Amazon Only Looks Evil… Mostly.

obscene.gestureAmazon has recently started making good on their threat to attempt to enforce their policies regarding purchased reviews. As with all things, there's the good, the bad, and the ugly. This post is going to piss some people off. This post is going to please some people.

This post is my opinion,and if you don't like my opinion, here's a chance for you to get over it. I'm a writer, and part of my job is to present unpopular opinions.

Authors are finicky beasts. Some of us are egotistical. Some of us lack self-esteem. Many of us fluctuate between the extremes as a general rule. It wouldn't surprise me if a study was done on the mental health of all writers and we learned writers have a special brand of psychosis. I mean, we make believe for a living.

This all combines to make us, as often as not, not really good business folks. It's true. I don't know about others, but I'd rather be writing. As often as possible, that's exactly what I do. I rely on fans to buy my books when they come out so I can keep on writing. It's tough–it's scary, too.

Amazon has started targeting purchased reviews, cracking down on falsified reviews. This stings for those who participate in blog tours, since we never know if those tours will be hit with the review ban hammer.

Here is where my unpopular opinion kicks in: Good.

Let them.

I've participated in blog tours, and I won't lie–totally helped launch my career. Exposure is important. But, here's the deal: paid reviews kill good, deserving authors.

The reviews I want are from people who found my book and loved it–they loved it so much they wanted to share with others how much they loved the book. The reviews I want are from people who enjoyed my book despite its flaws.

I want honest reviews.

I have always tried to keep my book reviews to reputable blog tours. These are tours that do not offer any monetary incentive to their bloggers. These reviews are, for the most part, honest and give readers a good glimpse of what's in the book.

Here's the problem, though. Book reviewers are expected to play nice with the authors. Many book bloggers are honest–and brutally so, at times.

These bloggers, who rate books honestly, who don't accept rewards for participating in a tour… aren't being targeted as a general rule.

However, there's a trend in book reviewing that is causing problems. They are book reviewers who are reviewing a title for a chance to win a prize. That's directly against Amazon's terms of service.

While we do not like it, there's also a rule about friends and family not reviewing your title. That's why some authors keep a distance–and wisely do not link their main amazon accounts with their facebook accounts.

I've lost a few reviews from friends, and while it's disappointing–fine! Technically against the rules.

How reviewing is done is being changed on Amazon, and it's being changed on Amazon for a good reason. There are a lot of bestselling books who have gotten that status because the system was gamed. How?

Sites, including fivrr, had reviewers who would skim the book–or just ask the author to provide a basic review–and they would post reviews at a bounty. In short, you'd pay a set fee per review, and the ‘reviewer' would then log into multiple accounts on amazon and ‘review' the book.

The surge in reviews would get the book noticed on Amazon, and then these books would be featured in mailers, have the algorithms work in their favor, etc, etc, etc.

Ah, fuck it, who am I kidding? Pissy authors everywhere are freaking out because Amazon is trying to put an end to reviews being gamed on their site. You know what? Get over it. There are a lot of top reviewers who post so many book reviews it is really difficult to believe these people have actually read the ten, twenty, or thirty books a day they're reviewing.

Yeah, think about that for a second. Some of these prolific reviewers are so prolific it is pretty hard to believe they're actually reading the books they're reviewing.

Some people do read ten, twenty, or thirty books a day. And yes, they're getting caught in the Amazon review ban shit storm. Some reviewers are long time book bloggers, but here's the deal:

A lot of these reviewers are getting books from paid review tours. The coordinators are paid to hook readers and writers together for reviews. These tours often strongly recommend only favorable reviews are posted.

That means the reviews they post are no longer honest in the eyes of Amazon. By telling reviewers only to post positive reviews, the whole ‘this arc was provided for an honest review' bit starts falling through. That disclaimer is no longer a waiver. That disclaimer is no longer what you need to do to get reviews from book bloggers to stay.

And that's a very, very sad thing.

Almost all of my reviews that I've had removed have been from book bloggers–and I've tracked them back to book blog tours I paid a coordinator to organize for me for my sanity.

I've had probably ten reviewers lose reviews from my books. All but one or two have been from coordinated book tours. That speaks volumes.

Amazon wants reviewers reviewing.

Amazon doesn't want reviewers who are reviewing positively to get free books.

