Amazon Reviews – Is This Ethical?

I’ve gone on before about how important Amazon reviews are to authors. They help to ‘sell’ the book to potential readers and they may also help to push a book up the Amazon rankings and make it more visible to the buying public.

But getting reviews is a battle. It just doesn’t occur to many of us to bother writing one – even if we’ve really enjoyed the book. And to be honest, until I got into Kindle publishing it wouldn’t have occurred to me either.

Bearing all this in mind you’ll understand why an email I received this week got my immediate interest. The sender was suggesting that we do a ‘review swap’ and they included a link to their book on Amazon. I assumed that we would each read and then independently review the other’s book. That seemed acceptable – like ‘proper’ publishers sending out review copies in the hope of getting a positive response.

But further correspondence with the other author made it clear that I’d got it wrong. The idea was that we each write the other’s review ‘to speed the process up’ – meaning that I write a review of my own book for my contact to post under their name and vice versa.

I had a look at this person’s book on Amazon – they had many more reviews than me and their book appeared to be doing much better than mine. It seemed this author knew the secret of garnering reviews and thus growing sales!

I was sorely tempted to go ahead with the swap – perhaps lots of people are operating and making money like this? Why should I miss out?

But then I thought how would I feel if anyone discovered that I had written some of my own reviews?
I would be ashamed and unable to look them in the eye.

So I didn’t go ahead with the swap.

What would you have done?


  1. #1 by Morton Gray on August 18, 2013 - 8:25 am

    The same as you Sally! I try not to do anything these days that weighs on my conscience – it just isn’t worth the resulting mental turmoil. Well done for bring ethical. Missed you yesterday. There were ten of us! Mx

  2. #2 by Morton Gray on August 18, 2013 - 8:29 am

    That should say ‘being ethical’ – these self correcting things drive me mad when they get the wrong word! Have a lovely day. Mx

    • #3 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 9:14 am

      Hi Morton, I agree the mental turmoil isn’t worth it – I like to sleep at nights! Sounds like a good turnout yesterday – I’ll make every effort to be there in November!

  3. #4 by Writer / Mummy on August 18, 2013 - 8:38 am

    I’m surprised the other person’s reviews were still there. Amazon has a very dim view of authors swapping reviews, presumably presicesly for this reason. An author friend of mine, who genuninely loved my book, left a glowing five-star review and Amazon deleted it. I would say definitely steer clear of such practices. It can’t do your reputation any good and it will discredit all your genuine reviews. Ironically my book is selling better where I have no reviews because I unfortunately have a few bad reviews on the .com site. I would LOVE to offset them with some more positive ones but I just have to wait I guess!

    • #5 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 9:18 am

      Writer/Mummy, what a shame about your author friend’s review. My mum has tried several times to post a review for my books and it just never appears. We haven’t pursued it with Amazon because they may not like mothers posting reviews but I do wonder how they know!

      • #6 by Writer / Mummy on August 18, 2013 - 9:23 am

        My friend managed to leave the review in the end by toning down the language. My mum hasn’t left a review, though I would love her to as she really enjoyed the book, but we have different surnames and addresses so I can’t see how they would link us.

  4. #7 by jac dowling on August 18, 2013 - 8:40 am

    What a ripoff Sally, totally unacceptable and fraudulent in my book! thanks for the warning. And good luck going the ethical route.

  5. #9 by Shirley Cook on August 18, 2013 - 8:48 am

    You were right. We should not write our own reviews and I am surprised this is allowed.

  6. #10 by Shirley Cook on August 18, 2013 - 8:49 am

    And my book is a long way down in the sales but I would never do that.

    • #11 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 9:19 am

      Shirley – it probably isn’t allowed, strictly speaking.

  7. #12 by Jenny Roman on August 18, 2013 - 11:24 am

    Totally agree with you, Sally.

