Amazon’s Review Policy Explained

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Most indie authors have encountered, either personally or vicariously, some of Amazon’s gestapo review policies. When reviews are so important to a book’s ranking, it’s no wonder that restrictions are frustrating and often confusing. More than anything, I simply wondered what was behind it? Clearly Amazon’s goal is to sell product, so why would they institute rules that compromise sales? It seems that “fake reviews” should be recognizable to any intelligent person and be discounted with an eye-roll as opposed to throwing out the baby with the bath water and tossing legitimate ones.

Well, I attended a free webinar the other day entitled “3 Catastrophic Marketing Landmines That Can Get You Into Serious Hot Water With The FTC Today: And What You Need To Know… ” that provided a classic “Aha!” moment that explained what’s more than likely behind Amazon’s review policy.  If you hurry, you can listen to it until June 4, 2017 here. [NOTE: If you should join their program, note that I am NOT an affiliate and will NOT receive any compensation. Rather, I’m sharing it because I feel it’s information that others can benefit from as I did.]

So what’s the deal? Why is Amazon being so ornery about reviews? Not surprisingly, it’s none other than our friend (?) the US Government, more specifically the Federal Trade Commission, a.k.a. FTC. Like the IRS, this is another government agency you don’t want to tangle with. They have strict rules regarding deceptive testimonials, which includes whether there was any material compensation involved; in other words, a paid affiliate needs to be disclosed, with what constitutes payment a somewhat grey area. Deceptive testimonials, another no-no, can obviously include reviews from friends and associates who may claim something is the best thing since the cell phone when in reality it’s not. We’ve all read books from time to time that had multiple 5-star ratings that were clearly undeserved. So, being compensated for a review in some manner or an inflated testimonial that is unlikely to represent the opinion of others are to be avoided.

In other words, the bottom line is Amazon is covering their butt against consumer complaints to the FTC, which is the prudent thing for a business to do. If you have a website where you offer products to consumers, there are various alligators in the water regarding disclosure with which you, also, should be aware. As with any government regulation, ignorance of the law is no excuse and failure to comply can get you into serious trouble. All authors need to be aware of such regulations, especially if they have a website where they have affiliate links or sell their own books.

But my main point here is that Amazon is not doing this to make our lives difficult, but to protect their interests and comply with government regulations. It’s no wonder they ignore our complaints since we certainly don’t wield the punch of Uncle Sam.

That said, I can’t help but wonder what the FTC would do if authors complained about the way Amazon handles trolls?  Undoubtedly it’s covered in our contract to their benefit, but as our sales agent, if they allow trolls to jeopardize our sales, it would make for an interesting conversation….

I Don’t Love Zombies but Loved this Story

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I’m not a big zombie fan in that I’ve never been drawn to shows like “The Walking Dead” and so forth. I’m prone to look upon zombies and vampires as analogies. To me, zombies represent those around us who simply go from day to day in a daze, missing what’s really going on around them, lacking joy and enthusiasm, and trashing those around them who have a life. Vampires are even more obvious, being the bloodsuckers that expect others to take care of them emotionally or financially. Since I’m not amused or entertained by such individuals, I’m likewise not usually attracted to such stories.

However, as a writer myself I enjoy a well-crafted story, regardless of genre. I especially enjoy award winning author, Elle Klass’, tales because they’re populated with well-developed, intelligent, gutsy, and engaging characters while her plots are original and full of surprises. Thus, for her books I’ll always make an exception. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her “Bloodseeker” stories and now Zombie Girl because they’re well-written with lots of action involving memorable, believable characters as well as surprising and often intricate plot twists.  A dose of Elle’s creative genius is the ultimate prescription to escape the figurative zombies and vampires in your own life.

I recently finished “Premonition” where the heroine, Maddie, is in trouble with her parents because she’s flunking science. Pressured to improve her grade, she reluctantly agrees to study more diligently. That night she experiences a vivid dream in which her parents have turned into zombies, so she flees her home. She meets a boy named Bryce, the two of them battling zombies, trying to survive.  When she wakes up to a normal Saturday morning, she realizes it was only a dream, yet remains troubled. Not only was the dream itself far too real, a physical object Bryce gave her in the dream is still in her possession.

Huh? How could it be?

This physical evidence tells her for certain it was more than a dream–it was a warning. Nonetheless, months pass, and everything seems normal. Until another vestige from the dream becomes reality.

Elle knows how to build nail-biting suspense and “Premonition” is no exception. The story is relatively short, but sets the stage for what you know is going to be an exciting adventure with a generous sprinkling of dark humor. Fortunately, the sequel, “Infection,” is coming soon.  Preorder now so you don’t miss it when it comes out in July!

