Sunday, April 27, 2014

Amazon taking down reviews

 Ana posts (with permission) a comment by Carol Hughes, Deep Story instructor. 

 Just a comment on Amazon’s policy of taking down reviews by folks who were paid by authors via gift certificates and other types of remunerations - I know that there were a lot of bad feelings by a lot of authors - and the folks whose reviews
were impacted by that policy. And I can certainly sympathize with them on one hand.
 But, from a practical point of view Amazon did make a good business decision that benefits all of us writers in the long run.

 A couple of weeks ago I was at a gathering of writers where one of them insisted that she was going to ignore the economic realities of publishing via a legacy publisher vs. controlling her own publications by using a platform like Amazon. Her
reason - she wants to be able to one day claim that she is a New York Times Best Selling Author. And she was under the mistaken belief that could only happen if her books were published by a NY legacy publisher.
 There was utter shock on her face when I informed her that listings on the NYT B-S List are bought and paid for. Unless you are an indie author whose books actually are selling in the numbers required to qualify for the List.

 I know this from personal experience. As a publicist at a big Hollywood publicity agency it was my job as the junior team member to make the rounds of the NYT linked book stores and buy stacks and stacks of our author clients' books so that they could make the List. Either the client him/herself paid for this service as part of their PR contract with the agency. Or else, if they were mega stars (I won’t list their names here), the publishers footed that bill.
 Either way, I used to end up with hundreds and hundreds of copies of client books that I then had to figure out how to get rid of since the clients didn't want to store them in their own garages.

 When I moved over to the studios and went to work in their PR departments - guess what job I ended up with there?
 Yep, I was Hollywood’s official “Book Girl” (or “The List
Bitch” to those whose books the studios weren’t putting on the NYT List as part of their planned PR campaign for the linked film projects). Keep in mind at that time all of the studios owned all of the legacy publishers so the book/film linkage was part of their vertical revenue business model.

 But now that the publishing world has been turned on its ear and we indie authors are selling directly to our readers - and since 93% of all books are now sold on-line - The NYT has been forced to actually list books according to their real sales figures - and not the fake ones we had been creating behind the scenes for

 So what does all of this have to do with Amazon’s insistence  that reviews on their site need to be honest reviews?
 Simple - The folks at Amazon are very much aware of the fact that readers and shoppers coming to them expect to buy quality products.  Jeff Bezos and his team knew all about the fakery behind the NYT B-S List. And they were determined that all authors on their site were entitled to the same opportunity to gain readers - whether or not they had the funds to pay for reviews or not.  In short, we all have a level playing field to work with.

 Add to that the fact that when writers began turning to e-publishing in droves ~ the business of buying fake reviews exploded and was growing exponentially to the point that the majority of writers had no chance of standing out in the crowd based solely upon the actual quality of our books. Instead, the handful of writers (many of whom actually were not really writers - but were business people who saw a way to take advantage of the transition from legacy to indie publishing provided by the
direct access to the market place) - these non-writers had the business funds to pay for a torrent of fake reviews that, in turn, drove the sales of less than stellar quality books they were turning out to meet their manipulated demand by
readers hungry for new books.

 With the explosion of fake/bought reviews - came the corresponding explosion of Readers’ outrage over  the poor quality of the books they had been buying based upon the fake reviews. The number of complaints and returns began to pile up at a staggering rate.
 Meanwhile, the nascent indie author movement was in grave danger of being destroyed before it could firmly establish itself in the minds of both true writers and dedicated readers. A fact that the legacy publishers - who were suddenly faced with the reality that we writers had discovered that we actually controlled our own
books now that we had direct access to the marketplace thanks to the electronic revolution of on-line sales - loved. And they loved it because, for a short time, they mistakenly thought that they would be able to regain complete dominance over
writers once again.

 Then the John Locke Scandal broke wide open - and in the wake of the outrage that triggered - there was no looking back for us writers because Amazon took action to halt the fake review practice dead in its tracks with its new review policies and
procedures. Which meant that authors could not directly pay for their reviews (by presenting gift certificates to reviewers).
 Now for those of you not familiar with what Locke did - a brief recap. Locke owned a very successful insurance company. And when the e-book breakthrough opened up the marketplace directly from writers to readers - Locke, being a very smart businessman, immediately realized that this was an unregulated business
opportunity that he could manipulate to generate millions of dollars in income to him as a businessman. As a salesman, he instantly recognized the sales potential of direct access to buyers that Amazon provided.
 All he had to do was churn out a stream of “books” ~ even if some of them were only a few pages long. As long as he sold them as a “book” - readers would buy them.
  And to ensure that readers would buy what he was selling - since he was completely unknown in the book/reading community - he simply hired several fake review companies to churn out thousands and thousands of fake reviews about his “books”. And since he was already a salesman, he often provided the sales
copy for those fake reviews.

 He was so good at this - and since there were no rules in place as far as this exploding marketplace was concerned - Locke actually ended up eventually making over 1 million sales in one week’s time. And he was able to repeat this performance for months on end.
 What triggered his downfall - and led to the current “no paid” reviews policy that now exists in the indie marketplace is that Locke actually penned a non-fiction book on “How I Sold 0ne Million Books in a Week” - in which he bragged about what he was doing and how much he was hauling in from unsuspecting
readers who had been tricked into buying  his “so-called books” due to the glowing reviews he had been planting on Amazon and everywhere else he was doing his ebook business.

