3 Amazon reader review myths: What you need to know

Authors are asking for and receiving advice from other authors about how to get reader reviews on Amazon.

Much of the advice is excellent. Some of the most helpful information comes from the “Here’s how I did it” stories that many are willing to share.

There’s a downside to this authors-talking-to-authors back-and-forth, though. Some of the advice is wrong.

That’s understandable, because it seems like the “facts” do change regularly. Still, repeating information without verifying it first sometimes adds to the confusion. (“I heard in another group . . .” isn’t enough.)

The “rules” are easy to verify. What’s harder to confirm is what could be considered the unwritten rules surrounding Amazon reader reviews.

The mystery of the disappearing review

For example, there’s a lot of discussion around reader reviews being removed or blocked.

People speculate that it happens when Amazon identifies social media connections between a reviewer and the book’s author. I haven’t seen this verified, although there is this statement in the Community Guidelines: “If we find unusual reviewing behavior, we might limit the ability to submit reviews. If we reject or remove someone’s review because it violates our promotional content guidelines, we won’t accept any more reviews from them for the same product.”

It makes sense, though. Amazon’s rules surrounding reviews for books and other products are all centered on honesty and integrity. Shoppers need to be able to trust reader/user reviews because they help them make purchasing decisions. If reviews are biased, they’re useless.

Reader review myths and facts

Other specifics can be confirmed or refuted, though. Here are three Amazon reader review myths and what you need to know about them.

Myth 1: You can’t give a reader a complimentary copy of your book in exchange for an honest reader review.

In October 2016, Amazon announced it would no longer allow product sellers to give free products in exchange for reviews. Books are exempt from that rule.

The last paragraph of the Amazon announcement with this information reads:

“The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

Myth 2: Anyone can review a book on Amazon.

According to the retailer’s Community Guidelines, “To contribute to Customer features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers, Idea Lists) or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months.”

That’s not $50 the day you want to write a review. It’s $50 in the past 12 months. (By the way, it used to be $50 over the lifetime of your Amazon account.)

Myth 3: You can’t review a book unless you bought it on Amazon. (Another variation: You must have an “Amazon verified purchase” to write a review.)

That is so not true, yet so many insist that it is.

I asked Amazon about this while writing “The Amazon reviews brouhaha and you.”

Here’s what an Amazon representative told me:  “Anyone registered as an Amazon.com customer is entitled to write a product review. It doesn’t matter whether they bought the product from our website or not. Also, we encourage reviews on Amazon.com website, both positive and negative, verified or non verified as long as they adhere to our posted guidelines. Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or misleading will not be posted.”

As for verified purchase reviews, they are placed above unverified reviews. That’s it. If a verified purchase reviewer gives you just one star, you’re stuck with that disappointing review at or near the top.

Reviews from readers without verified purchases — meaning, they didn’t buy the book on Amazon — appear below verified purchase reviews.

For that reason, don’t worry about how or where a reader got your book. It’s better to be grateful they took the time to review it.

Get reader reviews by following the rules

The first thing to do is read Amazon’s review guidelines so you know the rules:

When you follow the rules, you’ll have fewer unpleasant surprises.

How to get reader reviews

Once you’re clear on what is and isn’t a myth and understand the rules, you can start seeking reviews.

Many happen organically — meaning, someone reads your book and writes a review on Amazon, Goodreads, BN.com, and other book retail sites. You don’t play a role in the process.

But you also need to help things along by giving away books to your target audience. You provide the book in exchange for an honest review. (Note that important word, honest.)

There are a number of other ways to find appropriate reviewers, too. You can use your email list, review blogs, review clubs, a street team, online groups, or a review service. Here are a few articles on this site that will help you with these options:

Remember to make it easy for readers to review your book, too. Authors describe the Build Book Buzz Reader Book Review Forms — one for fiction, one for nonfiction — as “the missing link” in the review process. Each fill-in-the-blanks form removes the mystery surrounding how to write a reader review by simplifying the process for readers. As a result, they can write something meaningful in just minutes.

Don’t lose your reviews!

Reviews are important enough that you want to make sure you don’t lose them once you get them.

The smart approach is to go straight to Amazon for the facts whenever you have a question about the retailer’s review policies.

Can you de-bunk other reader review myths? Please tell us about them in a comment.

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in March 2017. It has been updated and expanded.)

Like what you’re reading? Get it delivered to your inbox every week by subscribing to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter. You’ll also get my free “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources” cheat sheet immediately!


    1. Thanks, Kathy. It’s not even so much about reading the fine print, it’s more about not believing everything you read on Facebook or on Twitter or wherever. People read something that’s posted with the intention of helping others, but the information is wrong. Those who see it don’t do their own fact-checking. And the person sharing the information probably got it from someone else. It all just kind of mushrooms.

      As for the suggestion for a follow-up post, 7 of the 9 pages in the handout that comes with my $19 review training program lists reviewers. (You can imagine how much time I spent compiling that list!)


