Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Amazon Reviews and Timestamps

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Recently, I followed a twitter link that landed me here: which page is a tutorial for authors about how to understand Amazon links and lessen the risks of review removal. Although the main take away, which is it’s better to use a link that contains only the ASIN, the tutorial is wrong on just about every technical fact.

It’s hard to know where to start when everything is so . . . wrong.

Note: I’ve gone in and clarified when I’ve realized that I wasn’t specific enough or I used language than means something different to a developer or database admin than it likely does to a person who isn’t either of those things.


Amazon URLs don’t identify the person who did the search so Amazon is not using incoming links as a criteria for review removal. The value of qid= in a URL does not assist in distinguishing the user account. While there are reasons to use a “clean” Amazon URL in your links, identification of your Amazon account as the link source is not one of them.


Before I continue, and on the off chance that someone who does not know my background reads this post, here’s a statement of my technical credentials:

I am a former web developer. I have worked in dev-ops. (Technically, I think I still do, but for a much smaller company without scheduled product release cycles.) I am a SQL Server DBA and data architect. It has been my job to design and maintain the database back-end for commercial, enterprise web applications. I have attended daily meetings with software architects and developers where my responsibility was to head off boneheaded code and bad database designs or to design such structures for them. My current job is with a much smaller company, but the skill set is still required.

When someone starts talking about interpreting URLS and particularly about databases, this is squarely in my technical expertise. Especially the database stuff.

The Actual Problem

Amazon has identified relationships between the poster of a review and the creator/seller of the product as reasons they will remove reviews. The exact words (see quote infra) are “perceived to have a close personal relationship” or “a direct or indirect financial interest.”

In order to establish these things, Amazon has to connect a given Amazon account with one or more external accounts. More on that later.

And so, you might think, of course a link on a third party site is an external thing that might create the appearance of a relationship. But link clicks would be a remarkably inefficient way of deriving that information.

A link, sitting on your website, or facebook, or twitter, or pinterest, gets clicked on by someone and that someone ends up at Amazon and they buy your book. This is not behavior that Amazon, or anyone who sells stuff on the web wants to discourage.

We know that Amazon has removed reviews from readers who love an author and post reviews of every book that author writes. That is because they have identified that the reader has done something such as like the author on Facebook, and that there is, therefore, an outside, personal, relationship between the reader and the author. Facebook, as do other social media companies, provides a wealth of information about who likes what/whom. That information is pretty easy to find out. The contents of a link URL are irrelevant to that determination.

That relationship is NOT contained in the URL.

If you have an Amazon link on your Facebook page and someone clicks on it and buys your book, the smoking gun isn’t the URL string of the link. It’s the referrer information that tells amazon that the click came from your Facebook page or profile (And if it’s from your profile rather than your author page, then you are likely asking for a false positive).

An Amazon URL is a Dumb and Inefficient Way to Infer Relationships

Amazon is unlikely to be using URL strings from incoming third parties (your website, facebook etc.) to figure out which reviews are suspect. They surely are interested in incoming links, but not as implied in that article. Parsing URLS for such information would be a strange and inefficient way to get that information, especially when third parties make it easy to mine far more relevant data.

Carolyn’s Theory

Personally, my theory is that authors who are using the same email address for Amazon, writing- related social media activities, and their personal lives, are more likely to run into problems with Amazon incorrectly deriving personal relationships where none exist. I suspect that logging in all over the place with a Facebook account only exacerbates the issue. Using the same email address at Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc, or filling in alternate email contacts at those sites where that alternate email is the same as your Amazon email account are going to make it really easy for Amazon to find connections and come up with real, or incorrect, derivations of actual problematic relationships. Especially if you haven’t locked down your privacy settings.

The Technical Problems with the Analysis

Right. So, the claim is that a link containing stuff besides the ASIN is sufficient to invoke a review removal.

Amazon knows if a reviewer bought the item they’re reviewing. And they surely know what events led to the reviewer’s “buy this” click. If it’s a link from a third party site, then they have whatever information is in the referring link. However, that link does not contain the account information of the person who copied and pasted the link.

The tutorial implies that a qid value, should it exist, is sufficient to identify the account that created the link. That is false.

