Amazon Book Review Policy Demystified for Authors

About this article

  • Free books: okay to giveaway
  • Paid reviews: okay to pay
  • $50 Amazon spend eligibility requirement
  • How to disclose a relationship

Amazon Book Review Policy Demystified for Authors

Amazon Book Review Policy Demystified for Authors

Updated: March, 2019

Book reviews are important for all books, but especially so for self-published books because most sales are online. And when it comes to selling books online, it's Amazon reviews that can make or break interest in a book.

As authors (and readers) we need to stay abreast of changes in Amazon review policies and community guidelines. This post has been updated to reflect recent changes; in particular the $50 Amazon spending requirement.

Let's start by defining the difference between Customer Reviews and Editorial Reviews and debunking myths.

Customer Reviews. these are written by regular readers who also assign a number of stars (1-5). Most authors are referring to Customer Reviews when they reference a book's review count on Amazon.

Editorial Reviews. According to Amazon,

an editorial review is a more formal evaluation of a book usually written by an editor or expert within a genre, but can also be written by family and friends.

[Editorial reviews can be added by the author via AuthorCentral. See our guide: Create and Manage the Perfect Amazon US and UK AuthorCentral Page]

Myth 1: You cannot pay someone to write a review.

False. Amazon permits payment for editorial reviews.

Myth 2: You cannot give people your book and ask them to review it.

False. You can as long as you are “clear that you welcome all feedback, both positive and negative.”

Before Amazon, before the Internet, publishers would haul thousands of advance reading copies of their forthcoming books to industry tradeshows. These would sit in piles, free for the taking, with no requirements that someone write a review, much less provide their contact information.

Accomplishing that now is still possible, assuming you stay within Amazon’s guidelines.

But first, the $50 spending requirement

Sometime in 2017 (they do not date their policy changes), Amazon inserted a new requirement into their Community Guidelines under the heading Eligibility:

To contribute to Customer features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers, Idea Lists) or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don't qualify towards the $50 minimum.

Some have complained that this is overreach and another way for Amazon to force people to buy from them. I don't see it this way. In fact, I consider it a positive.

As a shopper I rely on customer reviews to guide my consideration of a product. How can I make an informed choice if those reviews are polluted by paid reviewers who never bought the product? And that's what was going on. Anyone could write a review and in fact reviews were being posted by fake accounts.

Here’s a look at what’s permitted, what can get reviews removed, and how reviewers should disclose their relationship to the author.

What’s permitted

  1. Direct from Amazon: “You may provide free or discounted copies of your books to readers. However, you may not demand a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review. Offering anything other than a free or discounted copy of the book—including gift cards—will invalidate a review, and we'll have to remove it.”
  2. Reviewers can remove, or edit a review after it is posted.
  3. Amazon says that just because someone is a friend, or a social media connection, doesn’t necessarily result in a review being taken down.
  4. A reviewer can link to another product—such as their own—if it is relevant and available on Amazon.

Friends & family

A common question I get is: can my friends and  family review my book? Amazon says:

We don't allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book.

It used to be that Amazon encouraged authors to have their friends use the Customer Discussions feature to promote their book. That feature has been discontinued and readers are being referred to Goodreads Groups (requires login).

When are reviews removed, or worse…

  • Never invite (or allow) a family member or someone you have a close personal relationship with to review your book.
  • If a reader says they wrote a review, but the review was taken down or they say it was never posted, tell them to send an email to community-help@amazon.com.

When you can get a review taken down, or modified

If you feel a review violates guidelines, you can click the “Report abuse” link or email community-help@amazon.com.

Examples may include: use of obscenities, a privacy violation, impersonating others, threats, and the usual no-no’s; libelous, defamatory, harassing, threatening, or inflammatory statements.

Note: If someone makes a negative comment about your book, and you fix it, they (or Amazon) are not required to change their review to reflect your correction.

How to disclose your relationship

If you give your book away for the purpose of getting a review you should ask your prospective reviewer to disclose how they received your book.

There are many ways to do this; it just must be conspicuous. You can put it at the end of the review (most often), the beginning, or in the subject line like this first example.

Here is some sample phrasing that you can use or modify if you are writing a review, or use as suggestions if asking others to write a review for your book.

  1. In the subject line: I received an ARC for an objective review.
  2. I received a copy of this book via [name of source, i.e. Netgalley, Edelweiss, the publisher, author] and I’m reviewing it voluntarily.
  3. I wrote this review based on an advance reading copy (iBooks) that the publisher sent me.
  4. This review was based on a complimentary pre-release copy.

Knowing that someone reading an “author-encouraged review” might discount its value, some people will add an additional comment (if true), such as:

  • I've since bought 2 more, one Kindle version for myself and a paperback for ….
  • That said, I liked it so much that I bought…

Amazon resources for more details/help

Note: you might need to be logged in or have an account to see some of these pages.

  1. Community guidelines. There are several pages with this title, but with different URLs. From what we see it’s the same content, and you can find it here.
  2. KDP has a good resource in their help section. Login to KDP, in the top menu click Help. On the left, click Promote Your Book, then click Customer Reviews. There you will find several FAQs and answers, which I summarized above. But watch this space for any changes in policy.
  3. Amazon has a whole section devoted to Promotional Content and its relationship to reviews, it's found here.
  4. Most of us sell books on Amazon using one of their book-specific selling tools: KDP, CreateSpace, Advantage, or a third-party such as an Ingram service (they have many, but including IngramSpark). But you can also sell books via Seller Central’s Marketplace which has its own policies. Turns out these are the same for books; you just find them in a different place.
  5. Email Amazon to report problems or issues with reviews: community-help@amazon.com.

