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Mixed Blessings

Mixed Blessings

Amazon.com had good news for readers and bad news for authors last week, concerning the book reviews posted on their site.

Since so many people buy their books on Amazon, getting a good review there is highly desirable. It’s hit-or-miss, however, as to whether any readers will actually post reviews.

What’s an author to do?

The solution many authors seize upon is to ask their friends and family to post reviews—some authors brazenly request specifically “good reviews”—on Amazon. Some of these reviews from family and friends are bona fide; others are bogus. The reviewer may not even have read the book, but he or she leaves a glowing review because, hey, the author is a good friend, or a family member, or a member of his or her writers’ group.

I am certainly not saying that all reviews posted by friends and family of an author are fake! But I do know for a fact that some are.

Amazon knows it, too, and they’re taking steps to combat that fakery. Unfortunately, some totally legit glowing reviews are also being removed from the site in the process.

Amazon has come up with some kind of formula, or algorithm, to figure out whether a reviewer is really an impartial stranger or is a friend or relative of the author.  And they’re taking down the reviews they suspect of not being impartial. Unfortunately, some legitimate glowing reviews of books are being removed in the process.

Up to a point, this news is good for readers. Although plenty of fair, honest praise is being hidden from their eyes, so is the baloney, the insincere rhapsodizing words from people who never even read the book in question.

But it’s tough on authors when legit reviews are taken down just because Amazon suspects—rightly or wrongly—a social or familial connection between the reviewer and the author. If your brother-in-law read your book cover to cover, absolutely loved it, and said so in a review on Amazon, should that review be censored just because the two of you share a family bond?

I don’t know what the answer is or even if there IS an answer. I just know it’s mostly but not totally good news for readers, but a sad day indeed for us authors.

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