We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Amazon’s crackdown on fee-for-review services. When announced, it created quite a stir but their exclusion of books from the new policy kind of got muddled in the message. As that announcement pointed out:
[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.
Few would disagree that positive book reviews on Amazon help sell books. As self-publishers, the burden falls on us to help make that happen and it usually begins with distributing free or cheap copies of our book.
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. Here’s a look at what’s permitted, what can get reviews removed, and how reviewers should disclose their relationship to the author.
All this is backed-up with an Amazon resource section at the end so you can read the fine print for yourself.
- 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.”
- Reviewers can remove, or edit a review after it is posted.
- Amazon says that just because someone is a friend, or a social media connection, doesn’t necessarily result in a review being taken down.
- Reviewers can submit book reviews for books they did not buy from Amazon. They are limited to 5 such reviews per week.
- Direct from Amazon: “Anyone may post comments on Customer Reviews or Questions and Answers as long as any financial or close personal connection to the product is clearly and conspicuously disclosed.”
- A reviewer can link to another product—such as their own—if it is relevant and available on Amazon.
See “How to disclose your relationship” a little further down.
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 email@example.com.
When you can get a review taken down, or modified
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
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.
- In the subject line: I received an ARC for an objective review.
- I received a copy of this book via [name of source, i.e. Netgalley, Edelweiss, the publisher, author] and I’m reviewing it voluntarily.
- I wrote this review based on an advance reading copy (iBooks) that the publisher sent me.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Amazon has a whole section devoted to Promotional Content and its relationship to reviews, it's found here.
- 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.
- Email Amazon to report problems or issues with reviews: firstname.lastname@example.org.