Pick up your copy of “Premonition” here.

Preorder “Infection” here.

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“This website may contain affiliate links which means if you click on a link and ultimately invest in something, that I may get a commission. If the item is one of my own books, that should be intuitively obvious.”

Review of “Torn Apart” by Julianne Alcott

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This well-written second volume of the YA Ripmender series provides an emotional rollercoaster ride as the saga continues of ordinary, somewhat plain Cathy Slater in what’s likely to be a dead-end relationship with rock star, Nathan Jake.  As established in “The Ripmender”, Nathan Jake is a genetically engineered human whose purpose is to protect the Earth from hostile alien invasion through rips in the space-time continuum.  As such, he’s been provided abilities that are marginally in the super-power range and further magnified by a super-charged cell phone, yet he’s emotionally impaired in that he can never fall in love.

Nonetheless, he sees Cathy as his best friend and insists on her companionship. Cathy is privy to Ripmender secrets humans aren’t supposed to know, but has earned immunity to having those memories erased. This brings various awkward moments with her friends, who are all great supporting characters who add a touch of normalcy to Cathy’s crazy world. These are all developed in the first book, which I recommend reading prior to this one for full context to this story and characters.

The pace, like the first book in the series, reminds me of a (mild) PG-13 version of something you might see on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. It keeps moving, the dialog lively and convincing, as this saga plunges forward. The plot thickens and the Ripmender culture grows more complex with other genetically engineered groups introduced such as Fembers and Carers. As assumed from the previous story, Victor is up to no good, and Hudson’s role is expanded as well. Various internal rivalries are explained, Nathan and Cathy often caught in the middle. Some questions carried over from the first volume are answered, new ones introduced.

I found this story leaning more toward contemporary fantasy than the sci-fi flavor of the first book, but that isn’t a criticism, just an observation. The suspense is well-sustained with numerous plot twists that are unexpected, sometimes jaw-dropping, which I won’t go into since they’re well into spoiler territory. The ending is satisfying, yet leaves you sufficiently curious regarding what the next episode will provide while dragging poor Cathy along for another wild ride.

I love the characters in this story, especially the heroine, Cathy. She’s been through an emotional wringer courtesy of various traumatic experiences, yet hangs on and confronts the challenges before her. This is an enjoyable and suspenseful Young Adult series that provides plenty of action while accurately reflects the feelings and challenges confronted during those college years and beyond. It provides a great escape while sustaining credibility that such a world could exist just beyond human perception.

I was provided a complementary copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

5-Stars for Scott Skipper’s “A Little Rebellion Now and Then”

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If you’re not afraid of the truth, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this book. It’s brutally honest, somewhat raw, and loaded with sarcastic wit that had me laughing out loud. Yet, its story is far from pretty because it depicts a little too accurately what has become of the 1st Amendment. At this point, we can hardly tell what’s true and what’s not. If you’re wondering who’s telling the truth (or perhaps suppressing it), this gripping story can probably enlighten you.

As a Baby Boomer myself, I could relate to this book in multiple ways. For one thing, I remember the Nixon era, the Vietnam War, the California drug culture, and ’60s protests including the Kent State shootings all too well. This book recounted them all in vivid detail, its first-person narrative style gripping and authentic. You can’t help but love its main character, Kate Baker, who is truly a rebel at heart. The kind of rebel we need more of these days, one who isn’t afraid to speak up and confront injustice and hypocrisy, regardless of how powerful its source might be.

Back in the ’60s, Kate was vocal regarding the Kent State incident, where students peacefully protesting the Vietnam War were shot by the Ohio National Guard. The government has never taken kindly to criticism, and the Nixon administration was no exception. Good ol’ Tricky Dick was a real piece of work and ultimately quit upon being caught and impeached for the Watergate Scandal.

As Kate writes a variety of scathing articles relative to what really happened at Kent State, she encounters harassment of all varieties. Of course she paints a target on herself in some ways, given she was into pot and recreational drug use, providing numerous excuses to get busted. She was also what I would consider pretty loose on the sexual morality side, yet as I remember that era of “Make Love, Not War” it fits the character. No one ever said you have to be a saint to be a hero. Courage and an adventurous spirit can often lead off the beaten moral track.

One thing that comes to mind about this story is the old adage “You finish like you start.” That, and the fact that people don’t change who they are.

