Your book just came out, and it needs reviews on Amazon. Not just any kind of review, but positive ones.
Do you rally your supporters on social media? Ask friends and family to post (implied glowing) reviews? Email anyone who’s ever complimented you and ask them to post?
According to Amazon, all of the above methods lead to “manipulated reviews.” The company is deleting thousands of them, says this story in The New York Times.
If you’ve already employed these strategies, don’t worry about it too much. Most of the time, Amazon is not looking for small fry like us, but for authors with huge followings who can incite people to write reviews on the first day of publication, sometimes without reading the book. But even so, we smaller authors are not immune. The article includes interviews with authors who say that Amazon removed reviews by family and friends.
My first reviews on Amazon happened in a fairly unusual way. I’m not sure that publishers still do this, but when the first edition of Will Write for Food came out in 2005, the publisher paid Amazon to send my book to premium reviewers, who posted reviews immediately on my Amazon page. Were they instructed to write positive reviews? I doubt it, given their status as premium reviewers.But I can’t know for sure.
That strategy got me 10 reviews or so, but I wanted more and over time, they arrived. Most appeared organically, where I had never heard of the reviewers and they took it upon themselves to comment. It’s always a thrill to read the nice ones.
Sometimes, when readers emailed me to tell me how much they enjoyed my book, I replied by asking if they would be willing to post a review, and included a link to my Amazon page. Was that wrong? Maybe. But in my defense, authors are supposed to drive book sales, and the people who emailed me could have chosen to ignore my request.
(A side note: The review I’d love to manipulate comes from a neurosurgeon in Tennessee (I Googled him because I was so mad), who gave my book one star. “Worthless to anyone wishing to write cookbooks,” he wrote. On top of that insult, three people found his review helpful.
Actually, I’ve come to terms with my few negative reviews. Without them, my page would be all positive reviews and less believable. That’s what this Amazon page on getting reviews says. And I’m always telling food bloggers who write products reviews to avoid hype and include some pros and cons. I try to suck up 4.5 stars out of 5, but it’s a struggle.)
How do you feel about solicited or manipulated reviews? What do you think is appropriate behavior for book authors? And what have you done to drive online reviews?
(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)
Great post. I love every single review I get on Amazon. All my reviews were surprises and only one I know IRL. Since I didn’t ask anyone to write the reviews, it means that they really like it enough to take the time to write a review. (I should take that as a lesson to write reviews!)
In the future I may copy your idea to provide a link to review it on amazon when someone emails me with compliments on my book.
That’s wonderful, Leah, that your reviews were all surprises. Also that you seem to think my idea to suggest a review is kosher.
Update: After I finished writing the comment I checked out my Amazon reviews and the one reviewer I know IRL review isn’t there anymore. That review was written the day before my book came out (She saw a preview of the book). The photos she added are still there. Looks like they are cleaning up reviews of little authors too! I’m left with 7 5 stars and 1 4 star – so no complaints 🙂
Well, it still turned out okay. Five stars is great! I was there for a long time.
Very interesting debate. I haven’t written my book. However, I have faced similar situation with my blog. I have urged my followers to vote for me/show their ‘love’ for me by liking me etc in a few situations… I have got some beautiful and absolutely touching comments from readers who are not into the social media scene. I’ve asked them to post them on my Facebook page so that others can also read them (well, they haven’t). Have I been manipulating? I hope not. I might have prodded a bit to get more ‘love/like/comments’ – whatever you term this as. But definitely cannot urge them to say things that are ‘not genuine’ until and unless they are close friends. Same thing goes for a book review. If a friend tells you personally that he/she likes your book and you request him him/her to note it down as a review on Amazon – that’s not manipulation. Manipulation is when he/she doesn’t like your book and tells you point blank on your face and you still insist that he/she ‘should’ write a good review on the basis of your friendship. Again, telling him/her to blurt out the truth in this case would be an act of stupidity. Definitely a bit of hush hush… and a slight bit of manipulation there, perhaps?
That is a touchy situation, Ishita. Would someone really tell you to your face that he doesn’t like your book? I doubt it. If so, that person has no manners!
