Dear Amazon: What Tom Foolery Is This?

I noticed this morning that several reviews of my books have disappeared from your site. For example Unbreakable Hope had 10 reviews last I checked, now it has 9, and Giving Off Sparks used to have 9 reviews to its name and now there are only 8. It’s a similar story for  many of my books.

Now I went to do some investigating into this, because it seemed odd that so many different books were affected. As I am aware of your policy not to allow friends or family to post reviews, I suspected one of my readers who has connected with me on Facebook has had their account suspended and their reviews pulled for her crime of being, well, friends with me on Facebook.

A perusal of my Facebook feed confirmed my suspicions. A lovely lady, let’s call her Jenna because that is her name, has received a notice from Amazon.

amazon-the-fuckers

Yes, Jenna who is a genuine reader who not only reads but PURCHASES many hundreds of dollars worth of books from your store, has had her right to leave reviews of those legally purchased products revoked due to a ‘perceived bias’. Exhibit B.

amazon-the-fuckers-again

So you have decided in your infinite ignorance that Jenna is biased and cannot be objective about leaving reviews, I assume, because you have trawled through her Facebook accounts like a scavenging racoon and found out that she is Facebook friends with many of the authors for which she leaves reviews.

Newsflash Amazon, most authors are friends with readers on Facebook because that is how social media works. Authors and readers have a lot in common — namely a love of the same kind of books — so it is natural they may want to connect on social media. I can’t speak for any other author whose reviews have been affected, but I can tell you how it came to be that I connected with Jenna and we became ‘friends’ (I’ll explain the use of air quotes a bit later)

  1. I’ve been writing and publishing for 10 years (my anniversary is soon, yay me!).
  2. Sometime in the last few years, I cannot remember precisely when but it was definitely well over five years from the time I first started publishing, Jenna discovered my books.
  3. To my absolute joy, Jenna seemed to like my books. She purchased several of them and had become a fan (we’re such sensitive little souls in need of positive affirmation, so we authors love to meet fans). And Jenna leaves reviews! All hail Jenna!( All this unbeknownst to me at the time)
  4. One day while we were both on Facebook commenting on another author’s post, Jenna and I interacted. Jenna told me she’d read lots of my books and loved them. Wow! Not only did she love my books she told me she did TO MY FACE (or as close to that as you can, given we had never actually met in person). What a red letter day for me! (desperate need for positive affirmation, remember?)
  5. A short time after that, Jenna sent me a friend request on Facebook. I said yes of course. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who was so nice and had read their books?
  6. Jenna and I became ‘friends’ online.
  7. Jenna continued to read my books and leave reviews, which she does for many authors, because she likes their books. Jenna is one of Amazon’s biggest customers I’ll bet. Jenna also sometimes shares news of my new releases on Facebook, because she’s clearly not an idiot and understands the power of word of mouth. The more people who know about her favorite authors the more sales those authors make, which feeds the author and pays for new laptops and such items that are required if said author is to continue writing books and publishing those books with, among others, Amazon (who make a nice percentage off every sale. Just sayin’). Reviews mean more books for Jenna and more books for everyone. Yay!

Full disclosure now. I HAVE MET JENNA IN PERSON. Yes. I met her in 2016 at the Romantic Times Convention in Las Vegas, where we did appear in pictures together and have a few lovely chats about books and potentially getting matching tattoos (we didn’t by the way). It was fun and nice and since we have met in person now I can probably drop the air quotes from the word friend. When I used them before it was to differentiate between someone who is a friend friend and who is a social media friend. You know the difference, right Amazon? You do understand that authors and readers become ‘friends’ (there they are again) on Facebook all the time, because they are brought together by their mutual love of the same kind of books.

I fail to see how Jenna being my Facebook friend and now a person I have met in real life disqualifies her from being able to provide a useful, truthful review of any of my books on your site. She does not pirate books. She is a paying Amazon customer who, having been an avid reader of romance novels for some time, is more qualified to review a book than, say, a person who openly admits that they have not read the book they are reviewing (which does not seem to be a cause for disqualification). Exhibit C

1-starA 1 star review of one of my books that clearly states ‘After the first few pages I quit reading’. This review has been live since 2012. How is this person, who read only a few pages of my book, more qualified to leave a review than someone who has read it in its entirety and has an informed opinion of it?

