Monday, April 06, 2009

Amazon reinstates author's reviews after deleting them - divine intervention?


Update on the Amazon reviews status:

For those of you who haven't heard, Amazon recently started deleting reviews by authors who included their own book title on the review, usually in the form of a signature line like...

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song

I had 85 reviews deleted and went through a frustrating battle with reps at Amazon, who ended up putting my reviews back up, minus the author of...bit.

I thought that was the end of it and began a campaign to let authors know about this policy enforcement. See my previous posts: Amazon deletes authors' reviews if book title is in signature and An update on my battle with Amazon over deleted reviews

TODAY'S GOOD NEWS? Read on!

Thinking this matter was over, I was surprised to find another email from Amazon today. Here is the correspondence I received from "Peter, a senior member of the Amazon Communities team":
Greetings from Amazon.com.

My name is Peter; I'm a senior member of our Communities team, a significant part of my job consists of deciding if Customer Reviews adhere to our guidelines. As such, your account was brought to my attention.

First, I'm sorry for any frustration this situation has caused you regarding the removal of your reviews. After reviewing the previous actions taken and our guidelines, your reviews have been reinstated on our website.

We appreciate your contributions to our website and we look forward to your participation in the future.

Best regards,

Peter
Amazon.com
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company
And here's my response to Peter:
Hi Peter:

I must admit, I am very happy to know there are 'real' people working at Amazon, and I appreciate that you took the time to email me. Thank you.

I was notified two days ago that my reviews were back up, after someone at Amazon edited them and removed part of my signature line (the part that said 'author of Whale Song'...or whichever title I decided to use.)

While I am fine with Amazon setting policies, I am not fine with HOW my reviews were deleted, without warning and with no notice or explanation. I was further frustrated by the vague emails I received when I inquired about my reviews. I can't tell you how many times I was told they were all "inappropriate" and to read the review guidelines, which I did with a fine-tooth comb.

Yes, this was an extremely frustrating and stressful situation. I won't lie.

Authors are now all abuzz about this policy. This is being discussed in authors' associations in Canada and the US. I've been contacted by other authors who have had the same problem. I've also been contacted by reporters.

I brought this situation to light amongst the writing community for one reason: to help my author friends avoid this hassle and stress. Already many of them are editing their reviews and removing mention of their book titles. Some refuse to. I have done my best to be patient and understanding with everyone at Amazon, and trust me, it's not easy. I have no intention of bashing Amazon, but I do feel it's important to educate other authors, so I will continue to talk about this policy enforcement.

Most of the authors I've spoken with via phone, or email, agree with me on these
following points:
1. Amazon should not delete reviews without first notifying the person who has written them and explaining clearly WHY this is happening.
2. The writer of the review should have an opportunity to edit the review accordingly.
3. The Review Guidelines need to be updated to include: Authors who write reviews can not mention their own book titles nor use the product link to mention their books.
4. A mass email needs to be sent to every Amazon member, with a headline directed to authors so that most will read it--something like: If you're an author and you write reviews here, please read!

Yes, there is a notice about solicitation on the other guidelines but when reviewers want to know the review rules, they go to the...Review Guidelines. It's a simple fix on Amazon's part.

This is the courteous, respectful way to handle this kind of situation, and I can tell you, my author friends would appreciate this.

Now, after I've written all this, I re-read your email and had this thought that maybe, just maybe you meant that my reviews were reinstated with my signature line, so I just checked. I am in shock. Thank you. I'm not going to delete anything above because I want you to know where my head was at with all this. I take this to mean that authors CAN mention a book title in their signature, and I hope if this policy ever changes, you will notify us first.

I am extremely pleased with this decision by Amazon to allow authors to leave their book title in their signature line. Thank you. I will now get to work on contacting all the associations and authors, plus the various blogs that have covered this. I will also blog about this myself. I'd like to include your email in full, with your permission. I will leave out your email address.

P.S. I'd like to know that Amazon is also "Building Earth's Most Author-Centric Company". I know that books are just one product for Amazon, but I sometimes think authors are undervalued and unappreciated.

Sincerely,
    
Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Summary:

When I checked my reviews on Amazon today, I was so stunned to see one of my book titles mentioned that I didn't realize until later how ironic and funny it was. Someone at Amazon went into all 85 review (as much as I could see) and carefully typed in this same book title in every review. My review signature now reads:

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
author of Divine Intervention

Yup, that's one of my other book titles...and I guess you could say I had a little "divine intervention" in this matter. ;-)

Amazon did not reinstate my product links in my signature. I'm okay with that. I can respect this, and I really appreciate hearing from someone in Amazon and receiving an apology.

