can’t remember which). They went on about what they liked about the book, and wrote several paragraphs of review. No problem there.

    Then another “reviewer” comes along and gives the book 1 star. You know what her review said? Something along the lines of (in reference to the 4 or 5 star reviewer) “Reviewing a book doesn’t mean giving away the details. Thanks for ruining what otherwise would have probably been a great read.”
    AND FOR THAT I GOT A 1 STAR REVIEW!!!! The person didn’t even read the ^#@!* book. What is wrong with people out there?

    And as for authors reviewing other authors, most every writer I know is also a voracious reader. It goes with the territory.

    I think Amazon has taken a stance, made a mess, and doesn’t know how to step back from the damage and admit they were wrong.

    Liked by 8 people

    • You’re right. We’re all beholden to the mess they’ve made and refuse to clean. I wish there was an actionable answer.

      That B&N review has me shaking my head, too. How can they leave that on there, when the reviewer clearly never read the book? It ticks me off. I’m frustrated for you.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I bothered by it at first, but then I realized that anyone reading the review (assuming they overlooked the star rating) would realize how ridiculous it was. I think when most readers look at reviews, they read a couple of the 4-5 stars and then they go to the 1-2 stars to see what was so bad about the book. If anyone read that review they’d surely see how crazy it was. I could have probably complained to B&N, but didn’t want to jump through the hoops!

        Liked by 3 people

  10. Points well-taken, Staci. I suspect more than a few negative reviews of being from competition. However, I don’t see Amazon responding much since they make their own rules and complaining just draws attention to your books so that they might just start pulling reviews good and bad.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Reblogged this on From the Pen of Mae Clair and commented:

    Hey, gang, I’m very late in sharing today, but if you get a chance, hop over and check out Staci Troilo’s post on Story Empire. She’s talking Amazon and Reviews, and there is some great discussion going on. Weigh in with your own thoughts. We’d love to hear them!

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Reblogged this on and commented:

    We’ve got a lively discussion going on at Story Empire today. The post is building on my Amazon post here last week. If that post piqued your interest, why don’t you join the new conversation at SE?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I was told the $50 purchasing requirement did not apply to books. I found it on the internets, so it has to be true. (Eye roll.) I don’t know what the answer is, but it seems pretty unfair. Many of us wouldn’t have reviews if it weren’t for other authors. Those are usually the first readers who find us, and they are more inclined to leave a review.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Love the parenthetical comment, Craig. (And I’m not sure if it applies to books or not. The ToS didn’t call out books as exceptions, so I have to operate as though they aren’t a separate entity.)

      And you’re right. Some of us get our first reviews from promoting in writing groups and finding other authors to review our work. When author reviews are pulled, we could be in serious trouble.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. Staci, you nailed it! I’ve also fallen foul of the review demon. Strangely, only the helpful reviews, and some of those were verified purchases and not other authors!! I’m not sure how we can combat this, Amazon being the huge entity that it is. On a few occasions, I have tried to reason with Amazon about this a few times to no avail 😦 Not sure what the answer is, but it is at least good to know I am not alone in this and that it is nothing we or our reviewers are doing wrong.
    My new book did well enough – for a completely Indie publication – in spite of them taking down TWO reviews, (it should have four and has two that they, surprisingly to me since they were similar, left up).
    I cannot begin to fathom why they leave some and take down others. I am certain it will continue to baffle me for as long as their “rule” stand.

    Liked by 3 people

    • One of my novels had 25 reviews removed. When I only had 49 to begin with, that was a hit I couldn’t afford to take.

      I contacted Amazon once when a review I wrote never posted. I wrote a second, which also didn’t post. So I contacted them. Apparently they felt I was in violation because (1) I knew the author and (2) I tried to review the same product twice. Despite me explaining that I was not friends with the author and I didn’t try to sneak a review into the system but honestly thought the second attempt was because the first attempt failed due to a glitch, I was sternly told they would not change their minds and any further attempt to review that author would result in a suspension in my account. I guess I’m lucky they didn’t just boot me off without notice.

      Scary stuff, when you think about it. Authors live and die by Amazon reviews. If questioning them can result in account suspension, then our hands are really tied.