You have raised an interesting point about all these other social media situations of asking people to “Like” you on Facebook and vote for you. There’s a thin line between self-promotion and being too pushy.
I have readers who will RT my post on Twitter and leave a comment on Facebook but will not comment in the post itself. It used to frustrate me but now I think “It’s all good.” People have to be comfortable.
So true Diane. I love to read comments after a post. But then I think as long as people are sharing the post, it doesn’t really matter. What frustrates me is when I take hours to put up a post and I post it on FB and within seconds there’s a LIKE. I feel like emailing them saying asking them to pretend that they’ve read!!!
Fascinating. Like most of us here, I agree that there is a line that is FINE to cross. It is indeed suspect to read gushing reviews that were obviously posted by friends. But if people really like the book and they’re not close to the author, encouraging them to write a positive review is perfectly Kosher.
Oh good, Tinky. I’m glad you think so. We’re all just trying to figure out these new challenges and the right thing to do.
Rachel K @MarmadukeS says
Can I just say that I have a different problem. Like Ishita Unblogged (above), I have a blog and as soon as I started posting I tried to get friends and family to read it . . . fat chance! Promoting it on my behalf? You have to be kidding. It’s not that they don’t like it, but they feel they get enough of me and food in the real world!
On the plus side, I now know that all of my readers have found and stayed with me because they like my writing and food, rather out of any real-life loyalty! And of course, some of these readers have become friends in the real world – doubly lovely!
Maybe your friends and family aren’t big social media people or commenters. Food bloggers, on the other hand, are very comfortable with leaving their mark all over the web. Remember that most people who read posts don’t comment anyway. Your friends and family are in the majority, Rachel.
Rachel K @MarmadukeS says
Diane, you are absolutely right about not being media aware! And the problem is that I have worked in various forms of marketing for the past 20 years, so it is part of my nature. So if a friend is in, say, a band – I am one of the first people to start talking, blogging, et al – because that is what comes naturally to me. But I am equally guilty of not commenting on blogs and posts, even ones that I have enjoyed – it is sometimes a question of time and sometimes because I don’t want to say anything if I can’t say something meaningful. Having said that . . . I love getting comments!
I am betting that if each of you “asked” fifty of your closest friends and total strangers to BUY your book from Amazon they would have no problem with that kind of management!
I have no problem with an author asking anyone and/or everyone to review their book. Does it help me as a prospective book purchaser? Maybe. Every reader comes to a book with different attitudes, opinions, and knowledge bases. So for me it could be a RockStar and for someone else The Same Old Stuff.
I am wondering why Amazon even cares – it is bringing people to their site no matter what is written. Isn’t that the point of them having a site – to bring people there to contemplate a purchase?
Karen, that’s what it’s like to have a new book come out. You invite your friends and relatives to your book signing and they buy your book, regardless of their interest. They do it out of loyalty. But some of these authors have thousands of fans who don’t even read the book! I like that Amazon is evaluating the situation. Many surveys show that more and more people make purchases based on online reviews, so dishonesty is a big issue.
Andrew @ Eating Rules says
Don’t feel too bad about that neurosurgeon’s review. He’s only got a 78% patient satisfaction rating, which is not nearly as good as your Amazon reviews… and frankly, is a bit scary. I guess it’s good that writing cookbooks isn’t brain surgery!
Andrew, you gave me such a good laugh. Thank you. Very clever. (You know, you could post it under his review as a comment. Then everyone who read it could laugh their heads off too.)
Andrew @ Eating Rules says
“Laugh their heads off” – I sure hope not, since he won’t be able to help 22% of them! 😉
Katya (Clever Girl Eats...) says
Not only that, but his review is on the last page (6) of all the reviews on Amazon regarding Dianne’s book. Plus, did you get a look at his photo?! 🙂 lol…
Vicki Bensinger says
Personally Dianne I think what you did is perfectly fine. If you owned a restaurant and someone came in and raved about your food you might say tell all your friends. In a world where so much is done on the World Wide Web it makes perfect sense to ask someone whose just made a positive comment about your book to ask them if they would post a review. They already gave you one, why not share it with everyone. I see nothing wrong with that at all.