    Interestingly, I downloaded and reviewed your ‘A Writer on Writing’ – but my review has not appeared on the Amazon page. Maybe it was too glowing and they felt it was a fake! I didn’t realise that Amazon checked through the reviews so thoroughly. It’s a bit irritating when you genuinely want to be positive.

    • #13 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 6:45 pm

      Jenny – that is very frustrating for me and you! Thanks very much for trying to do the review anyway.
      Amazon must have some automated way of weeding out reviews (I’m sure they’re not all read by a real person) but I’ve no idea what it is. By the way (and apologies for putting on my ‘sales man’ hat!) you can always leave a review on my ‘Books’ page if that takes your fancy – but no obligation to do that.

      • #14 by Jenny Roman on August 20, 2013 - 3:14 pm

        I’m going to have another go in case it was a technical glitch. I’ll have a think about my wording – it’s possible it was because it was similar to another review (although that was accidental – I’d not read it)! If I have no success on Amazon, I’ll try to leave one on your page – or perhaps both! ;-)

      • #15 by Sally Jenkins on August 20, 2013 - 6:57 pm

        You’re a star, Jenny! Thank you so much.

  8. #16 by Tracy Fells on August 18, 2013 - 11:35 am

    I completely agree with you Sally and would have done the same thing. A review means you have read the book concerned and you are sharing your thoughts. Writing is tough business but you have to live with your concious at the end of the day no matter how well your book is doing in listings! Thank you for warning us about this – to me it’s just another scam.

  9. #18 by Claire on August 18, 2013 - 2:24 pm

    Interesting post Sally, I understand the thought process behind what the author was doing and why. I’m sure there must be others who would do that also. From a personal point of viewi wouldn’t simply because I would like reviews from honest readers. I see little gain other than a few extra sales and I would like to do that through my own quality of writing, here’s to the long slog!

    • #19 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 6:47 pm

      Claire – I think we all recognise that long slog!

  10. #20 by Helen Yendall on August 18, 2013 - 4:17 pm

    You were right not to do it! And what a naughty person for even suggesting it…! Just goes to show what goes on!

  11. #21 by susanjanejones on August 18, 2013 - 4:23 pm

    Sally, thank goodness you didn’t you had me worried there for a while. No reviews are better than self written ones. I have 4 reviews so far for a book that only has 1 story of mine in along with 3 others. Growing up in the 70’s, no reviews for my children’s story, but although the reviews are pretty awful, for the 70’s one, I think it’s funny, but in an understated way, people don’t think it’s funny, even though it’s supposed to be, but that’s someone’s honest opinion, and I’m sure someone somewhere will come up with a good one one day. Your writing is first class, don’t worry too much, your reputation as an honest, decent writer is far more important that a list of 100 reviews.

    • #22 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 6:49 pm

      Thanks for your support, Susan – and I hope some good reviews come your way soon. It does take (a lot) of time.

  12. #23 by Carl D'Agostino on August 18, 2013 - 5:44 pm

    One start is to drop by local newspapers with a book copy for a review. Lotta community organizations have newsletters and are looking for filler stuff. I hope to get something in my condo newsletter. These are little starts to build a review collection. There are pros that will do something for fees and they publish to a wide audience.

  13. #24 by Carl D'Agostino on August 18, 2013 - 5:47 pm

    Another idea just popped up. College professors need to publish and English professors may do something for free and get review published in college newspaper. When these Phds do it , it gives the review legitimacy.

    • #25 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 6:53 pm

      Thanks for the suggestions, Carl. I did try sending a press release to a couple of local newspapers but it didn’t get published. May try again in the future. I don’t think my stuff is ‘literary’ enough for professors!

  14. #26 by hilarycustancegreen on August 18, 2013 - 5:54 pm

    I’m with you on this. Stick to the moral high ground. There will always be ‘law breakers’, but unless most of us follow the accepted codes, all reviews will become worthless and we would lose a good resource.

    • #27 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 6:54 pm

      You’re spot on, Hilary, and I’m sure most reviews can be trusted.