So Kate’s misadventures in the ’60s and ’70s are only half of this thoroughly entertaining story. The chapters alternate between her youth and later years, when she’s a successful novelist who’s written a best selling book entitled “Satan’s Angel” where the president is assassinated by a genetically engineered fruit that combined figs with oleander. Similarities between the characters in Kate’s book and the current administration are noted and the powers-that-be immediately try to silence her through a litany of harassment techniques such as hacking her computer to steal her passwords, placing her on the “no fly” list, freezing her bank accounts, unpublishing her self-published book as well as black-balling it with major publishers, following her every move with a drone, and numerous other devious tactics.

Let me say here, that Kate is definitely not politically correct. If you’re offended by such individuals, then you’ll undoubtedly get so mad you won’t be able to get through this book. (Liberals, I’m talking to you. More than likely you’d be siding with the antagonists and demanding this book be banned.) On the other hand, if you’re sick of all the PCBS, you’ll get angry as well, but you’ll be behind Kate and sympathetic to her situation every step of the way. The sad thing is that we all know that this type of harassment and brutal silencing techniques happen. Oddly enough, they’re often depicted on TV shows.  True “free speech” is a thing of the past and Big Brother is not only alive and well, but now armed with modern technology which enables him to be even more devious than Orwell ever dreamed in his worst nightmares.

The author has done incredible and accurate research that makes this story come alive. It is shocking and chilling. It doesn’t read like fiction, it reads like a news report–a blood-chilling and accurate news report, of which we see few, if any, these days. This story is an outstanding commentary on what our society has become and where it’s probably headed.  And it does it with style, humor and wit, to say nothing of sustained suspense that makes it extremely hard to put down. I gotta say, when Kate mooned the drone I about fell over laughing. And of course, she wound up in jail as a result. I’m definitely going to adopt her penchant for saying “Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot” for WTF.

Be warned, however, that there’s a generous dose of what some would consider offensive language. It’s not over-done or gratuitous, but definitely in-character; Kate does not behave or speak like a nun. All that aside, we need more Kates in this world. If she were real, she’d probably resurrect the Grey Panthers, which at this point I’d join in a heartbeat. If you’re as disgusted as I am with what used to be a rather nice country, past presidents like Nixon notwithstanding, don’t miss this articulate voicing of how bad things have become as seen through the eyes of Kate Baker. IMHO, she absolutely rocks.

The selective reporting and bias of the media is no secret and it’s gotten progressively worse.  Democracies tend to fail and, at this point, the USA is headed in that direction. The scariest thing is that there are those out there who WANT it to fail. Why? Because it’ll be to their advantage and they’re carefully positioning themselves to take control. In case you’re not aware, failed democracies are always followed by a dictatorship. There are lots of opinions out there with regard to who that aspiring dictator might be. After reading this story, you should have a better idea who that might or might not be. Hint: It won’t be the one network TV or major newspapers are pointing at.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Wake (and What Jeremiah did Next) by Colm Herron

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This story is nothing short of brilliant. If you have any connection to Ireland, you’ll recognize the intimate depiction of its people and culture. If you don’t, you’ll get a crash course. The saying that fiction is best for depicting truth definitely applies. In this case, it’s like being fully immersed, perhaps even like being baptized in Irish whiskey, through the eyes of the main character, Jeremiah.

The book is so loaded with truth I hardly know where to start. It starts out at a wake, an event that is typically associated with Irish culture. If you’ve never been to one like myself, this will give you a glimpse of what they’re all about. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, it will make even more sense. Here you have someone who has passed away and has no relatives, so a neighbor holds the wake because it’s the thing to do. The conversations during this event reveal a boatload. It’s more of a social event where refreshments are served than a time to remember the deceased, who was not particularly liked. Jeremiah, whose mother is the hostess, is stuck attending and, to make it more tolerable, has a bit too much to drink. Well, okay, maybe more than a bit. This results in some absolutely hilarious situations that had me laughing ’til I cried, but I won’t give away because I hate spoilers.

So what did Jeremiah do next? Well, he got on with his life. A rather weird, somewhat dysfunctional, crazy one that wasn’t particularly unexpected for a young man in his twenties discovering life in that time and place. As is the case with most that age and gender, he’s obsessed with sex. He’s in love with a woman who’s not only bisexual, but a rebel. This is where all the social issues regarding the Catholics and Protestants come into play. After all, it’s the 60s when protesting was in vogue. So, Jeremiah hooks up with Aisling and her partner, Frances, whom he describes as “Stalin in drag.” The adventures they encounter, including in the bedroom (which are tastefully done, considering it’s a menage a trois) take off from there, and provide a glimpse into the religion-related issues and what the protests are all about.

