Reviewing a Friend’s Book on Amazon?

ReviewingIt makes sense that when your book comes out, you turn to your writer pals for a jump-start on those much-needed reviews. Except a few months later you notice those friend reviews on Amazon are gone, along with most of your other good reviews. And those were from people you’ve never even heard of. Worse of all, an email to Amazon confirms they not only know about all the missing reviews, they removed them.

In the last few months Amazon launched a fresh wave of review purging and a number of authors were hit hard. These purges have been going on for several years, one of the first rounds I ever heard about was way back in 2012.

The reason these authors were targeted?

Amazon felt the reviews showed signs of the author having a relationship with the reviewer. Amazon never discloses how they define a relationship, perhaps they just ran a Google search of the two names together. Remember everything you and I have ever done since the dawn of time is being indexed 24/7 by robots. Chances are your name has been linked to your writer friend’s name any number of times, in a tweet, on Facebook or in a blog post. For Heather and I, the shared history stretched on for dozens of Google pages.

Let me start off by saying I feel it is unwise to review a friends’ book on Amazon. It is against their reviewer rules, and I do not believe my review is worth the risk. I would not want to be the person that sets off Amazon’s alarm bells and causes my friend to lose half their reviews in a single day. Plus, an ongoing climate that encourages authors to review their friends’ books will only breed more suspicion and reaction from Amazon. If you want to review a friend’s book, I suggest you put that review on a platform other than Amazon or Goodreads.

If you don’t agree with my personal review philosophy, and you also don’t want to shove your writer friends into the oncoming path of the next Amazon review bulldozer, I’ve isolated the four types of review content that sets off my inner red flags. I think it’s safe to say that if they stand out for me, they might stand out for others. Perhaps even those potential buyers the reviews were aimed at enticing.

Tip 1:
Think about the demographics and write for the buyer.
As a parent shopping for kid’s books, nothing triggers my reservations faster than reading a review all about the book’s theme, prose and characterization. It’s a clear indication this reviewer is not a typical consumer of kid’s books. If they were, they’d mention the aspects of the book parents care about. They would say if the story has cute illustrations, or teachable moments, and what age child enjoyed the book. If the aim is to write a review to help the author sell books, tell the buyer things that help them make an informed choice, not what you noticed as a fellow writer.

Tip 2:
Tone it down a notch.
Unfortunately, some people think every review needs to convince buyer this book is the next Pulitzer. Consider mentioning elements other readers might not like, for example if the book has triggers for abuse victims, graphic sex or child murders. By including these aspects you’re actually doing the other author a big favor. Even if these story issues didn’t make you drop the book in horror, someone else will! And that person might leave a 2000 word 1 star review to demonstrate their shock and outrage. Plus, overly gushing reviews almost never sound realistic.

Tip 3:
Don’t exchange reviews.
Even if the other author is not a close friend, reciprocal reviewing, even with sincere and honestly written reviews, can make both parties look bad. And it’s something Amazon is especially against. I realize big publishing houses do this all the time, but it’s an unwise practice for everyone else. There are many other ways to support your fellow writers besides reviews.
Here are six ideas just off the top of my head:

  1. Support their book launch party on Facebook, or other social media.

  2. Offer to give their book away in a contest on your blog. Offer to give them copies of your books for a contest giveaway on their blog if they prefer.

  3. Help out with a book signing in your area, or help promote the event with your local contacts.

  4. Offer to interview the other author for a newspaper.

  5. Encourage your book club to read their book.

  6. Buy a copy (or two) for your local library.

Tip 4:
Disclose any connections.
If you don’t know the author personally, but have an innocent connection to them or with their book, you should disclose it. That means if you won the book in a contest, received an ARC from the publisher, live in the same small town, or share the same agent or editor, say so. This makes it possible for anyone reading your review (perhaps an Amazon employee) to weigh that information and act accordingly if they deem it necessary. It’s better to have a single review thrown out, than to create lingering suspicions of misconduct that might end up tarnishing all the reviews.

As I mentioned before, we don’t know how readers (or Amazon staff) are judging book reviews for a lack of neutrality, but these tips are a common sense approach based on my experience as a reviewer, and as a review reader.

Have you ever had your reviews purged by Amazon? Or do you worry about a purging wave hitting your own book’s reviews? Tell us about your experiences, or send us more reviewer tips in the comments.

