To The Gallows ---- Reviews, Amazon, and the Self Published Author

A long long time ago, in a far away land, someone spread the word that 50 is the magic number of reviews needed for a book to be promoted by Amazon, on its newsletter, and on its recommendations. More eyeballs on the book, increased possibility of sales. We all want sales, and our fervent desire to gather 50 reviews has caused a reviewing industry to thrive.

Some sell reviews for as low as $5, some as high as $60 (although this high end reviewer makes it appear that you're simply paying to expedite the review). Indie authors, and some unscrupulous business people have used this method to give credibility to the book and attract buyers.
As an example, and for the sake of this conversation, I give you the book Wicca: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide: Wicca Spells, Symbols, & Witchcraft Beliefs - Extended 2nd Edition on Amazon.

In the platform where I freelance, people hire ghostwriters to write non-fiction books. $70 for 7000 words is the lowest rate. There are lots of takers, and with that rate, you can expect low quality writing. This is one of those books. It shows a Caucasian author, but the writing is far from US English and replete with grammatical errors. I got this book when it was free, and I tell you, this book and others like it are enemies of the Indie world. It is TRASH. But trash with 105 reviews. and a 4 star rating.

How did this happen? Sadly, Amazon is crawling with these types of books.

The publishers who hired the ghostwriters to write the book for them, also buys reviews. Some of them will pay the reviewer to purchase the book, to make it a verified purchase review. These people will not spend this amount of money if they weren't getting it back. Obviously, they are. They flood Amazon with trashy books on different trending topics, and make sure that it's properly reviewed... and kaching kaching. SALES. Of course those who read it will no longer buy again, but that doesn't matter to these wily business people. They would have duped a lot of people already and sold copies.

Good for them, bad for us. It makes readers wary of Indie books.

However, reviews, they are important, even if you haven't reached the magic 50. That's why Amazon's current review purge is bothering Indie authors, although many won't bother to speak up. A prospective buyer still reads reviews when they're deciding if a product is worth purchasing. 

Imagine a reader buying the Wicca book because of the glowing 5 star reviews. After doing so, he/she will come to the conclusion that all Indie books are trash and reviews cannot be trusted. Thereby affecting all the legitimate self published authors negatively.

This is one of the reasons why Amazon is purging its platform of fraudulent reviews.

I gave this Wicca book a 1 star review. Too bad there was no 0. Unfortunately, Amazon decided the other day that I cannot review on their platform anymore. That's right. I've been banned. They even removed my review for books I've purchased, like Anne Rice's Prince Lestat. I emailed them about it, and their reply was a very loving:


We have determined that you have violated our Customer Review Creation Guidelines. As a result, we have suppressed all of your reviews, and you will no longer be able to post reviews on

We made this decision after carefully considering your reviewing account. This decision is final."

Dayum. I have never sold my reviews, and I'm an advocate of book quality. If a book doesn't deserve to be reviewed, even those from peers, I don't review it. But, that's the way it is. It would have helped if they told me exactly why. Yeah the rules are there, but inconsistent. I direct you back to the Wicca book. Those reviews are still there, eh? That monstrosity of a book is there.

I could speculate and guess at the reason why a review could be suppressed.
  • Maybe the reviewer happened to be a book blogger, and they are an Amazon affiliate at the same time. When they post the review on their blog, they use their affiliate links to direct people to the Amazon book page, and maybe the Amazon bots see that and think that's unethical since there is money involved. Even though the reviewer did not review to specifically earn money. A bot doesn't know that. And it would be impossible for Amazon to determine the motive of each reviewer.

  • Maybe like me, a reviewer is active on social media, helping promote the work of other authors, who he/she happened to review. That might make them a "close friend" in the eyes of a bot. How Amazon even determines when we're "close friends", I don't know. But there have been many instance when the "friend" issue has prevented me from reviewing a book. Even if I only knew the author on social media. "Knew" meaning, we follow each other.

  • Maybe a reviewer was reported for abuse. If someone gets a negative review on their books, they could ask their friends to downvote the review and the reviewer will get dinged for that, and the review suppressed. Bullying like this happens all the time.

  • Maybe we reviewed each other's work. Even though we both really liked the other's work it would still be considered a review swap.