This doesn't make Amazon evil. It makes an already difficult job even more difficult, though. It's hard getting reviews. it's hard waiting and hoping fans like your books enough to leave a few sentences saying why they like a book–or why they don't like a book. It's hard hoping fans will be comfortable enough about the reviewing process to leave a review.

I probably only review 10-20% of the books I actually read. Some reviews I've neglected to do because I love the book so much each time I go to review it… I get distracted and I read the book again. Yeah, that's a problem for me. Not going to lie.

I also tend to write commentary and snark as I review books–and if I don't like a book, that commentary and snark can be a bit biting. I'm a reader as much as a writer, and I get really involved with a book. It isn't about the author, but you damned well fucking better believe it's about that book… and I get involved with what I read. A lot.

The following contains excessive profanity because I fucking feel like it:

Authors may not like what I have to say when I review their book, but think about it this way: You fucking got my fucking attention and you fucking made me feel things.

I only review books I have strong fucking feelings about. So the fuck what? I'm an emotional girl, and goddamnit, I read to feel things.

Maybe you don't like what you fucking made me feel, but that's not your problem. Seriously, it's not. It's mine. But opinions are like assholes, we all have one, and we have to deal with our own shit. Same applies if I fucking loved your book. If I fucking loved it, you better fucking believe I'll probably be there buying more of your fucking books, so keep fucking writing them! Fuck, not hard.

This ties back to authors engaging with readers: Don't fucking do it. My review really isn't for you. I've only seen a very few couple of instances where I've actually discussed a review with an author, especially a very critical review. I am more likely to engage with an author if I really like their book or I'm close friends with them–or we're writing buddies.

And even then, I will tell them when I don't like something. Why? Because I tend to be a fucking blunt and honest person. I'd rather tell the truth than be one of those lying assholes who can't be fucking trusted with anything, you know?

If I'm saying, “Eh. It was okay.” That's exactly what I mean. I didn't love it, didn't hate it.

If I'm saying, “Not a fan.” That's exactly what I mean. I didn't like it. I'm not a fan.

You get the idea. When I'm on the fence, I go for half stars in my reviews. You can figure out if I score down or up from the half star which way I'm closer leaning.

do review books for authors… if I feel they can handle honesty. I will review the book exactly as I like it.

Why yes, I have lost friends this way… why do you ask?

People are going to fucking bitch and moan about Amazon for one reason or another. It's a business. No business is perfect. Amazon provides what readers want, however. Amazon versus the Big Publishers was a clusterfuck… and the Big Publishers got their way.

What happened?

I am down to buying one or two Big Publisher book releases every year now instead of buying upwards to a hundred titles a year. Indies and Self-Publishers are getting my money now. Why?

Because I was buying e-books because they were cheaper than the paperbacks I couldn't afford. Now the e-books are more expensive than the paperbacks in some cases. I can't afford that shit, and I want to keep reading books.

That is also exactly why I have marked down my books to $2.99 to $3.99 for new releases. I understand my wallet, and I understand that I can buy more books for cheaper, I can buy many books from one author… or just one.

I want my books to be accessible for people just like me.

Yet Amazon is evil.

No, Amazon wants money, and to earn money, they have to look at the big picture. I get that. Money's evil, and Amazon has succeeded because it is frugal.

Before you start giving me shit about authors being a product, uh yes, we are. Get over it. Every publisher, every marketplace, every seller ever views us as a product. Because we are a product. Readers are using Amazon because it's easy, because prices are affordable, and because it's a known name.

Amazon fucks things up from time to time, but here's the deal:

Amazon has allowed me to actually grow my career. The tools I need to make a successful campaign for my books are present. They have the readers, the buyers, the fans, the lovers of books–and they provide what I need to reach them.

Amazon isn't evil because of what Amazon is. Amazon is evil because we want to be the pretty princess in the ivory tower of success… and we aren't. And we expect Amazon to make us all a bestselling author.

Because we feel we are entitled to being that pretty princess in the ivory tower of success. We believe it should be ours just because we write.

No.I am okay with the review thing–because I want to write books that are so good people review them because they must. Because they have felt something so strong they have to tell someone about it.

I want my readers and fans to love my books so much they review because they want to not because I begged them to.

Review my books if you loved them like that. If you haven't… do me one favor:

Find an author who makes you feel that way.

When you do, review for them, love them, and support them in the best way you can: by loving and keep their books.

You owe authors absolutely nothing. Don't let us tell you otherwise, no matter how desperate we're feeling because reviews do help us sell books.

