Editor’s note: This post has been updated with Goodreads policy for reviews as well. It was pointed out that Goodreads was mentioned but not their policy on reviews, and it varies slightly from Amazon’s.
Imagine you are interested in a book you heard about, so you hop on over to Amazon and look it up. Like a lot of people you take a look at the reviews to see what other people thought. Is the book worth your time? Is it well-written, cover the subject matter, or entertaining? There’s a few one-star reviews so you check them out and you see…
I have not read nor purchased this book. The fundamental premise of it is… (Yes this is the beginning to a real review that was pulled down recently)
This, sadly is a rising trend among people who disagree with an author, dislike them, their platform, politics or what have you. They take to Amazon, Goodreads, or other book review sites, give them one-star reviews and then proceed to write about everything but the book. These ‘review bullies’ defend their actions by stating they are just telling people what the author is like, completely neglecting the rules of said sites regarding customer reviews.
Amazon’s rules state:
Be sincere: We welcome your honest opinion about the product–positive or negative. We do not remove reviews because they are critical. We believe all helpful information can inform our customers’ buying decisions. (Emphasis mine)
What’s not allowed…
• Obscene or distasteful content
• Profanity or spiteful remarks…
• Feedback on the seller, your shipment experience or the packaging (Emphasis mine)
Goodreads review policy is similar when it comes to reviews:
And here are some of the things that might cause your review to receive a lower priority in our internal ranking system, which may affect whether or not your review appears on the book page:
- Reviews of the author. Mentioning the author in the context of a review is always acceptable, but reviews that are predominantly about an author’s behavior and not about the book will be deleted.
- Reviews with off-topic, irrelevant comments about the author’s personal life will be deleted. For example, if the author owes you money, that is not appropriate information for a book review, and it will be deleted entirely.
It’s pretty clear that a customer review is to be about the product, not the seller, or in this case author. If you didn’t purchase the product, or read the book, you’ve no business doing a review, especially when your review is simply speculation, slander, defamation, or just commentary on the author. There are places for that, and customer reviews on Amazon is not that place. Even with all of this clear information about what is and is not allowed, these bullies defend their actions, and even get upset when they are caught and their reviews are removed. It’s an amazing case of people thinking themselves above the rules of the sites they use because of some self-appointed crusade against their target.
Anne Rice, author of the Vampire Chronicles, recently shared a post detailing the take down of another such bully review on Amazon. This, of course, took social media by storm due to other factors, but for simply enforcing Amazon’s rules, and informing interested people about these bullies Anne was subjected to quite a bit of abuse on Twitter and Facebook. According to her responses to supporters Anne doesn’t intend to back down from fighting bullies in this context, despite the angry responses from the bullies themselves, and their friends.
Needless to say this is not only childish and uncalled for, it can ruin some new or independent authors. For many self-published, or budding authors, every review is cherished. A slew of good ones can lead to more success, while a lot of bad ones can lead to defeat for some. If those bad reviews are unwarranted, spiteful, or simply put up by people who didn’t even read the book it could be devastating for no good reason. There are places to share your disagreement with an individual, write an article, an essay, a blog post, talk about it on Facebook or Twitter, but when you take advantage of a service like customer reviews on Amazon you’re way out of line.
If you’re reading this and just finding out about this practice, or finding out it’s more of a problem than you thought, there is something you can do. All of these sites provide means to report review violations. The most direct means are better, rather than down-voting, or reporting the review directly on the page. Amazon offers a way, through their customer service page, to report bad reviews via email. Don’t respond to the review yourself, it’s pointless, feeds the bully’s ego, and adds to the general negativity already created by the bad review in the first place. If you know the author, or have a way to contact them, let them know. Their contact to the merchant platform will carry more weight, being the party harmed by the spiteful review.
If you’re thinking about writing a bad review, just because you don’t like the author, don’t. You may have very valid reasons to dislike them or want to inform people about the individual, but a product review is not the place to do it. Start a blog, write for another, or just vent to your friends on Facebook. Think about people that might not like you, and how it would be if they gave a bad review of something you did, all based on their opinion of your character rather than the product. It’s just not cool.