Articles & Discussions

The Truth About Amazon – What Really Goes On!

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Ok, so I know I’ve been away for the last week.  Apart from some personal stuff I’m still taking care of, I’ve been struggling to read or write anything for a post in my spare time.  On Wednesday Amazon UK decided to delete a whole bunch of reviews and I saw more than 60 of my reviews just disappear.  To be fair they did this to many top reviewers.  A mass deletion of reviews for free products (don’t worry, my book reviews are safe), but their deletion process made no sense.  Some reviews have been deleted while others stay.  Customer service answers have been generic and useless.  Enquiries on the forums and get you insulted.  Amazon’s not the place I thought it was.  You need a thick skin just to be a reviewer there.  And if you upset an employee or a fellow reviewer, you can be in for some revenge….Here’s the real truth about amazon reviewing.

I’m going to talk a fair bit about my experiences with amazon.  Things I don’t agree with hope you might find this post of some use to you, but if it comes across a bit ‘ranty’ then forgive me, I’m in that sort of mood towards amazon right now…

A bit of Background info

Before I start this post (and perhaps to explain why I’m feeling so down) if you don’t already follow my blog and know, I suffer from depression and began reviewing on amazon as a way of keeping my mind off the horrible things I’d been through.  I don’t want to go into more detail at the moment but will be happy to do so in future if requested.

Helpful/Unhelpful Ratio

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Ever seen those buttons under a review that ask you whether a review is helpful or not?  Voting a review as helpful is giving it one point.  The more helpful votes a review has the more likely it will appear at the top of a product page.  Although amazon factor in a bunch of reasons for a review being seen as ‘helpful’, including how new a review is, whether it’s a verified purchase, reviewer’s ranking etc.(This depends on each individual amazon site).  It’s generally seen as more helpful the more ‘helpful’ votes it has.

When someone votes a review as unhelpful though the review can quickly fall off the front page.  The reason for this is the unfair ratio that amazon applies to unhelpful votes.  One unhelpful vote is worth 3 helpful ones.

1 Unhelpful = 3 Helpful

No matter how great a review may have been for a book, for example, it wouldn’t take many unhelpful votes from an angry troll to knock the good review to the bottom of the pile.

Unfortunately for ‘top reviewers’ it’s often the case that our own reviews get voted down by sellers who didn’t like our reviews (because maybe they weren’t perfect 5* ones) or worse…Fellow reviewers who want to see their reviews on top!

 

Review Washing

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I’d recently revealed to author friend Nicholas Rossis, the awful truth of what is known as ‘review washing’.  In his recent blog post about the amazon rule changes he explains what it is to his blog readers.  I was a bit  surprised by the response of the other amazon reviewer who cited that it’s sometimes okay to review wash.  To read this blog post click here, but I will explain it all here:

Review washing is the act of deleting a review that has amassed negative (unhelpful) votes and then re-posting it.  This clears out any helpful votes too, but is a favourable practice of some reviewers in the past.

The good news is that review washing has been banned on amazon US.  It’s seen as a bad thing that upsets the reviewing system.  But it’s NOT banned in the UK, and many reviewers do this to abuse the system.

Review Washing = Deleting and re-posting your review – wiping out all votes, particularly negative ones

I’ve never ‘washed’ a review in my life, to the cost of both my rank and helpfulness score.  On amazon my own rank has never climbed higher than the 200s and I’m considered only 87% helpful.  Far less than the top 10 average.  One top 10 reviewer in the past (now banned) took to voting down my reviews with the help of many friends and fake accounts.  This led to my reviews dropping below theirs.  And anytime they incurred a negative vote they simply ‘washed’ the review.  I didn’t.  I just never saw it as a good thing to do.

When review washing is ok…

Now, review washing, as has been pointed out in the post by a vine reviewer, isn’t as black and white….It can sometimes be a good thing….But when?