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

27 thoughts on “Reviewing a Friend’s Book on Amazon?”

  1. I’m so glad I started wandering around your blog. A friend just launched her first indie novel. I hadn’t volunteered to review, only because I don’t have a Kindle and don’t want to download the Kindle app. But now I will be wary. We’ve already discussed me hosting an interview on my blog. I’ll leave it at that and hope it helps.
    Amazon has way too much influence. They should just go back to selling stuff and not monitoring everything. Anybody turn to find the camera over their shoulder?

    1. Once Amazon bought Goodreads things started to feel a tad tight for all of us. I think hosting your friend on your blog is a great idea. And you can give their book a full review at any other book reviewing sites.

  2. I’ve become friends with more than one author on the social media as the result of reading their books and writing reviews. The reviews came first, then the social media contact. I wonder how Amazon will treat that because I think it’s common.

    1. I don’t think Amazon is paying that level of attention to friend timing. Sorry to say it, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear the reviews you did for your “now” friends vanish. I hope I’m wrong for your sake. Good luck!

  3. I’d agree with Sue that turning to friends it’s only natural. I don’t have any love for Amazon. I don’t trust their reviews most of the time anyway. So I’d say, turn to your friends, but not to Amazon 😉

    The nice thing about your friends (with regard to reviews I mean) is that you can do any kind of things with them. You don’t necessarily need to ask for review. You can organise an interview, a guest post, a mock character interview. And a few words about the book can be included.
    For example, if I were to interview Sue about her new book, I’d of course spend a few lines telling my readers why I wanted to interview her and what is my reaction to her book. It isn’t a strighfarward review, but it is still a review, and it goes togehter with her own words about her work. And most likely, my reaction to her book will surface in my questions to her too.

    I know this is more work than a stright review, but I also think this is more value for the reader.
    Maybe we just need to be more creative… and remember there is a world (even for writers!) outside of Amazon 😉

    1. Hi Sarah,
      I understand your frustration, but unfortunately people not trusting Amazon’s reviews is why Amazon gets in there and culls the reviews. That want people to trust their reviews. That leads to sales! When it comes to indie book sales, there is no substitution for great Amazon reviews. The only thing that comes close is when a successful book reviewer or book blogger promotes the book. Of course all the other supports, like interviews and reviews in other locations are fantastic. And hopefully, they will lead to sales. And more reviews by people who don’t know the author personally.

      1. I actually think that’s a dog biting its own tail. If authors think Amazon’s reviews are invaluable, they will always do whatever it takes to get positive reviews, and I don’t think Amazon (with all her power) will ever find a way to get only genuine reviews on her site. She has failed myserably so far.

        If it’s true that readers have come to not trusting Amazon reviews to such an exstand even Amazon is worried about it, I – as an author – do wonder whether those reviews are really so powerful.

        1. I find most of Amazon’s reviews are pretty helpful, and I have a few popular reviewers I respect and follow. Of course bad reviews are going to slip in, that’s typical of any service operating with a high volume. However, I would rather see all the reviews stay put and let the readers decide if they trust these reviews or not. But that’s just my opinion.

    2. You’re sweet, Sarah, to use me in your example. In today’s publishing landscape, authors don’t really have a choice but to comply (with regards to ARCs). Some publishers send your ARCs to other authors without your knowledge. If this caused Amazon to strip us of our reviews, I would have to ask why we’d be punished for something that was out of our control? More and more I’m thinking ARCs are probably viewed differently than regular reviews. I just don’t see how Amazon could possibly judge them in the same way as authors who buy and/or swap reviews, which to me is disgusting, deceitful behavior.

  4. Thanks for this. It’s unlikely to be real people at Amazon doing it. It’s probably an automated system. A friend of mine had genuine reviews of his book taken down, and the only connection he had with the reviewers was that they followed each other on Twitter, and his Twitter account was streamed to his Amazon author page. We both de-coupled Twitter from our Amazon after that! Although of course we can’t be sure that was the reason the reviews were pulled.

    1. Hi Christina,
      I think with Amazon’s computer abilities they would use an automated system to generate a suspicious activity list. But I suspect humans take it from there. At least I hope so. Taking your Twitter account down from your Amazon author page might not be enough. Remember every tweet is being index by search engines. It’s pretty hard not to create a trail, even if you only know the other person slightly.