      1. I agree. I see misinformation shared every day via social media.

        Re reviews: I now add a small reminder at the beginning and end of each book, accompanied by a handwritten Kathy, asking people to review it. I haven’t been doing it long enough to speculate on its effectiveness, but IMHO every little reminder helps.

  1. This is very informative. Thank you! I’ve written a Christian inspirational/devotional type book. It’s with the designer at the moment. In the back I say something like, ‘If this book blessed you, please leave a review on Amazon and share with your friends.’ (That’s a shortened version). Do you know if it’s ok to do this in a book that will be sold on Amazon? Do you think readers mind the author asking this of them? I’d be interested in your thoughts, as I still have time to change it!

    1. Joanna, you are so smart! That’s one of the strategies I recommend in my review training program. It’s a fair request and it’s allowed. In fact, when you reach the end of a KDP book on Kindle, Amazon automatically prompts you to write a review immediately. Go for it!


  2. “The best approach is a combination of letting things happen on their own and nudging them along.”

    I second this wholeheartedly. After I self-published I often heard from local readers who said they liked the novel. My standard reply was “Thank you, it would be great if you’d put that in a review on Amazon or Goodreads.” (I don’t believe Goodreads, btw, has the purchase requirements of Amazon.) A surprising number did so. Those initial reviews helped me get on Bookbub for promotions and giveaways. In turn, those pushed the book out far enough that the reviews started rolling in of the readers’ own volition. I haven’t solicited a review in more than 3 years and now have 100+ reviews on Goodreads and nearly 400 combined on Amazon US, UK and Australia (overseas sites are another thing to keep in mind if you want to sell there.) Good luck and have fun!

    1. Thanks, Cari! I always love when you stop by and share your experiences and wisdom.

      FYI, Amazon’s only purchase requirement is that you have to spend $50 on anything on the site during the history of your Amazon account. Goodreads has no purchase requirement because Goodreads isn’t a retailer — it’s an Amazon-owned social network for readers. If you click on a purchase link on Goodreads, it takes you to the book’s sales page on the retailer of your choice (when there are more options than Amazon).

      You have earned every moment of your success as a novelist. Congratulations!


    1. You have made my day, Lee Ann, because you have described exactly what I try to do! I’m always frustrated by content that promises “X ways” to do something, then rambles on for 500 words before getting to even ONE of them.



  3. Thanks for this article Sandy 🙂
    I belong to a few writers groups in Facebook. One author has recently had reviews removed which stated “I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.”
    Would we be better off advising potential reviewers to simply not mention this? Thanks – Shonah

    1. Shonah, that disclaimer has always been the “best practice” in this situation. Did the person add the word “honest” before “review?” I’ll see if I can get Amazon to provide feedback on how they want this handled.


      1. Shonah, please scroll down to Dorinda’s wise observation below. Perhaps the safe approach now is to say, “I received an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.” I’ll see if I can get some answers.


          1. Forgot to say I have invested in a copy of your How to Get Honest Book Reviews (under real name Wendy) Listening now and have already learned a couple of good tips!

  4. Thanks, it’s good to get things in black and white.

    I was wondering about your myth 1. Amazon says it still allows advance review copies – does that mean we can give them free for a review before publication but not after?


    1. That’s my interpretation, Dorinda. Advance review copies were originally intended for trade/media/literary reviews — book reviewers who work for the press. The publishing world has changed a great deal, and I’d like to think that this practice extends now to bloggers and readers now that Amazon has introduced reader feedback to the world, but I can’t be certain, so I’ll ask and see how much help I get!


  5. Hmmm. When I tried to leave a review on amazoln.com the message I received was that I couldn’t because I had not bought $100.00 worth from them in the past year. The fact that I had bought much more than that on amazon.ca (Canada) had no bearing. It has to be on the .com site. I guess they must have reduced the $100.00 to $50.00 in this year as my attempt was less than a year ago. It really blocks anyone who does not buy from the U.S. site. Very frustrating.

    1. That does sound frustrating, Yvonne. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but it might not be a good one!


      1. I love Amazon but I gave up worrying about its ridiculous $50 rule some time ago. They sell my products but won’t let me review anyone else’s. So, I focus on encouraging reviewers who don’t qualify to post on Goodreads. I then quote Goodreads snippets and tell people to see more reviews on Goodreads in the editorial review section. I now get more reviews and ratings on Goodreads than I do on Amazon, and I can see who is reading or has marked to read a book. It’s ironic when Amazon sell the books but discourage reviewers. And even more so when they own Goodreads. I’m sure they are a lot cleverer than I am, because I don’t get it.

        1. I like how you’re handling this, James. I hope authors see this comment and consider your approach.

          As for Amazon, I’m sure there’s a method to the madness. As you’ve discovered, railing against it won’t make a difference. It doesn’t matter if we understand the rules — we just need to know what they are and follow them. And if we do and it doesn’t work the way it should, nobody is harmed. We all have bigger problems, unfortunately.

          Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


      1. If the problem was with a specific review vs. reviews in general, it might have been a personal connection to the author. But who really knows?


  6. Thanks for the illuminating post. There is a lot of misinformation going around–and some erratic Amazon behaviors adding to the confusion.

    I literally saw the father or a memoirist (who happens to have the same name) identify himself in a review as the father of the author and commented on how he was portrayed.

    I also saw a review written by an author on Amazon (not Goodreads).

    I agree with you that reading the rules or speaking to Amazon are the best way to avoid nasty surprises.

    1. Wow! And yet, legitimate reviews are removed. Combined, what this tells us is that we truly, truly, truly shouldn’t lose sleep over any of this. We have no control over Amazon’s systems. Let’s focus on what we can control: Writing a book that is so good that we get plenty of reviews. When that happens, these kinds of weird happenings won’t distract us from our work.

  7. I just received an email from a client who said that although he is an Amazon prime customer, he never bought books on Amazon and the site wouldn’t allow him to post any reviews. That seems pretty weird!

  8. Thanks for helping with something so imp’t yet so tough for authors. It’s completely disheartening to get a lovely review then have it vaporized. The Amazon $50-spent rule is gospel. As for ‘honest review in exchange for book,’ I’m currently on my first blog tour (new book, ‘Silence of Islands—Poems’), and this seems standard practice; my new reviews are sticking. But they all mention ‘honest opinion,’ as you said, Sandy. One sure-to-fail approach to review-getting is to have friends/relations write reviews from YOUR internet connection (like at your house)—Zon will zap ’em. And another myth that deserves busting is that reviews will organically ‘arrive’ if you write a good book. Ha. So far, what’s worked best for me is plain old, ordinary begging. I even occasionally offer to help readers organize their thoughts. I’ll ask their impressions, type as they answer, then edit it down and email them a sample ‘review.’ They appreciate having their thoughts/words all tied in a bow, and going ahead to post is now easy.

    1. Such wisdom, Wendy! Thank you! I love that you coach them through the review — that’s exactly what my Reader Book Review Forms do, too. They take the mystery out of the review-writing process by walking readers through it, easy step by easy step. Your approach — pulling their thoughts together for them — is even easier, but not always possible.

      Thanks for sharing!


  9. Hi Sandra – I was just looking at one of the linked Amazon pages, whose words now seem to me to contradict what you say in regard to:

    “Myth 1: You can’t give a reader a complimentary copy of your book in exchange for an honest reader review.
    As of October 2016, Amazon no longer allows product sellers to give free products in exchange for reviews. Books are exempt from that rule, though.

    The last paragraph of the Amazon announcement with this information reads:

    “The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

    This wording at https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201929730&language=en_US&ref=ag_home_cont_G201972160 seems to contradict that:

    “Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.”

    The additional info link at https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=202094170 suggests to me that a review in return or an ARC may be permitted provided the review also states something like “I received a free copy of this book so I could review it”.

    What do you think?

    1. Thanks for digging into this, Luke. Honestly, sometimes all of the information surrounding reader reviews makes me want to take a nap.

      I don’t think it’s a contradiction — I think I’d describe it as a “clarification.”

      “Does not require a review” is almost meaningless because you can’t force anyone to review the book you gave them. But it does put the scammers and evil-doers on notice, right? The next part, “or attempt to influence the review,” reinforces the importance of honest reviews. Amazon is primarily concerned about honest input in the reviews section, whether it’s for books or boots, because consumers use those reviews to make purchasing decisions. If we buy goods based on glowing, but dishonest reviews that someone paid for (whether in money or merchandise), we’re going to return them, and e-commerce returns are expensive.

      And yes, you’re so right about including a disclaimer in a review. The language I recommend to authors and readers is, “I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.” Then, of course, the review needs to be honest. Transparency is always important, so thanks for flagging that.



  10. One thing I noticed is that a woman wrote a nice review, then her husband read the book and reviewed it also. Her review disappeared. I think Amazon must delete reviews from the same computer. So, ask potential reviewers to please use separate computers (and ones that are responsible for the $50 in orders!).
    There was a rumor that if you get 100 reviews Amazon will start to take your book seriously and have it turn up in “readers also like . . .” lists–not the “sponsored” lists–that is the placements you paid for with your advertising $$. Anyone know whether this 100-review idea is legit?

    1. Vicki, a few years ago the rumor was 50 reviews. When I couldn’t find anything definitive about this online, I emailed Amazon customer support and got a non-answer in response. So in this case, even going straight the company didn’t help.


    1. And you don’t have the same last name? It’s frustrating, for sure, but hey, I’m high-fiving her for trying. One of the biggest complaints from authors when it comes to reviews is that their friends and family don’t come through for them.


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