In the publishing trade, it's common practice to issue prior to a book's publication a number of ARCs – which stands for Advance Review Copy or Advance Readers' or Reading Copy. ARCs prime reviewers and influencers to post reviews the minute the book comes out, whether on Amazon, on Goodreads, on their bookblogs or other publications. Indie authors may also find issuing ARCs a helpful step in their self-publishing process, especially if they have a supportive “street team”.
Here are some answers to the most common questions about using ARCS as an indie author, triggered by questions from historical novelist Ani Tuzman with input from ALLi's Watchdog, a Top #1000 Amazon reviewer, and a seasoned indie novelist.
Q: Can you send ARCS to friends and family or will Amazon delete their reviews?
A: What Amazon is seeking to prevent is one-off glowing reviews by people who never review anything else other than their friend's book. They want genuine reviewer interaction, which creates a better and more valuable experience for Amazon customers. Although they therefore reserve the right to delete such reviews, in practice they seldom and certainly don't always delete reviews that are obviously honest, fair and genuine.
Proof of this is that many indie authors, and indeed many trade-published authors, retain reviews from family and friends. Indeed, it's a breakthrough moment for many self-published authors when the first review comes through from someone they do not actually know!
Reviews may also disappear for other reasons, e.g. a reviewer deletes their account and changes their mind about that review. That is their prerogative.
Q: If I ask someone to review an ARC copy, must they state in their review that they've received one?
A: Yes, this is Amazon's clear requirement – and not only regarding ARCs. If you give a reviewer a free copy at any time, they should disclose it in the review. At the end is best, so that it's not a distraction, with a simple statement “Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.”
Q: Won't it look bad if lots of my reviews include this disclosure?
A: No, it's common practice. What will look bad is if the review clearly is over-the-top unsubstantiated praise, of which far too many abound on Amazon e.g. “This is a fabulous book. Everyone should buy this book. I can't recommend this book highly enough.” This is the kind of review that Amazon wants to zap.
Q: It's expensive to send out ARCs – is it best to do so via Amazon?
A: Regardless of cost, please don't send your ARCs via Amazon, because that will make it more likely that the review won't be posted. Far better to send digital files, if your reviewers are happy with that. If your ARC readers require print – and many do – order a separate print run (which you'll be able to buy at the reduced author rate rather than storefront RRP) or do a private print run of ARCS outside of Amazon's service. IngramSpark is good for this, or you can send your paperback files to any other small digital print specialist. Don't send Amazon gift vouchers for this purpose either, because Amazon might still make the connection and delete the review.
Q: How advantageous is it to have lots of reviews up on launch day?
A: This may trigger Amazon's suspicion – and it might in any case be hard work to get all your ARC readers to comply with such a strict timetable!
British indie author Jan Ruth advises:
I usually send my ARCS out a good few weeks before the book goes live. I've never had a problem with reviews being removed over six years, and I have a broad mix of friend reviews, some from strangers and some from well-known review sites. None of them were paid for and they were all garnered slowly, so maybe that's a key point.
Q: Does Amazon hold the copyright over the reviews or can I share them?
A: The copyright is with the author of the review, but by putting the reviews in the public domain, one might assume reviewers are happy and fair game to be quoted. Feel free to share them in your marketing material – but most importantly also copy them as soon as they appear, so if Amazon does decide to delete any of your reviews, you have a record of them. If you want to quote any of them on covers of your books, it's courteous to ask the reviewer's permission if you can track them down to ask. Nnever just put “Amazon reviewer” on a cover because that will alienate most bookshops and also sound less credible than a named person.
A Helpful Summary – from ALLi's Watchdog John Doppler
There is a small chance that Amazon will remove reviews, and that depends on many factors (some of which are unknown to us). Is asking for ARC reviews worth the gamble? I'd say yes. Best case, you have a new review. Worst case, you temporarily have a new review. Through experimentation with a group of friends, I've found a few factors I believe contribute to Amazon deleting a review.
Identified with a high degree of certainty:
- reviews originating from the same IP address (e.g., you and your spouse both leave reviews using different accounts, but the same internet connection)
- reviews submitted within 24 hours of a book's publication
- disproportionate number of reviews without verified purchases
- disproportionate number of reviews from new/recently created accounts
- reviewer has had other reviews deleted
- author has had other reviews deleted
Suspected, but unable to confirm through observation:
- disproportionate number of reviews received in a short period of time
- disproportionate number of reviews where the customer has made few other reviews
- multiple reviews submitted by the author's social media contacts (e.g., Goodreads, Facebook)
Please note that these are unproven! Consider these to be risk factors, but not a guarantee that the review will be deleted. (Or conversely, that a review will remain untouched if you avoid them.)
The Reviewer's Perspective – from Debbie Young, a Top #1000 Amazon UK Reviewer
Amazon actually loves to get lots of book reviews, because it offers more information for their customers (and this vast database of knowledge costs Amazon nothing, by the way, as reviewers are of course unpaid.) Personally – and this my view, not to be taken as representative of ALLi's – I think that their actual policies are fair and in the interests of readers, who are their prime audience, after all.
Monitoring and moderating such a massive amount of information all around the world must be a mammoth task, it's astonishing that they manage to do it all, and hardly surprising that inconsistencies arise. If you think you've been unfairly treated you can appeal, and sometimes reviews are reinstated.
The Author's Perspective – from Jan Ruth, Indie Novelist
Fact is, no one really knows the inside story, so just gift some copies to those who you know will most likely enjoy the material and will write the sort of review which will encourage browsers to buy, and hope they'll deliver it within a reasonable timescale. But I wouldn't worry about the reviews. Sometimes, I'm not even convinced they sell books. If you take a look at some of the books with high rankings, you'll find some have very few reviews or a mix of seriously bad ones, it's something of a lottery. So, don't place too much importance on customer reviews as they are only a small part of the picture. Best of luck.
With thanks to Ani Tuzman, John Doppler, and Jan Ruth for their contributions to this post.
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