Thursday, 9 July 2015

Amazon's Review Policy - Hands Up Who Did Nothing?

Yeah, so I’m still harping on about the Amazon review system, whereby they retain the right to decide if I know or am known by an author. What’s knowing someone? Is it an occasional private message on an author’s Facebook page or meeting up for coffee?

I messaged the band, Heart of Katherine to ask if I could use their track, My Salvation for the trailer of my teen novel, A Trail of Lies. They came back within a few hours and said yes, directing me to the site where I could pay and download my legitimate copy. My husband paid on his credit card and downloaded the song while I ran around the house like a maniac because someone who can sing - and sings very well, I’ll have you know - was kind enough to get back to me and have a conversation. Even if they’d said no, I’d have been stoked with the reply because...well, they’re on the TV and everything and they deigned to speak to me, a nobody in rural New Zealand, with a messy house and kids and a cat. Does that mean I know them? Not really. But somehow my private message to them leaves a trail, which Amazon follow and deem as a relationship. I made my trailer and sent the band the link. It was crap; the only good thing about it was the backing track, but they said it was good because they’re obviously nice people. Now presumably I just made the trail stronger. Is that how it’s working nowadays? I went to their website and listened to the track on YouTube. Did I make it worse for myself by doing that?

So the indie world is upset as Amazon culls thousands upon thousands of reviews and the petition currently going around the globe is garnering support from readers and authors alike. At 10k the petition organiser was going to send it on to Amazon but it just went over 11k and is still moving like a bushfire.

I said in a previous blog that this started three years ago and the sad fact is; it did.

I wanted to see how the petition was going this morning so I Googled, ‘ Amazon petition’ and guess what I found? Another one, from 3 years ago, started by Derek Blass from Denver, who got 628 supporters.

This was his premise, an eerie forerunner of the one currently circulating:

Amazon is currently removing customer reviews from books published by indie authors without any notice, and without any explanation. This petition demands that Amazon explain for every author that loses a review (good or bad) why that review was removed, and set forth clear guidelines as to what will and will not be removed in the future.

Well, poor Christoph Fischer can testify he still doesn’t know why his 1700 legitimate reviews of other people’s work were removed, or why he was banned from reviewing on Amazon again. The only thing it can be, is that he was deemed to ‘know’ all 1700 authors. He looks like a social, fun kinda guy but really? One of the reviews they removed was for my novel and much as I’d like to, I’ve never met him, had coffee with him or even private messaged with him. There's a whole lot of ocean between him and me, which presumably Amazon don't deem to be a significant obstacle.

I asked Derek if I could quote from his blog. 3 years ago he published a series of questions and answers from Amazon, which came about presumably as a result of his petition and the signatures of the 628 people who supported him.

From Derek Blass’ blog.

Are authors and artists allowed to review other authors/artists’ works?
Authors and artists can add a unique perspective and we very much welcome their customer reviews. However, we don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion. If you have a direct or indirect financial interest in a product, or perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we will likely remove your review.”

So, it all hangs on that word, PERCEIVED.

Back to Derek’s blog.
This is the link if you’d like to go there. It makes interesting reading.

And this is what he said back in 2012.

“A couple quick updates, thoughts, and possible points of clarification. First, Amazon hasn’t taken the petition seriously yet. Maybe I don’t blame them. What impact could 210 signing indie authors have? That’s why we’re pushing for 1,000. And, if that doesn’t get their attention, then we’ll get 2,000. We will push until they will dialogue with us, which is all we have requested...”

Then Derek goes on to say:

“I am starting to get information that Amazon is adding another dimension to pulling reviews. It is not set forth in any of their guidelines, but it could be called associated review pulling. What does association mean? Anyone in your family.  Friends. People you work with. Reviews from all of these types of people have been removed and/or blocked according to various people. They are being told it is because they have a “financial interest” in your book, but that’s obviously a load of crap. That’s just the catchall phrase they’re using to justify their actions. So, in the future, it may not be possible to have anyone you know write you a review. Just awesome, huh? Let’s make it harder for indie authors...
“This all stinks of so many other situations where if there was just transparency, there would be no speculation, rumor, and angst. Amazon could easily step up and give some clarity/description on this whole issue. In fact, that’s all most people are asking for...”