Let me tell you. They are not. And yet these kinds of reviews are allowed to remain on your site. I’ve seen countless other examples of reviewers stating clearly in their review that they did not in fact read the book in question yet they are allowed to post one star reviews with impunity. This boggles the mind, quite frankly.

And to address your notion of perceived bias, I say this. Of course Jenna’s reviews are biased. All reviews are. Someone reads a book and forms an opinion. It’s not empirical data they’ve collected. They have read a book and formed a completely subjective OPINION about its quality. It is on the strength of this subjectivity that they leave a review. A review is merely that reader’s OPINION of the book, and if they loved it, that opinion will be biased towards leaving a five star review. If they HATED it for any reason (they are allowed to hate it for ANY reason), their bias will fall to leaving a one or two star reviews.

I’ve had people leave one star reviews of my books because they didn’t like profanity (even though I write erotic romance and it’s a genre that deals in profanity). I’ve had people leave me poor star ratings because they didn’t like that my hero was unshaven. These, in my opinion, are not reasons to one star a book, but I respect everyone’s right to their own opinion.

I respect Jenna’s right to an opinion. Jenna’s opinion is valid, certainly as valid as that of a person who has not read the book they are reviewing. In fact her opinion is MORE valid because being an avid reader she has, I’m sure, finely developed critiquing skills. The fact that she has become my friend on Facebook does not negate her ability to know what she likes and what she doesn’t.

And it should not disqualify her from voicing her thoughts about that on a site that actively solicits reviews from its customers and purports to WANT them. On a site that is geared toward showing customers only those books that have obtained a certain number of reviews, and by this system rewards authors who have more, rather than fewer, positive reviews. It is this very system that has fostered unscrupulous behavior from SOME authors, like the purchasing of reviews and sock puppeting. Let me assure you, Jenna is not a sock puppet. I met her in person, remember?

Not Jenna

Not Jenna

If genuine readers of hard working authors are going to be penalised for being fans of those authors, I don’t know what kind of world we’re living in. Will none of us want to be friends anymore? Will fans never contact their favorite authors for fear of reprisal? Will dogs and cats start living together? Will Donald Trump get elected?

I’m afraid, Amazon. I’m very afraid.

Yours,

Sami

27 thoughts on “Dear Amazon: What Tom Foolery Is This?

  1. Janet Rodman

    Thank you Sam for your support. I too am “friends” with many authors on Facebook because I love reading their books. As I attend many book conventions, I have also had the opportunity to meet these wonderful people in person. Based on what Amazon is saying,my being “friends” with authors makes my reviews biased? I don’t think so. How did they make that determination? I am curious.

    Reply
    1. Sami Lee Post author

      I wish I knew Janet. Their rules and regs are complete mysteries and they don’t bother to justify their decisions.

      Reply
  2. Monica Woodmansee

    Very well said! And I haven’t read any of your books yet, but now I want too! I love your tongue in cheek humor.

    Reply
  3. Maura

    I saw this blog post on facebook and wanted to say you rock!!! I will purchase your books on Barnes and Noble as you are a new to me author.

    A few things that made me laugh out loud at my desk at work (thanks a lot for that btw).

    “…let’s call her Jenna because that is her name, ”

    “If genuine readers of hard working authors are going to be penalised for being fans of those authors, I don’t know what kind of world we’re living in. Will none of us want to be friends anymore? Will fans never contact their favorite authors for fear of reprisal? Will dogs and cats start living together? Will Donald Trump get elected?”

    hahahahahaaha

    Signed another avid reader who is also not a sock puppet 🙂

    Reply
  4. Heather S.