Oh good. The restaurant analogy makes sense, Vicky. I bet restaurants are doing all they can to manager their “reviews” on Yelp.
Am I the last person on earth who doesn’t bother with Amazon reviews? I find them next to worthless in determining whether I’ll like a book (fiction) or find it useful (nonfiction). I prefer reviews from “known” sources. I can’t say that an Amazon review has ever influenced my (considerable) book purchasing habits.
Hmm. No, you are not the last person on earth, but close, Celeste. Maybe you prefer the reviews on Good Reads, which is less commercial? Surveys show that more and more people read online reviews before making a purchase.
Katya (Clever Girl Eats...) says
Celeste, I have to concur with Dianne that you may be one of the few who ignore the reviews on Amazon! But you are entitled, if it doesn’t help you choose a book one way or another, why bother?
I almost always do research before I purchase something, join a club or class, or even go to a health professional (the few I found regarding doctors were helpful!) I find that the reviews are valuable if they’re well balanced and without a blatant agenda. Of course the angry reviews are entertaining and have their own value!
I find absolutely nothing wrong with urging people to check out your book, blog, et al, and asking them to submit a review without asking it to be only positive. I am all for manipulation as long as it’s in the right context and not hurting anyone (except for the neurosurgeon)
The world of publication has changed. A long-time children’s book author did indeed tell me that in the days of yore – the publishers did much to publicize book. These days they tell her – it’s in your ball park. Get reviews, use social media. You do more and more of the leg work. It is not unethical to ask for a review. Where it would be hazy is to blatantly ask for raves accolades. I am thinking that Amazon might be able to decipher some of that. Specifically if the review is so vague it seems as if the person did not read the book.
That is a good distinction. I would never ask someone to write a rave review.
And yes, I doubt that a publisher would do that for me now. It was 2005, when publishers still helped authors with promotion. Now it seems, those of us with a following get next to nothing.
Barbara | Creative Culinary says
I see no problem with asking someone who felt compelled to share with you to leave a review; letting others know their experience is helpful in their decision making. Asking for friends and family to leave reviews without reading the book…now that is a whole different story!
If I have someone mention on Twitter that they made and loved a dish I posted on my blog; I ask them if they would mind leaving a comment; in the same vein thinking their comment would be helpful for other readers. Asking someone to also post on Facebook after leaving a comment is, in my opinion, asking a bit much. Validating is one thing…asking for too much moves into the realm of promotion. Guess that’s a fine line no matter what we are offering isn’t it?
Yes so true, Barbara. It’s easy to overdo it. We’ve all seen those requests from people (vote for me! Friend me! Like me! Follow me!) and felt uncomfortable.
I also don’t see anything wrong with asking someone who has already sent you positive feedback, to share it. You’re not telling them what to write – they’ve already indicated that they like the book – so the only thing you’re asking them to do is to repeat what they said to a larger audience.
On another note, Amazon had started a program where they were sending selected people advance press copies (galleys) of books, which are examples of the books, printed on inexpensive paper (so the photos don’t look as good as they do in the finished book.) And there are often typos and things that will be corrected in the final book. I think it was to build up some reviews when the book is released.
I started noticing that people were leaving reviews like “The quality of photos in this book are bad” and “I found a number of typos.” Amazon says that they tell those early-reviewers these are preview galleys, but I guess many still don’t heed that, and it’s unfortunate to read those reviews because they stay there forever and aren’t indicative of the final book.
Nicole Hunn (Gluten-Free on a Shoestring) says
That is so interesting, David! That is dangerous business, sending out galleys to someone who isn’t used to seeing them. That sounds like the proverbial shooting yourself in the foot. Sounds like it would be better for reviews to happen more organically, as nerve-wracking as it can be to wait for them to roll in.
Thanks for the inside info.
I read something from Amazon that they tell people to be aware they were uncorrected proofs, but even the best intentions… etc…
When I worked in a restaurant, we’d give the staff day-old desserts. One day I heard a waiter tell a customer, who’d asked about a cake, that is was “very dry.”