Well there’s a lot of bullying by both sellers (can be authors too) and fellow reviewers.  They can vote down your reviews and even post nasty comments on your review.  These can become really nasty and you can choose to delete your review – which I have no problems in doing.  But then, it’s been suggested that you can re-post a ‘washed’ review free of all the negativity and add an extra quote that your review is being attacked.  This Does make sense.  But I still struggle with this idea.  Sometimes the downvoting can be legitimate.  Sometimes customers may genuinely dislike a review and want to vote it down.  Is it our choice as reviewers to decide which votes are genuine or not?  Amazon US doesn’t think so.

Imagine…

As an author you’ve written a book and someone’s trolling it with a horrible review which attacks you and not the book.  A fan of yours votes it down, maybe several of your readers decide to do this.  Is it okay for that review to be ‘washed’ again and again to make it appear on the front page all the time?  I don’t think so.

Online Bullying

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The amazon forums are a nightmare place to go to, especially if you are a sensitive individual.

Post on the forums at your own peril.

As a new reviewer I posted on the forums a lot, asking for help with simple things I didn’t understand.  While there are helpful and nice people out there who are ready to talk to you.  There are others who love nothing better than to insult you or stalk your profile.

Stalking a profile involves following your reviews and voting them down as often as possible.  Many trolls on amazon decide to do this by creating multiple ‘sock puppet’ accounts.  These accounts are used to vote down on rival reviews and vote up their own.  Amazon is attempting to fix the situation but it’s still something that happens…a lot.

Other forms of online bullying occur off the amazon platform altogether.  I’ve heard of one occassion where certain individuals ( some now banned) who like to threaten others,  reveal personal information such as real names (not usernames) of other amazon reviewers.  There are more incidents like this than just one and it makes you nervous to review when you realise how crazy some people can be.

My own experience:

I’ve suffered a lot of abuse from others during my (nearly) two years of reviewing on amazon.  I’ve had people troll my account and give me multiple negative votes and weird and nasty comments on some reviews.  Although I’ve gotten some positive votes too and been given some lovely comments on some colouring book reviews (these I really appreciate and thank each time).  I’ve experienced some really nasty behaviour too.  Behaviour that makes me question whether reviewing on amazon is worth it.

Do Amazon’s New Rules Fix Things?

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So, as I said before amazon has decided to delete a large amount of my own reviews.  These were all reviews for free products.  In the same way I get free copies of books to review, I also received free items.  Yes, I know, some people may believe that the new rules banning all incentivized reviews is a good thing.  And it’s true, something had to be done to stop the crazy culture that was growing on amazon.  But what exactly caused all of this?

There are two main culprits:  Big sellers and Coupon Clubs.

Big Sellers

Big sellers who mainly come from China have been upsetting the reviewing system for years.  These sellers (most often from China) would email top reviewers, offering a free item in exchange for a review.  Many of these Big Sellers would send items to hundreds of top reviewers and with me ranked in the 200s I was received upwards of 30 emails a day offering things for review (at some point I was receiving over 60 emails daily – but these were from Germany and the US amazon’s I couldn’t review for)

These Big Sellers solicited reviews for far too many things, and far too many reviewers.  But it is widely known and believed that most – not all- but most sellers would only offer you more free items if you gave them a positive review.  Plenty of reviewers, especially new ones, would happily oblige, giving out four and five star reviews for products in order to get more.  However many reviewers such as me did give an honest 3 or lower star review if the products weren’t very good.

Coupon Clubs

These were the other big thing which I believe tipped the reviewing culture over the edge in recent years, and forced amazon to do something to stop the corruption. Coupon clubs are websites that people could join where you could get free stuff if you left a review on amazon.  You didn’t need to be a top reviewer to get stuff to review.  As long as you signed up to these websites you could get free stuff.  The sites would then offer you a coupon to use at the amazon check out which would make an item you were buying free or heavily discounted.

Many of these ‘coupon clubs’ as they’ve come to be known, would put conditions on your reviewing.  Such as ‘Don’t leave negative reviews, tell us instead’.  The culture of these coupon clubs was – get stuff and keep getting stuff if you leave  positive reviews.  Unfortunately many people were innocently taken in by these clubs.  Plenty of them made it seem that they were a part of amazon itself and that duped a lot of people into believing they were doing nothing wrong.  But they were.

I can sympathise with coupon club members because….I used to belong to one.