3 years ago!
3 years ago and Derek Blass raised the alarm. He said the words 'in the future,' and that future is now. Very few people listened. To be fair, the Indie market was only just in its infancy but I bet this man wishes he’d found a bookie willing to take bets on how it would go. About now, he’d be buying a boat, an expensive car and raising his eyebrows at the rest of us because he could already see back then how it was going.

So here we are, half way through 2015 and what have we got?

I can build a fan base of people who love my work, but they can’t review because they’re deemed to ‘know’ me by Amazon, who sneak around electronically behind my back and decide who my friends are for me.

I can be part of a fan base for an author whose work I grab hot off the press because I love it, but I can’t review because I’m deemed to ‘know’ them by Amazon.

Where will we be in another 3 years’ time?

Will we look back, shaking our heads and wishing we did something sooner?

I know there’s a tendency to shrug and assume Amazon won’t listen. It's how I feel too. It’s not like they did any more than come to the party 3 years ago and walk out with a party bag, is it? They just got more autocratic, hiding behind automated speech and a robotic smile. “Thank you for reaching out to us today.” Then they reach back and snatch any of your precious reviews they deem to be bolstered by a personal relationship with the reviewer.

The good news is  I can write a nasty little 1* review for anything I like and it gets to stay. I’ve never met the author, I don’t follow their website, Facebook or life. I absolutely don’t like the way they wear their hair or Americanise the English language. I can 1* everything they wrote and that’s absolutely fine with Amazon. I got a 1* for one of mine by someone who admitted in the review, they neither bought nor read my work. They just didn’t like how it followed on from the free first book, even though it clearly states in the blurb it will do that and is only 99c for that reason. Amazon left the review up, so that’s ok then. Apparently.

It’s a sad, sad state of affairs and one that others saw coming. I wish I could go back in time and sign Derek's petition and force Amazon to give clarity and look at their monitoring of reviews then. I wasn't publishing in 2012 but others were and they didn't sign.

The current petition is now over 11k but there are over 3 million novels on Amazon so the percentage of interested people is still frighteningly small. My maths is rubbish but I don’t think it’s even 4%.

Amazon didn’t listen back then, so why would they now? It needs to go further, get bigger and make much more noise.

I review on Barnes & Noble nowadays. They just seem happy to hear my opinion and I’m cool with that. It’s as though Amazon are taking the legs out from under us. Good marketing screams, ‘Build a brand and a solid base, link in with fans and interact.’ Then along comes Amazon and deems all that hard work to be ‘personal relationship’ and wipes out the reviews. It’s just like tidal erosion and I don’t see it ending well for Indies, I really don’t.

Sign the petition or don’t sign the petition. But don’t look back in 3 years’ time and wish you did.

#Amazon #reviews #bullying

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Social Niceties on Facebook - there aren't any.

A lot of arguments happen online. The media is full of stories of ‘online bullying’ and cyber oppression. For someone who grew up without a mobile phone, it seems an incredible phenomenon. If you don’t like what’s on your TV screen it’s an easy matter to flick the off button. Surely it’s the same with computers, isn’t it?

The answer is no, it’s actually not that simple.

It’s personal!

The reason seems to be in the personal nature of social media. We all get offended by stuff we see on the TV but in the most part, we know it’s not aimed specifically at us. It has a general audience who share a whole range of opinions and viewpoints. This isn’t the case with social media.

Taking Facebook  purely as an example, we tend to align ourselves with other people of like-minded persuasion, whether that’s readers of mystery fiction, lovers of Star Trek or chocolate addicts. On Facebook, I’m a member of a local residents’ group, an international book club and a local group which supports people living with food intolerance. This is in addition to those I admit into my inner circle and call ‘friends’.

It’s a much narrower field than TV, radio or any of the other outside influences I allow into my world and group members have an automatic inroad to my inner circle. The people I associate with have things in common. In my world, my friends are the people I allow to view my trials and tribulations, my bad days and my good. The word ‘friend’ implies they will take me at face value, excuse the bad attitudes I occasionally exhibit and sit the journey through with me until the good times come around again. My friends used to be my coffee buddies, but moving to the other side of the planet made that difficult for some of us, although the sentiment is still there for many and ‘virtual Skype coffees’ are the closest we get for years at a time.

