Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
Reviewing a Friend’s Book on Amazon?
It 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:
Support their book launch party on Facebook, or other social media.
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.
Help out with a book signing in your area, or help promote the event with your local contacts.
Offer to interview the other author for a newspaper.
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.
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813). However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.
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