The qid value is an Epoch timestamp — the number of seconds since January 1, 1970. This value is precise only to the second. That right there tells you there’s a huge problem with the analysis in the tutorial.

The idea that the qid value provides enough information to identify the account that made the search is just … wrong.

The addition of the qid value does not and cannot guarantee uniqueness of the string. It is possible for two people make the exact same search at the exact same second and click on the top result at the same second. In such a case those URLs will be identical.

How a DBA Gets Fired

Uniqueness is a key component of database design. If the data architect gets this wrong because they fail to account for the possibility of collisions where two objects cannot be distinguished from each other, they’re going to be out of a job.

Unique Snowflakes MUST Exist

It is actually impossible to have uniqueness on a timestamp that is precise only to the second. I imagine many people unfamiliar with such concepts think that precision to the second is pretty darn precise. But in this context, it is not. It’s also not precise enough for things like the Olympics, by the way.

When the ability to uniquely identify something is required, you don’t choose imprecise values to achieve that.

Frankly, this is a dumb discussion. If you want to track search queries by account this isn’t how you do it.

The qid does have a useful purpose, but it’s not identifying the user who made the search.

Let me remind you that when Amazon needs to know what user account referred an incoming link, they don’t say, “No worries, we have that in every URL!” What they say is, sign up for an associates account so we can give you a uniquely identifying string that tells us the link came from you.

More Problems

The tutorial goes on to state that the number of times the link was clicked on provides evidence of author manipulation. No. Mere clicks on a link are evidence of popularity of the content and the popularity of the author. If number of clicks alone was evidence of manipulation then popular authors would disproportionately suffer from such a system. Further, if that were true, then no author should ever use associates links.

Additional information is needed in order to infer manipulation and that information is not in an Amazon URL.

I think it’s pretty ridiculous to think that Amazon would take punitive actions based on data that does not identify the account that made the link. The implication that it’s the qid portion of the URL, is, in a word, bullshit.

Here’s what Amazon says about its policy (found here):

Authors and artists can add a unique perspective and we very much welcome their customer reviews. While we encourage reviewers to share their enthusiasm and experience, there can be a fine line between that and the use of customer reviews as product promotion. We don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion and if we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we’ll remove it. If you have a direct or indirect financial interest in a product, or perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we’ll likely remove your review. We don’t allow authors to submit customer reviews on their own books even when they disclose their identity.

And here’s a few of the items that prompt removal:

  • A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
  • A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
  • A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
  • An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them

For that last one, substitute “author” for “artist” and “book” for “album.”

There’s very, very little in any Amazon URL that provides any of that information.

It’s not the purchase that is suspect. Amazon knows who bought what. Amazon is saying there is a non-commercial, personal relationship between the poster of a review and the author.  The URL doesn’t provide a smoking gun of “These people are buddies outside this commercial transaction!”

What people suspect Amazon is doing for the purposes of determining those relationships is examining things like connections between Amazon accounts (Kindle sharing, mailing addresses, etc) or links between Amazon email addresses and possibly IP address that indicate that one person is posting under multiple identities.  They’re also believed to be looking at other social media accounts, including Facebook and places where unwise authors might obtain insincere reviews, such as Fiverr, including taking legal action against those services. Gifting a book to a reader is something that appears to trigger an issue with a subsequent review.

Even More Problems

If you listen to that tutorial, you’ll come away thinking several incorrect things.

The tutorial implies that the qid, which is a Unix Epoch timestamp (the number of seconds since January 1, 1970) is a unique identifier. This is so false I immediately lost track of the tutorial because I was all wha??? (No worries! I listened three times to get their statements straight.) It manages to also imply that the qid somehow identifies the user making the query. That is also false.

It makes a big deal of demonstrating that a qid value changes over time. Um, doh?

Wrong about Short Links, Too

Then the tutorial talks about short links and it implies that using a short link will strip the identifying data from a copied Amazon URL. That, too, is false. Whatever is contained in the source URL that you paste into your short link destination will be used to resolve the destination of the click.

So, suppose you use  as the link you post at FB.

