Tamara Wilhite is an engineer, scifi author and fan and periodically reviews books.
Amazon has instituted automated systems to try to fight review fraud. This is creating problems for some people unintentionally, while the system is occasionally gamed in other cases to the detriment of the reviewer. What can cause your reviews to be taken down? Why might Amazon take away your ability to review anything on their site?
You’re an Author
Amazon wants people to sell books through their site, and it wants customers to review them. If Amazon thinks that an author is soliciting reviews from friends and family, in short, biased reviewers, they’ll take down the reviews. They’ll punish authors they think are doing this, as well. Review trading among authors or the mere accusation of it can get your reviews taken down, whether for a specific book or everything you’ve written.
This has created issues for authors who know each other. Your friend just came out with a book. You buy it and review it. Amazon sees that you both worked on an anthology together. Oh, down comes the review, we assume it is unduly biased. I would hate to think that having short stories in more than a dozen anthologies and many more short stories published means I can’t review any writer who also in that same project or magazine at some point, since it is such a long list.
The only safe choice with Amazon is don’t review a book of anyone you know personally. If you’ve been published together in an anthology or linked on social media, Amazon will think your review is too biased in their favor and may take it down.
You’re an Author’s Fan
Amazon is apparently using social media connections to determine personal relationships. This means that if you’re friends with the author on social media, your reviews may get taken down. Follow the author’s public page instead of being a friend with them on social media. Don’t friend them on sites like Goodreads; just follow them instead.
You Review Books
Under Amazon’s rules, you’re not allowed to receive anything free in exchange for a review except for books. If you receive a free copy of the book from the publisher or the author, you are legally required by the FTC to state this in the review. I’ve done reviews of books for BookCrash and other authors in exchange for free books, and I’ve mentioned that in the reviews I’ve done per FTC rules. Unfortunately, Amazon counts this against you. If there are allegations you’re being paid for reviews and you have such reviews in your profile, they give the allegations more weight.
While I am not certain what the solution here is, the safest course of action is to not review any other books except those you receive and disclose per FTC rules. I don’t want to say don’t review books on Amazon, but I’d certainly say don’t do it very often.
This may mean that you don’t want to accept a gift card from the author in a contest or win a copy of their book in an Amazon give-away if you want to write a review of the book. I’ve never given away books or gift cards as an author nor received them in a similar content, but this is likely something Amazon’s algorithm discriminates against.
I’ve read that receiving discount codes from the author, publisher or another source can likewise count against you. The safer choice here is to ask the author to send you paid for Kindles they can distribute via Amazon.
You Review Too Much
Do you think that leaving reviews is a contribution to the community? Most people don’t bother leaving reviews. This makes every review that is posted all the more important. Unfortunately, with Amazon, this counts against you.
Did you give everything you bought a short and simple review? Low quality, and a strike against you.
Do you review much of what you buy? That looks weird, another strike against you. Never mind their automated system asks for reviews of both the products and the supplier’s information.
My suggestion here is don’t see your reviews as a customer service or contribution to the community. Only review when it is exceptionally good, incredibly bad or you’ve discovered pertinent information that everyone should know. If you review too often, you may be punished for it.
From sources I’ve read, posting many reviews in a short period of time – regardless of what it is and whether or not you bought it – also counts against you. The takeaway from this is not to sit down in during some free time and go vote on everything per that email from Amazon asking you what you thought of X, Y and Z.
It is known that being a “product tester” and being asked to write positive reviews on Amazon in exchange for the free product is a strike against you, since it is a clear violation of the rules.
You Buy Too Much Via Gift Cards
This is another catch-22. Amazon encourages people to buy gift cards in order to buy items on their site. I personally bought quite a few gift cards from my church book store before logging into Amazon Smile. I ran a fair portion of my clothing, grocery and entertainment budget through Amazon.
My suggestion here is not to review anything you buy with a gift card, since their algorithm just counts that against you if they think something is wrong.
There Was a Downvoting Campaign against You
I initially thought this was my offense against Amazon. A top 500 Amazon reviewer hit the news for having his reviews taken down after giving a positive review of Joseph Farah’s latest book. After it hit the news and the modest outcry, his reviews were restored and his ability to write new reviews was returned. I know several other authors whose Amazon reviews were similarly removed and restricted until they protested. I assumed that since I’d reviewed books by a few un-PC authors, I’d been a victim of a down-voting brigade for merely reviewing their works.
If you’re a victim of down-voting brigades like this, Amazon usually restores the reviews and reviewing privileges. Conversely, they sometimes deactivate the person’s account if the admin agrees with the assessment.
The best way I can see to avoid potential problems here is not to engage in an online argument with the people posting negative reviews of your book, even if they’ve clearly never read it, because that can count against you. Don’t threaten the digital lynch mob, though they’re the ones trying to ruin you. Ask Amazon to remove the recent flood of one star reviews, and they will. The sheer volume of recent one star reviews is a red flag that they recognize. At the other end of the spectrum, unless your book just came out, a wave of five star reviews will be flagged as fraud and count against you.
Your Review Is Patently Offensive
Amazon takes down reviews that have profanity in them. In theory, they take down reviews that are laden with insults toward the author, though such negative reviews appearing in mass along with down-voting brigades (voting down positive reviews, voting up negative reviews) often still remain.
My Amazon reviews were restored after two weeks of calls, chats and emails without a clear answer why beyond the boilerplate message.
Why did Amazon take down my reviews for a while? I accidentally met several criteria. I bought a lot through gift cards, and I reviewed nearly everything I bought. I reviewed some books in exchange for free copies, but I reviewed many more I bought (some with said gift cards). I’m an author, and I’m legitimately connected with other authors on social media. Somewhere, something I did triggered an automated review that found too many strikes and killed my reviews and my ability to post new ones. With all of the follow-up to customer service, somewhere a human reviewed the situation and reversed it.
I’m glad I don’t have a real life horror story resulting from this experience, but it is a new justification for never simply handling decision making over to AI.
Questions & Answers
Question: I just found out that my reviews have been pulled and it may be due to reviewing a couple of children’s books that were sent to me for free without disclosing, I didn’t know that I had to disclose on books. It wouldn’t be more than 3-4 books at the most. Any suggestions on how I can get them restored?
Answer: I would suggest contacting Amazon customer service in the "other" category for chat, calling and any other channel you can find. There is no direct help desk for getting your reviews back. Explain that you didn't know and will correct it, please restore my reviews so you can correct it. It took me a call or chat every other day for two weeks to get mine restored. Do select "email copy of chat" after the end of each chat so you have their comments and information; sometimes the answers conflict.
© 2018 Tamara Wilhite
Tamara Wilhite (author) from Fort Worth, Texas on July 26, 2018:
This is why we shouldn't blindly rely on algorithms or AI (simply more complex algorithms) to try to fix things.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on July 26, 2018:
This was interesting.
I've never encouraged any friends or relatives to write reviews of my books; however, I see there is many, many reasons to be careful with an approach about reviews. Since I "follow" you on Hub Pages, I couldn't post a review of any book or short story you might write, and vice-versa, I suppose.
Yet, I will enjoy posting this comment on a very well written article which gives authors an insight into how the process of reviewing works for Amazon.