Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guest Blog: Book Reviewer Woes

Many of you who have read either the multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter or the new second edition (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo), know that I recommend authors review others' books, both for the networking opportunities and for the pure power of exposure on online bookstores. You also know that I warn against the dangers of putting too many of your eggs in one basket. The following article by guest blogger Irene Watson, underscores that position.  Do it, but don't put yourself at the mercy of big sites like Wikipedia and Amazon.

Bad Behavior from Amazon Once Again

by Irene Watson of ReaderViews

Amazon did it again! They removed Reader Views' reviews saying "We found your reviews to be in violation of our guidelines and have removed them. Because of these violations, we’ve removed your reviewing privileges from your account." (See previous editorial for backstory.)

Wow! That was a shocker considering Sarah Hobbs, the person that reinstated us the last time, assured me this wouldn't happen again. She also approved the way the info on our website was worded. Nothing had changed since then. I emailed her immediately and attempted to phone her on many occasions but she wouldn't answer. It's obvious she has caller-id and wasn't about to be confronted on this.

After a week of attempts to contact her and leaving voice messages, I sent an email to Amazon. I explained I worked with Sarah Hobbs and tweaked our site according to her standards and approval. I got an email back saying "... we won’t be able to comment further on this matter." Huh? So, I sent an email directly to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, explaining that one of his staff reinstated/approved our reviews and this is what I got back:

I'm Elizabeth King of Amazon.com's Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your e-mail and asked me to respond on his behalf.

I’ve thoroughly read through your concern and previous correspondence with us. While I know you’re disappointed with this decision, I’d like to confirm the information you received from our Communities team is correct.

As mentioned, we found your reviews to be in violation of our guidelines and have removed them from our site.


Again, no accountability as to what guidelines we violated. And, it's highly unlikely that Jeff Bezos actually received the email from me. This same email, only using different team members' names, has been sent to others that have attempted to contact him. I emailed back, again explaining that Sarah Hobbs had approved us. No response.

I know that in the past two weeks at least six review sites that have been removed with no explanation or further communication. One was Rebecca's Reads, but they did get one response back saying:

As mentioned in our last message, we took this action because your reviews were found to be in violation of our guidelines and participation agreement.

The customer account you used is related to an account that was previously banned.


Wow! Now they are removing "related" reviewers. When asked for clarity as to whom they are "related," Amazon never did respond to Rebecca's Reads. There is nothing in the guidelines or terms of service to indicate related people can't post reviews.

But there is more. An author told me:

TEN of my reviews have now disappeared!!! The latest two were posted [on two different books] by my second cousin in OH who read my books. She has no connection whatsoever to any review sites!

Wow! Maybe Amazon is now has a team that checks to see if the reviewers are "related."

I've heard from other authors over the past few weeks telling me reviews have disappeared off their book listing, not only those posted by review sites but by individuals. I found the same on my own personal books; some (not all) individual readers' (many I don't know and some don't review for a site except their own blogs) reviews have been removed. I didn't get a response from Amazon when I questioned as to why they were removed.

What to do now? I really don't know. It seems like Amazon/Bezos has his own agenda. It seems like the guidelines only apply to specific reviewers and certainly not to those on their top reviewers list. The number one reviewer violates the guidelines but is able to stay in number one place. Also, the #7 reviewer says:

7. In addition, I will almost always make time to read and review books for those who are willing to generously contribute to Habitat for Humanity. Please contact me for details. (Several authors told me that the generous donation has to be of at least $600.)

When I asked Sarah Hobbs if it's possible to do the same she said "Charitable donations would not be allowed. [As form of compensation.]" I referenced the guideline the reviewer had on his profile page and she responded "I appreciate you bringing this to our attention. We have reached out to this reviewer and will take action as necessary." The action Amazon took is having him remove the blurb from his guidelines but they didn't ban him from posting reviews. According to authors that have asked him for reviews received an email saying they have to make the contribution before being considered.

Fair? No, of course not. Victimized by a huge corporation with bullies running it? Yes, of course.

Bezos that. If you feel victimized, tell him that. Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us inundate their email boxes someone at Amazon will take this to heart and not just send back a form email signed by a person with no-last-name. Maybe, just maybe, your voice will be heard.

Here is a list of email addresses that you could write to:

1. jeff@amazon.com (Jeff Bezos)
He is the CEO of Amazon.
2. community-help@amazon.com
This is the main customer service email address.
3. community-help@amazon.com
subject line - Please direct to the Legal Department
4. shobbs@amazon.com (Sarah Hobbs)
She is the person that approved Reader Views site and reinstated us.
5. community-help@amazon.com
subject line: Attn: Aric R.
His name appears most on form emails saying the reviewers are banned.


~Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.

-----
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 Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; 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 . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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