Amazon’s Rules for Customer Reviews (Part 1)

Amazon review 1Every once in a while, I come across some detail about the publishing industry and think, How come I didn’t know about that before? I’ve been a published author since 1989 and a full-time freelance editor since 1998. I go to six to eight writers’ conferences a year. I’m friends with several big-name, multi-published, best-selling authors. I have an agent and two publishers. I’m active on The Christian PEN’s e-mail discussion loop. But I still learn new things about this business all the time.

One thing I have heard repeatedly is how important it is for a book to have lots of five-star reviews on Amazon (as well as a few four-star and maybe one or two three-star reviews, just so the results don’t look contrived). Apparently many people decide whether or not to purchase a book based on those reviews.

So for 21 Days of Grace, the first book in my new Fiction Lover’s Devotional series, which came out June 1st, I’ve been encouraging everyone I know to post a review on Amazon. But the majority of “everyone I know” are family members, friends, and fellow authors—many of whom are included in 21 Days of Grace or another book in the series. And apparently, Amazon doesn’t allow reviews from those people.

Below are some of the rules I just discovered on Amazon:

1. I can’t write a review of my own book.

Well, that I knew.

2. Authors are allowed to review other authors’ books … sometimes.

If the reviewing author has a “personal relationship” with the author of the book being reviewed, he/she can’t write an Amazon review of that book. Well, gosh, I have a personal relationship with many of my contributing authors, some going back for several years. Where is the line drawn between an author I have a “professional relationship” with and one I have a “personal relationship” with?

3. Editors can’t write reviews for books they’ve worked on.

Many of my editing clients have asked me if I would post Amazon reviews of their books since I know the material so well. According to Amazon, I’m not “eligible” to do that.

4. Close friends and family members can’t write reviews.

Amazon doesn’t allow individuals who share a household with the author, or the author’s “close friends,” to write customer reviews for that author’s book. So if my neighbor tells me how much she loved my book, apparently I can’t ask her to post a review.

5. I can’t pay someone to write a review for my book.

I knew that. Amazon says I can’t give someone money or a gift certificate to purchase my book for the purpose of writing a review. I can’t offer bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, or other gifts in exchange for writing a review. However, I can send a potential reviewer a free copy of my book, provided I make it clear that I welcome all feedback, both positive and negative.

I get it. Amazon wants their customer reviews to provide “unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers,” and reviews aren’t supposed to be used as a promotional tool. But agents, publishers, and publicists always urge their authors to get as many Amazon reviews as they can. So what’s an author to do?

Apparently there are other ways for people to share their opinions on Amazon, including Editorial Reviews and Customer discussions. (I’ll be posting details about those in my next blog.) Another thing I didn’t know about until this week!

Maybe I’m not as in tune with the publishing industry as I thought. Or could be these things are fairly new—after all, Amazon (like the rest of the publishing industry) is changing all the time.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this!


If you’re a published author:

  1. Do you ask people to post reviews of your books on Amazon? Who do you ask, and how do you ask?
  1. How do you differentiate between authors you have a “professional relationship” with (who are eligible to write customer reviews) and those you have a “personal relationship” with (who are not allowed to write customer reviews)?
  1. Have you ever put an Editorial Review on your product page (or do you rely on your publisher to do that)? What kind of “industry professionals” are quoted in that section?

I’m really looking forward to hearing your responses!

And “tune in next week” to learn about some legitimate ways I discovered to get around Amazon’s restrictions for customer reviews.