After becoming a top reviewer I was invited to join one such club, called iLovetoreview.  It didn’t seem like a bad setup, a sort of middleman between me and the sellers.  What ilovetoreview had going for it (and perhaps why I was duped by the hype) was that it accepted negative reviews.  They were happy for you to leave an honest review but after signing up to their list, it wasn’t long before their rules started to change.

One new rule made me nervous of staying:  Leave your ‘I got this for free’ disclosure at the BOTTOM of your review NOT at the top.  Now amazon doesn’t have a rule on where to leave this, but it made me uncomfortable reviewing for them, they wanted me to dupe customers, forcing the customer to read through to the bottom of my review before they’d find out I got something free (not the way I usually review).  I wasn’t happy with this and quickly left iLovetoreview.  A move I’m proud I made.  However the culture continued and before long there were hundreds if not thousands of people writing positive reviews for free things.

So to curb the corruption Amazon banned all reviews for free things (bar books, music and video).

This seems like a sensible action.  But was it the right thing to do.  Many would argue yes.  There was deep corruption and this has put an end to it….But has it really?

Reviewing still continues

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Plenty of people can and will still review things they got for free.  You are allowed 5 non-verified purchase reviews a week, and what’s to stop people from still reviewing items they got for free….Only NOT declaring that fact?

Although amazon may be looking into certain sellers and reviewers.  I already see plenty of reviews going up for ‘freebie’ items (as they are know) just without a disclosure stating it was free.  Imagine you are purchasing a new blender or whatever on amazon, would you like to know that the person whose review you are reading and enjoying got the item free…I would.  But with amazon’s new rule, corrupt reviewers and sellers WILL continue…There’s nothing to stop them, not if they are careful!

Small Sellers like Indie Authors

I have little or no sympathy for the big sellers whose behaviour has led to this ‘ban’ on freebie reviews.  But what about small sellers, especially those from our own countries?  As well as plenty of chinese items, I’ve also been offered gadgets and things from small indie sellers here in the UK.  These people are like indie authors.  They’ve set up a new business and (given how big the online shopping market is today) have tried to sell their wares on amazon.  One such seller contacted me and told me that nobody will touch his products until he has a few reviews which guarantee that the product is as it looks on the main product page.  Without initial reviews his things rarely sell.

Some small indie sellers, like indie authors rely on reviews for any sales

Amazon’s new rules have put a supposed end to the big seller corruption, but at what cost to the small sellers?

Another interesting point

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Another aspect of this is also that many of the big sellers, sold very decent products which were on a par with the likes of Sony and other famous names.  I was amazed at the sound quality of a particular pair of headphones I’m still using today which I was offered for a review.  These are an unknown brand in the UK but will have little chance of selling if a few items can’t be released for reviewers to test and show off.  (I’m not talking about releasing thousands of items, but a small few which the amazon vine program does too).

Vine Reviews

Amazon has in place something called the vine program.  Much like with previous sellers, people who are part of the vine program get items for free to review and then can write up reviews for them.  As nice and good as some vine reviewers are.  There are plenty that aren’t.  Some vine reviewers give what seem like useless reviews and it makes you wonder what criteria amazon has for their vine program.

Mass Deletion

I believe the mass deletion of reviews has been a step in fixing the broken and corrupted reviewing system.  A recent online article suggested that there are more positive reviews for products which have been offered for free, than for products on amazon where there’s been no offer of a free item.  If this is true then amazon are trying to balance out the positive reviews, by deleting a lot of them.

However…Why my reviews and not another’s?  While many top reviewers suffered some review deletion.  I’ve checked back the reviews that have been deleted (I have copies of most of my reviews) and the review deletion makes no sense.  Here’s one review I did for a camera.  And here’s another for a piece of kitchen equipment. (Yes if you visit it’s my unofficial launch of my other blog I guess!)  These reviews were honest and while these particular ones were positive detail some problems with the products.  But amazon have deleted them, while they have left others in tact.  Other reviewers ‘freebie’ reviews are still listed as you can see from this link-scrolldown, (with some reviewers not declaring the item was free) but mine are gone…? (as were some other reviewers).

