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December 2016

Amazon Won't Allow Spouses--or Anyone Else Who Lives Together--to Review the Same Books

   Burnbook

 Around Thanksgiving, my husband and I decided to share our reading experiences by swapping books. He recommended one for me to read, and I picked out a book for him to read. His pick for me was the indie-published novel Fat, Old, Punks from UK writer James "Grim" Desborough.

 I loved the book. It's laugh-out-loud funny, thanks to Desborough's clever wit. The setup is ingenious and hilarious: a group of middle-aged punk rocker friends meet in a pub that's relevance is waning as surely as their own. After they go several rounds comparing sources of unhappiness and lamenting how futile it is to change the world for the better, they manage to hatch a plan that is as brilliant as it is doomed to fail. Or succeed? Does it even matter? The book is a must-read for anyone who craves another perspective on contemporary politics.

 For me, this was a 5-star book, in that it was a thoroughly entertaining read, stayed true to its promise, and had zero flaws. It sucked me in and kept me riveted to the end, and I came to care about the characters and their issues, which are real and wholly felt. It resonated with me, and I think it would resonate with other readers.

 Full of my passion for the book, I logged onto Amazon and posted a review. I was only the second US reader to post a review. I noticed the only other review had been posted by my husband.

 At first, the review appeared as normal. But later, when my husband went to look at what I'd written about the book, he found that not only had my review disappeared, but his had as well. We both appealed the deletion through Amazon, and after several rounds, I received this message:

We are unable to post your Customer Review for "Old, Fat, Punks" to the Amazon website because our data shows elements of your Amazon account match elements of other Amazon accounts reviewing the same product. In these cases, we remove the reviews to maintain trust in our customer reviews and avoid any perception of bias.

You will not be able to resubmit a review for that product, even if the resubmitted review includes different content.

Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. It is our goal to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions. Therefore, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or biased will not be posted. This includes reviews by more than one customer in the same household.

 This is pretty disturbing on a number of levels.

 First, assuming that's what tripped the red flag, how does Amazon know we're in the same household? We have separate Amazon accounts; mine is tied to my author account. We use separate credit cards to purchase products on Amazon. And we use separate email addresses, from a generic email service, to log into our accounts. So that leaves two possibilities for the bots to detect we're in the same household: They could match our delivery addresses, and since we both have numerous delivery addresses, as we frequently send to family in other areas, this would seem... difficult. Or they could suss it out from various billing addresses. Either way, it's a creepy level of surveillance, all to... what? Basically punish an indie writer by deleting his only two reviews in the US. Nice job, Amazon. Good one. 

 Second, WTF is up with this policy? People from the same household can't review the same products? By this logic, no one sharing an address can ever review the same product. So if you and your mother or sister or roommate happen to love the same book, video, underwear three-pack, or pet scratching post, don't think you can both post a review about it. It's not even first-come, first-served in this case. If your mom posts a review, and then you post a review for the same product, BOTH your reviews will be deleted. Because Amazon's bots said so.

 Plus, think about the people who might share 'households.' When I worked for Big Fish, many of us had packages delivered to the office instead of our homes (since we were more likely to be at the office, yup). Would Amazon read us all as being from the same household since we shared a mailing address? What about army barracks, dorms, group homes, etc.?

 Third, what if it's not the shared mailing address and instead other "elements" of our accounts that raised the issue? Amazon's vagueness here is creepy, as are the ads that show up on my Facebook wall for products I've viewed on Amazon.

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 In our case, James Desborough's indie title got a minuscule boost through word-of-mouth advertising when my husband recommended the book to me. Neither my husband nor I received anything in exchange for the reviews, and my husband purchased the ebook version of the novel, which I read on his Kindle. My husband and I are both connected with Desborough online due to our mutual interests in books and games, but I've never met Desborough in person, and my husband met him once, years ago, at a game convention. So in actuality, the author did all the right things here in spreading the word about his work through social media and conferences over the years. Only to have Amazon undo it all in one fell swoop.

 No one has done anything wrong here whatsoever, yet our time has been wasted, and an innocent author is being arbitrarily punished.

