Publishing and Marketing

An open (tipsy) letter to Amazon

Dear Amazon,

I am a self-published author. I’m sure you’ve never heard of me, but I’ve been publishing through your site for a little over three years now. Overall, I love Amazon.com as a consumer. You’re my go-to site for any online purchase, and I appreciate the great deals and service you provide.

This isn’t about me, the consumer.

This is about me, the author.

I’m a nobody… at least I started out that way. In March of 2011, I decided to self-publish my first novel. I’d wanted to go the traditional route, but I couldn’t find an agent to take a chance on my atypical romance with (apparently) far too many words. So after getting my friends and family to edit (for months) and going through many storyline variations, Emi Lost & Found was born. I was proud… but I was a nobody.

At the time, I was very active in the Twilight community. I followed a hilarious blog called Twitarded, and one of the women who ran the blog read my first book and promoted it through their site. I didn’t get much interest, but I did strike a chord with one reader in South Africa. Her name is Nikki.

Nikki went on a job interview… it wasn’t great, apparently, but she had discovered my book through Twitarded, and it apparently helped her through the hellacious experience. And after that, she contacted me.

She became my first fan. My first fan of many that I would encounter along my journey as a self-published author.

I don’t know if you know how it works, Amazon, but being an Indie author means you have to have people interested in your story sharing it with others. Indie authors do not have the budget to advertise. Most of us don’t have publishers and publicists to help us reach our market. We rely on our readers.

And yes, those readers very often become friends. It’s unavoidable.

So, yes. I will shout it from the rooftops right now: NIKKI IS MY FRIEND, AND I AM NOT ASHAMED.

Why am I telling you, Amazon, and the rest of the world this? Because I just released a new book called Olivia. It’s a tough sell–the second book in a mature YA series that is well-rated but not well-known.  (Please refer to “I’m an Indie.”) Anyway. For the first time in my life, after releasing five other books, I decided to follow the trend of other authors and release ARCs. (That’s Advanced Reader Copies, for those of you who are wondering.) I literally gave my book to 40 people. That’s income lost. Some of them were strangers, and some of them were readers that had struck up a conversation with me after my other books had personally affected them. My request was for them to give me an honest review.

I’m not one of those authors who wants an honest review as long as it’s over 3-stars. I want honesty. Period. What am I going to learn from a bunch of people lying to me? Nothing. I wanted a feel for the reaction of the general populace… and the early reviews of this book were good. No, I’m lying. They were incredible.

This book is special. If you read it, Amazon, you’d know, but you won’t. I’m not traditionally published and I’m not a best seller, so I’m not even on your radar.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, as an Indie author, it is inevitable that readers will become friends, associates and confidants, and there’s nothing you nor I can do about it.

[I think the sangria swirl margaritas are making me more verbose than usual. Back to the point of this blog post.]

Within 48 hours of the launch of my most recent book, I had 16 reviews on Amazon. Yes, they were reviews by readers who’d received advanced copies. It’s an accepted practice among all authors to offer those up. There are established services that even do that for authors.

Yes, these people were gifted copies. But yes, they read the books and formulated the opinions all by themselves. I am not an intimidating person. I’m reasonable, rational, and grounded. I’m accessible to my readers. That’s why some of us have become close.

After 72 hours, 25% of my reviews had been removed. I can’t say for certain why they were in some cases, but let’s get back to Nikki. Let’s get back to this woman who lives more than 9,000 miles away from me. This woman I’ve never met and never even talked to on the phone. Have we emailed? Yes. Have we text-messaged? Yes. Have I sent her birthday cards? Yes.

This was Nikki’s review of Olivia:

Which is my favourite book by Lori Otto? It’s the Lori Otto book I’m reading at the time.

Olivia continues the story of Livvy Holland, begun in the first book of the Choisie Series, Contessa. Ms Otto deftly shows the growth of Livvy into a mature and responsible adult, the growth in Livvy’s relationship with her parents, her dad in particular, and the growth in Livvy and Jon’s relationship.

Not everything is smooth sailing though. Livvy has to come to terms with a type of loss she’s never had to face before and in the process she loses a part of herself. This crisis in Livvy’s life, and her dealing-by-not-dealing is woven throughout the book, so that it’s always there even if it’s not obvious. Which is exactly how Livvy is experiencing it as well. Once again Lori Otto pulls the reader into the life of her characters so that you feel as if you are the one experiencing all the good, bad, happy, sad, silly, stupid and unforeseen things that happen in the story. And there are plenty of each and more.