You’d think they knew that, too, but…
Thanks David. I like to get these reality checks because as you know, I want to do the right thing.
Aha. I wonder if this is the same program as the one the publisher used on my book. It does seem unfair to have permanent negative reviews based on an unfinished book. I suppose it’s the trade-off of getting advance reviews on the page.
Nicole Hunn (Gluten-Free on a Shoestring) says
I actually hadn’t heard about this new tactic of Amazon’s, so thanks for bringing this to our attention, Dianne. I, for one, am glad they’re doing this. I have never once had a friend or family member write a review of one of my cookbooks on amazon. That’s not what that space is for – especially since amazon reviews can be so influential.
On a related note, I’d love to hear what you think about authors’ responding to readers’ amazon reviews by placing a comment to the particular review. I know that many do it, but I have never, ever done it, and I don’t plan to do it – but I have to bite back so often! If someone has an honest, well-placed criticism of one of my books, I may not like it but that’s too bad for me. When someone actually puts up misinformation in an amazon review (which seems to happen more often than I would have thought), it’s so hard to sit on my hands! But I always do sit on my hands. Readers really seem to think of that space as their own. Any comment by an author seems in poor taste, positive or negative. My blog is my space. Amazon isn’t.
This is an interesting issue. Not only have I seen authors respond to reviews, but I have also heard of authors who marshall fans to bomb the comment with defenses. I did see a strong defense from one cookbook author, and I sort of admired it, but on the other hand, I thought it was better to take the high road and not respond directly.
Once or twice I have complained to colleagues about a review (there was another one from someone who didn’t like the way my book was copy edited and decided it couldn’t be any good therefore) and the colleagues posted defenses. I was so pleased! And perhaps I am secretly hoping people will click the “unhelpful” box next to the brain surgeon’s review.
Nicole Hunn (Gluten-Free on a Shoestring) says
I think it’s hysterical that he’s a brain surgeon, Dianne! That, and rocket science, are the two professions that we all hold up as beacons of difficult, careful tasks. The only thing that has given me any comfort w/r/t amazon reviews is that people generally do seem to put them in context. In fact, I find a 3-star review much more influential than a 1- or 2- star review, both of which often just seem like a temper tantrum.
Roberta @MizChef says
I tend not to read reviews of my books (both nonfiction and fiction, under a pen name) because it’s a bit dangerous. After all, what does it get you? Yes, the positive ones can boost your ego, but the negative ones can wallop your ego, and when that happens, you begin to question your abilities and second-guess yourself. So, unless I know beforehand that a particular review is really positive, I try to avoid them altogether.
As far as asking people who write to you to write reviews, I don’t see anything wrong with that. In the situation you described, Dianne, those people wrote to you first to tell you how much they liked your book. It’s not like you went trolling the internet, looking for *them.* So, if they were willing to write to you privately, why not publicly? How is it different from asking people on FB to “like” your page or on Twitter to follow you? It’s very different from asking your friends and family to go on Amazon and write glowing reviews.
As Claudia pointed out, the world of publishing has changed and we, as authors, carry the burden of marketing our stuff. As long as it’s done honestly, it’s fine.
Yes, that is a good point, Roberta. We creative people are sensitive, and reading those reviews can be perilous. I don’t understand, for example, why someone who liked my book gave it only 4 stars and not 5 — and that’s a positive review! I have to get over myself and not take it so seriously. We are harder on ourselves than any critic could be.
I’m glad to read that you approve of my strategy. It’s pretty tame, all things considered.
None of my reviews on amazon were requested as far as I know. So they run the full range of love to hate. of course its easier to read positive reviews than negative, but this is the part of being a writer.you get toughened up. in the 1980s I took a series of food lectures I think generated by the CA Culinary Academy and led by very knowledgeable unknowns. one was about dealing with negative reviews and turn downs by magazines and publishing houses (in the days we sent out mulitple story queries per month). The crux was that a negative review is far more helpful than a positive one. It needs to be read and thought about, identifying the spots which need attention and more work. It completely changed my professional life getting permission to read negative comments on my work and not be crushed when I got a magazine or book refusal. I began building my cadre of cookbook testers based on the people who wrote bad reviews. they took the time to really think and develop why they did not like the book. I came to value that quality.