I consider this story a literary masterpiece. I could hardly put it down, which was exacerbated by the fact it doesn’t have chapter breaks. It reads partly like a journal and partly like following Jeremiah around, perhaps as his guardian angel sees him. Few books have the ability this one has to draw you into a world so effectively. It’s like a very personal trip to the Emerald Isle.

As a bonus, and to assist those who may not “get” what this book is all about, the author includes some discussion questions at the end which would be particularly helpful for book clubs or even English teachers. All great literature is unique and stands out from everything else and this is in that category. You’ll either love it or hate it. I loved it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Star Agency Chronicles Book 2: The Voyages of the Seven”

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This second book in the “Star Agency Chronicles” series does a great job of expanding the cultures of the alien worlds to which “the seven” have been transported. In this story, they embark on specific journeys that resemble interstellar “sightseeing” in some respects and yet transform more to quests for others. The characters are further developed, at least some of them, as they meet the challenges thrust upon them inherent to their specific missions, greatly adding to the suspense and intrigue. Ruby’s situation is particularly fascinating and her evolution and growth especially well done. At this point, she is my favorite character. I love her spunk and courage coupled with emotional vulnerability, easily seen as a person who is hard on the outside yet soft on the inside.

The relationships between the various youth are credible and demonstrate nicely the complexity of teen emotions as they interact with each other, especially those of the opposite sex. Some have romantic possibilities while others are simply platonic. Jealousies arise as romantic interests are not reciprocated but directed elsewhere. The characters and their personalities are integrated nicely into the story, giving it more depth.

The aliens are definitely more enigmatic versus the first book, though I would have liked a few more reminders of what they look like. The interactions between the different alien worlds are further developed as well, introducing their various agendas that introduce numerous new plot twists, conflict and mystery in which the young characters are entangled.

I wish the author had not given two of the characters such similar names, i.e. Larissa and Lara, especially since Theo has taken to calling Larissa, Lari, which makes it even worse. The two are clearly different people, but it’s still slightly confusing, sometimes yanking me out of the story as I figure out which one is involved when all the characters are together. Maybe in the next volume one of them can acquire a nickname that will make each stand apart more clearly.

You’ve gotta love Lara, who shows signs of being slightly autistic, probably afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. Her inability to filter what she says adds tension as well as raw honesty which adds to the interpersonal dynamics of this chosen group of youth. Larissa, though you see more of her in this story, is not nearly as well fleshed out as a character. A few of “the seven” have not gotten to “show their stuff” yet, which I assume will occur in the next book.

I give four stars to this entertaining and imaginative hard sci-fi series suitable and undoubtedly directed to teen and young adults.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of Elle Klass’ “Baby Girl 6: Return to the Bay”

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Cleo’s saga continues in another suspense-filled episode. If you’re a Cleo fan like I am, you won’t be disappointed in this latest segment of her ongoing story. This one picks up where Baby Girl 5: Caribbean Heat drops you off with a nail-biting cliffhanger. Cleo, her best friend, Kacy, and La Tige have been ambushed and left in dire straits in a warehouse. Upon surviving this ordeal, the set out to figure out who the culprit is and his possible motive. More of Cleo’s family secrets are revealed in the fast-moving sequel. As always, the characters are convincing and endearing and by the time you make it this far in this enjoyable series, they’re like your own family. Cleo’s story just gets better and better.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

5* Review of Kristina Stanley’s “The Author’s Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores”

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If you’re an author who wants to get more print copy book sales but don’t know where to start, Kristina Stanley’s guide is the book for you. While everyone has undoubtedly noticed books for sale in establishments other than bookstores, how to go about getting your book in such a position is often an enigma, if you’ve never been involved in sales.

My favorite part about this book was that it felt as if you were sitting around a kitchen table having a friendly conversation with Kristina. I loved the way she admitted to being nervous about such an endeavor and how her hand was shaking the first time someone asked her to autograph one of her books. I could so relate! So many of us authors are uncomfortable with self-promotion and it’s encouraging to know that this can be overcome so it no longer stands in the way of what we really want, which is to sell books.

Since Kristina was originally nervous about selling her books face to face, if you’re in that category, she makes you feel comfortable and not self-recriminating. It’s just where you are, but don’t have to stay there. She was able to get over it and be successful, so her example builds your confidence that you can do it, too. She explains how to approach store owners and managers and even includes important information such as the different types of contracts, e.g., direct and consignment sales. She talks about what percentages to offer and how to calculate what your actual book cost is, plus she even provides suggested layouts for spreadsheets to track your sales.  There are check-lists for sales calls, book signing events and more, as well as tips for marketing materials.