It appears I have MJ Rose, author and book promoter, to thank for Peter's quick response to my situation. I emailed MJ to let her know about this situation when it first occurred, because I know she networks with thousands of authors, publishers and other marketers. She had an Amazon contact and sent him my email.

Hmmm...that might explain why I noticed that someone from Amazon in Seattle had been checking out my blog posts on this.

To any authors who might have found their reviews deleted or edited like this, my best piece of advice is to state your case in an email to Amazon. Be as clear as possible and try to be respectful. I could have lost it with them, but I didn't. And I'm very glad.

So my author friends, let's heave a communal sigh of relief. One battle down. (Let's not count the ones to come.)

REPRINT NOTICE:
If you would like to quote me (in whole or in part) regarding this Amazon review issue on your blog or newsletter, you may, providing you include the following information at the end:

Reprinted with permission from Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author and Book Marketing Coach, http://www.cherylktardif.com

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
Author and Book Marketing Coach
http://www.cherylktardif.com/
http://www.shamelessbookpromoter.com/

P.S. Follow me on Twitter where I'm giving away 60+ PRIZES!!

18 comments:

JCW said...

As an author whose children's book: MAGICIAN OF OZ comes out in June, I can appreciate your struggles and victory over the Man! So to speak...

I hope to avoid these issues and your advice and example serve as a model for all who follow.

Par Ardua Ad Alta

James C. Wallace II
magicianofoz (Twitter id)

Daniel Jolley said...

That is great news indeed.

Cheryl Tardif, author and book marketing coach said...

My friend David Rothman over at Teleread.org heard back from Amazon PR guy Andrew Herdener, who says:

“Yes, you can include your title in the signature, that hasn’t changed. The posts were removed accidentally and quickly put back up.”

Thanks for the info David--and Andrew! I'm just glad I can now go back to writing reviews when the mood hits me.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Cheryl Tardif, author and book marketing coach said...

Another email from my senior contact in Amazon (received 5 minutes ago):

"I've read and reviewed your recent email with the appropriate department regarding our review policies, potential notification of reviewers and our review removal policies. They have taken this information for review. Any changes or actions that are a result would be posted on our website."

This is regarding the long email reply I sent him (above), where I suggested a better way to do things if they make changes to policies/guidelines.

Cheryl

Margy Rydzynski said...

How very odd! Comforting, though, to know that Amazon finally did come through for you. It's difficult enough being an author without sites like that being so arbitrary.

Anonymous said...

After amazon helped, you then send a long rambling email back about what they did wrong. Do you actually think the guy cared? You should not post your book titles to reviews anyway. Try rereading your email to the guy who actually helped you. You could have just said "Thanks!"

Thanks to Angela at Writers Weekly for showing us your page. I won't buy your books now.

Cheryl Tardif, author and book marketing coach said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your message. Unfortunately you misunderstood the situation. This was a fight to have my reviews reinstated after they were wrongly removed, which Amazon admitted later, after the post above.

As for my email to him, I started writing it when I thought he was just confirming what I already knew--that my reviews were back up (without any attribute tag).

If you re-read his email, he never said that they had added my title back. After writing all that, I had a weird feeling and checked. It was a shock, since everyone else I'd spoken with at Amazon had said I couldn't have the book title in my sig.

And actually I received a later email from this same guy thanking me for all my suggestions and letting me know that he'd passed them to the review dept. It's nice to know Amazon is open-minded enough to take suggestions.

Now I have one for you: if you're going to write comments like this, add your name instead of hiding behind "anonymous", otherwise that's all you are.

Andrys said...

I'm surrpised they'd do that when (I feel) writers help the reader when identifying themselves as authors of other books.

I did notice that you said product links that were there were removed and that you understood that policy. Amazon has always been very strict about product links. I agree with you that Amazon should tell the authors and give them a chance to edit their reviews before just deleting them all.

Cheryl Tardif, author and book marketing coach said...

Thank you for your comment, Andrys. I always felt that authors who sign like this are just being open and honest. To me, it's like saying, I'm an author and I know this is good (or bad) writing and you can either believe my review or not.

Product links were never addressed in the Review Guidelines. It never stated that authors couldn't use them in their signatures to link to their books.

As many have argued, Amazon often pairs books that are similar--buy X and Y because they complement each other. So using the product link shouldn't have been an issue or it should have been in the Review Guidelines.

I'm very happy with how Amazon resolved this glitch--whether it was a computer error or a human error. It's obvious by the #AmazonFail discussion going on at Twitter that Amazon is experiencing a flood of problems. I hope they resolve them quickly and calmly.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Tracy said...

Thank you Cheryl. I've been following this story closely and was shocked that Amazon would simply delete or edit reviews without advising the poster of this new "policy." As an author, I too saw the opportunity to paste in my book title as to compliment another author's since mine are very genre specific. Nice to know that Amazon saw the error of their ways and cleared all this up.