Okay so you might think that this was a personal rant about my reviews.  Maybe it was, but I can’t help but be a little upset.  I took a lot of time to write up those reviews and test out the items.  A lot of the stuff I’ve reviewed has been passed on to someone else.  I’ve made no profit from the reviews, my buzz came from helping people and I’ve spent countless hours on product pages, answering questions about items and answering comments left on my reviews.  I’ve only ever tried to help people, the same way I hope my book reviews help people decide whether a book is right for them or not.

So…(This post’s nearly finished if you’re getting fed up!)

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While I can’t do anything about my reviews and many of the people reading this post may be happy to hear they are gone, I wonder, if amazon keeps changing their rules and policies, what next?

What worries me is – what next?  

Amazon is always changing its rules.  And while they are open to book reviews and are largely in favour of keeping the bookmarket as it is….What if one day they change their minds?  What if one day they (wrongly) suspect certain book reviews to be corrupt.  Will they do a mass deletion of them too?

Amazon already deletes book reviews

An indie author friend has shared with me a horror story about their own experience with amazon.  After enquiring about something, amazon didn’t answer her questions, instead they decided to do a deletion of several of her positive book reviews, citing a connection between author and reviewer.  These connections were wrongly assumed but even after complaining amazon has not reversed their decision, and has yet to answer the original enquiry question.

The problem is amazon is mostly run by robots.

The main issue is that amazon is mostly run by robots.  Computer programs decide whether reviews are wrongfully written, if authors and reviewers are connected.  Computer programs are in charge of most of amazon’s systems.  Sometimes you can reason with a person when calling customer service.  But more often than not, in both my experience and many others….computer programs run everything….And computer programs CAN make mistakes.  Computer programs can’t think outside of the logics of their own programming.  And if robots are going to be used to decide what is corrupt and what is not…Corruption is likely to stay.

So…

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What have I learned since becoming a ‘top reviewer’ at amazon?  That while it’s fun to carry the title of top reviewer, and fun to be offered opportunities to review both items (in the past) and books.  It’s also a hard place to be. It’s a place full of people trying to cheat the system.  And while there are plenty of well-meaning and nice people out there, who write honest reviews.  There are others who cheat, lie and enjoy playing a ‘game’.  And while amazon allows corrupt individuals to exist on its site, it will always be a corrupt system that’ll never get fixed.

Should we all be afraid of amazon and avoid it?  No, of course not.  But given how much power they have, the domination over the market.  It does make me worry for the future.  Both for the integrity of reviews and for my author friends who use the site.  Will they one day wrongfully assume an author is corrupt and ban them altogether?  Will they decide some brand new rules and then do a mass deletion of old book reviews?  Will anything or anyone be able to stop amazon from doing whatever it wants?…… All I know is, I’m struggling to care anymore!


Please let me know your thoughts, if any, in the comments below.  I welcome all thoughts whether you agree or disagree with me but please keep the conversation friendly…If just because I’m a little emotional today.


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38 thoughts on “The Truth About Amazon – What Really Goes On!

  1. This is interesting. I admit to not having read all of it, but about 75%! I am sometimes a top 1000 reviewer, sometimes not, if I haven’t had much time for reading (like now – I’ve slipped back to 1080 today), and only review one a week. I mostly just review books, and don’t enter into any of the free product reviewing because it doesn’t interest me to do so. As far as books are concerned, though, I think it helps to get ‘helpfuls’ if you post the review early (ie, when the book is newly out), and, if it’s complimentary, ask the author to ‘helpful’ it. Give it a snappy title, and don’t make it too long. Short paragraphs with a space between each one will make it appeal to the reading eye, and make it more likely to be read and given the thumbs up.