Most importantly, she helps you see things through the store owner’s eyes and determine the correct “what’s in it for them” approach, key to successful sales of any kind. By sharing her experience and lessons learned, Kristina helps you not to feel clueless and thus nervous about attempting to hawk your print books in such a way to gain community support for your work. Ideally, you’ll create a reciprocal relationship where they sell your books and you, in turn, point potential readers to their establishments to buy them through your marketing plan.

This book is a jewel that every author should read, whether published independently or traditionally. Taking that first step away from your writing sanctuary out into the public to promote your work can be a daunting task if you’re an introvert at heart like myself. This great guide provides a warm and friendly tutorial that includes the know-how, confidence and courage to take that important step. I give it 5 stars, but it deserves at least 10.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

 

Review of “The Star Agency” by R.E. Weber

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I thoroughly enjoyed this story about Theopolis James Logan’s grand adventure, which has barely begun, since this is the first book in a series. He’s a somewhat typical 13 year old, highly intelligent, a bit too outspoken for his own good, bored with school as the highly intelligent usually are, and generally disaffected by his life. Sound familiar? Whether you’re someone who has already survived the teen years or are dealing with them yourself, you will relate to Theo.

The suspense is well-sustained and keeps you turning the pages. The author has spun a great science fiction tale and created a vivid world. This story is a clean read with plenty of adventure and believable characters. While suitable for young readers, it’s an enjoyable “stress free” read for adults as well. However, remember this story is designed and targeted for younger readers, for whom it’s an excellent introduction to the world of sci-fi, but may not be what you’re looking for if you’re expecting a more sophisticated story/writing style populated with adult characters.

I appreciate the fact that the author stated that this book took years to write. I have to admit that I can truly relate to that, since mine did, too. To fully confess, I, too have written a young adult science fiction series and I believe that anyone who enjoys Weber’s story would enjoy my Star Trails Tetralogy and vice versa.

Pick up your copy of The Star Agency on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/2aJcEjL

You can find my Star Trails Tetralogy Box Set on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1Sk1gpy

Ho’oponopono Could Change the World

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I first heard of ho’oponopono from motivational speaker, Joe Vitale, and found it fascinating. This little book by Paul Jackson takes it to the next level with the specific background needed to substantiate the method and use it more effectively than possible with Vitale’s testimonial alone.

I find it fascinating that ho’oponopono is not entirely unique. There are numerous methods of deleting old baggage and hangups, but they have interesting similarities. What each technique seems to consistently emphasize is love, being sorry for past mistakes, asking forgiveness, and giving thanks. These emotions represent positive vibes that energize your soul and allow you to get rid of the negativity that can hold you back from joy, success and living your life to the fullest.

I find that a combination of the various methods is especially effective. While they all suggest that this attitude change is permanent, I have found this not to be true. It’s too easy to slip back into negative programming and thus a refresher now and then is necessary, at least for me. Using the same one over and over can get boring and thus ineffective, so it’s always interesting to find a new one that supports previous methods. Other books I’ve read that are similar include Karol Kuhn Truman’s “Feelings Buried Alive Never Die”; “The Emotion Code” by Dr. Bradley Nelson; and “Frequency” by Penney Peirce. I highly recommend them all if you’re looking for a self-help attitude adjustment in a positive direction.

One thing this book points out with more emphasis than the others is the principle that we’re all connected at the spiritual level, i.e. the collective consciousness. When we change ourselves, it ripples out to others. It reminds you that when you point the finger at someone, that there are four fingers pointing back at yourself. It’s about taking responsibility for the effect you may have had on others, even those you do not know personally, and rectifying it. It’s beautiful in that respect. Love is the one thing that can change the world and you can make a bigger difference than you realize.

This little book was an excellent refresher, but could also serve as a great introduction to a simple yet effective method of shifting your personal vibration to a more positive level. We attract what we project, so if your life isn’t going in the direction you’d prefer, then it’s likely you could benefit from some cleanup. It does have a variety of typos and a few word usage issues (i.e. commiserate instead of commensurate) but over all, the book is highly recommended. In these times when it seems our home planet has gone crazy with us surrounded by hate, dishonesty, corruption, violence and general negativity, this could be the boost you need to maintain a positive outlook and feel as if you can make a difference. This book will convince you that indeed you can.

Pick up your copy of “Ho’oponopono Secrets” by Paul Jackson on Amazon.