I know non cookbook authors who get friends to write positive glowing reviews. they are easy to spot since they sound insincere and tend to gloss over details which would be important to a reader. I tend to pass on buying those books. Unfortunately we live in a world where an element of marketing is to generate those comments designed to stimulate sales.
How mature of you, Beth, to find testers in this manner. You know they’ll be telling you things you don’t really want to hear, but need to. At last their comments on your recipe testing sheet won’t be public!
Yes, we all need help developing a thicker skin. And I love your point about learning from negative reviews. Although I do wonder what I could learn from the surgeon. If you have any suggestions I would love to know.
I don’t think all glowing reviews are suspect. We both have them on our pages, and my sense is that they came from the heart.
Judith Newton says
How timely and helpful. My food memoir just went up on Amazon for pre-order and I am writing friends about its new existence. I”m trying to be low key. Ie if you ever read this and like this, it would be great if you could write a few words on Amazon. I don’t want to pressure anyone to write or ask that the review be glowing. But not mentioning reviews seems odd in today’s climate when getting your book out there seems to rest entirely on one’s authorial shoulders.
How does Amazon know who your family and friends are, by the way? That seems a little creepy.
Congrats on your new book, Judith! I don’t understand how Amazon knows which friend or family member wrote the book either. It does seem creepy.
I don’t see anything strange about gently getting the word out about your book. It’s what we’re supposed to do.
Erica Peters says
In many cases they probably know because one of you at one point sent the other person a gift. I’ve used Amazon to send gifts to all my relations at one point and half my friends, so if any of those people ever reviewed my book, Amazon could tell that we have a personal relationship. That or I’ve been bribing reviewers with gifts!
You think Amazon can track your purchases to your book reviews? That’s really scary, Erica.
Susan Cooper says
I found this very helpful. I just published a (non cook) book and had ask for help getting reviews. They trickled in. Maybe that was a good thing. I do agree with you, it’s our job to promote and drive sales of our book. If asking for a review when one has already been offered already doesn’t seem wrong to me. But then again I’m not the one judging the situation. Just my thoughts. 🙂
It’s nice to see reviews on your Amazon page rather than an empty section. That always makes me suspicious and I feel kind of sad for the writer when a book has no reviews.
Roberta @MizChef says
Honestly, I don’t expect my friends to purchase my books, much less post reviews. I leave the purchasing and reviewing to their discretion. If they want to support me, I’m happy for it, but I won’t obligate or guilt anyone into spending money where they don’t want to. Ditto for their time and reviews. This approach is actually quite enlightening because it shows you who really wants to support you. Those who do, don’t need to be prompted.
Yes, I don’t expect that either. My friends are not my target audience. However, other people say that your friends should be the first people to buy your book — whether it means anything to them personally or not — because their job is to support you. That doesn’t extend to reviews, though. That seems like asking too much.
I tend to skim Amazon reviews but always take them with a grain of salt. Like Yelp reviews, there is bound to be a slew of people who Loved with a capital ‘L’ the book while there are those who just didn’t click with it (to each his/her own) and then inevitably there are the reviews from people who either haven’t read the book or just want to leave negative comments – thus diminishing the credibility of the whole process. SO I think while reading reviews is somewhat helpful, I personally prefer to see a book in a bookstore and flip through it before making the decision (or not) to purchase (I try to avoid Amazon for the most party anyway in favor of independent booksellers). I wonder if there are many others like me? I doubt I would solicit reviews myself, but that is also because I hate to ask for things (!) and also I would want people to feel as though they could be completely honest.
True, but these days everyone wants to see some kind of quantifiable information before making a purchase, so we’re kind of stuck with reviews in any case.
It’s funny though. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book based on Amazon reviews. I tend to buy them based on word of mouth, reviews in publications, or reviews in the independent bookstore. And almost entirely, I buy them in independent bookstores.
