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Rave Reviews

5 January 2013

From bestselling author and former writing professor Dave Farland:

Amazon.com did a fascinating thing a few days ago: they banned authors from reviewing other authors’ books. As I understand it, author quotes and reviews were just stripped away.

This is a pretty big step here in America. Amazon.com is now the nation’s largest bookseller, and as an author, my income from book sales comes mostly from them.

So, why did they do it?

The answer of course is the authors themselves. Some authors have behaved in ways that are so dishonest, they are criminal. A few years ago, Amazon had reviewers use handles when granting reviews. Then one day, the real names of reviewers accidentally showed up on some books. One author, it turned out, had gone to more than a hundred websites, written bad reviews of a competitor’s book, and then directed them to go check out his own book, in order to find a really great read.

Lately, I’ve been hearing about authors contacting one another offering to “give a rave review in return for a rave.” I’ve even gotten a couple of those emails myself. I thought that the proposition was outrageous.

Other authors have gone so far as to “buy” rave reviews.

. . . .

So, Amazon.com’s policy has been undertaken with good intentions, but unfortunately it won’t do much to stop corrupt practices by certain authors.

You see, authors are creative people by nature. Like Br’er Fox in the old Uncle Remus tales, if they can’t get in one way, they’ll find another route. As a science fiction writer, I admit to having gone to a World Science Fiction Convention, looked around, and thought, “You know, with a small bomb I could get rid of nearly all of my competition.”

. . . .

As an author and a critic, it has long been my practice to only give reviews to books that I genuinely like. I don’t have to think that it’s the greatest book ever written (we can’t all be Shakespeare), but it does have to excite me and persuade me that others will like it, too.

I don’t give negative reviews to books. If I don’t like one, I toss it aside. I don’t have time to read books that I don’t like. I figure that in most cases, lesser books will sink into anonymity. (Though one megahit last year mystified me.)

The really sad part about this is that it puts a gag on writers. If I read a story that I think is brilliant and beautiful and worthy of praise, Amazon.com says they will not let me comment on the book.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Amazon, Reviews

23 Comments to “Rave Reviews”

  1. “with a small bomb”

    P.G.

    LOL, the love that dare not speak *its* name.

    I have done protection detail at a horde of political occasions and the like and I have to admit, something similar has entered my mind a time or two.

    Not that I’d ever actively consider it, (so, shut up Echelon, I’m innocent.) No question, the thought did pass through unobstructed by moral qualm:)

    brendan

    *–* Note correct use of apoxtrophe! Yay, at LAST!

  2. Yes, if you’re an author, you can review other books on Amazon. You can’t review other books in your genre.

    Even with all the abuses, this still seems wrong. I should be able to review products I’ve purchased, even if my Aunt Mary, my mother, or my competitors wrote them. Who says authors are always going to leave negative reviews for their competitors? Not so.

  3. I’m finding it really frustrating that this misinformation is still being put out there (that Amazon has banned authors from reviewing in some totalizing sense). In the above post, Dave Farland makes this claim and offers no evidence for it whatsoever.

    What Amazon has said is that its rules regarding reviews have not changed, but that they are enforcing more vigorously the restriction on reviewing products in which the reviewer has a financial interest, direct or indirect. For authors, this means books you wrote, books your buddies wrote, and perhaps books in your immediate genre (because if I talk down someone else’s urban fantasy, maybe I’m in effect talking up mine). You also shouldn’t review books you editing, beta-read, etc. But some random book written by someone you don’t know personally? No problem.

    If Amazon has, in fact, changed this policy since the last time they assured us that, yes, authors were welcome to write review, by all means, please post the link.

    I have to say, what’s really going to “put a gag on authors” is the misinformation that they’re no longer permitted to write reviews. If you think you’re not allowed to, then you won’t, EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN.

    • +1

      Thanks for articulating that, Becca.

    • You beat me to it, Becca. And put it better!

    • Becca, less than two months ago, I was assured by TWO different Amazon reps that authors were permitted to review in their genre, they just weren’t permitted to review negatively where the purpose was to promote their own product. (How they would make that determination is dubious.)

      Not that it has stopped me – I only read in my genre, and I do review (although not negatively).

      And NONE of my reviews have disappeared (yet).