 If Amazon really wanted to protect customers from review fraud, they'd set their bot programming to trigger this kind of response only after a suspicious number of reviews came in for a product. Two is NOT a suspicious number. They could also find out if the reviews came from accounts in good standing. My husband and I have spent probably thousands of dollars on Amazon products over the many years we've had separate accounts. We are very careful especially since I'm an author not to trade reviews or otherwise violate good ethics with regard to reviews.

 We tried to reason with Amazon, and this is how they responded:

We reviewed the information you provided and have determined that your review was removed in accordance with our guidelines. Our data shows that elements of your Amazon account match elements of other Amazon accounts reviewing the same product. In such cases, we remove the review to maintain trust in our customer reviews and to avoid any perception of bias. 

To learn more about this policy, please see our Customer Review Creation Guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines).

We cannot share any further information about our decision and we will not reply to further emails about this issue.

 So basically, we have no recourse for further appeal, and Amazon refuses to be transparent about its review process. This instills neither confidence nor loyalty in me, as a customer or Amazon author. 

I think of reviews as a civic duty in this age--I know first-hand how reviews can make or break sales. I've diligently reviewed a wide variety of products on Amazon; not just books but everything from air filters to vitamin supplements. But now? I don't know if I'll continue. Reviewing books is part of my job, but this makes it hard to post on Amazon. We know one thing, and that's that my husband CANNOT now post a review for the book I recommended to him, Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Sorry, Kareem.

If this can go so, so wrong, I wonder if Amazon's bots are truly protecting anyone from review fraud. Instead, they're hurting the little guy here. And that's not cool at all. 

Top image, courtesy of Pixabay. Second image, my own.


Something Mysterious: December Reading Roundup

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 This month I offer you books in two's: two indie/small press books by authors I know and two Christmas-themed novels just in time for the holidays. First, Martha Crites is the author of Grave Disturbance, put out by new Seattle indie Rat City Publishing. She and I were both finalists for the Nancy Pearl Book Award this year. Next is Karen Musser Nortman, the indie author of a quirky camping mystery series. She was also the first-ever recipient of the Granny Grace Award for Outstanding Women 40+. The other two books that caught my fancy are from rock-star big names.

 When you read these, tell us what you think in the comments, and as always, review the books on Amazon and anywhere else you can. Studies show reviews sell books, and that when books sell, authors can afford to write more of them!

 Grave Disturbance by Martha Crites

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 Grace Vaccaro works as a mental health evaluator--if a person is a danger to self or others, she orders hospitalization. When a paranoid man she just released is found bludgeoned to death on the banks of the Snoqualmie River, Grace wonders if she could have done more to help him. When her neighbor is found dead in the same location, she suspects a connection.

 Grace's search for answers leads her from a Seattle homeless encampment to the rainy forests of the Cascade foothills. The results are never clear. A Mexican immigrant fears deportation and refuses to talk to the police. A Native American elder works to conceal the location of ancestral gravesites. And a pregnant woman Grace just evaluated is terrified. Are her statements delusional or does she have information leading to the murderer?

 As Grace comes closer to the truth, her quiet home is invaded and she is the next target. She must face the killer alone and learn how far she will go to protect herself and others.

Review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Follow Martha Crites on Twitter and Facebook.

 A Campy Christmas by Karen Musser Nortman

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 This is book six in the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries Series.

 A holiday novella. The Shoemakers and Ferraros plan to spend Christmas in Texas with Larry and Jane Ann’s brother and then take a camping trip through the Southwest. But those plans are stopped cold when they hit a rogue ice storm in Missouri and they end up snowbound in a campground. And that’s just the beginning. Includes recipes and winter camping tips.

Review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Follow Karen Musser Nortman on Facebook and Twitter.

The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James

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 The newly appointed Sgt. Dalgliesh is drawn into a case that is "pure Agatha Christie." . . . A "pedantic, respectable, censorious" clerk's secret taste for pornography is only the first reason he finds for not coming forward as a witness to a murder . . . A best-selling crime novelist describes the crime she herself was involved in fifty years earlier . . . Dalgliesh's godfather implores him to reinvestigate a notorious murder that might ease the godfather's mind about an inheritance, but which will reveal a truth that even the supremely upstanding Adam Dalgliesh will keep to himself. Each of these stories is as playful as it is ingeniously plotted, the author's sly humor as evident as her hallmark narrative elegance and shrewd understanding of some of the most complex--not to say the most damning--aspects of human nature. A treat for P. D. James's legions of fans and anyone who enjoys the pleasures of a masterfully wrought whodunit.

