The Confusing World of Amazon Reviews
Reviews are important to every author. They not only relay a readers opinions about what they've read for other potential readers, the also encourage a writer to keep going.
But what happens when you get a nonsensical review that has nothing to do with your book or the product you are selling? Why would they take down your own reviews or those of your reviewers? Or worse, why would Amazon prevent you from being able to post them at all and leave you with a red letter message at each attempt? What do you do?
Today, we're addressing these questions in more through the lens of a serial writer on Kindle Vella.
When we first learned about Kindle Vella, we were advised that there would be a new and innovative way for authors to communicate with their readers.
I know that I for one was excited and looking forward to seeing author notes and comment feeds for these serial works.
What I imagined was something similar to Tapas or Wattpad. With Tapas there is a comment window that you have the ability to pop out and add a comment per episodes. While not as innovative as other comment systems, this does allow for direct comments to the author.
As you can see in the screen shot on the left, taken from Episode One of Project Infinity by Kayla Knue (reviewed on 10/18), this system is clean and easily accessible by any reader with a Tapas account.
Clean, easy, quickly accessible and definitely something authors may have had in mind when picturing the product delivered by Amazon during the initial soft launch in the US which followed nearly three months of Author Access Beta to upload stories.
The WattPad system of comments is something entirely different. You could say that while complicated, it is innovative. With WattPad you have the ability to comment in 'document' so to speak on each paragraph of an author's work.
The example below is from Hired To Love by Jordan Lynde. Since this serial launched it has had over 2.4 million views nearly 45 thousand 'stars' (equivalent to the thumbs up in Kindle Vella and over 24 thousand in line comments.
While innovative, it is a bit clunky for a new user until they've gotten used to how the system works. Once you've got a handle of how it works, you're good to go.
With Kindle Vella in soft launch, and one of the focuses of the platform include customer engagement, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a change to the system. Perhaps reviews could be submitted per episode instead of just for the overall work. Hopefully suggestions left on the KDP Community will be taken to heart in future iterations of Vella.
When it comes down to it, the opinions of other authors and readers popping up for your work, book, short story or other products, can help sway the opinions of the reader.
In the case of Kindle Vella, it has been stated that thumbs up, favorite tokens, new follows, interaction of current followers and reviews are all part of the system that not only ranks a Vella, but can also influence bonuses. In August, I received my first reviews one for Exile and one for Explorers.
The presence of the review boosted The Explorers to the bottom of the top 250 Vellas list on August 29th. On August 31st the review was removed and Explorers dropped off the list. Where this Vella initially ranked on that top 250, we expected to land in that bottom 50 vellas on the list. Sadly, we didn't hold on for August, but that was expected with low read through for the first full month this platform existed.
That review I posted about still exists in screen shots. I was so excited to receive it that I did a happy dance, shared the reviews over social media. I can't even begin to explain how exciting it was to receive those first reviews as an author.
There is no reason not to celebrate the little wins that come with reviews. While they're more impactful to an author when posted directly to Amazon, there are other places that a Vella can be reviewed.
If your reviews disappear, or you find yourself unable to leave reviews for others, all is not lost! Did you know that Vellas can be posted to your Good Reads Author account?
All you need is your ASIN number from Amazon and it's ready to go. While each episode of your Vella has an assigned ASIN, you have one for your Vella itself. The below is from a post that I recirculate regularly on social media to make sure new authors are aware of this possibility.
For me, Good Reads is another opportunity to share my voice when it comes to Serials on Vella since I'm no longer permitted to post reviews.
You read that right. Dumpster Fire and Bitch Box. Not all reviews that pop up on a product in Amazon have anything to do with the actual product itself.
Have you seen authors get one star reviews for a broken clasp on a necklace? I know I have.
Have you seen reviews that aren't really reviews? Ones that turn into a 'this is what should have happened' in a Vella or book that you've written? Are there complaints about grammar, punctuation and other syntax errors that aren't necessarily applicable to the work? Or maybe they are.
We can never expect an author's postings to be 100% perfect. Take a look at Explorers and Exile for example. I have a developmental editor and a line editor and two betas that review everything before it makes it's way to Amazon. Yet, going back there are a few errors that we all of us missed or read over.
These things can be more than discouraging and impact a works rating.
The funny thing is that disputing a review normally doesn't result in it being taken down. That means that the review of the broken necklace may live on your book or Vella from now until the end of it's digital life.
This means that reviews have the possibility of turning into a dumpster fire, one that impacts your work until additional reviews help balance out the poor/bad one..
As an author it is really easy to allow things like this to completely destroy your motivation and determination. The hardest thing to remember is that no matter how many people out there enjoy your work, especially when it comes to Vella, that not every reader will smash that thumbs up icon. *AND* not every reader is going to enjoy what they've read. It may not be taste, it could be the way you narrate your work or how deep into the dredges of darkness you dig. It might even be the way you describe your scenes that just rubs a reader wrong that can lead to a negative review.
