by Will Viharo
What are friends for if not to review your new book on Amazon, for the whole world to see? But per an alarming new policy, personal ties to the author may preclude anyone from posting their comments in this very public forum.
The questions are both why are they doing this, and how do they know about your alleged relationship, which may not even be real?
The backlash has already begun…
Despite accusations of implementing Orwellian tactics to “weed out” reviewers who might be motivated by a friendly or familial agenda to grant your book a favorable review, Amazon is apparently moving forward with its latest attempt to “improve” its platform from a reader’s perspective, while possibly alienating many authors who count on as many positive reviews to get noticed, and to sell their books.
As the virtual publisher, Amazon profits from those sales, too. So why this move – following hot on the heels of its equally controversial “pay per page” policy – and why now?
Amazingly, Amazon is not offering any explanations for this rule, either publicly or privately. In fact, it was not even formally announced, just suddenly implemented, perhaps because the company was fully aware of its unpopularity in advance.
We’re Throwing a Surprise Party – And You’re Cordially Uninvited!
Reports of this apparently self-defeating vetting process began to circulate amongst readers who received then shared this automated message after their review was denied publication:
We removed your Customer Reviews because you know the author personally.
Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related.
The response from enraged authors has been so intense than an online petition is now circulating, in a quixotic attempt to stop Amazon from enforcing this unduly restrictive new rule.
The petition, spearheaded by author Jas T. Ward (nope, we're not friends, even on Facebook!), is addressed directly to Amazon, and reads in part:
In the world where both Indie and Traditional authors are using all tools available to try to get their latest books out to the reader, it's essential for the authors and their associates to use social media: IE: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
With that being said, a reader is therefore going to have cookies and data when they see that interaction and very likely would have LIKED and/or followed the authors pages, profiles and other avenues being a fan of the author's work. They are fans after all--they want to know what an author does and their current news and title releases.
Your current process of removing reviews that a reader has created to show their honest & sincere opinion on a book is not fair and cripples the review process more than assists.
Publishing Politics In The Age of Snowden
Beyond the fact this practically surreptitious new rule denies authors crucial reviews and ratings on their product pages, many authors are offended that their private relationships are being investigated and then actually used to undermine their best professional interests.
Non-biased observers assert that Amazon is merely trying to give prospective buyers a more objective set of opinions when deciding whether to purchase a book. That makes sense, but does not take into account the integrity of readers who might happen to be a Facebook friend with the author, even though they’ve never had any direct interactions.
Since Amazon is not revealing exactly how they know what they know – or even exactly what they claim to know – charges of NSA-type snooping and infringement of civil liberties are major rallying points of this collective clarion call to rebel against apparently authoritarian measures, as common as those practices may be in this digitally interconnected world. There are even suggestions that Amazon’s information collection methods might be faulty.
Build Your Own Platform
The company is unlikely to bow to organized pressure regarding this issue unless it turns into an outright boycott – highly unlikely since Amazon practically monopolizes the self-publishing industry these days, despite the many DIY options out there. Therefore, indie authors may want to solicit reviews elsewhere. Though most popular literary sites will not even acknowledge much less review self-published books – since the DIY stigma persists despite rumors of its death, at least inside the industry – there are alternative online resources intrepid authors can pursue.
There is also Twitter, your own website, and other social media outlets where your fans can express their support, but they may not reach as many people as reviews posted right on the product page. That is why this policy is being deemed so destructive to authors attempting to gain recognition outside their own limited promotional networks.
To be fair, I know from experience that Kindle Direct Publishing is overall an extremely beneficial and convenient service, offering a potential global audience and friendly, efficient customer service. And so far, I have not yet encountered this particular problem, nor have I heard of any of my many, many author acquaintances suffering this type of seemingly random, and completely unwarranted, blockage. But that might just be due to its relative newness.
Odds Are Not Ends
Judging by the relatively paltry sales figures the majority of independent authors can claim, and the overwhelming amount of books out there, there may be more writers than readers in this world. If you’re an author, many of your friends, even if they’re just virtual acquaintances, are probably authors too, since humans tend to bond via common interests and goals. Barring every literary-minded person in your social circles from offering his or her critical kudos in a public forum seems like an unduly restrictive rule that we may just have to learn to strategically navigate.
Meantime, don’t put all your eggs in the Amazonian basket. For instance, have friends post reviews in the comments section of your Facebook posts about your new book. Word of mouth is the oldest, cheapest, and most effective publicity tool ever invented. Use it till you lose it.
What do you think of Amazon’s latest policy preventing readers from reviewing books by authors they allegedly know personally? Tweet me!
PHOTO: MIKE LICHT
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New Orleans, LA