Amazon.com’s ‘Vine Program’ Can Either Help Or Hurt You

Not all marketing tools are created equal. Some will move books; some will bite you where the sun doesn’t shine. Today, allow me to tell how the use of one book marketing tool could have sunk my book.

“The Amazon.com Vine Program” is a service offered by Amazon.com to book publishers. Basically, publishers contract with Amazon.com to send out a certain number of books to reviewers in exchange for their unbiased ratings. Theoretically, it’s a way to jump-start ratings on an author’s page immediately after a book is released.

But there can be problems with this system. In at least one case that I know of (MINE!), the publisher failed to communicate with the Vine Program that the book in question had a Christian viewpoint. And since nothing noticeably Christian appeared in the title, subtitle, cover art, or even in the book’s description, it was a cauldron of trouble. The book ended up being inadvertently sent to people unsympathetic to faith issues who rated the book poorly and then slammed the publisher for being deceptive about its religious agenda.

You could argue that this was really the publisher’s mistake and not the Vine Program’s. But it still highlights the fact that the Vine Program can be utilized ineffectively and, hence, end up hurting your efforts more than helping.

How can you avoid this situation? Ask your PR and/or marketing folks if they intend to utilize the Vine Program. If so, work with your agent to make sure your publisher adequately broadcasts your book’s content through its title, subtitle, description, and cover art. Otherwise, your book won’t get to its intended readers, and your reviews may be less than stellar.

Even if this Vine problem doesn’t happen to you, expect some unfair ratings to come your way in the Amazon.com rating system. People are imperfect; therefore, readers (and publishers and authors) are imperfect. Some readers aren’t capable of understanding what you say, and others read too hastily or misunderstand your message for other reasons.

The good news is, eventually, justice tends to prevail. Unfair and/or misleading reviews tend to fall off the map. Once enough people rate the unfair reviews as “unhelpful,” the Amazon.com rating system automatically deletes them.

In addition, reviewers have the option to “comment” on each other’s reviews and clear up any confusion. (Only, sometimes, their comments make things worse rather than better. You should see the caustic verbiage that flew back and forth between two reviewers of my book, The Eden Diet. I have an overall five-star rating, but I got a two-star review that apparently ticked off one of my supporters. The comments that followed were so mean that they were actually funny–in a “Pulp Fiction” kind of shocking-human-nature way. It was like a psychology experiment went wrong, right on my Amazon.com review page. Thanks a lot, people!)

The point is, online review systems are fraught with inherent inaccuracy and bias, and they sometimes hurt more than help. But if you want to be a writer, you have to get used to this and other imperfections in the system as a whole. That’s why book writing (and the reading of book reviews on said writing) is not for the faint of heart!

Care to share some of your review experiences?