Amazon isn't evil. It's a tool like any other, but it has one thing that scares the flying fuck out of authors: the power to make change in the publishing industry.

That's what's scary. Amazon has sway, Amazon has readers, and Amazon has already brought change to our comfortable little writing bubbles.

We can't just go to a book blog touring group and expect magical reviews to rain from the sky. We're no longer protected by “Received an ARC in exchange for an honest review” because Amazon wised up… too many of those reviews aren't honest.

Too many of those reviews came from tour groups with strong recommendations for only positive reviews.

Too many of those reviews were actually purchased on sites like fivrr to be positive and help their authors sell books.

We don't have to like the reasoning, but we do have to adapt to it.

For us authors?

That means we have to do better, and we have to fucking stand up and keep writing books–more books, better books, and books readers fall so deeply in love with they can't help but leave a review because we wrote words that touched their heart or soul.

When you see a book and go, “Wow! That was so amazing, how can it not be a bestseller?” review the book. Tell your friends about it.

Bestsellers become bestsellers because people love the book and fight to make it shine. The author brought the book…

… but the readers made it a bestseller.

That's what Amazon is trying to accomplish. They want the organic spread of books so loved they rise to the top. They don't want gorilla marketing campaigns designed to force a book to the bestseller list.

They want to find the hidden gems that bring life to a reader's eyes.

Amazon isn't evil. It can't be. It isn't a person. It's a business tool–and it's a tool that's trying to push authors into writing more and better books.

I'm fucking okay with that. Why?

Because I want to write good books. I want to write great books… and I want those books to find their way into the hands of readers who will love them.

Do reviews sell books? Yes.

But you know what actually sells books?

The book does. Everything about the book, from its cover to its description to its first pages.

Reviews just tip the scales.

You want to support authors?

Fucking read. That's it. Read. You don't owe us jack shit. While I'd love if you loved my books enough to leave a review, whether or not you review is entirely your choice.

If I didn't grab your heart and squeeze it so much a review oozed out, that's okay.

Just keep fucking reading.

Just keep fucking writing.

In the grand scheme… publishing as an industry is kinda evil. Blaming one entity does no one any good. At the very end of the day, books matter. It's a big world. Find your way in it.

If you view Amazon as evil, go elsewhere. That's your choice.

But Amazon's policies aren't the real act of evil here:

The fact we have a problem with people buying fame, buying reviews, and believing it's okay to get positive reviews at any cost is the real act of evil here.

I don't have a problem with people using book blog tours to connect with reviewers–if those groups don't mandate positive-only reviews.

Problem is, the reviewers are under pressure to do just that.

And that is why reviews are being removed–not because they were found on tour groups, but because those groups do not actually exchange ARCs for honest reviews. They're asked to review positively.

And that violates Amazon's terms of condition.

Amazon is giving us exactly what we asked for. Think about that very carefully. Authors have been crying for years to get rid of the biased reviews.

And they have. They are… and now we're starting to see just how far the dark arms of biased reviews stretch.

And it isn't entirely Amazon's fault. It's ours, too.

Now that we've gotten what we've asked for… what are we going to do about it?

I don't know what everyone else is going to do about it, but I'm going to write better fucking books. I want to write books that squeeze a reader's heart until a review oozes out.

Leave a Comment:

4 comments
Kellye Remson says March 6, 2016

You really need to work on telling us how you really feel. Stop holding back… 😉 in all seriousness, I never really fully understood the importance to the author, of writing reviews on what I read. I have used reviews that are available on Amazon in order to find new authors and feel like they are a valuable tool for the reader; but again, I was unaware of reviews being purchased or influenced by other than honest means.
Just another of many reasons to appreciate a good read and the person who creates and manages to get it out there to us. Thank you for all you do.

Reply
    RJBlain says March 6, 2016

    Thanks, Kellye! <3 Yeah... reviews make a difference for authors because of amazon's algorithms... but most of all, we need reviews so readers can decide if the book might be right for them. It's tough!

    Thank you for reading! <3

    Reply
Mark Henwick says March 7, 2016

Good stuff. Fucking good stuff actually.

“gorilla marketing campaigns” – guerrilla. I think.
If you actually do have gorillas marketing your books, can I have a banana please?

Reply
    RJBlain says March 7, 2016

    I still like the mental image of authors beating their chests and competing to see who screams the loudest, which is kinda what it is…

    Goddamnit now I want a fucking banana!!

    Reply
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