  • Maybe we promoted each other's books on social media platforms. RTing and Liking and even Sharing. If we reviewed the book of the other, the review will be suspect.
The boundaries of what is ethical, and what is not is very blurred. If I buy your book and I liked it, why shouldn't I be allowed to review it, even if we're acquainted? Because the system is being abused? Why not devise a system that would go after the real culprits and shut down all the accounts of the reviewers who said that the Wicca book is the next best thing since sliced cheese?

I don't blame Amazon for wanting to purge their system, but they should find a better way, instead of just indiscriminately removing reviews.

Back to the Wicca book. IT and its reviews exist. Which means, Amazon's efforts to remove fraudulent and paid reviews are not working. In the meantime, the reviews indie authors worked hard to get, by contacting reviewers, and giving their books for free to give readers a sampling --- are being removed. All their efforts... gone. Well, not all of them... nobody knows when a review is ripe for the gallows, and why.

The New Amazon Community Guidelines
(copied verbatim from the Amazon website)


To post Customer Reviews or Customer Answers, post on Customer Discussion Forums, or submit content to followers, you must have spent at least $50 on using a valid credit or debit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don't qualify towards the $50 minimum. You do not need to meet this requirement to post Customer Questions, create or modify Profile pages, Lists, or Registries, or to read content posted by other customers.

Promotions and Commercial Solicitations

In order to preserve the integrity of Community content, content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed, including:
  • Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative's, close friend's, business associate's, or employer's) products or services.
  • Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your competitors' products or services.
  • Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else.
  • Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.
  • Posting advertisements or solicitations, including URLs with referrer tags or affiliate codes.
You can read more about the rules in this informative article:

And if you want to make Amazon stop indiscriminately removing reviews, you can sign this petition. (Well, somebody's gotta say something instead of whining, right?) Just click on the banner to contribute your voice to the cause. Don't be afraid. Amazon will not remove your books for having an opinion.

Here's the full update on Customer reviews:

October 3, 2016

Customer reviews are one of the most valuable tools we offer customers for making informed purchase decisions, and we work hard to make sure they are doing their job. In just the past year, we’ve improved review ratings by introducing a machine learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews; applying stricter criteria to qualify for the Amazon verified purchase badge; and suspending, banning or suing thousands of individuals for attempting to manipulate reviews.

Our community guidelines have always prohibited compensation for reviews, with an exception – reviewers could post a review in exchange for a free or discounted product as long as they disclosed that fact. These so-called ‘incentivized reviews’ make up only a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of reviews on Amazon, and when done carefully, they can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.

Today, we updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program. We launched Vine several years ago to carefully facilitate these kinds of reviews and have been happy with feedback from customers and vendors. Here’s how Vine works: Amazon – not the vendor or seller – identifies and invites trusted and helpful reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release products; we do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written; and we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product. Vine has important controls in place and has proven to be especially valuable for getting early reviews on new products that have not yet been able to generate enough sales to have significant numbers of organic reviews. We also have ideas for how to continue to make Vine an even more useful program going forward. Details on that as we have them.

The above 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.

Thank you.

– Chee Chew, VP, Customer Experience

What should we do now?

Let's get coffee.

I mean, seriously, what can you do against big business? From their point of view, they're doing the right thing, and in a way, their reasoning is justified. No process is perfect, and as they purge their system, many review heads will roll.

You can still ask for ARC reviews. Those are allowed, they say.

We tried, to do what we can to help our books get noticed and bring it closer to readers. You can ask for nothing more than that from yourself.

Anyway, many indie books who made it big didn't even have a lot of reviews. Take the book The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle. He self published and is now a million copy bestseller and soon to be a movie. Read his inspiring story HERE.

So, being a bestseller is NOT just about reviews. It's about the quality of your book, how much it resonates with your target audience, and consistent, goal-oriented marketing.

Just keep writing, and publish better books, and let's not let this new Amazon ruling discourage us and ruin our love of writing and self publishing.

Me? I'll have to think about what's best for me too. When you find your audience, they'll follow your book wherever it's sold. That's the power of good writing.

What I'm saying is, we have choices, lots of them. None of us here are victims. 

Thanks for reading! Keep on writing!

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