Authors banned from reviewing on Amazon: Some thoughts


Photo by Mo Riza. Used under Creative Commons license.

Amazon is no longer allowing authors to review books. Any books. Their argument is that an author will either write undeserving praise of other authors they know or undeserving critiques of authors with whom they feel in competition. And, by their definition, every author is in competition with every other author. That last part is patently absurd. No one didn’t read LOSING CLEMENTINE because they got distracted by HOME PLUMBING FOR DUMMIES or 50 SHADES OF GRAY, for that matter.

As far as undeserving praise, I’m sure that happens. Writers know other writers. We’re a tribe. We’re supportive of one another. Those blurbs on the back of your favorite book? Chances are the author knew the giver of the blurb or their editor did or their agent. Someone. Someone had to be close enough to Joe Smith, bestselling writer, to ask him to read an advanced copy and write something about it. Blurbs are favors, and a cold call would’ve gotten nowhere. Is the praise genuine? I hope so. Can I guarantee it? Nope.

Here’s the thing, though. Books are art and entertainment, and what is appreciated by one person is loathed by another. Amazon reviews are only useful either en masse or if you know and generally agree with a particular reviewer. If 300 people say the character is two dimensional, it probably is. If one person says it? Meh.

I write the books I want to read. So if you liked LOSING CLEMENTINE, there’s a fair chance you’ll like other books I like. If, for example, I tell you STATE OF WONDER is fantastic (I am telling you that) and you enjoyed CLEMENTINE, then that’s probably a solid recommendation. And the God’s honest truth is that I don’t know Ann Patchett. Never met her. I owe her no favors, and she owes none to me. And never in a hundred years would it occur to me to say something unkind in the ridiculous hope that it would somehow lead to an extra sale for me. (What would be the odds of that?)

My rule is that, if I liked it, I shout it from the rooftops. I want people to read. I want people to read good books. I want to talk about good books with other people who read as voraciously as I do. If you want to start a conversation with me at a signing, ask me what I’m reading. If I didn’t like a book, I say nothing publicly. I don’t like criticizing other authors, and so I just pretend it didn’t happen. It’s as though I never picked it up. Is that bias? Perhaps. But it’s a long way from anything Amazon is saying.

And, if I may be so bold, I would suggest that readers like knowing what their favorite authors like. They’re interested in that. Far from refusing to allow authors to review, I would think that Amazon would do better to highlight the fact that we do sometimes review.

I’m sure there are indies who do that, no? If you know of an indie that does, it would be great if you said so in the comments. Share a little indie love.