    I’ve had reviews for my own books removed in the past, and yes, it’s so annoying. I can understand how you felt about having all those reviews taken off! But Amazon is a huge, global corporation; you won’t fight it. I wonder if it’s best just to try not to get too upset about it; I’ve had to do that, re the ones for my own books! If you get trolled on forums, stop using them. Don’t enter into arguments on Twitter (I blocked someone once and, hey presto, two of my books received 1* from him the next day!!). As for all this review washing (which I’ve never heard of before), any system is open to abuse; it’s the way the world is, alas. Just don’t become a part of it. Your blog is widely read and appreciated; that matters more than some computer based reviewer ranking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words about my blog 🙂 ❤ . You are right about not getting upset about amazon. It's certainly not worth it and wastes precious time. I do think that amazon is still very messed up with it's systems but at the moment they have the control of this playing field and there's little we an do. Review washing is a horrible thing and does still go an at the UK amazon site which is very disappointing considering that the US amazon site has seen fit to ban the practice. i'm sorry to hear about what happened with your problems on twitter and deletedreviews :(. People can be so bitter and stupid. I hope it didn't affect your book or yourself in any way. thank you again, it felt good to write all this down :). 🙂 🙂

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  2. It’s the first time I’ve heard about review washing. Don’t have any other way to put it but that it seems just wrong, unsportsmanlike. It’s unfair, when other reviewers abuse it, to both the reviewer it’s done to and the author.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely the same feeling I had when I first learned what review washing is. Thankfully it’s banned on amazon.com but does still continue on the UK site. I’m surprised when people justify it.. thank you for commentin gand reading :).

      Like

  3. As an indie author, I know this all too well as I had a couple of experiences with a crap revenge review stay up on my FIRST book and anither reader who enjoyed my fourth book was denied when she tried to leave a positive review of it. She actually told me this. So I’m struggling to care about the corrupt review system as well. Since I became an indie and got my books back, I left the select program and opened myself up to other markets. I’m doing pretty well in one and let me just say, I don’t even look at my Amazon reviews much because they have made it abundantly clear that it’s going to be an uphill battle unless I have $1500 to fork over to have access to their exclusive Vine reviewers! That’s access with no guarantee for a review …um Nopetrain! That money can be used much more wisely elsewhere and that’s what I’m doing. I am both a seller and an author on Amazon and let me just say, I get more support as an e-commerce seller than as an author. I hear you and I’m sorry for what you, me, and the rest of us are ans will be going through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading my post. Wow, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve faced some of amazon’s most horrible corruption. I’m glad to hear you are doing well in another market and not replying on amazon. My friend who had problems with amazon is also taking her books out of amazon exclusivity and will hopefully find a better experience as an author on other platforms. Yep, vine reviewers, not only do you pay for the service but you also don’t get to pick which ones will review your things. Some of those reviewers are a bit useless, in my opinion. Amazon has become a cold and nasty place and I can only hope that one day it will go back to being somewhere nice, or if it can’t there’ll be a better place for people to sell their wares. Just like I find Goodreads a better place for books (odd that it belongs to amazon yet is so different!) Thank you again for commenting :).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Really?! I was going to ask you about Goodreads as I’ve heard it’s like troll heaven! Some Authors are just afraid to go on there so if you have any tips on how to deal there, I could sure use them. 😁

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  4. As a reviewer, I find these practices disturbing. I put a lot of effort into my reviews, in hopes that it helps people decide on a book and to help authors whose work I admire. It must be even more annoying to authors!
    Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for reading. I do hope amazon will change in future and become a place with far less corruption. But in the meantime I’m glad this post can be of some help, if only to show people some of the things that go on in that place.