 Since he was normally only charging 99 cents/books - most of the disappointed buyers felt it was more work to get their 99 cents back, then it was to do nothing about demanding a refund for being defrauded by him.


 It wasn’t until he was arrogant and foolish enough to brag about his deception - and do it in a book that he was selling - that he and the fake review businesses were stopped. And they were stopped by the corps of outraged professional writers and Amazon who all demanded an end to fake - or paid for - reviews.

 And who exactly were these professional writers who banded with Amazon to establish equitable industry rules that ensure all of us now have a level playing field when it comes to publishing and marketing our books? It was writers just like you and I
who are now - or are in the process - of making our living by the books that wework so hard to write.

 Now, to be fair and honest, one of the fallouts from the death of the fake review industry was the fact that many of the reviews we were doing for our fellow writers were also purged from Amazon’s site. And that left a lot of unhappy writer/reviewers as a result.
 But it was necessary in order to scourge the entire system of fake or paid for reviews so that we all could start with a clean slate. And that was absolutely needed in order to regain the trust of millions of readers who had been previously defrauded by the flood of fake/paid for reviews on books that were pure crap since they were not written by writers who had put in the time to learn their craft.

 And it was because of these non-writers initially flooding the e-book market that the legacy publishers mounted several years of multi-million dollar publicity campaigns decrying the rise of e-publishing and pushing the false claims that indie writers were far less talented and professional than the handful of authors they were publishing in New York.

 And it was this 400 year old tradition of those gatekeepers totally controlling the marketplace and the destinies of writers worldwide - that laid the groundwork for their joining forces with the late Steve Jobs to price fix ebook sales in order to
bring down Amazon and shut off direct access to the market place for all writers.

 But time marches on - and the voice of writers now suddenly freed to directly reach their readers - can never be put back into that locked box ever again.

And that means that you, both as an author and as a businessperson, control your own future through the words that you write. And through the words of your readers telling other readers about the latest great story that they read - or the latest new writer they have just discovered.
 It is your readers “word of mouth” news that other readers trust. 

 And that reality explains why all of those wonderful folks yammering at you to spend hours and hours of your precious writing time  - basically begging total strangers to like you and buy your books - is such an utter and complete waste of your time and efforts.

 Instead, focus upon writing the best book that you are capable of at that moment. Put it out to the world - and then sit yourself back down and start the next book. And you repeat this process until you have a growing list of books to fill the
equally growing demand of more and more readers discovering your wonderful stories and happily - and honestly - sharing that news with the people around them.

 Fake reviews and intrusions by strangers do not build a loyal fan base for any writer. Nor does it expand that fan base. Only your growing list of wonderful stories that readers can fall in love with - and the happiness that readers experience by reading one of your books - is what is going to build your writing

 Give your readers what they deserve - your honest, best effort. And they will pay you back tenfold by telling everyone within their reach about how much they like you and your books.
 And if you take anything away from this class - never, never, never ask people to review your book for you.

 That instantly triggers an instinctual negative reaction from the primitive brain stem since it is an incredible intrusive action on your part. You have, in effect, invaded their personal space with that question.

 The most powerful and influential reviews you will receive are spontaneous and heartfelt on the part of your readers. And they will work far  harder to spread the word about you  - not because you intruded and asked them to do this. But, because they have forged an emotional bond with you through your story and see you as a “friend”. A “friend” that they are excited to share with everyone they know since by sharing - they look good to the people they share with. So they benefit by sharing news about you and your books.

Remember - it is human nature to focus on the benefit that is coming to you. Not what you can do to benefit someone else.



  1. Wow...lots of stuff in that post I was unaware of. Perhaps I've been under a rock, but I had no idea about he NYT list.

    My beef with Amazon reviews are those written by friends/family who always give a glowing review, no matter what. It's so obvious, and I agree it's a disservice to the writing/reading community in general.

  2. Very informative post. I had not heard of John Locke, but knew about the paid reviews.

  3. I'd heard about the paid reviews, but hadn't realised the NYT bestseller list was such a scam!

  4. All well and good - I knew about Locke, but not the NYT - although I did know that big publishers bought their own stable's books to push up market rating. I don't disagree about Amazon cracking down on paid reviews, but sometimes I feel they've gone too far. I will review other writers' books - but when I do so, the review is honest, and I've bought the book. I am a reader, after all.

    But I'd also like to see them address the other side of the coin, the 'one star wonders' where the rating is based on spite, where the 'reader' hasn't read the book.

  5. While this is all very interesting, the skeptic in me would like to know how she knows all this.

  6. Publishing and publicity are small worlds, I suspect. Word gets around.
    Like Baseball: those in the biz know what each other is doing shortly after they do it--if not before.

  7. Yes, they are small worlds. But it's also very easy for disgruntled people to spread half truths, etc. Which is why I hesitate to believe anything without sources.

  8. Carol says she is her own source. I have no way to prove or disprove that. She makes a lot of sense, IMO.

  9. Here's one of many articles I found online about 'buying' your way onto the NYT bestselling list
    That's not to say everyone does this, of course, but if you have over $200K to spare, you can do it!

  10. Carol sent an interesting reply about trolls. Since my day is up, I will post it next Sunday.