Who are my friends?

The word ‘friend’ probably seemed like a good idea when Facebook was in its planning stages, but the connotations are far more wide reaching than the label. When someone befriends us on Facebook or another form of social media, we make the mistake of believing they’ll rescue us when our car breaks down on the motorway, turn up with a casserole and tissues when a relative dies, or babysit at a moment’s notice when we’re really stuck. The sad reality is the click of a button and the gathering of another ‘like’ when we post about our dreadful day. If we’re really lucky, we might be rewarded with an appropriate emoticon.

The Tragic Unfriending

This has become one of the most effective ways of upsetting someone or making a point. In the real world, you might drift away from someone because that season is over. But on Facebook, that season is never over. You have to stay 'friends' for the rest of your natural life, so they can 'like' the post your tearful spouse puts up when you exit this mortal coil. Unfriending is the gravest insult possible because it means they can no longer see your stuff and you're sending out a very clear message, "I don't want to see yours." 

Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?
I regularly cull my 'friends' on my personal Facebook page. If you don't talk to me or 'like' my stuff, I kinda don't want you there. I wouldn't want you peering through my windows without knocking on my front door because that's just weird. I have a 'like or leave' policy for that very reason.

A guide to the subtle insult


If you really want to upset someone, make your  point using caps.

 2. !! The Exclamation Mark !!

This has numerous meanings. In fiction it illustrates emphasis but in social media, it conveys anything from sarcasm, through irritation, to outright anger.

3. (Brackets)

Sarcasm hides in (brackets) to nullify the sharpness of the point the writer is attempting to make. It’s a sly way of de-emphasising someone’s exasperation with your inferiority.

Outright aggression

We’ve all seen outright aggression on social media. I once watched a video on YouTube which popped up in my newsfeed. It was from a carpark security camera in America and showed someone pulling into a parking space and wiping out about seven parked cars. Out of interest I turned to the comments and they began harmlessly enough. Some people found it funny, then someone mentioned a medical emergency and linked the news report which claimed an elderly lady had a heart attack in a carpark. Yeah, so the laugh kinda died in our throats. A few minutes later and my jaw hung slackly as I read the vitriolic crap which ensued. How did we get from a mildly funny oopsie video to the kind of physical threats of violence that involved broken windows and other more painful suggestions of bodily harm? Who are these people that seem intent on lighting the touch paper with the proverbial match and then dancing around the resulting fire? Are they bored, frustrated, mischievous or insane?

People talk about internet trolls. For a long time I imagined a slippery green water dweller who popped out from underneath bridges and ate innocent little goats. I’ve subsequently met a few. They’re actually regular people with some kind of axe to grind on anyone who opposes their often, very radical view. I’ve learned to my cost that these people have no interest in me personally. If I’m in their way, I’ll be smushed underfoot in their quest to pull the legs off the next spider who doesn’t quite run fast enough. Trolls are not always easy to spot but once you do, don’t engage. Move quickly away, block them and don’t go back for more.


It’s far too easy to have misunderstandings in a conversation when you can’t see someone’s body language. I know it sounds obvious, but the need for emphasising speech using brackets, exclamation marks or emoticons isn’t necessary when they can lightly slap your arm, grin cheekily or pull a cute face to make you laugh. The ‘silent treatment’ might just be someone logging off, getting busy or having to get dinner. If you think you’ve upset someone, ask them. And vice versa.

Stay out of contentious conversations and walk away from nasty threads. Don’t be tempted to ‘gang up’ on someone just because everyone else is. Not everyone is good at making their thoughts or beliefs sound coherent in black and white, so don’t judge someone on what they type. You didn’t at school, so why would you now as an adult? If you can’t see their face when they say it, it’s not safe to stake your brand or reputation on it. Beware the threads that go off at a tangent. They are often the ones that get out of control. They’re like floating sticks down a river; there’s no telling where they’ll end up.

Be mindful out there and stay safe. Not everyone is who you think they are. We're all wearing a mask and let's be honest, sometimes it slips a little.

You kinda weren't meant to see the
#Facebook #etiquette #online