3 Amazon reader review myths: What you need to know

reader review myths

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

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 in online discussions and in person.

Not all of the advice rings true, though. That’s understandable, because it seems like the “facts” do change regularly. Still, repeating information without verifying it first sometimes adds to the confusion.

On the other hand, some of it is hard to verify. For example, there’s a lot of discussion around reader reviews being removed from Amazon. People speculate that it happens when Amazon identifies social media connections between a reviewer and the book’s author, but I have yet to see Amazon verify that, even though it seems likely to be true.

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

Myth 1: Because of recent changes to Amazon’s review policy, you can no longer give a reader a complimentary copy of your book in exchange for an honest reader review.

While it’s true that Amazon changed its policy for product reviews on October 3, 2016, the changes don’t apply to books. Amazon no longer allows product sellers to give free products in exchange for reviews, but books are exempt from that rule.

Many people, particularly authors, have overlooked the last paragraph of the Amazon announcement with this information. It 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.

False.

According to the retailer’s community guidelines, “To post Customer Reviews or Customer Answers, post on Customer Discussion Forums, or submit content to followers, you must have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card.”

That’s not $50 the day you want to write a review. It’s $50 over the lifetime of your Amazon customer 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.)

I asked Amazon about this while writing an article for this site, “The Amazon review 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.”

How to get reader reviews

Many reader reviews 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.

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

One way to find people in your target audience who might review your book is to search Amazon for the names of readers who have reviewed books like yours. You can do that manually, or let the Reviewer Grabber Tool to do it for you.

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, and many other options outlined in the Build Book Buzz audio training program, “How to Get Honest Book Reviews in 3 Easy Steps.”

The best approach is a combination of letting things happen on their own and nudging them along. Knowing the rules can help with that. Anne Allen’s article, “Amazon’s New Review Rules: Should Authors Be Worried?” digs into what is and isn’t allowed on Amazon, and you might find it helpful, especially if you’re new to this topic.

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


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Sandra Beckwith is an award-winning former publicist who now teaches authors how to market their books. Three groups have recognized her BuildBookBuzz.com site as an outstanding resource for authors, so you know her advice is author-tested.

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25 Responses to 3 Amazon reader review myths: What you need to know
  1. Kathy Steinemann
    March 22, 2017 | 9:24 am

    Interesting post, Sandra. Much of this would be resolved by authors reading the fine print. Maybe a followup post could include sites that list reviewers.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      March 22, 2017 | 11:55 am

      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!)

      Sandy

      • Kathy Steinemann
        March 22, 2017 | 12:08 pm

        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.

        • Sandra Beckwith
          March 22, 2017 | 12:11 pm

          It’s a smart idea. See Joanna’s comment below — I hope she reads this!

          Sandy

  2. Joanna @ MumsKidsJesus.com
    March 22, 2017 | 10:45 am

    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!

    • Sandra Beckwith
      March 22, 2017 | 11:57 am

      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!

      Sandy

  3. Cari Noga
    March 22, 2017 | 10:49 am

    “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!

    • Sandra Beckwith
      March 22, 2017 | 12:02 pm

      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!

      Sandy

  4. Lee Ann Rubsam
    March 22, 2017 | 1:15 pm

    Thank you, Sandra! Very informative article. I enjoy your posts, because they get right to the point and are easy to understand. 🙂

    • Sandra Beckwith
      March 22, 2017 | 1:26 pm

      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.

      Thanks!

      Sandy

  5. Shonah Stevens
    March 22, 2017 | 8:59 pm

    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

    • Sandra Beckwith
      March 23, 2017 | 9:14 am

      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.

      Sandy

      • Sandra Beckwith
        March 23, 2017 | 11:29 am

        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.

        Sandy

        • Shonah Stevens
          March 23, 2017 | 6:54 pm

          Yes good thought Sandy and Dorinda! Maybe the word ‘free’ or ‘honest’ is triggering the algorithm. The game Russian Roulette comes to mind…

          • Shonah Stevens
            March 23, 2017 | 6:57 pm

            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!

          • Sandra Beckwith
            March 23, 2017 | 8:02 pm

            Glad to hear it!

            Sandy

  6. Barb
    March 23, 2017 | 4:37 am

    This was most helpful

    • Sandra Beckwith
      March 23, 2017 | 8:43 am

      Glad to hear it, Barb. Thanks for the feedback!

      Sandy

  7. Tanya
    March 23, 2017 | 9:11 am

    Thank you for taking time to read the fine print and distill it for us. This is such great information.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      March 23, 2017 | 9:15 am

      You’re very welcome, Tanya. Thanks for stopping by.

      Sandy

  8. Dorinda Balchin
    March 23, 2017 | 10:33 am

    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?

    Thanks
    Dorinda

    • Sandra Beckwith
      March 23, 2017 | 11:28 am

      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!

      Sandy

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