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.
- 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.
- 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 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
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.
- 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.