Lori Otto writes people as they are. Real people. There is perhaps no huge drama or mystery or angsty romance, but it’s life. The relatively small personal dramas and mysteries and romances feel as life altering as if they were happening to you. Lori writes people stories, not crime or fantasy or erotica. Just the lives of everyday people who you come to feel are people you know. You become invested in these characters and the choices they make. You feel happy and sad with them. You feel proud of and cross with them. And at the end of each book you want to know where the next stage of their lives will take them.

Olivia is no different. You will finish this book wanting to know where the next book will take Livvy. I can’t wait!

It’s a great review, yes? I thought so, too… but Nikki has always been a straight shooter with me. Always. Why would she lie? Yeah, she’s not that type of person. Anyway.

When I posted to my Facebook page that reviews were missing, Nikki checked on hers. It was gone. She actually received a polite (and vague) notification from Amazon, telling her it had been removed:

Dear Nix,

Thanks for submitting a customer review on Amazon. Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines: http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines

We encourage you to revise your review and submit it again. A few common issues to keep in mind:

  1. Written reviews must be at least 20 words long. The ideal length is 75 to 500 words.
  2. Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. Feedback on the seller or your shipment experience should be provided at www.amazon.com/feedback.
  3. We do not allow profane or obscene content. This applies to adult products too.
  4. Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively are considered spam.
  5. Please do not include URLs external to Amazon or personally identifiable content in your review.

We welcome your honest opinion about products – positive or negative. We do not remove reviews because they are critical. We believe all helpful information can inform our customers’ buying decisions. If you have questions about the product or opinions that do not fit the review format, please feel free to use the Customer Discussions feature on the product page.

Having seen my Facebook post (oh, the HORRORS! She’s my Facebook friend!!), she contacted me and let me know the status of her now-deleted review. She also told me she’d tried to change it, but it still wouldn’t post. She sent this response to Amazon:

I keep getting this email about my review of Olivia by Lori L. Otto.  I have tried to change the review and repost it, but it keeps getting removed.  To be honest, I cannot see how this review is not in line with the guidelines. Please let me know what is wrong with it so that I can post an acceptable review for this book, or alternatively allow the review I have been trying to post as I simply cannot see what is wrong with it.

Thank you,

Nikki

To which they responded:

We cannot post your Customer Review for “Olivia (Choisie Book 2)” to the Amazon website because your account activity indicates that you know the author.

Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. Because our goal is to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or misleading will not be posted.

To learn more about this policy, please review our Customer Review Guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/reviews-guidelines) and FAQs (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=201077870).

We encourage family and friends to share their enthusiasm for the book through our Customer Discussions feature or Editorial Reviews feature. To find Customer Discussions, go to the book’s product detail page, scroll down past Customer Reviews, and click on the Start a Discussion button. To have your Editorial Review posted to the detail page, e-mail it directly to the author so they can add it for you.

If you believe you’re eligible to write a Customer Review for this book, send additional details to review-appeals@amazon.com.

Thank you,

Review Moderator

And of course, she appealed. That’s the kind of person – and, yes, FRIEND – that she is:

Hi,

Thank you for the reply.  I would like to know exactly how my account activity indicates that I know the author?  While I am an avid fan of the author’s works, and we do communicate about her works, I have never even met her.

I am disappointed that my honest review was taken down, but if there is nothing else for it, I will email the author via her website, explain the circumstances and ask if she would like to post my review as an “Editorial Review”.

Regards.

“Regards.” She’s so polite. 🙂 Anyway, this is what they said:

Hello,

Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related.

Thank you for your understanding.

Review Moderator

Well, hell! Now I want to know how our accounts are linked! I have sent her a package directly from Amazon.co.uk. Is that it? I may have even gifted her a book through Amazon.com, because she’s bought pretty much every iteration and she shouldn’t be deprived of a version with a new pretty cover! The woman has paid her dues, and then some. The thing about Nikki is that she has connected with the characters so well that she knows them as if they are people. I discuss things with her while I write.

Yes, we are friends… but she still tells me when things aren’t right. She is still honest with me… as was her review.

As were the other reviews that were deleted.

As an Indie author, I can’t NOT become friends with many of these readers. Through these friendships, I reach more people… not because I ask them to share my books, but because they genuinely want to share them! It’s an organic process that isn’t motivated by greed or by threats or by anything negative.

