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The Review Amazon US Doesn’t Want You to See

The ExperiencersAs most indie authors do, I struggle with marketing and getting the word on my novels out. To paraphrase Bones from Star Trek, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer not a marketer.”

So, when someone graciously reviews one of my novels, I do a happy dance, which is what I did when John Hennessey posted a review on Amazon about The Experiencers.

Mr. Hennessey and I crossed Facebook profile paths on Indie Author Support & Discussion, a FB group for writers. Since groups are one way to pimp your work, I belong to many, but IASD has a special place in my heart, and I spend a lot of time there interacting with other members. It was through this interaction that Mr. Hennessey picked up a copy of The Experiencers, read it, and enjoyed it enough to post a review.

At some point along the way, he also sent me a friend request, which I accepted. But we’ve never met, and without asking him directly or investigating via the Internet, I can’t tell you much about John Hennessey’s personal life other than that he’s a fellow indie author.

But Amazon has decided that his review of my novel should not be seen by Amazon customers, and they pulled it. When I read John’s review (hell, yeah, we’re on a first name basis–the man was censured after reading my novel–should we ever actually speak, we’re Val and John to each other even outside of FB), I couldn’t figure out what part of it Amazon would have issue with. His tone conveys his enjoyment of the reading experience. It doesn’t come across like something written by a sock puppet.

If you’d like to decide for yourself, here is a copy of the banned review:

A great debut from an exciting new author, Aug. 13 2015
John Hennessy
This review is from: The Experiencers (The Valiant Chronicles Book 1) (Kindle Edition)

The Experiencers is a uniquely engaging read that has an extremely interesting protagonist in Michael Valiant, the aforementioned Black Ops operative in the synopsis. If you look at the story from his point of view, you will read the story in one particular way.

We are introduced to Michael early on, so readers can tell his role will be a pivotal one. An educated guess says that he is the one on the pretty excellent cover.

Later chapters introduce us to Shelly, who is having an affair with a man, whilst considering breaking it off out of some well placed loyalty to her husband.

The early part of the book reads like bottle episodes where the link with the later episodes seemed initially unclear, but that was just my perception. Actually, if you look at the book as a whole, a rather intricate storyline emerges. This is what I think makes The Experiencers a true gem. It’s like one of those Russian Dolls. You believe you understand it, you believe you know the characters and their motivations.

But this is book one in the series, and if you read between the lines, you’ll begin to be amazed at the attention Val Tobin has given to her characters.

Each are well drawn and developed. Carolyn was on a par with Michael for me, as I have a spiritual side and the way she explores her talent is pretty amazing.

Then…there’s the aliens. Quite honestly, there is so much going on with this story it demands at least a second reading, which is what I chose to do.

If anything, the second reading is much more enriching. I felt empathy for characters that really didn’t touch me on reading one; I imagine as the author constructed her edits for the book, she may have felt the same.

For a debut, this is an extremely well written tale that I imagine will be perfected in book two. I would definitely recommend this book and would give it a very strong 4.5 stars. (So 5 on Amazon, 4 on GoodReads).

Nothing evil in there, right?

For the record, it does still exist outside of Amazon US. But who knows how long that will last? Based on the way the review was written, John is clearly not a sock puppet. He read the novel not once but twice. He picked up the nuances and discussed the novel with a depth many reviews lack.

Yet Amazon sees it as a “fake” review? They feel we’re friends because we have an FB connection? I’m speculating, because they haven’t told John exactly why it was pulled. And mine isn’t the only one. John is unable to post reviews on Amazon US now. Amazon is blocking them.

Clara's Song by John Hennessy

Clara’s Song by John Hennessy

Yes, John is an author. But as most authors are–have to be–John is also a reader. When he reads a book he likes, he reviews it, understanding more than the person who is just a reader how important these reviews are.

Posting a thoughtful, considered review consumes time and energy. Amazon should encourage such reviews. Yet they hamstring the very people who can provide the most insight into a read.

I can understand removing fake reviews. Amazon should address the situation described in the post Amazon fake reviews bought for £3. But I didn’t buy a review from John or coerce him to post a review for my novel. At this time, I haven’t even read one of his novels yet though they are climbing their way up my TBR list. We have a social media connection that came about as we did what we’re supposed to do to promote our novels: we networked.

Amazon needs to take a closer look at their review process. The solution to the paid review, sock puppet issue isn’t to yank the hard-earned legitimate reviews. When a book has only a few reviews, removing a legitimate review burns.

Update on October 15, 2015: Amazon has reinstated the review.

18 Responses

  1. So, as we are both members of the Facebook group for past and present writers at Suite101, can I look forward to having my review of Injury removed any day now?

    • It’s possible. Not sure how they determine this. The review of Injury is much appreciated for however long it remains up there. I hear the criteria for the Amazon UK site is different than the criteria for the US site as far as reviews from friends goes. But I have no idea what that means.

  2. It’s the age old tale of “there’s always that one person who ruins it for the rest of us.”

    Although, in this case, it wasn’t just one singular person buying reviews- from my understanding, it became a big thing. Because of the fake review and paid review scandals Amazon has been involved in, they had to do something.

    I’m no way happy about their actions, as I also had reviews removed of john’s – someone whom I’ve never met but will admit to having an online friendship with. Our friendship basically consists of facebook chats about books and not much else. But I understand that Amazon had to do SOMETHING about the fake reviews being posted.

    Their algorithms obviously need work and they need to define how and why they come to the conclusion that we “know” the reviewer. Perhaps they believe any form of private contact is unacceptable? If this is the case, then we are guilty. It’s unfair, but they make the rules (the stupid, stupid rules.)