      Thanks for commenting, Alice. And sorry about your Amazon woes.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. You’ve raised important points, and you’re not wrong. But how do we fight the largest online bookseller? That’s the problem. I’m not sure what the answer is. I bet “derivative” could get removed if the author called “slander.” Might be worth a shot.

    Liked by 4 people

    • That’s my biggest question, Sue. How do we fight the monster that is Amazon? I love sharing stories here and listening to our ideas of rebellion, but in the end, I’m simply not relevant enough to affect a change in their system.

      I have to wonder, though, if the Big Five had authors who experienced the same types of reviews (and this is the important part) along the same percentages as indie authors or authors from small presses, would they band together to fight the system? If a Big Five author gets five negative reviews out of one thousand, they don’t care. But if they got, say, fifty percent of their reviews erased because Amazon thought they were from friends, or thirty percent of the reviews were negative one-sentence proclamations, or twenty percent said the books were rife with errors (although none were listed and the publisher couldn’t find them), well, then I bet they’d cause a fuss. Like the Hachette/Amazon war from 2014.

      To make real change, we need bigger numbers, I guess.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I bet they still wouldn’t unless it grossly affected their bottom line. The Big Five doesn’t give a hoot about their authors. If anything, they’re less concerned about their authors than independent publishers, IMO. Besides, look how the Hatchette/Amazon rumble worked out. The only ones who suffered were the authors. I’m afraid we’re on our own.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right, they don’t care about their authors. But if negative reviews brought sales down, they might get involved to put a stop to it.

        Of course, this is all theoretical, because those authors will never see an impact from negative reviews like small authors do, so there will never be an impact in sales and then there will be no reason for the Big Five to get involved.


  16. This sheds a lot more light on why reviews are getting rarer. That $50 thing would mean people who buy outside of Amazon are being penalized as well. I wonder if Barnes & Noble has a similar rule where you need to be active on their site or in their stores to review. As far as the unhelpful reviews, I’m guessing that it depends on two factors. One is the initial program (never a human) that allows reviews, but is made to look for certain key phrases. A small review like that wouldn’t trigger it since they dropped the 20 word minimum years ago. After that, it comes down to reporting an unhelpful review, but Amazon seems to only do that when positive reviews are reported. They seem to assume a complaint about a negative review (outside of blatant harassment) is a tantrum.

    That author reviewing author thing just confuses me. I see review swaps all the time, which explains a few ‘perfect’ ratings. Yet, I’ve also seen authors get penalized for another author reviewing their book. I’ve lost a few due to accusations that I had friends do it. I don’t go around asking my friends for reviews and simply say if they enjoyed then go ahead. Honestly, I’ve found friends are more inclined to give 2-4 star ratings with honesty. It’s all so baffling, but I guess this is what they think will stop the widespread review rating manipulation. Gotta stop those dastardly indie authors and their 5-star review mining. Again, it’s always positive reviews that get penalized. Nothing really stops a barrage of negatives that might stem from a personal feud. Actually, I remember those incidents tend to increase attention and traffic to the site. Maybe drama like that actually helps Amazon in some way.

    Liked by 4 people

    • First, Charles, I want to thank you for clearing up the 20-word-minimum question I had. I was really beginning to wonder if I was nuts.

      Second, I believe you’re right. That first pass is through one of Amazon’s many algorithms, and short and useless reviews simply don’t raise a flag because they don’t have trigger words. It would be great if Amazon amended their criteria to include one that said if a review is short like that, it should be evaluated for helpfulness or just flat-out kicked.

      Third, you raise another brilliant point that I should have touched on. There was a time when family and friends were asked to review authors and give only five stars. I think most authors have moved past that by now. I know readers are cautious of a book with only fives. I’ve actually had readers contact me to say they wanted to give me a five, but I only had fives, so they gave me a four to add credibility. That’s both flattering and sad, but I guess that’s what we’ve come to.

      Thank you for your thoughtful insights.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You’re welcome. I want to say they eliminated that rule in 2015. All I remember is I saw a two word review and went ‘Oh, this won’t go well’ to a friend. That would be a great addition to their rules. It’s rather odd that they think reviews like this would be helpful or not exist once they got rid of the minimum. Makes me wonder what they want out of their own system.