It is hard to ask people for things, but after a while, you get used to doing a certain level of marketing and promotion as an author, because it’s part of your job.
Jayne Georgette says
I am responding to this post Dianne without reviewing other comments (I don’t usually do that), because it is a very important topic that usually discussed only closed doors.
First, I do not think that you do anything wrong in soliciting reviews, unless you are instructing the people (or asking them) that you anticipate a positive review. As you correctly stated, how else you would be selling your book?
However, I am sorry to tell you that you were wrong in getting in contact and getting upset with the person who wrote a negative review. First, I am sure he is the minority (and I mean very minority), second who is this person? Is he an expert in writing? A famous chef? Perhaps he represents a competing publisher? In either case, most likely (in fact you know) his review did not do any major dent in your sales and/or reputation. By showing your displeasure with him, you only supported his ego.
The second part of my comment is this: If I want to purchase a book and I see that all the reviews are glowing, my antenna goes up. There is no way you can satisfy everyone, there is no such thing that a large group of people could not put your book down, because it is that good. So, of course you want to receive 4 and 5 stars from everyone, a periodic 3s actually help to sell more books.
Now comes my story. I do not get involved too much in writing reviews, but not long ago I read a book about a topic of my interest, but it was (or rather it is) such an informative book, filled with (or loaded) useful information, that I actually consult nearly daily.
I was so gratified, that I decided that I want to give back and wrote a thank you note to the author. He then turned around and asked me to write a review on Amazon. Of course I agreed, and I did write a very good review, but simultaneously, I actually analyzed the book chapter-by-chapter and I advised the reader to skip 1 or chapters, because they did not appear to belong to the book.
Guess what, I have another story. I belong to a group that its leader is the author of a book that we all liked and were invited to join without any costs involved. Nearly immediately following joining the group, the author asked me to write a review for the book on both Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.
He told me that he has various versions of a review to make it “easy” for people to submit. He understands that everybody is busy and he appreciates the support; therefore, he directed me to a page that is password protected, to select a review version that I like.
Can you imagine my reaction? The “hutzpah” this person has? I declined very politely (I do not recall the reason I gave him), but to date the guy ignores me. Since then I learned that I am not the only one that is appalled; in fact some people complained to Amazon.
Conclusion: It is perfectly acceptable for an author to ask a reader to write a review, as long as the process remains ethical. Disregard negative comments; in fact you want some. As for readers, it should be your own decision and you should only write a review that you would never be ashamed of.
Hi Jayne. Thanks for this long comment.
I think there’s a misunderstanding. I did not contact the neurosurgeon, nor did I respond to his review. I admit I am having a little fun at his expenses in this post. His review annoyed me because it was extreme and not constructive.
I agree with you about the benefits of not having all positive reviews, and as I said, it is more credible to have a few negative ones. So I am quite happy with my 4.5 rating.
Re the author who had pre-written reviews, you’d be surprised by how widespread this is. Some authors also prepare sample endorsements for people too.
Jayne Georgette says
Yes, I do get carried away when I am getting excited and/or hyper. It could be for good reasons or like in this case for mixed reasons; particularly since I had some personal experience with this topic.
I apologize for misunderstanding; I was too rushed in responding.
Dianne, even if I do not comment all the time, I am reading everyone of your posts because I enjoyed them, because they are informative, educational and keep me in the loop until I get back to my favorite subject. (I am still working on it and I will be conducting a re-launch). But first I am launching the medical writing blog, most likely next week. I am going to send you a message off line.
Don’t worry about it Jayne. I did get your point about not getting upset. It is a good reminder.
Averie @ Averie Cooks says
Although I enjoy amazon reviews, some of the reasons people leave a sub-par review have to do with things soooo far from the author’s control… i.e. they think the all the recipe ingredients/directions should be on one page so you dont have to flip over while cooking or that the font isn’t bold enough or that the paper is too glossy or whatever. While these things to matter and if I was being picky-picky yes, they’re considerations, but rarely can the author fully control it and it’s the publisher, yet the author is ‘dinged’ for this in the reviews.
