Amazon's new book review police are out in force
The rise of Lulu.com and Amazon's CreateSpace have changed the face of small batch self-publishing forever. Before they came along, if an author wrote a book that had limited readership appeal, the paths to actually getting it into print were generally pretty limited: track down a small, independent press that didn't mind printing up a small batch of copies and warehousing them for years (or decades); or pay a vanity press to print up a couple of thousand books that the author would then stack up in his garage until the mice finally chewed into the boxes.
With the new online self-publishing services, that has changed completely. Now, an author can upload a Word file, pick a predesigned cover, and in a matter of minutes, have a book listed online on the world's biggest book retailer, that looks exactly like something from Random House. For Masonic authors, this has been especially exciting. It would be difficult to find a field of study that has more books written about it for such a comparatively tiny sliver of the book buying public than Freemasonry. Because of this new technology, we have greater access to more Masonic books than at any time in our history. If you think there's a dearth of Masonic education resources in the world, you haven't been paying attention.
One of the most important aspects of promoting (or buying) any book, regardless of the subject, is positive reviews. It's difficult enough to convince a substantial group of readers to actually buy a book in the first place. But it's even harder to count on them to actually take a few minutes after they've read it to sit down and type out a few sentences about what they thought of it. Reviews are the lifeblood of the book business, and most especially for the self-publisher. They are important because more (and better) reviews make a book listing look more promising to a shopper who is reluctant to part with $14.95. And the more confirmed sales there are of a book on Amazon, the higher the ranking number becomes, along with a greater likelihood of the title being promoted on another popular book's page by Amazon's inscrutable marketing algorithm.
So, over the years, desperate authors have sought out numerous ways to encourage folks to give public feedback for their work on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and elsewhere. Some have tried asking Facebook friends for reviews, while others have resorted to a sort of soft bribery by offering gift cards in return for a few kindly sentences and a five-star rating.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous authors (or savvy ones, if you think that way) have found ways to game Amazon's ranking system over the years. Some authors have paid for reviews, created dozens of phony screen names and posted their own sock puppet reviews, and other schemes.
Now, apparently, Amazon has decided to take the matter in hand and announced (or just quietly enforced without fanfare) new rules regarding the posting of reviews. If you are an author of a Masonic book, and especially a self-published one, these rules could affect how you go about seeking sympathetic brethren's online opinions of your work.
Author Anne R. Allen co-hosts a blog that deals with writing, and yesterday she posted an extensive article examining the new review rules and how they could touch on what you and your readers might otherwise regard as harmless attempts to help each other out.
See Amazon's New Review Rules: Should Authors Be Worried?