  5. I have reviewed some of Heather’s books, but I stopped doing so when I found out about Amazon’s purge tendencies. Another author friend has had this happen, and my review of her book was purged along with others. She lives in Canada and I am in California. We met online in an author’s contest and private response group. We became friends on Facebook.
    Thank you for posting this info and for suggesting alternate solutions to reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, an affiliate of Amazon. Although this is unfortunate and unfair, it is worthy of consideration when thinking of reviewing a book by someone you know.

    1. Hi Lillian,
      I’m glad my post gave you some fresh ideas to think about. A book review really is just one option, there are countless ways to show support.

  6. An interesting post. I knew Amazon didn’t like reciprocal reviews, but didn’t know it also objected to friends reviewing your books. Maybe it’s just as well most of my friends aren’t keen on writing reviews! It also makes me now reluctant to write an Amazon review for a friend whose 4th novel was recently published. I reviewed it on my blog and had been going to edit it down a bit for Amazon. I’ll follow your guidelines for revealing any connection if I do go ahead. Thanks.

    1. Hi Yvonne,
      I suspect it’s important for authors to follow Amazon’s rules carefully, that’s why I included the link to the author questions page. I doubt Amazon has the staff to watch every account, so it would be wise for them to have anyone who has already bent the rules on a watch list. And that is not a place I would want to end up. : ( I think reviewing your friend’s book on your blog was a wonderful compromise.

  7. Could you provide more information about how to find “strangers” to review books? It seems possible that readers of a writer’s blog would even be disqualified by Amazon. I understand Amazon wants help buyer receive unbiased reviews, but it does make it difficult for new writers.

    1. Hi Robert,
      There is nothing easy about getting reviews. I suggest you start by finding the book bloggers in your genre. There are thousands of blogs out there dedicated to just book reviews. If you don’t see their review policy on their homepage, email them and ask. Book bloggers are book lovers! They’re looking for new books and authors to love. However, they get lots of requests, and often they have a backlog of ARCs to read. You will want to start early and keep at it! Good luck! : )

  8. All good advice, though I’ve also had some of my book blogger reviews deleted in the past. I just wish they would send some kind of notification when a review is deleted, even if it’s a canned response. :-/ I still don’t know why those reviews in particular were deleted, since I in no way knew the author. Maybe too many people found it “helpful” (disproportionately)?

    1. Amazon has been known to go overboard during their review purges. : ( When they’re deleting thousands of reviews at a time, I guess they’re bound to cast out some good reviews with the bad. I’m sorry to hear you were targeted.

  9. Problem is, when creating your ARC list there’s no where else to turn but friends. Not having any ARC reviews spells doom for your book. And will anger your publisher! I would add, if you get an ARC, say so in the review. I’ve never had my reviews taken down for doing this, but I always start my review with “I received in a giveaway, ARC, free promotion.” It’s a fine line, but I don’t see any way around it.

    1. Hi Sue,
      It’s a hard one, but try to add your friends to the bottom of your list. My advice is start researching book bloggers. Look for the ones with mystery centered blogs. You can also try giving some of those ARCs away in a contest. Also ask for help from friends of friends or family members. The more layers you can put between yourself and the reviewer the better. I just assumed everyone would make the connection to ARCs in #4, but I’ll fix that now. Thanks

      1. My publisher warned me about giving away ARCs in a contest because ARCs aren’t protected. They could, and will, if you’re not careful, get pirated. ARCs are really a whole different subject. Sending them out to book bloggers, unless you know they’re reputable, is dangerous. If even one copy gets in the wrong hands, you’re doomed. But yes, my publisher also gave me a list of reviewers I can trust. Most publishers will do this. Another reason using your friends is a good idea is if you know big-named authors. Having them review your book, and using that review on your book, or quote on the cover, will tell their established audience to take a chance on you. It’s a stamp of approval. To me, it’s well worth the risk of having Amazon take a review down, because it’s still on my author page (publisher’s website, my website, friend’s website/interviews) and in my book. Publishers do it for a reason…because it works! How Amazon can fault authors for this, I have no idea. Are you positive they treat ARCs like they do regular reviews?

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