Let me start by making this plain and clear – I am, first and foremost, a READER. A lover of books. A corollary to that is that I love interacting with other readers and authors, I also love telling everyone about the books I have read, the ones I loved and the ones I just did not like by writing reviews and sharing these everywhere, including Amazon.

Now, I have been writing reviews since 2011 and written over 60 book reviews there – by no means a massive number, but also not insignificant. And yet, recently, I wanted to write a review for a book by one of my favourite authors and it was blocked by Amazon. When I wrote to them, they mentioned the following:

Amazon reply

Amazon responds with form replies, and does not properly outline which review guidelines were violated, and how.

As a book blogger, this is exactly what I do. For most of the books I read, and am a fan of the authors, I make a point to follow them on social media, and have on multiple occasions interacted with them via email. And yet, this is still no different than all the other authors for whose books I have written reviews. This has felt disconcerting to me, and this experience has been voiced by a LOT of people online. This is not an isolated event. In fact, many authors have seen reviews disappear from their books.

Amid all this, I came across this article by Good E-Reader here.  It noted the following review guidelines which Amazon is implicitly using to sift out the reviews it wants to delete.

Interpretation of Amazon's review guidelines

Points 2, 3 and 4 above can be clearly interpreted from Amazon’s original policies here. Point 1 and 5 are not part of the policies really, but I can confirm these happening based on anecdotal proof.

This may seem very odd to authors who are not already bestsellers, whether traditionally or self-published. In today’s day and age, author platforms are the lifeline through which book promotion, discovery and thus sales happen. This is in fact one of the first things which publishers look for. The scariest bit is this “A review by a person you “know” online. Amazon can now detect if someone leaving a review is following you on Twitter or befriended you on Facebook. Amazon’s expectation is that a fan will leave a biased review, so it wants only impartial people writing them.”

On one hand, Amazon and many associated promotion opportunities need reviews for a book to gain visibility, and on the other hand, they are making it more and more difficult to get them. What this means is that becoming a breakout success just became harder still.

How exactly are authors to interact with their fans other than social media? And how much does Amazon exactly know, and how did they get the permission to snoop on these personal relationships?

And then there is the point about reviews posted as part of book-tours, or solicited by anyone other than authors being biased, even if a reviewer has not been paid at all. A lot of authors would much rather outsource this tedious but important job and concentrate on writing more books. But seems like Amazon is against this as well.

Is there a work-around? I am sure there will be people who will come up with ways to “beat the system”. But why should that be the case? Rather than going after reviews which are clearly against their policy, which can be read in full here, they’re working to annoy genuine readers who have bought tens if not thousands of books on their platform.

I understand this may be a reaction to the numerous scandals which were unearthed last year, including buying reviews on websites such a fiverr, a bestselling author claiming to have spent US$ 6,000 for buying 300 positive reviews which were somewhere between enthusiastic and ecstatic, and reviews written by people who have not read the books they are reviewing. But penalising readers and genuine authors is not the way forward. The global community built around books, and the thousands of authors and millions of readers who have benefitted because of this are all hurting. Amazon’s algorithm (which is “proprietary” and where Amazon will not give any details) needs to become much better at identifying the fake reviews from reviews of readers who just want to interact with their author heroes.

Till Amazon realises it has gone too far and is alienating the customers who it is trying to serve, we have to grin and bear the lashings. Amazon will only respond with form emails telling us we violated some policy, but won’t clarify which bit of policy was violated. What I think is missing is an appeals system, which would alleviate a lot of concerns and may also help in reducing the angst we feel when we can’t express our love (and hate) for books we read.

My final word? Please be careful of how exactly you get your reviews. I have been saying since a long time that review exchanges between authors is a BIG NO and should be avoided. These policies are not being stringently implemented in India, but they will be, at some point in the future, and you don’t want to lose what little social proof you have for your book.

Read Out Loud, like all other professional book marketing agencies, is looking at these guidelines carefully and adjusting working mechanisms to not violate these guidelines and thus minimise the damage.

Ritesh is the founding partner of Read Out Loud Publishing LLP, a company started with the objective of bringing great literature to India. Read Out Loud is a Book Marketing and Book Distribution Company which aids international authors bring their books to book stores and online sales platforms in India. Read Out Loud also produces audio books.