      • I have left reviews in my genre but none negative. I don’t know those authors and they haven’t reviewed mine. I have left good reviews for a very good friend who writes books in a similar genre but not the exact same one. The thing is, the reason we became friends years ago was because we liked each other’s writing style more than three years before we ever self-published. We were on several writing sites completely unrelated to Amazon or self-publishing. We also realized our styles were similar and we had the same kind of taste in what we wanted to read, so of course I’m probably going to like what she writes and she feels the same about my stuff. Those reviews have not disappeared, but we do disclose that we are basically beta readers for each other–not quite, really, more like just the first person who gets to read the raw unedited manuscript as it’s written–I’ve only beta read one of her four books. I would feel pretty upset if they took my reviews off of her books because I genuinely love the books.

      • Authors “just weren’t permitted to review negatively where the purpose was to promote their own product. (How they would make that determination is dubious.)”

        Some reviewers make it pretty obvious. They actually provide a link to their own book: http://www.amazon.com/review/RH5W9DC51FK7C/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

  4. Amazon might not have changed policy, but their automatic take down algorithm has been carpet bombing reviews made by authors. (Ironically enough, this unoficial policy policy will do more to remove legit reviews of authors using their primary account, but have little impact on various sock puppets, malicious or not, which were at heart of people’s complaints.)

  5. Well said, Becca.

    I just checked and a couple authors have reviewed one of my books. One review’s been there for months, one is relatively new. Still there. No Mayan Apocalypse in the review section.

  6. As usual, a few bad actors have to go and ruin it for everybody.

    I bought a few ebooks recently that I was looking so forward to reviewing.

    • But you CAN review them! It looks to me rather as though the algorithm has been targeting mostly those swathes of instant reviews you find where an online group of indie authors all post masses of reviews at once. They are not sock puppets, and they are not malicious, but they are not quite genuine either. How else could somebody suddenly acquire hundreds and hundreds of five star reviews for a first novel within the space of a few weeks? People get very defensive about it, but it isn’t a natural pattern. Even with a very popular author, reviews – even from other writers – tend to trickle in, one at a time, and those reviews are not disappearing. Or not in my experience, anyway.

  7. The algos will remove anyone using the same IP address as you (which could be someone not in your household but nearby in the case of dynamic IP addresses) and anyone who is connected to your account in any way, including shared addresses, phone numbers, etc. If they can find a link between someone and your Amazon account or book, the computer will just pull the review. To lend support to Amanda’s comment, I’ve emailed Amazon and they’ve confirmed: authors can review books. They cannot self-promote, so no mention of being an author or of your own work can go into the review. David Farland should have known better than to publish something like this without going to the source and checking facts.

  8. I’ve just checked a couple of my old reviews for books that would be in the same area as my own work and they’re still there. So I don’t know what he’s basing this on.

  9. As a reader I welcome this move by Amazon with open arms. I don’t want to read what authors think. I want to read (maybe) what readers think. So no loss, and certainly no sadness.
    I personally also hope it is another nail in the coffin of the naked ‘review’ concept. Reviews are a less than useless tool for buying a title unless a reader knows what other titles that reviewer liked and didn’t like.

    • The only problem with that train of thought is that, although I’m an author, I’m also a reader. I was a reader LONG before I started writing.

      When I review, I’m reviewing as a reader, not as an author.

    • Authors can and do review. Author reviews are all over Amazon. I suspect most consumers have no idea if the reviewer is an author.

  10. Just a thought: You know, even Amazon had forbidden authors from posting reviews, you can still review OFF Amazon.

    You can, for instance, review on your own blog. In the long run, this could be more helpful. A “real” review on a site that talks about books, and the relevant genre, could be a lot more valuable in the long run.

  11. I write in the mystery genre, specifically in the sub-genres of humorous cat P.I. mysteries and also police suspense. I read and have posted reviews of books in the mystery genre at Amazon. None, however, my sub-genres. As far as I know, none of my reviews have been removed. Of course, I’m not well enough known that anybody would even recognize my name on a review.

    • I think they’re not looking for names. From what I’ve heard, they’re doing a combination of two things:

      1.) Responding to complaints (which they’ve always done)

      2.) Using server stats to spot clusters of behavior that indicate IP addresses associated with each other and a subset of books. (This would be how some fans who try to support a specific community of authors get their reviews deleted. They’re acting like groupies.)

      This is speculation based on secondhand info. Item #2 is how Google catches click fraud, and it’s a common practice across the internet when you’re looking to limit sockpuppetry.

  12. I think a certain policing of reviews is necessary, including authors from giving quid pro quo reviews between themselves. But preventing an author from giving a review to another author is going too far. But then Amazon owns the store, and they set the rules, and that’s life.

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