Amazon comes under fire a lot, it seems, for its treatment of authors in general: They delete books and then later apologize but still don’t put them back in a timely manner. They have let reviewers who admitted to not reading a book keep their reviews up, or “trolls” to punish an author by putting up one-star reviews—this got so out of hand at one point that famed author Anne Rice had to step in and make news by signing a petition for Amazon to better protect its authors. And most recently, Amazon has cracked down on reviews by refusing to let friends or family members post them—even when those reviews are fair and unbiased—simply because they know of a connection between the author and the reviewer.
In this day and age, being an Amazon “author” is one of the easiest things to do. Literally. Anyone can sign up for an account and post their book, letting it drift off to become one more piece of literary flotsam ebbing along on the shores of the great, wide web.
What’s hard though, is marketing your books—and yourself—and that requires a network of people around you who are willing to vouch for your authenticity as a writer. i.e., you need friends and family members willing to go to bat for you. Authors you’ve worked with or schmoozed at conventions. People on Facebook that you barely know except by random waterfalling “friend of a friend” connections, who surprised you by accepting your request for reads and reviews.
So why is Amazon punishing these reviewers?
The history of Amazon’s book review process is a pretty storied one (bah-dum-tssh!), and goes back many embattled author complaints into the past. One notable instance was in 2012, when a group that called themselves “No Sock Puppets Here Please” (NSPHP) found that some authors were boosting their books with “sock puppet” accounts—fake accounts they made for the sole purpose of reviewing their own work. There were even authors who admitted to paying for reviews, like Todd Rutherford, who eventually anted up to over 300 paid reviews.
NSPHP created a petition to stop the sock puppets, and Amazon listened and took what they said to heart, deleting thousands of reviews from people who even might have possibly known the author or were also authors themselves.
That’s right. Amazon started deleting book reviews from other authors because they “might have been colleagues.”
As J.A. Konrath said in regards to the signers of the NSPHP petition, “You have killed an annoying mosquito using a nuclear weapon, collateral damage be damned.” Sure, some sock puppet accounts were deleted, but overall, it was well-intentioned, honest reviews that mostly took the hit.
Since then, Amazon frequently tries to police its own forums and reviews, making an attempt to not let authors use sock puppet accounts.
Okay, I’m with you on that, that’s good.
But this can get a little out of hand from time to time, when people who know the author and have read the book are suddenly stripped of their ability to write an honest review. In the author groups and forums I frequent, I see people complaining because fellow authors in their same circles have had reviews deleted because they’re “colleagues.” People who post openly and honestly in the comment about their relationship to the author—whether it’s personal, like a friendship, or professional, like a fellow writer—are getting the same treatment: the axe.
Amazon is a great site, and it has done wonders for getting authors to reach audiences with their books. The Kindle is king of ebooks, and as of 2014, 19.5% of all books sold in the U.S. were Amazon Kindle titles.
But sometimes their intuition isn’t so… intuitive. Case and point with authors getting reviews deleted or refused by people who “know them” because Amazon wants to avoid angering the NSPHP denizens again. So they’ve effectively made themselves scared natives sacrificing their sheep and prettiest virgins to the volcano god to appease its rumbling, even though it hasn’t rumbled in years. NSPHP doesn’t even exist anymore.
There must absolutely be a policy in place to protect both the author and the consumer, but someone who knows and (probably) likes you who goes and reads your book and wants to leave a review is not the same as an author creating a sock puppet account or paying people to review the book or flood it with undeserved praise in order to up the rating. Amazon needs to learn to differentiate between the two, and cull the numbers in a better fashion rather than going full scorched-earth.
Is there anything you can do to protect yourself as an author? Yes, a little, but it’s not guaranteed. Amazon can still delete reviews whenever they feel like it, based on whatever hoodoo rules they’ve recently started developing. Check your social media sites and know what apps have permission to view your information. Goodreads, which is owned by Amazon (along with these other companies) can share your info if you’re logged into them with your Facebook account. That means Goodreads knows who’s on your friends list and can tell on you like a digital version of Gríma Wormtongue whispering in King Amazon’s ear. Make your friends’ list on Facebook private, make certain you’re not sharing app information with Amazon or Goodreads (or any other company Amazon owns), and make certain you don’t connect your Facebook account to Goodreads if it’s connected to your Amazon author account.
Jeez, that’s a lot of work!
I know, I know. It’s a rabbit hole, and you’re poor Alice, falling forever and wondering what you did to deserve this. Eventually, another site will start to rival Amazon on book sales, or Amazon will wise up and start thinking realistically about the realization of deleting the comments on a new author’s books because they were done by the only people the fledgling author knew and could comfortably ask to review them.
Maybe that will happen soon, but until then, learn how you can protect yourself from getting your reviews deleted, and be wise with your social media sharing.