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Named to "Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites," this #SharingwithWriters blog is a way to connect with my readers and fellow writers, a way to give the teaching genes that populate my DNA free rein. Please feel free to add to the conversation using the very tiny "comment" link. For those interested in editing and grammar, go to http://thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Amazon Again: The Ins and Outs of Going After Fake Reviews

Amazon Attacks Fake Reviews and Reviewers
According to the LA Times, Amazon is suing more than 1,000 writers for selling recommendations (and reviews!) for books (and other items) they didn’t buy.

If you have read The Frugal Book Promoter, you know that I recommend writing reviews of other authors’ books as a way to network and as a way to give back to the industry that makes books possible. In fact, a free and unbiased review is the nicest thing you can give to an author as a token of appreciation. And one of the best places you can post your review is on Amazon where it has the best chance of being read by thousands of readers. There are, of course, other places to post them including your own blog, Goodreads, and other sites. You can also volunteer to review for sites like BookPleasures, MyShelf and Midwest Book Review that depend on those who love to read to keep their sites going even when profit margins are slim.

It is reported that Amazon sees reviews that are too glowing as a danger sign. That’s fair. Professional reviews can be rave reviews, but no book is perfect. In fact, a review is more trustworthy (and therefore sells more books--proved by studies over the years!) if it does point out places where the book is weak. Such critiques needn’t be snarky. They can be tactful, firm, and helpful to readers and authors alike.

Perhaps it was the offers on Fiverr.com that finally ticked Amazon off enough to do this. Many offered reviews for $5. And some of those promised five-star reviews. And, yes, this is—to put it mildly—unethical. You’ve probably seen me discourage authors and publishers from paying for reviews in the past because they aren’t credible even if they are honest.  People like bookstore owners, librarians, and other publishing industry professionals generally know they have been paid for even if they come from Publishers Weekly or Kirkus. In fact, those magazines put their paid-for reviews in a separate place or mark them differently so their readers will know! Reviews that aren’t credible are a waste of money and time. And, did I mention unethical? Ahem!

Some of these reviews offer to post reviews using multiple accounts and IP addresses. I say, go after them Amazon!  This kind of thing ruins the process for everyone. 

Nevertheless, I’ve seen Amazon pull reviews based on flimsy excuses in the past and so I worry.
The trouble with pulling reviews too aggressively is how they make the decision to do so. They use logarithms that tell them if a reviewer purchased the book. That seems like a good idea at first, but their site is not the only one that sells an item so if their logarithms are picking up reviews of items not purchased from them, they may be wrong, terribly wrong.

Here is why:

  •   It is a publishing tradition that publishers and writers provide books at no cost--often special review copies (ARCs)  or galleys-- to those who write reviews of their book (s). These books would not show up as sales anywhere.
  • Many who write reviews of a book or product may have received the book as a gift for their birthday or a holiday. 
  • Many write reviews of books or products that they buy at a bookstore or any other retail outlet.
  • Some may write reviews of books they borrow from the library or buy from secondhand bookstores. 
So are the bulleted review tracks above indications they are fake reviews? I don’t know how Amazon is selecting those people it will sue, (and I know they have plenty of money to waste if their selection is off base and they lose!), but I think they are once again on very shaky ground.

In the meantime, if you review for Amazon (and you should), be liberal with disclaimers like this:

“Disclaimer: This reviewer received a book in exchange for an unbiased and fair review. No fee was charged either the author or the publisher.”

And do avoid touting your own book in the review. The link used in the review (the one that Amazon provides) takes readers back to your profile page. That, dear author/reviewer should be enough for you. Offering this to authors and reviewers is indeed a gift from Amazon and we should not abuse the hand that feeds us.

Note: For more on this topic see the LA Times’ Technology page in their business section, Thursday, October 2, 2015.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally books for writers as well as a novelist and poet. She is working on the third major book in the HowToDoItFrugally series of books called Getting Great Reviews Frugally and Ethically and she just published a book of poetry perfect for this silly political season. It is Imperfect Echoes, http://bit.ly/ImperfectEchoes . Her Web site is http://howtodoitfrugally.com 

 Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The multi award-winning second edition of The Frugal Editor; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .


  1. Paid reviews are such a bad idea. And yes, paid reviews from Kirkus are posted differently, and the industry knows they were paid.

    I do know authors who've had real reviews removed because Amazon says they know the author. Like most authors don't know a bunch of other authors!

  2. Exactly, Diane. There are valid reasons to remove a review but people who write reviews are by definition writers--and maybe authors, too! Geesht!


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