    I appreciate every author that has called Amazon out on this. I have had my reviews suppressed twice now and have been… “lucky” enough to have the decision reviewed and reversed both times. I have a friend whose reviews got suppressed at the same times I did, but the second decision did not get reversed and now she cannot review on Amazon. According to Amazon, they have a program that looks for certain things in people’s posts, trails that lead back to where they supposedly shouldn’t, and the bots are deciding who is not following their rules. Neither time I was suppressed did I get a decent answer as to what these bots found that caused me to be singled out.
    I did have my FB, Amazon, and GoodReads accounts all synced up, so I suppose they could have followed the trail of my stalking of my favourite authors. On FB, I friend. On Amazon and GoodReads I follow. Of course I do! These authors have written books I really liked, so I want to know when the next one is coming out and what’s going on with their writing processes! I have reviewed several ARCs for authors and I have ALWAYS followed Amazon’s rule of posting that information in my review. I have reviewed multiple books for the same authors a lot of times. Helloooo! I like their writing style! And, even if it is only one book, I am technically a published romance author. But doesn’t it make sense that I would also read, and review, from the same genre because it’s what I like? I have also never traded a review of someone else’s work for a review of mine… Every time somebody offers this as a reason for the suppressions, I have to laugh because my book has been reviewed 6 times in a year, so I really must be doing the trade thing wrong!
    Since the second reinstatement of my reviews, I have separated all of my accounts. I made my wish lists private (wouldn’t want them to judge because I am excitedly waiting to purchase yet another book from an author who is already in my library), and I try to put a decent amount of time in between my reviews (I’m a fast reader sometimes and can put up three book reviews in one day because I FULLY READ three books in one day). I haven’t lost my reviews again yet…. but I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Reply
  5. Sami Lee Post author

    Ack Heather, it’s a minefield trying to navigate their rules. Some people read fast. Some people don’t like to leave really negative reviews because they don’t want to upset the author, and so all their reviews are positive (if you haven’t got anything nice to say, say nothing at all, a rule I’ve lived by myself). This makes the reviewers human beings. It’s sad that it is automatically assumed if a reviewer posts a lot of rave reviews that they are being paid somehow. They just want to champion the books they like so other people will find them. That is what the review system is SUPPOSED to be about.

    Good luck with your accounts. Hope both your shoes stay in the air.

    Reply
  6. G.J.B Hamilton-Logan

    Congratulations Amazon for having a “head in the sand” approach to beneficial and excellent reviews. I happen to be friends with a huge number of authors on FB and Twitter and will continue to post insightful and excellent reviews. It just so happens that I am completely unable to give a review to a dog of a story, that being said I rarily read one or two star reviews unless it is pointed out to me that stars are given to Authors and not their books. This practice is ludicrous yet an honest review is all I’m looking for…so look for my reviews on Goodreads.

    Reply
  7. Dee Trejo

    Yessss to everything in here as someone who is now completely banned from leaving reviews on amazon because it didn’t matter what author I left a review for I “was friends or related” to all of them all I know is my family reunion is gonna be awesome at this rate. But I’m now banned FOR LIFE as they told me I loved fangirling and leaving my reviews it gave me a way to purge everything I wanted to say about a book without give spoilers of course but Amazon needs to figure it’s shit out.

    Reply
  8. Caroline

    It comes down to fb login. Many people use the Login with Facebook option on other platforms. Amazon owns goodreads. Owns it. So any reader or author who uses fb login on good reads or Amazon allows Amazon access to fb info. You must separate these. Go to settings privacy apps and deny access from goodreads, Amazon and any other social media. Just because it’s easy– that’s how they trap us as readers and authors to surrender information.

    Reply
  9. Kristan

    This is especially annoying considering how many reviews there are for free/discounted products, which end up with a significantly higher average score then they wouldn’t get otherwise. Yes, those reviews have to say that the people got them for free but you still have to wade through essentially meaningless reviews. A Facebook relationship doesn’t remove the ability to read and be critical
    :-/

    http://thenextweb.com/insider/2016/09/20/data-analysis-shows-what-you-suspected-all-along-amazon-ratings-are-bullshit/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=Data%20analysis%20shows%20what%20you%20suspected%20all%20along;%20Amazon%20ratings%20are%20bullshit&utm_campaign=share%2Bbutton

    Reply
  10. Douglas Meeks

    Not meaning to be trolling your blog and your opinions are your own to do with as you please BUT thought this was worth mentioning.

    “Will Donald Trump get elected?” well was making fun of 40-50+% of the voters in America a good idea? Maybe Amazon works under some similar set of warped ideas. I try to tell authors to always leave their religion, politics and pet causes at home, guess the memo did not get here. People on both sides are convinced that if their candidate does not win then life as we know it is over. You just told a huge number of potential readers which side you were on. It is America and your choices belong to you but from a business perspective it is a bad idea IMHO.

