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December 28, 2016
By Brooke Warner
Reviews on Amazon can give your book legitimacy, but there is some lingering confusion about how the site handles customer reviews.

Many indie authors are obsessed with Amazon reviews, and rightly so. Love it or hate it, Amazon is a massive book buying hub and a place where self-published books can get reviewed alongside traditional titles. Reviews on the site can give your book legitimacy, make you look popular (or not), and tip the scales for buyers browsing your page. If you’re on the fence about prioritizing Amazon reviews, my advice is to do so.

That said, there is some lingering confusion about how reviews on Amazon are handled. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Amazon started cracking down on nepotistic reviews in 2012, which may seem unfair to some authors. Additionally, it can be hard to understand what triggers the removal of a perceived nepotistic review. My advice is to tell would-be reviewers to be transparent. If they know you or have a relationship with you, they can say so in the review. This transparency seems to work, and Amazon largely lets those reviews stand.
  • Amazon has a long list of review rules in its Community Guidelines, but the enforcement of those rules can sometimes feel inconsistent. For example, there was recently a smear campaign on Amazon launched by Donald Trump supporters against Megyn Kelly’s new memoir, Settle for More. Amazon removed some of the egregious comments, but others remain. These sort of personal attacks can be especially upsetting for memoirists, If you feel you’ve been attacked by a review, it’s important to appeal to Amazon directly and be persistent.
  • If you do get a negative review, refrain from responding to the reviewer in the comments section. Do not defend yourself or your book. Engaging only shows that you can be baited. The best thing to do in these cases is to click the “no” button next to the question following the review that reads, “Was this review helpful to you?”
  • Amazon legitimizes “verified buyers” when they write a review. And while some authors think that readers must have a verified purchased to review a book on Amazon, this isn’t true. Your readers can buy your book anywhere, and need only be transparent in the review about where they purchased the book -- even if they admit to having received the book for free, which is often the case with NetGalley reviewers, who regularly post their reviews on Amazon.*
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people for reviews. If someone sends you a nice note about your book, write back and ask them to place their compliment on Amazon. One blog post I read suggested straight-up emailing top reviewers with a review request. This requires guts beyond what I personally have, but I admire those authors courageous enough to approach perfect strangers and ask them to review their work.
  • Use Amazon reviews in your marketing materials. Once you hit a number worthy of sharing, you can write things like, “My book has 75 Amazon reviews,” and quote people’s praise for your website and marketing materials.

For the time being, Amazon is king. It’s where authors go to monitor their book’s success, and it’s where readers to go browse and buy. Authors should use Amazon to their advantage, but also keep in mind that Amazon is not the only game in town. So yes, rack up those reviews, but make the most of other aspects of promotion, too. And remember to include multiple buying options for your readers when you promote your book.

*Reviews from Publishers Weekly are licensed by Amazon and automatically appear on a book's page under professional reviews.

Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book and What’s Your Book?.