        I’ll admit that I’m one of the authors that leans more toward 4’s than 5’s. Part of it is because of that fear of Amazon deleting stuff. The other is I always manage to find one or two things that need improvement. I’ve found that people pay more attention to the non-perfect reviews as well because the 5’s get met with a lot more suspicion.

        Long ago when I tried a vanity press publisher for my book, I did ask my friends to leave reviews. Only if they read it though. A few did, but one did this review that was so cringe-worthy. It was clear they didn’t read the book and it was basically praise of me without hiding the fact that I knew the person. I swore never to do that again and simply say they can review if they read the book and enjoyed it. I’d rather get nothing than something that humiliating again. Pretty sure it was deleting at some point.

        Liked by 3 people

      • I’m sorry about the cringe-worthy review. I’m sure that friend thought it would be helpful to laud you as an author. Non-writers don’t understand the way the game is played.

        I have found it very difficult to read without turning off my inner editor. As such, I find myself being hyper-critical of many things that most readers wouldn’t even notice. Because of that, I try to use a very light hand when I review. Maybe I’m not doing anyone any favors, but I don’t want to obscure a reader’s pleasure with my nitpickiness. So I’m probably liberal with five stars when four would do. And you’re right; four stars add a credibility that five stars don’t. I should probably tone down my generosity a bit, which might actually help some of these authors in the long run.

        Liked by 2 people

  17. You’ve asked the million dollar question. How to we combat an empire? Most of my book purchases are done on Amazon. I have a Kindle and prefer to read eBooks. But they are a conglomerate and hold the keys. Their review policies are unfair for the most part. I’ve seen bad reviews done on products (other than books) because of the packaging. Or bad reviews on eBooks because of the formatting. This isn’t the fault of the author, sometimes it’s just a problem with the reader’s Kindle. Yet authors are being punished. And I’m like you, those reviewers who leave a bad review that says “I didn’t like it” have no merit. If I see one of those on a book I’ve read, I’ll mark it as not helpful. And then there are those reviews where someone says the book is filled with errors and I can’t find any (maybe a typo or two, but that doesn’t make a book filled with errors). And some of those books have been from big name publishers, so it’s not limited to Indie writers. I agree the burden of proof shouldn’t be on the author. One thing we might do as readers is to reply to the commenter (if its not our own book) asking them where the errors are and stating that we didn’t find them. Of course there are always self-proclaimed grammar nazis that make me sick.

    If anyone has ideas as to how to combat Amazon, I’d love to hear them.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I’m reading a big name publisher/author now, and am finding plenty of basic errors where even a cursory read through would have caught and eliminated them. I bet Amazon won’t be removing that book!

      Liked by 2 people

    • You make a good point, Joan. Maybe we should start asking these negative reviewers (on books we DIDN’T write) where those errors are. Someone has to hold them accountable. If Amazon won’t do it, maybe we should.

      I’m torn on my ebook platform. I clearly have issues with Amazon, but they are the platform of note. I started downloading iBooks for a while when I first got my Mac. I’ll read on my phone or my laptop, and the books look better. The Kindle default font is ugly and bugs my eyes. But if I do that, sometimes Amazon kicks my review because I’m not a verified purchase. So now I buy for my Kindle, but free eBooks I get on my Mac. Not that any of that is a statement that Amazon will notice or care about. So frustrating.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I, too, have fallen foul of Amazon’s review policies through no fault of my own. I have had reviews I’ve left removed, and reviews from others removed from my books. There seems nothing we can do about it. Infuriatingly, they left an obvious revenge review up despite my reporting it. I know of lots of other authors who have fallen victim to trolls that Amazon refuses to help, yet Amazon takes down plenty of innocent and helpful reviews. And, yes, they assume authors know one another because we happen to converse on Twitter or Facebook, lmao.


    Thanks for sharing, Staci! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Exactly, Harmony! Exactly!

      It starts to feel personal, which I know it’s not. But why would Amazon remove good reviews and leave up bad ones if they don’t gain in some manner? It’s so frustrating.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your experiences. You are not alone.

      Liked by 1 person

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