Review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

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 Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the faraway island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised.

 Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports from home. There are rumors of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. Upon hearing the news, Georgiana abruptly departs for Trinidad. Near panic, Mycroft convinces Douglas that they should follow her, drawing the two men into a web of dark secrets that grows more treacherous with each step they take...

 Written by NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes reveals the untold story of Sherlock’s older brother. This harrowing adventure changed his life, and set the stage for the man Mycroft would become: founder of the famous Diogenes Club and the hidden power behind the British government.

Review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Follow Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Twitter and Anna Waterhouse on Twitter, too.

 


The 'Bound to the Truth' Blog Tour

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 My big, fat book tour for Bound to the Truth had both an in-person leg and a virtual one, with guest posts, reviews, and spotlights on numerous blogs. Here's a rundown of the blog tour.

Reviews

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 Four bloggers so far have reviewed the book, rating it highly.

 The Book Adventures of Emily gave it five stars and raves: "Bound to the Truth is pretty fantastic! People with psychic abilities plus the fact they're investigators, um that's great! I'm really fascinated by this story, it's filled with action, suspense and a ton of mystery!"

 Over at Book Fidelity, the reviewer praised the characters specifically: "I found myself completely submerged in this story of intrigue and, honestly? apprehension. It is every bit a mystery, but with a twist. And, dear reader, you know how much I love 'my characters' in books, and this work is no different. they are an array of unique and as equally mysterious as the world around them." (4 stars)

 Another 5-star review came in from J Bronder Book Reviews, who wrote: "This is a great mystery with lots of action. Robin and Nina seem to have a perfect marriage from the outside, but inside there are cracks. I loved Cat, she is a strong woman and I loved following along as they had to dig deep to find the killer."

 Sage Adderley, my tour host, took time out of her busy schedule to review the book as well and had this to say: "The plot runs deep and the characters are both quirky and interesting. This is a total whodunit mystery that will keep you on edge until the very end!" 

Guest Posts

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 For this tour, I decided to offer guest posts as a way to give back to the awesome book bloggers who take time to read and promote indie books, almost always as a side gig or hobby on their own time. I know how exciting it is to host other writers on my own blog, so I wanted to share the love for that reason, too. 

 One thing I noticed across the series, beginning with that great Kirkus review for Cat in the Flock and continuing through Bound to the Truth, is that people often use the word "quirky" to describe the characters and scenarios. So I analyzed my obsession with quirk for The Editing Pen. Apparently the seeds for it were sown during my childhood.

  Regular readers of this blog know about my other obsessions: yoga and Nia. I talk about how and why I snuck these holistic practices into the Dreamslippers Series in this post for The Wordy Nerd

 I launched Bound to the Truth on the Friday after the presidential election. For The Attic Ghost, I wrote some thoughts related to all that.

 For fellow author Freda Hansburg's blog, I decided to focus on social media, since it's something people in just about every profession should know how to do well. While I have much room for improvement, I've seen enough success in this area to be able to offer advice to others. It comes down to three simple rules.

Spotlights

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 A couple of bloggers put Bound to the Truth in their spotlight sections. Mello & June, It's a Book Thang! had shown their love for the book earlier in the year for the cover reveal, and they came through again here at launch. Another spotlight came from Book, Dreams, Life

 Many thanks to the book bloggers who give generously of their time, space, and opinion, and especially to Sage's Blog Tours for hosting.

 


The Big, Fat Book Tour!

  Booknbrushlisa

 It's rare that authors are treated to headlining book tours these days, if there ever was a day when that happened. Especially as an indie, my marketing budget comes out of my own (very small) pocket. So there was no book tour for the first installment in the Dreamslippers Series, and for the second book, the tour was almost entirely virtual, meaning online-only.

