All About Amazon, Part One: How to Get Reviews (that Stick)

Every author needs Amazon. Many consider it a necessary evil but have learned how to live with it. Some are still awed by its power and importance, and still others are scared about when the moment comes that they need to face it. 


These abbreviated tips will even the playing field a little, help you cope, and give you some insight on how to make Amazon less intimidating.


Many thanks to Ricardo Fayet (one of the founders of Reedsy) where you can find more in-depth material on the following subject matter.


Gather Your Street Team


You need a street team. A street team are the people you send advanced free copies of your book in exchange for promised reviews. They could be people who have helped you along the way while you were writing, other authors of similar genre books, social media influencers, and other literary friends.


When people post reviews, make sure they mention that you have sent them an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) so that Amazon knows they are not closely related.

Once your book launches have readers you interact with join your street team.


Tricky, Tricky Amazon


Amazon has some strict guidelines about how they handle reviews for the products (including books) they sell on the website. Some of the more obvious ones are

In order to preserve the integrity of the community, content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed, including:

Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relatives, close friends, business associates, or employer's) products or services.Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products, refunds, or reimbursements) or on behalf of anyone else.Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.


So, posting a review after receiving a free ARC is against Amazon’s guidelines, right? Actually, it’s not — below these guidelines, Amazon creates an exception for books:


“Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review”.

So here are the rules in a nutshell:


You can send free ARCs to a bunch of readers (your street team) and let them know when the book launches and ask for an honest review if they’ve read the book;You cannot ask them to post a 5-star review (that’s influencing the review);You cannot require them to post a review in exchange for an ARC (so you can’t email them saying: “I gave you a free ARC, now you need to give me a review!”)You cannot incentivize readers to post a review with anything other than a free ARCAnd, finally, friends and relatives can’t post reviews of your book.


BUT HOW DOES AMAZON KNOW WHO IS POSTING THE REVIEW? YOU’RE NOT GONNA BELIEVE IT.


To explain, let me quote from Ricardo Fayet’s post:

“But how does Amazon identify biased reviews (i.e. ones left by friends and relatives)?
That’s the million-dollar question. And while no one has a definitive answer (except the almighty ‘zon), I came across an interesting theory on Dave Chesson’s blog that may shed some light.” ~ Ricardo Fayet

Amazon’s Time-Stamped Search URLs


Say you want to share the Amazon link to one of your books. Maybe you’re sending it to a friend. A natural thing you might do is:

Head to Amazon.com;Enter your book title into the search bar;Click on your book and land on its Amazon page;Share the URL of that Amazon page with your friend.

To give you an example, I just did this with David Gaughran’s excellent book Let’s Get Digital. I searched for “let's get digital” and clicked on the first result. I got the following URL:

https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Get-Digital-Self-Publish-Publishing/dp/1983680354/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532003911&sr=8-1&keywords=lets+get+digital

As you can see, the full URL contains the keywords I searched for. But it also contains an important parameter that I've highlighted: QID.


QID is basically a timestamp of when the search was made. It records the number of seconds that have passed since January 1, 1970. If I were to do the exact same search a second later, I’d be getting qid=1532003912.


This means that every link you generate this way is unique. Amazon knows when the search was made, and what keyword it was related to. If its algorithms detect that a large percentage of a book’s reviews come from readers who got to the book through the same time-stamped URL, they’re likely to flag these reviews as biased and remove them.

For example, such a link was shared on Reddit by Trump supporters who wanted to ‘brigade’ Megyn Kelly’s book with one-star reviews. Because Amazon could identify all the reviews that came from that single link, they were able to delete them (news story here).

So, which link should you use? You want one that is stripped of any parameters — get rid of everything that comes after the first long number. In the case of Let’s Get Digital, it would be:

https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Get-Digital-Self-Publish-Publishing/dp/1983680354/

You can also use affiliate links from them Amazon Associate program since those have no keyword tagging nor timestamps. Is this enough to guarantee safety from any review deletion? Probably not, since Amazon is likely to have other automated ways of flagging biased reviews. But it might reduce the risk by quite a lot.

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