Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Here we go again — Amazon getting all Stasi on us.
This just came into my radar range yesterday, when a Goodreads author posted a petition (below) complaining that Amazon had removed 25 reviews of her books. Since I have a scant 25 reviews for Occasional Soulmates, I perked up. What’s that you say? Removed them?!
Seems that the big shark in the Cloud had determined that those reviewers “know the author,” and that, in turn, disqualifies them from posting reviews of her work.
As usual with Amazon, this process is automated and governed by a proprietary algorithm, so there’s no way to know what factors are really going into it. Suffice to say that it appears that social media relationships such as those cultivated in blogs and on Twitter and Facebook — in other words, those that we indie authors rely on for professional advancement — are being targeted. No longer is it merely your mom’s glowing review they’re concerned with. It’s anyone you “know.”
Interestingly, the policy itself mentions “close personal friends” as the sort of relationship that would get a review 86’d. I, for one, have met a lot of wonderful readers and writers over the last two years in my self-publishing odyssey, but I can’t reasonably say that makes them “close personal friends.” I’ve not supped with any of them. Nor partaken of boozy beverages. Nor cried on their shoulders, nor helped them through their own crises. “Close personal friend” can be a down n’ dirty thing. Symbiotic. Sometimes love/hate.
But why can’t a “close personal friend” post a review anyway?
The thing that really irks me about this kind of policy is that Amazon is assuming that a certain level of commercial purity is achievable, that what you see is really what you get, but that’s not how American business works in any industry. Look at the Oscars. Usually the producers and studios spend tons of money to get their titles nominated and to buy votes. Rocker Morrissey just said recently that he has no respect for the Grammys because they’re bought and paid for.
And don’t get me started about traditional publishing. It’s dependent on the distribution of free copies to potential reviewers — ARCs, don’t ya know. And you don’t think that cover blurbs from famous names flow in spontaneously, do you? They’re solicited, for Pete’s sake. The famous guy might not know the author but he knows the editor and publisher or maybe the agent. And he probably got the book for free too.
So for Amazon to penalize indie authors for giving away ebooks for review is simply hypocritical. Indie authors have forged relationships with other indie authors, and reviews are a form of non-monetary support. We want to help each other, but often an honest review is the only way we can do that. And from what I’ve seen, these reviews usually are entirely honest. Most of us will even alert potential readers to the fact that we’ve received the book for free, if that’s the case. Usually, though, we enjoy paying for our copies.
Fortunately, none of the reviews for any of my books have been removed, and as far as I know none of my reviews of other authors’ books have either. If Amazon is being as stringent as it seems, though, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see it happen one of these days.
Clearly, Amazon is using a neutron bomb to solve a minute problem. No doubt some writers pump up their titles with friends’ reviews. Sometimes they even pay for reviews. But for the most part an attentive reader can tell a fair and honest review from a phoned-in five-star and will judge the book accordingly.
But more than anything you can keep supporting your favorite indie authors by posting reviews on Amazon. If nothing else, it’ll keep ‘em busy trying to figure out who is whose “close personal friend.”