Take the Reins On Your Amazon Reviews

Tina TrasterYour book’s Amazon page is part orchestration, part free for-all. Your publisher will set up your book page, which includes title, pricing, formats available and a book description. Your publisher will, or should, also give Amazon Editorial Reviews. But 12 entries is the limit. Scroll down and you’ll find “About the Author” and “Product Details.”

All the above, except pricing, is information you or your publisher have control over.

Then you cross the slippery slope into Amazon’s “Customer Reviews.” These can be a jungle if you have written a controversial book. Actually, I didn’t realize I had written a controversial book until angry reviewers started posting vitriolic comments, character assassinations, and false assessments of what I’d written in my memoir, Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother’s Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder.

My book, published in May by Chicago Review Press, is a very personal account of how my husband and I dealt with adopting a child, who for many years, couldn’t attach. Ultimately, she did, and I wrote a personal account, not a how-to, to share my experience with other adoptive families, and to enlighten anyone who knows or cares for adoptive children. A small but vocal minority turned my Amazon page into a raging forum for attacks and commentary.

In theory, customer reviews should be a democratic process. It’s not that simple. First, you don’t have to have read a book (or purchase it from Amazon) to comment on it – only a regular Amazon account is necessary. Secondly, reviewers can post anonymously, using any handle, which means anyone, or any group, with an agenda can manipulate your book’s future without their fingerprints.

Nasty reviews hurt, particularly unsubstantiated or personal attacks. It’s also upsetting when you can see a pattern of attack that shows a repetition of particular words or ideas in the negative reviews that suggests a group attack. Chances are these commenters are part of another forum that has made your book a hate target.

Your friends, agent, and publisher, will tell you not to worry. “I read reviews when I buy a vacuum cleaner, not when I’m planning on buying a book,” one pal said to me.

But in that moment of feeling helpless and victimized, you’ll ask them to read your book, and review it. Alas, that’s not enough. There’s another favor you’ll need to call in.

At the bottom of each review, there’s a “yes” or “no” option to the question “Was this review helpful to you?” If your book attracts a dedicated, organized group of haters, they will be diligent about checking “yes” for every treacherous review, and “no” for every positive review. The weighted support for negative reviews keeps the negative reviews at the top of the customer review list, even if you have a total four-star rating, or a greater number of five-star reviews than bad ones. This is really, really frustrating. What can you do to mitigate the damage? Ask friends to do the same: click “yes” for every good review, and “no” for every rotten comment.

As I said, the Amazon book page – it’s a jungle out there.