Or someone gives a book a 2 star review b/c they made 1 thing and it didnt turn out. And when you read this person’s review, you know that clearly it was the person’s cooking skills, not the author’s recipe. And I always wonder do other have the ability to sift past this and decipher the meaningful from the ridiculous?
Just like with blog comments. We all get them and sometimes they’re so far off that it’s simply a headscratch. i.e. On a banana bread recipe…”I hate bananas. What else can I use to make this bread?”. Yeah. Same can be said for Amazon reviews.
These are good points. Sounds like Yelp too, Averie. I guess the answer is filtering and taking reviews with a grain of salt. And if you’re an author, not taking less than 5 stars personally.
Nicole Hunn says
“On a banana bread recipe’85’I hate bananas. What else can I use to make this bread?'”
Averie, those comments never, ever cease to amaze me. At least they’re transparent in their ridiculousness!
Amazon reviews are nail-biters, that’s for sure. I did get one 1 star review–from a person who didn’t even look at or through my book. They were mad that it wasn’t allergy-free in addition to gluten-free. That review really bugged me because it felt so unfair. But, over time, other people went through and dressed down that person for posting a review of a book they hadn’t even looked at. So, the system kind of seems to take care of itself in many instances.
That said, I know authors who strategize other parts of the Amazon process. They ask all of their readers to buy their book on a certain day at a certain time in order to skew the rankings. While not technically unethical–these are people who would have bought the book anyway–that type of thing feels funky to me.
That does seem unfair, but I love that your readers defended you.
I have read about these kinds of events and seen newsletters where people tell you how to do it. Timothy Ferris, whom I linked to in the post, does that stunt when his books come out.
Oh, also, I do respond to reviews if they refer to things I can help with. For example, someone gave my book 4 rather than 5 stars because her particular copy had some mixed up pages (p. 45 was where p. 25 should be, etc). So, I advised her that she should return the book and get a replacement. I also told her that I would pass the info along to my publisher. 🙂
That seems sensible. I bet the reviewer was thrilled to get this info directly from you.
nancy baggett says
I, too, respond, if I have something helpful to say. Such as, as Jeanne mentioned, if the pages are mixed up, or the print is out of register, the book can be replaced. Or if they misunderstood something or made a substitution that caused a recipe to go wrong and I can say here’s what do do instead. BUT, it is really important to seem pleasant and helpful but not defensive–a line that I personally know is hard to walk 🙂
Susan in the Boonies says
Once again, you drive right to the heart of conversations we SHOULD be having.
Thanks for saying so, Susan. I appreciate it.
Tv Food and Drink says
“On top of that insult, three people found his review helpful.”
Is it horrible that I laughed out loud at work when I wrote that?
How does Amazon know which reviews to delete?
I wish they would delete that one! I’m not sure how they know. The article didn’t exactly specify.
Great post, Dianne, and a great topic. As a potential buyer, I would say that when I read a review (whether it be a book or a restaurant), I would want the review to be thoroughly honest and not simply a glowing review done as a “favor”. One would hope all reviews are like this. But on the other hand, as a writer and hopefully a future book author, as today’s publishers are relying more and more on authors to market, promote and sell their own books, we – well, you (for now) – have to rely on anything and everything you can, including asking friends, followers and fans to review for you. I know that when I publish a story somewhere I ask my friends to share the link and the news and leave comments where comments can be left to show that I have readers and “fans” who enjoy my writing. All’s fair, right? That said, I find nothing wrong with solicited reviews although find manipulating reviews offensive. I don’t mind my friends sending me their cookbooks to try and understand completely when they ask me for a review. What I don’t want is thinking they expect me to automatically post a glowing review if I don’t like it. I also agree that when I read only glowing reviews of anything I get very suspicious. Do I think Amazon has the right to take down reviews? I would be very curious to know how they figure out whether a review is real and valid or fake.
This is a whole other can of worms, Jamie, when a blogger receives a cookbook from a blogging acquaintance and feels obligated to feature it, even if she isn’t particularly impressed. What a dilemma that is!
