Reviewers, Here's How I Beat the Big, Bad Bots on the 'Zon

As Amazon works to combat fake reviews and paid reviews, it gets harder and harder for ethical reviewers. Reviews are being critiqued more carefully and less is allowed. The problem comes in when Amazon refuses to communicate with us exactly what the problem is with a particular review so we can fix it and avoid the same mistake in the future.

It's frustrating, to say the least.  I've gotten weary enough of my reviews being held back that I started paying attention and critiquing my own reviews to discern what might possibly have resulted in them being held hostage for as many as ten days.  After evaluating and pondering, here is what I think is happening.

The Obvious

Amazon is strict about swear words in reviews. Most are obvious, and you can get creative in finding replacements like frick, flock, duck, etc.  Others should be completely okay in context, but the bots don't seem to read context.

Saying something like, "Sebastian's life had been a living hell before Cassandra came crashing into it" should be fine, because "hell" is not a curse word in this context.  Not so with the broad sweep of the bots.

You can try using grawlix (f@&k, d#$m, etc.) but I've had them delay a review in the past. Imagine the programming it took to document all the letter and symbol combinations! 

Your first step will be to read your review through before posting it to make sure you don't have any words that are considered profanity.

The Not So Obvious 

This category of words don't jump out quite so easily as the profanity.  Here's a paragraph from one of my recent reviews:

Holy high rollers, my reader friends, this is the most intense, barely below-the-surface, slow burn I’ve read in forever! It’s like standing at the lip of the volcano, waiting for it to erupt. You can feel the heat on your face and hear the molten rock bubbling, and you know you should run fast and far in the other direction, but you just . . . Can't. Look. Away.

What jumps out at you? Anything? I can only deduce it's the word "erupt." Yep, erupt. Seriously.  If you're still saying "WTF?!," I'm right there with you.

After several seemingly innocent  reviews being held hostage, I started looking at each word.  My conclusion is this: if a word can possibly have a sexual connotation, there's an excellent chance it's taboo to the bots.  And most likely any form of the word is also off limits: erupts, erupted, erupting, eruption, etc.

Read carefully through your review. Did you say the story "sucked you in?"  That's a no-no. How about "heart-pounding action?"  It it's hyphenated, it may slip buy, but I would still be careful with anything that pounds.  Fortunately, something like "cocky" seems to be okay (and where would we be without our cocky heroes?) but proceed with caution and get creative.  When in doubt, choose a more benign word.

The Absurd

This one is kind of a catch-22.  My understanding is that, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), we are required to disclose in our review that we received an advance copy at no charge. (In case you're wondering, readers who are part of an author's street team receive a copy of the book before it's released so we can have a review ready to go on release day.)  Here’s the PDF Link to the FTC Guidelines, for those who want to read it.  It seems like a straight forward “I received an ARC at no charge” would suffice, right? A couple points on that.

First, Amazon might perceive your review to be biased with that brief of a statement.  An important note here is that if you also purchase the book from Amazon so that your review is verified, that should take care of things.  I buy the books probably 98% of the time, but I still started adding something to the effect that I was given the ARC “having made no commitment to provide any kind of review, favorable or otherwise" to my disclaimer.  That should cover me on not appearing biased, which it seemed to.  (It's ridiculous to me that making a statement seems to make it the truth for Amazon, but that's a whole ither blog post.)

Then, since my reviews were still being held back, I changed ARC to “advance copy.”  That worked for a while, but the bots apparently got more specific marching orders. So now I’ve taken out “ARC,” “advance copy,” “free" and “review” from my disclaimer. 

To summarize this point, the FTC requires those of us in the US to disclose we were given an advance copy at no charge. There's been some discussion about whether or not this applies to advance copies.  I'm in the "better safe than sorry" camp and recommend having some kind of disclaimer with your review of an ARC.  Then make sure to avoid the following in your disclaimer:

Advance copy

You’ll need to get creative, and the thesaurus is your friend.

The Takeaway 

Since Amazon is notorious for responding to emails containing pointed questions with form emails that tell us absolutely nothing, I can’t tell you unequivocally that this is what they’re doing with reviews. I can tell you, however, that with the above changes, my reviews are being posted within the hour. At least until the next change and the ‘Zon tightens the screws even more. (Oops! Another forbidden word.)

My best advice to you is to learn as you go. If your review is held back, comb through it carefully to identify any word(s) that may be the culprit.  Then, consider what kind of word it is, and deduce that the bots will hit on similar words in future reviews and avoid them.  Don't get discouraged or give up. You can beat the big, bad bots!

If this post is helpful to you, please feel free to share it and let me know about your experiences. I would love to know if my tips work for you and am happy to try to answer any questions. I think the more we help each other, the more we ethical reviewers win. Best of luck!

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Much love between the covers,


*See my other reviews here.


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