    I’ve sold hundreds of copies of my books, yet I still only have 50 reviews of my first book on Amazon. Not many people know how much reviews mean to authors, so that’s why we need to get out there and network and push our work. I don’t know how amazon expects authors to network and build reviews without talking to potential readers, but clearly they consider this soliciting reviews.

    There really needs to be a review of their policy to help differentiate between the real and fake reviews.

    The biggest thing I find interested is the 4 and 5 star reviews seem to be the ones that are always deleted or deemed as fake. What about the people who leave 1 star reviews and admit to not even reading the entire book?

    Sorry, have finished my very long rant now.

    • I have read many of Anne Rice’s novels and follow her on FB. I’ve interacted with her. Does that make us friends according to Amazon? Does that mean if I want to review her novels I can’t?

      One major issue with the way they handle it right now is that we don’t even know what the sticking point is. John and I don’t even live on the same continent. Since I posted this, I verified he lives in the UK. I’m in Canada.

      Your point about the one-star reviews is a good one, and one that I didn’t mention in my post. There are plenty of revenge reviews out there and reviews that demonstrate the reader never read the book, yet Amazon retains those. A revenge review is not a fair or honest review. A review by someone who hasn’t read the book is not a fair review of the book.

      It also floored me when I read in the article I linked to that someone can purchase one-star reviews and have them posted to the books they see as competition. It makes me sad to know that some writers would do that to one another.

  3. […] Source: The Review Amazon US Doesn’t Want You to See | Indie Lifer […]

  4. This is a heart-breaking state of affairs Val, and over the next week or so when I take short breaks from my WIP I intend to start working on a letter to Amazon US.
    I don’t check my review situation often but it galls me to see this happening and nobody seems to be taking any notice.
    I’ll keep you and the other guys posted on whatever I come up with in my letter.

  5. Soliciting reviews?! Amazon do it themselves all the time. A week or so after you download a book you get an e-mail headed “how many stars would you give [title]”.

  6. Reblogged this on Nancy M. Griffis and commented:

  7. I’m glad to hear Amazon reinstated the review! It’s my general impression that companies like Amazon really aren’t sure what to do with reviews, so they make sweeping, generalized changes and then have to deal with the fallout on a case by case basis. It’s awesome that this particular case worked in your favor!

    • Thank you, Michelle. I had the same feeling, though the impression I had extended to thinking that lodging a complaint wouldn’t make a difference. I’m happy to see it did. I’d like to hear about others esperiences with getting reviews back. I’m inclined to think it doesn’t always work out this well this quickly.

  8. I am happy to hear that you finally had your issue resolved.

    I was having the same problem, difference is, the reviews never even made it. When I inquired about it, I was told that if the reviewer is deemed to be a friend, someone you are in a financial relationship with, or your accounts are too similar (?), the review will not be posted. They would not elaborate on their “secret” methods of finding this out.

    After my last message, which stated that if they could logically conclude (their words) that I have a relationship with someone either because they were in the same country as I am – Canada – or maybe even because of my last name (because of course, I know every Smith in the world), what am I to do? A moderator said that they wouldn’t further discuss this, and if I sent another message, it would be ignored. Family and friends could put their opinion under the forum topic. I didn’t have either posting reviews.

    Reviews are marketing, and they are taking away from us a very important one with no recourse – at least in my situation. The review rules were followed, I fell under none of the ones mentioned that could have a review blocked, and still, I am left with two lonely reviews. Do they not understand that this also takes money out of their pockets when a book doesn’t sell?

    • What you just described illustrates the injustice of Amazon’s review system. They claim they are improving it, and we’ll see, but in the meantime, we have nonsense like this. It’s my frustration with the absurdity of deciding for me who my intimate contacts are that triggered my blog post about it. We may not have recourse within Amazon, but contrary to what some profess, they don’t yet own the world, and we still have free speech outside their website.

  9. I just experienced one of my reviews being removed. I have no idea who the person was, and after a little investigation, found out they were in Ireland and a verified purchase. I don’t know anyone from Ireland and I’m from Canada! It’s hard enough getting reviews; but to have them removed when received is beyond frustrating!

    • It might have nothing to do with you and the reviewer. Amazon might have been purging that reviewer’s posts and you were collateral damage.

      We work so damn hard to get one review. Amazon needs to work on their algorithm so legitimate reviews aren’t deleted. What burns is that they are deleting legitimate four- and five-star reviews, and leaving fake ones up or, worse, leaving revenge one-star and two-star reviews.

      • That’s the funny thing. I had one of my critical reviews removed, along with a few others, on one person’s book, and Amazon left all of the POSITIVE one’s. There really is no rhyme or reason to any of it. I have nothing below a four-star (knock on wood) on mine, and the one that said it would be one the few she’d give more than a 5-star, gets removed.

        The other thing, as you mentioned, are the pages that seem to be inflated with family and friend reviews, non-verified, are left alone. There’s a book I recently read, definitely wasn’t ready to be published. And yet less than a week in, he’s already up to thirteen, with the ‘fans’ leaving comments on the critical reviews. Will my critical review be removed again? I won’t give up, but I’m tired of the control they seem to have on who gets to review your book.

  10. Amazon is a black box when it comes to their processes. We can speculate, but we’ll never know for sure. All we can do is complain to their customer service and publicize the injustices. It’s in their best interests to not make authors and reviewers angry by pulling legitimate reviews. Hopefully, they’re working on improving the system.

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