Monday, March 17, 2014

Adventures of a Top Amazon Reviewer

I'm a top-500 Amazon reviewer, which means that companies and authors often write to ask me to review their stuff. I look forward to that and usually love doing it, but every now and then a request comes in that's really unethical, obnoxious, or crazy. Herewith, I present some of my least favorite types of review requests so that if you are a company or author seeking reviewers on Amazon, you'll have a better idea what we top Amazon reviewers like and don't like.

1. "Please help me out."

Probably my most frequently-received bad request is from self-published authors asking me to help them out because "this is my first novel and I put it on Amazon yesterday and I could really use feedback!" I don't review out of pity. I don't select anything for review that I wouldn't have been interested enough to consider buying, so I won't review things that sound amateurish or are in genres that don't interest me a lot.

As a reviewer with a conscience, my loyalty is not to the author. I'm not writing to "help you out" (unless I happen to LOVE your book, in which case it'll make me feel good to know that my review might boost your success-- but that's a side benefit). I'm reviewing to help potential buyers decide whether or not it's worth spending money and time on your book or product. If I don't start out with some confidence that I'm going to like it, I won't accept it for review in part because it doesn't give me any pleasure to harshly review a new writer's work. Most poorly-written books sink on their own, without my help.

2. "Review this thing I'm not going to send you."

This one blew my mind. A man who was selling canvas artwork prints on Amazon wrote a polite letter asking me if I would please review any of his products.

"Thanks for the offer!" I wrote back, along with a list of three or four prints I'd love to review.

"Okay, if I ever get enough money to send one to you, I will," he said.

Wha?

I wasn't sure if I was misinterpreting-- had he seriously sent me that original request in the hopes that I'd review canvas artwork that I'd never seen? And then I found the proof-- he'd actually convinced another reviewer to do just that. She went around on all his paintings writing five-star reviews that said things like, "This looks nice! I'm sure it would be nice on my living room wall," and "This looks like something I'd love to own because I sure do like the color blue!"

*Headsmack.* People, if you're not actually going to send a product, don't ask for a review. You're asking me to recommend something I've never even seen, and that's nutty and likely to backfire on you badly if you hit upon a reviewer more snarky than I am.

3. "Positive reviews only."

I was interested in reviewing hair extensions until the proprietor told me that she would send them to me, but that she would EXPECT me to shout from the rooftops about how great they were "even if you hate them, which I doubt you will."

No, you don't get to buy my integrity with a set of hair extensions. If I hate them, I'm going to say so. I won't expect you to send me anything else unless you're masochistic, but I'm still going to be honest.

4. Frequent follow-ups.

I review as quickly as I can, but that's not always quick. Most companies are respectful of that and either don't follow up at all, or just nudge me once, and that's cool. But then there are the ones that follow up within days to "make sure you got it," then a day or two later to "see if you have any questions," another day or two later to "check in with you," etc. I tend to put those people at the end of my to-review list.

5. "I've put you on my mailing list."

If I agree to review your vitamin B-12 pills, that doesn't mean that I want to be on your weekly roundup of specials and "helpful nutritional facts." It just means I've agreed to review one thing. You can ASK if I want to be on your mailing list, but don't ever put me there without my permission. It's not likely to influence my review in a positive way.

6. "First, I'll slam your competing reviews."

One of the ways we become "top reviewers" is by the percentage and number of "helpful" votes we get on our reviews. If readers find our reviews very helpful, we move up the ranks, and if they vote us unhelpful, we move down the ranks. What I've noticed is an annoying trend. Let's say I've given a positive review to an external battery. It's just sitting there with a couple of "helpful" votes. Then I get an "unhelpful" vote, quickly followed by a request for me to review a competitor's product.

Look, we're not dumb. But voting our reviews as "unhelpful" and then asking us to review your stuff is nasty, and doesn't help your cause. You can vote all the positive reviews as "unhelpful" and it'll never make them disappear or count less. Just produce a great product and let it stand on its own merits. If it deserves to win out in the marketplace, then reviewers will note that.

7. "I want video reviews, in six languages."

Don't ask too much of your reviewers. Many are now requesting video reviews-- which is fine to request, but not demand-- and asking us to also put up our reviews on other sites. One informed me that I was to also put my review on Amazon.co.uk, which would have required me to start a new account on that site for the sheer purpose of publicizing their product. No thank you.

8. Bribes for good reviews.

It's explicitly against Amazon's rules to offer reviewers money or any sorts of perks aside from the free product itself. Unless you're offering me a trip to Hawaii, in which case your secret is safe with me. (KIDDING. Mostly.)

On the other hand, one of the nicest review experiences I've had came from a company with just one product on the market. I did a video review (they didn't ask me to-- I just thought it was awesome and wanted to show how it worked), and the review got a lot of attention and comments. That December, the owners of the company sent me a little Christmas present and a beautiful thank you card. What a nice touch! They weren't buttering me up to review anything else-- it was just a sweet gesture to thank me for taking the time to do the review.

9. We know about form letters.

"Dear Jenna Glatzer: I have read many of your reviews and found them quite well-written and helpful! You seem to be a perfect candidate to review our new product..."

Several of us reviewers know each other online. Sometimes we compare notes, and often what we find is that everyone in the top 100, 500, or 1000 got exactly the same e-mail. Flattery is nice and all, but sincerity is nicer. It's okay to admit that you simply found us on a list of top Amazon reviewers, not that you particularly noticed us while you were reading reviews as an entertaining hobby. Our feelings won't be hurt. It's nice that you're offering us stuff to review regardless of how you found us.

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Please understand that we're also required to disclose that we got the product free for review.

Again, these types of experiences are in the minority. The majority of my experiences as a reviewer have been good (or great).

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