  15. #28 by Anne Harvey on August 18, 2013 - 6:36 pm

    Definitely not ethical, Sally, and best avoided at all costs. Before I posted on here, I looked up ‘sock puppets’ on wikipedia. I quote ‘A sock puppet is an online identity for purposes of deception …now includeds misleading uses of online identities such as those used to praise, defend or support a person or organisation.’ What this person is suggesting is, imo, defintiely sock puppeting.

    • #29 by Sally Jenkins on August 18, 2013 - 6:55 pm

      And not something we want to get involved with, Anne.

  16. #30 by Julia on August 19, 2013 - 7:50 am

    Sally, three cheers for integrity.

  17. #31 by Linda on August 19, 2013 - 4:49 pm

    I would have said no, too! As well as being dishonest, if fake reviews are uncovered they can damage a writer’s reputation far more than a few poor reviews. (Do an internet search for RJ Ellory)
    I understand why authors want good reviews, but they’re only valuable if they’re genuine. I also wonder how much they do influence sales. Call me an old cynic, but I’ve never bought a book just because it’s got 5 stars on Amazon – or any other bookselling site. I’ve joined Goodreads but I think comments on the forums there are often more enlightening than some of the reviews.
    I’ve only written reviews for books that I have read and enjoyed (including your Old Friends). Don’t see the point of wasting my time writing about books I wouldn’t recommend to other people.

    • #32 by Sally Jenkins on August 19, 2013 - 7:43 pm

      Linda – I remember the RJ Ellory thing (I’ve met him in the flesh and he’s really generous with advice to new writers so It was shame that he blotted his copybook in this way). I find it a real boost when someone leaves a review on Amazon but that feeling wouldn’t be there if the reviews weren’t genuine.

  18. #33 by P. Douglas Hammond on August 19, 2013 - 7:50 pm

    You could play their game but with different rules; you could get somebody else to write your review and send that in. I don’t mean somebody who will write you a convenient review, but a proper one.
    At least that way you would not be cheating.

    • #34 by Sally Jenkins on August 19, 2013 - 7:57 pm

      I hadn’t thought about that, Douglas. But if someone’s willing to write me an honest review then I’d prefer them to post it under their own name rather than anyone else’s.

  19. #35 by Wendy Clarke on August 22, 2013 - 1:53 pm

    I’m shocked. I had no idea this went on… How naive of me!

  20. #37 by Patsy Collins on August 24, 2013 - 9:48 am

    I wouldn’t have done it either. I do sometimes leave reviews for friends books (and they’ve never been deleted as far as I know) but only after reading them and only if I genuinely enjoyed them.

    • #38 by Sally Jenkins on August 24, 2013 - 7:51 pm

      I’ve done the same, Patsy, after genuinely reading the book.

  21. #39 by Vikki Thompson on August 24, 2013 - 8:35 pm

    Oooooo, thanks for highlighting this Sally. Just makes you wonder how many reviews are actually genuine :(

    I will review friends books, but ONLY if I’ve actually read them!


    • #40 by Sally Jenkins on August 25, 2013 - 6:44 pm

      One thing to look out for, Vikki, is whether it says ‘Amazon verified purchase’ against the review. This means the reviewer at least bought (or downloaded when the book was on ‘free’) the book – but, of course, this is no guarantee they actually read it.

      • #41 by Vikki Thompson on August 28, 2013 - 12:52 pm

        Thanks honey, I’ll look out for that :)


  22. #42 by Carl D'Agostino on May 24, 2014 - 5:39 am

    Amazon, reviews and general readers can tell if Auntie Louise wrote the review and if a dozen or two appear as soon as the book comes out(unless well known author) it is obvious that all the relatives, co-workers and fellow bar drinkers participated in the review campaign.

    • #43 by Sally Jenkins on May 24, 2014 - 9:43 am

      You’re right, Carl. The best reviews are those that trickle in gradually from complete strangers. But unfortunately most readers don’t even think about leaving a review, no matter how much they’ve enjoyed the book.

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