Tracy
coming soon: The Freedom To Rock

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Cheryl, Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog (www.sharingwithwriters.blogspot.com) which covered your story.

I am so glad that you got this resolved. That you pursued with with Amazon. That you made waves with your letter to John Kremer. That many--like me--picked up on it probably didn't hurt. And that this came on the heels of Amazon's recent "glitch" snafu that was covered by about every newspaper in the nation probably helped as well. (BTW, that disaster was also fixed--but only after it made headlines.)

Having said that, the removal of my Listmanias was not handled well. They were removed and never replaced, some 87 of them (if my memory serves). Listmanias I had spent many, many hours on. Listmanias that I had used to recommend lists of books to my classes at UCLA. Listmanias that were complete with mini reviews. Listmanias that I had taken pains to show the reader (disclaimers if you will--but without apology) which books I listed were mine and even which were books of colleagues.

I hope that Amazon has learned its lesson about treatment of its authors who are also readers and therefore also its customers; authors (customers) not only deserve respect but their credibility can be used to give Amazon's reviews (and other features) more cache, rather than less.

It is probably too late for my Listmanias. That event occurred more than two years ago. The "glitch" incident (and yours) only a few weeks ago. Yay! Your case is resolved! But I still advise authors to use caution before investing a lot of time in Amazon's features. It has been risky in the past and it is anyone's guess whether it will continue to be risky.

That you took the time to fight back on behalf of yourself and other authors is admirable. I hope that you continue to do so.

You will be needed! It appears that Amazon does not have a clear policy on what is commercial and what isn't (they themselves are commercial and criticism of others who practice good, solid capitalism like theirs should not be punished.) Nor do they appear to be clear on how to define opinion (which they invite). Until their policies are clearly considered and disseminated among their forces, these kinds of things will continue to happen.

Best,
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Lecturer, author, actor

Donna M. McDine said...

Cheryl:

Thanks for stopping by my blog and directing me to your full account of your experience with Amazon. Much appreciated.

Best wishes,
Donna
www.donna-mcdine.blogspot.com

Cheryl Tardif, author and book marketing coach said...

Tracy, that was what surprised me most--that Amazon would delete someone's reviews without first contacting them or giving them a chance to fix. However, this really was a case of some overzealous Amazon employees who didn't know the policies.

Carolyn, I agree that Amazon needs to make sure everyone there knows what's going on. There have been too many "glitches" there lately, many of which could be computer errors. I believe that if something is worth fioghting for then you fight until the battle is done. I wasn't the only author who was missing reviews, but I did get the word out, and although it never made the headlines like the 'adult' book glitch did, it did get noticed. And resolved. Sorry to hear about your Listmania issue. That has been an ongoing problem too.

Donna, You're very welome. Feel free to help me spread the word that this issue is now fixed.

Vivian Zabel said...

Cheryl, thanks for letting us all know about the results of your battle with Amazon and for leaving a comment on my blog (http://vivianzabel.blogspot.com).

I updated my entry about the "glitch" at Amazon, but they sure make many "glitches," don't they?

The outcome is much better than I expected. Congratulations.

Bookpleasures said...

Several years ago, Amazon informed me as a reviewer that I would not be permitted to sign my name Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com. That I had to remove the .com.

From time-to-time, I forget to leave out the .com and the posting of the review is delayed. When it does appear, and sometimes I have to send them an email, they remove the .com and they remind me of this rule.

However, I must admit that Amazon never removed my reviews before telling me.
Perhaps, because I am ranked among the top 500, they have more respect.

Regards,

Norm, Bookpleasures.com

Bookpleasures said...

P.S. As a follow up to my last post, unlike many other review sites that likewise prevent authors from linking to their own sites, bookpleasures encourages our reviewers that are authors to link to their sites and their books. In fact, we have a short bio before and after each review.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author & marketing coach said...

Hi Norm,

Thank you so much for dropping by. :-)

Amazon does make it clear that they don't want URLs in posts. That I can live with. Is it overly picky that they don't allow an unlinked .com at the end? Maybe.

I'm very glad that the issue I had was just a miscommunication with some of their employees, and that authors can identify themselves as such when they review.

With every review, the person reading them has to determine whether the reviewer knows what they're talking about, and in the end I think full disclosure is a good thing.

Sites like yours are great because they allow authors to review works and be recognized, and truthfully most authors tend to review a book differently from a non-writer. It's just a different point of view.

Also, when I review a book, I give the author permission to quote my review, so signing my reviews is important. When they quote me, they should be including whatever signature I've ended with.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
author of Whale Song - now in movie negotiations :-)

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author & marketing coach said...

Oh, and by the way, please visit my friends over at www.Bookpleasures.com :-)