 While this is all well and good economically speaking, I craved the opportunity to connect with readers in-person. We writers live a solitary existence, going through our days mainly alone, talking only to the cat. So when it's time to turn our book babies out into the world, it's only natural we'd want to interact with others.  

By the time I was ready to release the third book in the series, I'd built up enough momentum that in-person opportunities just showed up. Here's a run-down of what became my big, fat book tour for the release of Bound to the Truth.

Nia Jam to Benefit Standing Rock

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 I dance at a local studio, Embody, which has not only given me a beautiful new practice in Nia but a supportive community as well. Nia features prominently in Bound to the Truth, so when I found out there would be a Nia Jam and fundraiser, I donated five copies of the book, which were awarded at the event by raffle. Separate from the studio itself and hosted entirely by Nia teachers who gave generously of their time and talent, the jam raised more than $1300 for Standing Rock. We danced for two hours straight that night. I couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate the book's release date. It's exactly what Granny Grace would do.

Book 'n' Brush Author Event

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 Honestly, I can't say enough about how terrifically supportive the community here in Lewis County is. As an indie, I completely struck out trying to get my books into Seattle bookstores, even ones in my own neighborhood I'd frequented for a decade. But the owner and manager at Book 'n' Brush here in Chehalis have been enthusiastic supporters. They carry the whole Dreamslippers Series as well as the poetry collection, and in turn, I drive customers to the store whenever possible. It's a win-win. I felt honored to be included in their recent author event, along with others I've come to know, some of whom also have new books out.

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 Authors Julie McDonald Zander, Texie Gregory, Kyle Pratt (who wasn't part of the event but stopped in to buy books), and me.

 Book 'n' Brush is a gem of a store, anchoring downtown Chehalis. As the name suggests, they sell both art supplies and books, for a perfect mashup of creative pursuits. We had a great write-up in the local paper about the event, and The Chronicle also covered my book's release.

Human Response Network Masquerade Ball

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 My husband and I, incognito for a cause.

 A good amount of what you might call spiritual, humanitarian intention went into the Dreamslippers Series. I've written female-centered narratives peopled with a diverse spectrum of characters. I've tackled homophobia and tried to explore organized religion with humanity and compassion. I shed light on corruption in the art world and illuminated a corner of darkness that is the illegal child pornography industry. And finally, I celebrated sexual liberation and told the stories of those harmed by sexual abuse and repression. All while honoring the importance of plot and pacing, and I hope, without ever coming across as preachy. Everything I write is in service to the story.

 I always want to do more than this. I tied sales of Cat in the Flock to a donation to Jubilee Women's Center, a highly effective organization in Seattle that helps women transition out of homelessness and into independence. Here in Chehalis, I support the Human Response Network, which provides advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Masquerade Ball was the organization's first major fundraiser, done in an attempt to ramp up service in response to an overwhelming increase in requests for help.

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Copies of the books on auction.

Seattle University Talk 

 I've presented at Seattle University twice before, and it's always a pleasure to meet creative writing students there. This time, I discussed what it takes to get credits and bylines in three different arenas: books, games, and journalism. I related tales from the trenches in all three and managed not to bore them. While it feels odd to call myself a master of anything, the below slide did garner a few smiles.

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 The students asked great questions and seemed encouraged by my career transitions from one arena to another, AKA the survivor mentality that has kept me consistently employed. Props to the university bookstore for carrying the Dreamslippers Series in connection with the event, and to the creative writing program for their incredible hospitality.

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 Seattle U souvenirs: Reflections picked up for free in the campus chapel, and the student lit mag, Fragments.

 An Evening with the Authors at the Lewis County Historical Museum

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 The last in-person event on my schedule for this book launch was the only repeat for me, as I'd attended the same last year. Located in a former train depot, the museum features local history displays and a gift shop. The authors event is a great party and opportunity to meet other writers as well as new readers. Poetry seems to resonate best with this crowd.

 So there you have it: This is how we do things in indie land. My family and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house in the midst of this, so I'm hoping December is a bit less eventful? Or not. I really did enjoy myself. Welcome to all the new readers who stopped by my tables, came to the talk, or danced by my side. I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.