These people are readers who love books and feel connected to characters. Period. But you know what? They make up a good majority of my readership. I never knew these before I published a book.

Not. A. One.

But I rely on their enthusiasm to help me with sales. The fact that they send me private messages on Facebook doesn’t make their reviews any less valid. They are readers with opinions and taste all their own. Some of the lower reviews I’ve received are from people I know… you don’t delete THOSE!!

Why are you picking on me, Amazon? I make you money. Some months, I make you a LOT of money! I always direct people to your site… rarely do I post links to Nook or iBooks… you know that you’re the go-to store for ebooks. Can’t you understand that the way Indie authors work is very different from traditional authors? Can’t you see that – especially when a book is just released – we rely on the reviews of people we know to help us make a place for our books. We are Indie. Independent. Most of us have other jobs that pay our bills. We have to be able to somehow compete with books that publishing houses have taken a chance on, even though many of them can’t even begin to compete with our books. You haven’t read our books, Amazon. You don’t know.

So many of us write quality books these days, and we CHOOSE to be independent. Do not punish us for this.

Do not punish us because we’re easy targets. Don’t sort through my 16 reviews because it’s easier than sorting through thousands of reviews that Veronica Roth or John Green receive. You think their friends don’t review books? You’re wrong. I’m sure. But you’re not going to waste your time on them.

I had sixteen measly reviews after 48 hours, Amazon. Who was that hurting? And if they were all one-star, would you care? I don’t think you would. I think you saw my perfect little score and decided to investigate. Surely this nobody is cheating the system.

But you don’t know me. I’m not a cheater. You can ask ANY SINGLE ONE OF THE EARLY REVIEWERS if I coached them on anything. If I bribed them. If I pleaded with them to say one thing, or not say another.

I only asked for honesty. I only ask for people to have integrity with me.

And that goes for you, Amazon. Let’s be fair here, okay? Stop picking on the little people. Let my readers review my book! They are not liars! Not Nikki, not anyone! They’re readers who frequent your site and give you their hard-earned money. At this point, they choose to… but you do know they have other choices, right?

Keep penalizing their favorite authors, and you’ll only hurt yourself.

I earned these by pouring 2.5 years of my life into this story. These readers gave me their valued time and formulated their own opinion. They shouldn’t have to apologize if they’re good reviews… and have you seen the reviews on my other books? I have some haters… and they’ll get around to reading this one too, trust me. They always do.

Let’s work this out, okay? Give me back my reviews.

Thank you,

Lori

19 thoughts on “An open (tipsy) letter to Amazon

  1. I received the link to this blog from Micki Peluson. I’m in awe of your reply to Amazon. I was appalled to find out Amazon was removing reviews. What you say about Indie writers is true. We do have to work differently than big named, traditionally published authors. And, we do have to make friends with our readers. Otherwise, there won’t be any “word of mouth” sales.

  2. You know, ALL traditional publishers send out ARCs…which, according to Amazon, is a no-no. Against policy. Yet no one removes those reviews.
    I feel for you. This is a huge step too far, Amazon.

    1. I’d found somewhere, although I can’t find it now, that amazon does allow reviews on ARCs, but requires people to state that they received a free copy in exchange for an honest review or something. I’ll keep searching for that after work, but you see that often in reviews on the site.

  3. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Seems like the #Amazon #review process has been flawed for quite some time… I will say in my years of being an indie this above all else has fired me up the most. We work hard for our readers and they deserve to have a voice to tell the rest of the world all the good (or bad) that we have been up to.

  4. I lost 20 reviews. I worked so hard for every single one of those reviews. It’s not in my nature to promote my own work. I never paid anyone for a review. It’s like they want us to find somewhere else to publish. I guess everyone can publish on their own blog. Maybe that’s the future. Sounds lonely.

  5. Hi Lori, I am a BIG fan of your writing. Like you, I am an Amazon consumer. Although I read what others have written, I have never posted a review of any product I have bought on their site. That changed after reading your blog tonight. I just submitted my very first review – FIVE STARS – for your book Olivia. My review refers to both series, because I love how you continued the family storyline. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series. I wish you the best of luck in getting Amazon to hear you. In the meantime, I will continue to recommend your books! With warm regards, Rochelle Haber

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  6. Lori I am behind you 100%. You are right…leave you alone !!!’ We have your back….don’t mess with your fans/ friends!!!!!

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