I agree with you that in our current world of self-promotion, it’s normal to ask others to spread the word. So does that mean there’s a lot of half-hearted, not-well-thought-out promotion going on? Probably.
Kathleen Flinn says
When my first book came out, I asked close friends and family who I knew had read the book either as galley or as a work in progress to post reviews on Amazon. About four or five did. One didn’t get the point of the exercise and said glowing comments but then gave me three stars (?! ) I didn’t do such a request with my second book; I think it’s less of an issue once you’ve got an audience. I haven’t asked people who write me to post any reviews on Amazon.
I tried – unsuccessfully – to get an unpleasant one-star review removed because it actually contained falsehoods about me and my husband. (For instance, she claimed that I make more money in one day than most people do in their lifetime and that I own a private island in Florida.) Amazon wouldn’t do it. I wrote a comment to clear these points up and she went bat-sh*t and started emailing me, so I know her identity. She has continued to write nasty follow-ups to anyone who stumbles into that crazy chain. There are something like 38 comments over the past several years. It’s on the Sharper Your Knife; go to one-stars and you’ll see it – long, crazy rant with this nutty comment thread that’s been going on for five years.
Since then, I’ve decided that the reviewer comes across as so crazy that her opinion doesn’t matter much. In fact, I now find the whole thing rather entertaining. The same reviewer left a similarly crazy review on Ree Drummond’s Amazon page, too, so I feel that I’m in good company!
Since then, I just kind of take the reviews as a general thumbs up or down. I don’t work at getting positive reviews, nor do I dwell on the negative ones. The latter will drive you crazy.
That is CRAZY about the troll, Kathleen. It’s good that you’ve decided she’s entertaining — and that you’re not taking it personally since she is a Pioneer Woman troll as well.
I don’t get about worked up about reviews anymore either, now that I’m several years in. I guess I had to wait until the novelty wore off.
nancy baggett says
I see nothing wrong with asking peeps who seem familiar with my book or who seem to like it to post a review. They are free to ignore the request and also free to write whatever they wish. It seems a reasonable way to counter being brutalized by the growing number of “reviewers,” who dispense 1 stars on books they haven’t read or cooked from for reasons including: book damaged in shipping; book came too slowly; another author “owns” that subject; not enough photos in book. Trying to balance such rating-wrecking comments/reviews with ones that actually give potential buyers useful info just seems necessary for author survival these days.
Oh gosh, I hope you don’t have many reviews in the category you’ve described as 1 star, Nancy. Those criticisms sound really unfair. No wonder you would want to balance them. Can’t blame you at all for soliciting reviews, especially since I have done the same thing.
Nick (Macheesmo) says
My theory on this has always been pretty simple, but basically I treat it like pornography… you know it when you see it. 🙂
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking people to review your book on the site, especially after they have given you feedback personally. You aren’t asking them to alter their opinion, just post their opinion in a public forum.
There are very obviously a number of very successful authors in the cookbook and non-cookbook world though that manipulate reviews. I think it’s pretty obvious when this is happening.
I appreciate that you can tell when it’s happening. I am not as good at that. I suppose if I saw 20 fawning 1-sentence reviews, that would be a clue, but usually it’s more complicated.
Thanks for approving of my earlier method of getting reviews. It’s good to have a reality check.
Yes, major authors do this. I’ll use his name because he posted on his blog. Michael Ruhlman saw a bad review of Ratio on Amazon and posted on his blog asking his readers to post positive reviews and “push that review to the next page”. I wrote to him and asked him if he thought this was ethical. He replied that it was, and I was wrong to question it.
Needless to say, I don’t have a high opinion of him for this. Emailing friends to request good reviews is one thing; posting on your blog is another.
I can see how this action offended you. I have mixed feelings about it.
If users of his Ratio app liked it and felt like reviewing it as a result of reading his exhortation, they could do so. Everyone else could feel bad for him and just ignore his message. All readers had a choice in the matter.
What I wouldn’t like is if his fans posted a positive review of a product they had never seen. I suppose he does have rabid fans like that.