How far is too far when it comes to making sure reviews are legit?
Amazon has been getting attacked for their policies toward certain publishers, and I've tried to give them the benefit of doubt. There are always two sides to a story, right? Well, my doubts are piling up. Amazon has done a lot for indie authors who want to self publish, and I appreciate that. What I don't appreciate is the fact that they think they are the Review Police.
Over the last month or so, Amazon has decided to crack down on reviews they suspect MIGHT be biased in even the tiniest way. I'm all for people not being able to buy fake reviews. Amazon is taking this concept to a ridiculous level now.
I tend to write a lot of reviews. I run a book review blog, which accounts for a good portion of my reviews. I'm also An Author, which means I know a lot of other authors. Shocking, I know. Authors, especially indie authors, are great about helping each other out. We review for each other all the time because we know how hard it is to get reviews. Does that mean we aren't honest? Of course not. I've given 3 and 4 stars to books written by some of my closest writing buddies. In fact, authors are notoriously critical readers. According to Amazon, though, if you are an author, it's possible--and even likely, in their opinion--that you know every other author on the planet. If you have an Amazon Author page, they'll most likely flag your review as biased, simply because you're an author and might have a vague connection to the author or the book you're reviewing. They're even going back a removing past reviews done by authors for this same reason.
If you have a book published with a traditional publisher, you're not allowed to review for any author with the same publisher, even if you've never met, spoken to, chatted online with, or emailed that author. Amazon sees it as a conflict of interests, because you might be trying to help your publisher sell more books and aren't being honest in your review.
If you GIFT a copy of your book to someone, there's a good chance they won't be allowed to post a review. Amazon is likely to consider this as payment and refuse to post their review. It doesn't matter that this is one of the few secure ways to send a copy of your book to a reviewer, or that this might have been part of a giveaway you were running, or just a something nice you wanted to do. Amazon doesn't care about the reason behind the gift, just that it might conflict with their narrow sense of "fairness." Switch to using Smashwords to send Gift Copies.
Same goes for sending someone an Amazon gift card. Amazon may very well consider this as payment to a reviewer, even if you sending someone a gift card had nothing to do with them--at some point--writing a review for one of your books. So, it may not be to your advantage to offer an Amazon gift card as a giveaway prize anymore. Stick with Paypal or Visa.
Immediate family has always been out as a review option on Amazon. They'll kick back the review if they see you have the same home address or bank account because that person "has a vested interest in the success of your book." Fine. But, this policy is tightening up as well. If Amazon realizes that your extended family or close friends are indeed associated with you, there's a good chance they won't post their review. It doesn't matter if the really did read your book and did in fact enjoy it. Amazon doesn't care.
Many authors are now creating online Street Teams, dedicated readers who want to help promote your books by tweeting, posting, handing out bookmarks, etc. If you've got yourself a street team, KEEP YOUR MEMBERS SECRET. If Amazon finds out a reviewer is a member of your street team, kiss any reviews from that person goodbye. Amazon believes street team members may receive "perks" that have monetary value, such a bookmarks, or heave forbid, a signed paperback copy or tote bag. How dare an author thank someone for helping to promote their name, right?
There are probably even more reasons a review might be kicked back, but so far, these are the ones I've had to deal with.
How does Amazon find out whether or not someone is your friend, or on your street team, or might have met you once in a coffee shop ten years ago? Who knows. They've become the books world's equivalent of Homeland Security, apparently. It's really pretty shocking to realize they are digging into reviewers personal lives that much. It's invasive, and over the line, frankly. As I said at the beginning, I think reviews should be honest and never paid for for, but what Amazon is doing will only insure that reviews and readers alike start relying more on Goodreads or Shelfari for reviews. Many authors will no longer post reviews on Amazon, and I'm considering going the same way. Amazon's quest for bookworld domination is only pushing more readers and authors away.