    This country is terribly divided and making fun of either side is offensive to a huge number of potential readers. Just thought I should mention that fact.

    On topic unfortunately I have seen a large number of my reviews disappear but have not been “blacklisted” I dropped from Top Reviewer #230 to #318 in about 1 week so they don’t always tell you when they do things like this.

    This was not meant to be offensive, it was meant to be informative. Feel free to delete this if you find it to be offensive.

    Douglas C. Meeks
    Amazon Top 500 Reviewer, Goodreads Top 1% Reviewer, Reviewer for Paranormal Romance Guild, Wicked Scribes and Kindle Book Review

    Reply
    1. Sami Lee Post author

      Not a great to start to say ‘not meaning to be trolling’. It’s like she people say ‘I’m not racist’ just before they say something racist. So even though I suspect you are in fact trolling my blog to make a knee jerk defensive remark and push your political agenda, I approved your comment because you did at least address the issue I brought up, however briefly. I am sorry you’ve had reviews repressed. I’m also sorry you can’t take a joke. Can’t make life very fun for you. To clarify, I was not making fun of Donald Trump voters. I was making fun of Donald Trump and his big orange head.

      As for alienating 50% of my potential readers, the content of my books, if not my previous posts on this blog and my activity on social media, all make it obvious that I am a feminist who believes in equal rights for same sex couples, affordable education and health care for all and believes we should be breaking down walls not building them. I also love puppies and dislike bigots. So the ‘side of the fence’ I stand on is pretty obvious. Anyone who is violently opposed to my liberal views was never going to be a reader of mine anyway. But I appreciate your concern, Douglas. It’s touching.

      I request that you don’t keep this going by responding again. This is not a political blog and I have no desire to get into pointless debates. It is however my blog, and I will say what I like, and approve only comments that I think are constructive.

      Reply
  11. Anas Attic

    I am a reviewer who got the first letter. My Amazon account was completely separate from every other account, even had it’s own e-mail. I never posted 2 reviews at a time. It was a week after my last review when I got the letter out of the blue, and all my reviews were gone within a week.

    My husband thinks it’s because I’m a blogger, and therefore a “professional reviewer”. Or maybe it’s because I only reviewed books, and almost all of my reviews were 4-5 stars.

    I wish I knew what arbitrary rule I broke. 🙁

    Reply
  12. JF Holland

    Here, here, I too have had reviews disappear but the didn’t read it so 1* left review still there. How are we meant to get honest reviews when they remove the honest reviews and leave the bogus ones. I completely agree with everything you’ve written.

    Amazon seem to make up rules and no one but them understand them. They sure don’t help us, and they make money out of us.

    Reply
  13. Kimberly (another one)

    Dearest Sami:

    We haven’t met so maybe I should be reading and reviewing your books on Amazon. That’s all above board, right? I found this due to a *gasp* facebook friend and author posting it. I know I’ve left reviews for writers on Amazon in the past but have yet to see them posted. I wonder who moderates the reviews and how decisions are made. Dart board and beers? Tequila shots? Meh. I dunno. What I do know is I love your sense of humor!!

    Reply
  14. Heidi

    Love this way to go Sami in the past I have read many of Jenna reviews and like myself, we have a ton of author friends in common we interact we help we promo and review because we love them there our literary heroes.

    iv had reviews suppressed and overturned in past iv also made sure none mine linked up to my facebook what I would love to know is what are the actual real rules.

    why can’t these people without verified reviews who give 1 stars and say dnf get their reviews pulled….. makes me so mad.

    As a blogger and reviewer, i spend lots of my hard earned cash on amazon the monopolise everything and yet hurt people like Jenna its just not fare at all.

    Big hugs to Jenna and love to you Sami this post is brilliant

    Reply
  15. Janel Comeau

    Last time I ordered something on Amazon it took four weeks to arrive and came in the wrong size, so I’m absolutely livid that they somehow have time to creep through authors’ Facebook pages, looking for incriminating friends. Priorities, people.

    Reply
  16. Elise K. Ra'sha

    Very well said. I’m going to do what I can to get my fellow author friends to spread this around. This policy of theirs is very hurtful.

    Reply

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