      Like

  5. Thank you for your information filled and thoughtful post! I was not aware of many of the details until you and Nicholas shared your posts. I hope after the dust settles and the financial incentives are gone some of the trolls disappear.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I never really understood the ‘downvoting’ and ‘upvoting’ before, how convoluted and corrupt these things become without us ever realising. Thanks for clarifying. I know of others whose reviews have disappeared and none can get anything but a stock answer as to why they may have transgressed.
    As a writer who plans to ‘up her game’ in 2017 I am frankly scared that potential reviewers will be put off free copies of Indie books.
    As a reviewer I can only be honest on all counts and hope for the best.
    I am sorry you are downhearted about the removal of your reviews for Amazon, it is so unfair when you are obviously a great supporter of small businesses in all their guises. But know that sites like yours are greatly appreciated and reviews precious, even if it doesnt always seem that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words and support. It really does mean a lot :). The down and upvoting is something I had no idea about either until it started happening to me. Please don’t be put off by all this though. Books are still something amazon is leaving untouched, and I hope they see sense and never change that. It is a shame amazon cannot give a better answer when people ask them questions, but I guess my only advice when it comes to what happened to my friend having reviews deleted is to be wary of complaining to them, or many have suggested phoning can get you a better service than emails. Good luck with your work, I hope it does well :), and thank you again for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for your post, it is informative. The problem for me is. I am a new Indie author. “The Italian Thing”. Although I have been writing for years this was my first published book, so this is all new to me. I did receive good reviews but that didn’t help my sales. I never expected to get famous overnight. I just love to write and since retiring have had the time an opportunity.
    Reading your post has put me in mind of something that has been going on for many years. Keep in mind here that I am 73 and have lived through witnessing much the same thing in other fields.
    Where there is something being given away for free and it encompasses millions of people, there is going to be people who know just how to work the system to their advantage. The number one on my list is the Welfare System. Talk about using, now it is so out of control it will never be able to be stopped.
    When I give a review on a book it is if I enjoyed it or not. I don’t expect a reward or a free item. If I purchase an item and give a review it Is a truthful one. I do not expect anything for giving my opinion. Maybe if there is a stop to all of this now before it becomes out of control it will stop the people who are working the system. If not the corruption will continue. I think you have to ask yourself ‘is it worth it’ and your answer will determine what you will and should do.
    Please keep in mind that this is only my personal opinion and you know what they say about opinions. They are like a– holes, everybody has one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand your viewpoint. I never expected to be offered anything to review when I started. But what bothers me more than anything is the fact that amazon allows corrupt individuals and sellers to exist on its site, often in plain site. I’m happy to have the items stop being given to me, I’m far happier reviewing books anyway, but I don’t think the corruption will stop. Some will be put off of course, but sadly I already receive emails from some sellers on amazon (Chinese ones always) who are asking me to review something but not declare it, and other sneaky tactics. I live in hope that amazon will become a better place one day 🙂 Good luck with your novel, I hope you only encounter good people and good things on amazon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, sharing. Many thanks for sharing your experience in such detail. It’s a sad fact of life that, the more regulated a system gets, the harder people will look for ways to rig it. As to the answer to your question, why should you care, I guess you shouldn’t. You should do what feels right to you, just like you did when you left iLoveReviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We can only hope that one day amazon becomes a better place than it is now. Corruption aside it’s unpleasant and a shame when reviewers can’t openly discuss their concerns on the forums. Many reviewers only contact each other via email because of the fear of being trolled. Thank you for the kind words and your encouragement. I am feeling more positive since writing this. Am sticking to my book reviews and my blog :).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, it sounds like Amazon is doing all it can to remedy the situation, even if their approach is a bit heavy-handed at times. It’s a minority of users that ruin it for everyone else, but then again that’s probably true of the world in general, so… 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I did not read your entire column. You have good reason to be upset. I am a reviewer. When we get complimentary books there’s that standard line “thanks..author/publisher…honest review…complimentary copy. NOW in this situation reviewers have to add the words “voluntarily received” along with the rest of the line. I actually wound up making this it’s own stand alone with a space before my review to see it appear. I never got the usual your review has gone live. I kept looking for it. IDK what the problem is. There must have been some legal issue. I guess they are trying to prevent us reviewers to be forced into reading a book. Kidding. That’s all I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading it. I realise it’s quite long but yes, I believe the new line we have to add to reviews is really silly. No book reviewer (I don’t think) has ever been forced into reading and reviewing a book, we have free will after all. Amazon has just lost the plot in my eyes. thank you again for reading and commenting :).

      Like

    1. Thank you. Yes it’s such a shame. I thought the place was just a shopping site where people could leave reviews. I certainly didn’t know there were many nasty people who try to cheat the system. I can only hope that one day amazon will come to its senses and make the site good again. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I’m glad my posts are helping some people. I’m hoping amazon won’t do anything but it is a worry when they use computer programs to decide most things. I’ll keep my fingers crossed too that your reviews will stay in place. Your book really deserves them 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent story well written, interesting information and helpful, thank you for posting. I will post on facebook. Thank you for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

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