14 thoughts on “Amazon Book Review Policy Demystified for Authors”

  1. Thanks for sharing this quick primer on Amazon’s book review policies.

    Allow me to show my ignorance. How do you set up an advanced review copy? How do you send it to potential reviewers? Do you pay for each ebook sent? Do you offer some code in a newsletter or during a conference presentation? (So far, I have the best method of getting book reviews is giving away exam copies to fellow English teachers at teacher conferences or professional development workshops.) Giving away free ebooks sounds far less expensive. Or can you set up ARC for hard copies too? How do get the attention of potential book reviewers? Is there a service you recommend? Why?

    Another question: can you use or set up an ARC for a book published last year? Or is that verboten?

    I do offer free sample chapters on my website, and I encourage readers to share their positive experiences with the book online. So I do some things to generate reviews.
    Thanks!

  2. Very helpful info, David. Unfortunately, Amazon is often totally unresponsive to questions about why they removed reviews. I’ve posted reviews since 2009, more than 100 of them, and about three months ago Amazon deleted EVERY SINGLE ONE of them. They will not tell me why, except to refer me to the guidelines. Yeah, many of the reviews I posted were for advance reader copies authors gave me to review, but many were verified Kindle purchases. All of the reviews were honest, very few of them 5-stars, and I always included a sentence saying I received a copy of the book without obligation to post a review. Now, Amazon will not let me post any new reviews. Go figure.

  3. This article is FANTASTIC–thank you so much for researching and writing it!

    I did note, on the Prohibited Seller Activities page (the “find them in a different place” link in #4 above), about 40% down the page, it read, “Additionally, you may not provide compensation (including free or discounted products) for a review.” Hopefully, this admonition is rendered null and void for books, based on your Amazon quote early in the article, “[These] changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

  4. Eric, you can learn more about the how question by reading my post here: https://www.authorimprints.com/advance-reader-copy-arc-books-ingramspark/.
    As to some of your other points, I have a short email course about pre-release marketing here (it’s free): https://www.davidwogahn.com/book-pre-launch-course/

    The A in ARC stands for advance, so it wouldn’t be an ARC after the book is published. Nevertheless, you should always be looking for people to review the book and many won’t review ebooks. The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages is the best place to start to get connected to potential reviewers. https://bookrevieweryellowpages.com/

  5. That’s right, books are excluded. The crackdown last year was on all sorts of “review clubs.” Links to those sites are now dead, or have been sold for their traffic. (Yeah!)

  6. Amazon Reviews can make or break a book. I am a veteran Indie author and tried various marketing techniques, but nothing beats a reviews. For authentic book reviews, I use: http://www.usabookreviewers.com
    I get a few reviews and also exposure for my book.

  7. People bought my book through Amazon. I offered no deals. Only thing I asked was the review to be honest. Reviews were done and Amazon would not post them because they were friends of mine on my Facebook link. I got the reviews on my FB wall however– other people never saw them. So the reviews are not there. The positive nor the negative. All were positive on the actual book– the kindle version was really bad. I saw it was and took it down myself. Friends felt bad for me but it is what it is. A good book –I believe with all my heart will make it regardless of circumstances. It is being redone and it is a very good read.

  8. I published Garage Band Theory 4 years ago, it’s a music education book has been doing OK on Amazon and elsewhere since day 1.

    Currently I have 57 Amazon reviews, am trying to push to the 100 mark.

    I played professionally for 30 years, met a lot of people and a big % of the people on my FaceBook friends list are musicians – most are what you’d call ‘casual acquaintances’ – played some gigs with some, met lots at a job, mine or theirs – more than a few are teachers, and I thought it was time to reach out to them, offer a free digital copy if they’d consider leaving a review, be sure to tell them to include “My remarks are based on complimentary copy of this book that I received from the author. ”

    I have endorsements from a few well known ‘stars’ and a few of my good friends and family did leave comments early in the process – but none of the people I plan to contact are going to leave a positive remark unless they feel it’s deserved.

    I recently had heard that Amazon was not allowing any FaceBook friends to review – I did a search, found this post, and suddenly it seems that it could be a very bad idea to go through with the plan.

    Is this gonna do more harm than good if a few were to leave positive comments?

    Thanks.

    DS

  9. Hi Duke, good to to hear from you. This is a really tricky area with lots of variables. My advice is to try a sample size group and see how it goes. Execute your plan in stages or phases.

  10. Alice Von Kannon

    Thanks so much for the explanation – I think Amazon scares all of us who’ve self-published. I just found out that I can’t buy any advertising with AMS. It is only for people who published with them, on Kindle Direct, and my company, Mill City Press, will disown me if I try to go Kindle Unlimited, the only way I can buy a sponsored ad. Mill City said they’d never done an Amazon ad, which just chilled me. These are the pros in advising self-published authors?

    But there is one thing you haven’t addressed, and that’s the ghetto reviews can find themselves in if they are not Verified Purchase. No one will answer this question. Apparently, no one really understands, and Amazon won’t take questions. A review may appear, or it may not. So, when you’re madly giving away expensive copies of your novel on Facebook, in the glimmer of a hope of a review, you need to be aware of this.

  11. There are no easy answers. You just have to try and know some won’t make it through. I’ve heard some crazy stories about reviews blocked or taken down. I’ve been blocked, too. That’s very interesting about Mill City, surprising in fact.

  12. José Manuel Albarracín

    Regarding the requirement to “have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months.”
    I see this as a discriminatory policy if you bought a book at AMAZON. In my case I want to post a review and am not permitted due to I didn’t spent $50.

  13. Unfortunately, there were businesses that specialized in writing bogus reviews of products they never bought and this policy helps to stop or limit that activity. It has as much to do with toothpaste as it does books.

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