I'm a big believer in 'as long as the review is pertinent to the work' even bad ones can be helpful. They tell you more about the market you should be targeting and maybe even make you think of something you forgot that can help improve your work in the future.
If a bad review is enough to throw you off your game, give yourself a few minutes to unpack what the reviewer said. BUT Don't let it keep you from writing! There are more reviews to be had and let's face it, not every reader is going to enjoy the book or serial that you've put literal blood, sweat and tears into.
Once we can recognize that and not allow the reviews to be internalized, we're have one up on the game and push onward.
Because valid reviews can impact sales and placement of a story on Kindle Vella, one of the things that I've noticed is that when it comes to problem reviews, they're addressed far more quickly than other areas of Amazon's platform. Read this as, with Vella you are more likely to see a problem review about a broken necklace clasp disappear than say on a KU shared digital version of your book.
This is both a good thing and bad thing. A good thing because these reviews are impactful to story placement and bonuses. A bad thing because you can see valid reviews disappear all together. (Like the one above by Zombie Phreak.)
The issue that we run into as authors and potential reviewers is that if reviews disappear from our work and we notice and reach out to Amazon, the answer we receive is that only the reviewer can find out why the review has been taken down.
Just one problem. If the review you posted has been taken down, you follow supports instructions and reach out to the community team, they don't answer.
You can ticket in now until the end of time and they won't answer.
In order to figure out what was going on, I took to the KDP Community Forums. The moderator immediately directed me to reach out to the community team... that doesn't answer.
I did receive an answer from another author and learned the following:
If you're an author on the platform, they don't permit you to review in your genre as it could unfairly effect the ranking of comps
If you have any sort of social connection to the author of a Vella, social or otherwise that they're able to find, your review will come down
If they believe there is a relationship social or otherwise with a reviewer, they'll take down that reviewers work
And in my case, following instructions and posting a review without having a connection to the author and then writing a full review for them on the blog, I have established a new connection with the author. This personal relationship means that my review will be taken down if it goes through.
But wait! There's more! If this happens to you, no matter how many reviews you've put up in the past, you are no longer to able to post reviews *AND* they will have taken down every review you have ever posted. The only warning you'll get is this lovely image as they don't contact you directly:
Unfortunately, community guidelines are unclear and entirely ambiguous and communities will not reply to your queries. If they do, you’re incredibly lucky. I tried again... well... we'll see if anyone replies.
There are some things that I've learned during this review insanity that I should share. They're things that some authors do, and don't always get hit for.
ARC reviews: Amazon believes that providing an ARC review copy is a close personal connection. Keep in mind that Amazon’s ARC program is not the same as an author’s street team that may receive copies of a novel or early access to Vella posts in exchange for honest reviews are two separate things.
Critique trading: Trading your work with that of another author for the purpose of review trading, critique trading that results in a review on the platform is a close personal connection
Close personal contacts can include people that reach out to you as an author through a contact form and ask why their review has been taken down in the case that you reach out to Amazon and make an inquiry
Close personal contacts include anyone who may follow you on social media or be subscribed to your newsletter
Solicited reviews violate terms. For example, if you pay for a review that is posted on social media and that company posts the review to your product listing on Amazon, it'll eventually get taken down.
Many Vella authors report that they are unable to post reviews in any way and assume that it is because their account has been flagged as an author
Finally, most importantly, repeatedly violating the terms for posting a review or having reviews removed repeatedly for being a close personal contact or solicited review could have your work de-platformed.
My advice is to be careful. When it comes down to it, having reviews is impactful, but at this point, not worth having your work deplatformed. I don't know what de-platforming does to previous royalties and bonuses paid out. Read as I suspect if this happens at the end of the month you will not be paid for the royalties or bonuses that you were eligible for.
If anyone out there has experienced this and is willing to share what we should expect, please reach out to me in the services contact form so that we can discuss making the information made available to other authors.
Keep in mind that as I learn more, receive additional information or find additional answers that this blog may be updated to reflect new details. This is just how I've interpreted things based on my experience and conversations with other authors. Additional information can be found in the recently updated review guidelines.
Coming up next time on Conversations: NaNoWriMo! What, it's a great topic. A lot of writers that I know personally have gotten their start writing by participating in NaNoWriMo.
Other upcoming topics include resources and the differences between audiences targeted by Kindle and Kindle Unlimited (complete novels in one go) vs Vella and serial audiences and more.
If there are any topics you'd like to see discussed here on Kindle & Coffee Conversations, please add a comment below or use that handy dandy contact form on our Services page.
Until next time, may your adventures be plentiful and exciting! Just not as exciting as X's.