It felt like a bizarre irony when I realized I’d put my novels into the hands of villains virtually identical to those within their pages.
Writers froze in fear in 2016 when Amazon began terminating the accounts of innocent authors in response to the behavior of third party Kindle Direct Publishing scammers. Amazon offered nothing by way of a fair trial to its victims, who either had to quit writing, or initiate global appeal campaigns through social media and Change.org.
Their next attack concerned reviews. This all begins with an insane requirement that readers are unaware of: If a book slips below a four-star average – it’s over! No promotion site will even take an author’s money to promote it.
Writers who live in the real world don’t expect every reader to love their books. However, the ‘four-star minimum’ demands that we must rank up there with Hemingway before we can even inform the world of our books’ existence. I find this to be unreasonable and even obscene, despite, by some miracle, having actually hit the proverbial mark.
Reviews are extremely rare. They come in at an average rate of one for every five-hundred readers, and always represent thousands of dollars in promotional expenditure. While there is an epidemic of fake five-star reviews out there, Amazon didn’t spend any time investigating the culprits. They simply blitzed all of us. Any positivity our books had became suspect. In response, Amazon programmed the algorithm to delete many of our perfectly legitimate five-star reviews, which had been posted by complete strangers who had no connection to us. Amazon offered no reasons for these deletions, nor any appeal process.
This was followed by a variation on that theme when they allowed the reviews to appear, but removed stars from them. I had a review that expressly stated, “I give it four stars” . . . and yet only one star was checked. The very next review that came through was titled ‘Five Star’, yet only three stars showed. After investigating the review histories of these customers, it was abundantly clear that they knew how to use the review system. They showed no confusion about what the stars were. All of my appeals to Amazon were rejected, and all attempts to contact the reviewers through the review comments option were blocked.
Recently, my flagship novel experienced a flood of five-star ratings – only to then get hit with as many one star ratings within five weeks as it had previously received during its entire six-year history. The anonymous nature of these new, silent, one-click ratings makes it impossible to know if it’s a troll attack, or if the algorithm is stripping stars away. I had to temporarily unpublish the book in order to protect it from further harm.
No book marketing guru will ever address the true dangers of the dreaded ‘one-star’ review. They focus solely on how to deal with the emotional angst it causes. While it’s true that it does cause that ‘sinking in the stomach’ feeling, that’s actually the most irrelevant factor. A one-star review/rating is virtually impossible for the average rating to recover from. Amazon weighs them heavier than five-star reviews, which means it could take up to twenty consecutive ‘fives’ to repair the damage caused by a single ‘one’. Amazon also suppresses the visibility of a book each time a ‘one-star’ appears.
In the meantime, the four-star minimum promotion requirement remains.
It’s a well-established fact that human beings are drawn to negatives, one-hundred times more than they are to positives (which is why bad news sells.) Regardless of how negligible in number an author’s negative reviews might be, Amazon’s ‘Most Helpful’ voting system was always guaranteed to send negative reviews soaring to the top of the list on a book’s product page. My ‘two-star’ reviews make up a mere 5% of my overall review tally. However, they dominate the visible reviews on the product page of my flagship novel, leaving the 65% ‘fives’ mostly hidden in the shadows. This almost certainly deters readers, who would have most likely enjoyed the book.
The algorithm is also programmed to devalue reviews that are over a year old. A book might have a 4.0 average at night, and be a 3.9 by morning – effectively knocking it out of the game.
Amazon seems to accept book promotion grudgingly and goes out of its way, with the most arbitrary measures, to impede an author’s marketing efforts. One of the most effective tools is to have a quality book video trailer on the relevant book’s product page (via the ‘Related Video Shorts’ feature.) But authors aren’t allowed to use it. Rather, Amazon defers us to our Author Central pages to upload videos, knowing very well that this feature is utterly useless. Casual, browsing customers are highly unlikely to go searching through Author Central. If, by chance, they decided to do so, they would only see a row of black video screens with no thumbnail images and no titles. They wouldn’t know what video they had clicked on until it started playing.
Whenever we seek help from Amazon on any of these issues, their responses are invariably unhelpful, meaningless, and usually show that the operative hasn’t even read our query.
There have been so many other types of rug-pullers enabled by Amazon’s unrepentant policy of zero-accountability. Unfortunately, it would take a book in itself to list them all.
Writers put their hearts, souls, and years of their lives into their books, and that’s before going to the expense of cover design and marketing. But writing has become a no-win venture. Positive reviews are essential for promotion, but if we get them, Amazon will take them away. The abusive treatment this cruel, totalitarian monster inflicts upon us has rendered it a futile proposition, for which enormous monetary losses will be on the horizon.
In retrospect, this was always destined to be the case, since, in Jeff Bezos’ own words: "Amazon should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle."
Wow! I've always supported Whistle Blowers!!! Even in these days when they can be fired under an incompetent administration...
However, for as long as I've been reviewing at Amazon, I have tried over and over to have them differentiate books from any other product! Instead, placing them within an entire spectrum of products has resulted in...the above... Ultimately, the value of the work of the creator of a book has become of less value than any movie that might have evolved from that original BOOK!
So...I ask is the above true? Is the Insider right? Can you provide examples, affirmations, or other comments?
All can remain anonymous... They can be left as a comment on my blog... or sent to me at GABixlerReviews@aol.com... No names will ever be used, although I would appreciate knowing sources if you trust me enough...
IS IT TIME FOR WRITERS TO BECOME WHISTLE BLOWERS ON AMAZON?