When someone clicks on your FB link here is what happens:

The user goes along for the ride to where looks up the destination you gave it for (this happens really quickly. The user is unlikely, but only unlikely, to notice the millisecond or so that they’re at sends the user to the destination you copied and pasted from Amazon. The ENTIRE URL you copied and pasted. Including any applicable qid or other search string.

Lastly, the tutorial completely omits consideration of the use of Amazon associates links. If it’s true that Amazon is using information from incoming third party links to figure out whose reviews to remove, then authors should NEVER use associate links. An associates link actually DOES identify the source of the user account that made the link. But that’s an absurd result. Amazon wants people to use their associates links.

Precision to Websites and Databases

Amazon processes millions of transactions and there are, guaranteed, many many queries that occur in the exact same second. Database systems that need to know which transaction to commit first are looking at milliseconds and nanoseconds. Therefore, a timestamp that is precise only to the second is inadequate for the identification of separate transactions. An Epoch timestamp might uniquify, but it cannot uniquely identify. And, even if it were used to add some value to a search string to make it unique, an imprecise value like that would not guarantee there would not be a collision.

Here’s what the timestamp can efficiently do: create an easy, lightweight way to compare the start time of the product search result to actions taken later. So you know something like, how long it took the user to click buy. It’s easy and lightweight because all you have to do is some arithmetic like subtract one epoch value from another.

Why You’d Want a Clean URL

Long URLS are subject to errors that break the link. Certain characters, such as spaces and ampersands, may need to be encoded so the URL is correctly parsed. You might not get the entire URL. It’s a lot of work. It’s easier to read your html and other analytics.

But it’s not because Amazon is using a qid to identify the person who created the link.


Audio Book for Lord Ruin! — Want a Review Copy?

Sunday, June 29th, 2014
Cover of the Audio Book for Lord Ruin

Cover of the Audio Book for Lord Ruin

The Audio Book for Lord Ruin is all done and uploaded and ready for purchase. Kate McDermott narrated the book, and I’ve loved listening to her bring the story to audio. Woot!! I have myself only recently gotten addicted to audio. It sneaks up on you. I was surprised.

I have coupons for anyone interested in a review copy … Have a listen, post a review on Audible. And Amazon, I guess. If you’d like a review copy, leave a comment and I will email you the necessary information until I run out of coupons.


Request A Review Copy of Alphas Unleashed

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Interested in reviewing Alphas Unleashed?  Your honest opinion is all that is required.

I can send a mobi or an epub. Let me know in the comments of my blog here, or drop me an email at and let me know which format you’d prefer.

NOTE: If your comment email is not the email you want me to send the file to, then it’s best to email me. The blog won’t show your email to anyone but me, so don’t leave it in your comment.

Cover of Alphas Unleashed

Cover of Anthology


Review of Whispers from Fresh Fiction

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

WHISPERS COLLECTION NO 1: EROTIC SHORT STORIES is a collection of five short stories, all by the same author. They are all erotic fantasies but take place in different time periods, and I feel like they each strike different tones and showcase the versatility of Carolyn Jewel. The female main characters in each story are all very different types of women. Demon Lover & My Goblin Boyfriend were my favorite and I would have loved it if they would have been turned into full length stories. The two are very different but I enjoyed them both very much.

Miranda Owen, Fresh Fiction

Read the Full Review

Here’s a few more words from the review:

Inigo The Magician: this story illustrates how this author can put an interesting and very different spin on submission and domination

Demon Lover: a deliciously gothic feel

My Goblin Boyfriend: there is a wonderful dark paranormal sexiness

Constance: it has a very serious tone to it.

The Wild: has a very hard edge to it, almost what I’d describe as a feeling of sexual menace

Well. I told you these stories were strong. Hell yes, sexual menace. Gothic. And more! It’s a lovely review that captures a lot of what I was going for.

Note: I intend to continue the story that starts in Inigo The Magician, and I definitely want to write more in the world of My Goblin Boyfriend, and hope to have some of both for Whispers, Collection No. 2.

Did you get your copy yet?
Buy links at the Full Review


Review of Whispers

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Carolyn Jewel’s Whispers is a collection of five erotic short stories. Some are historical, some historical and some have paranormal elements. Not all are romances, but all are intriguing stories that push the envelope with respect to the heroines’ notions of sexuality. Also, all are fairly dark in their portrayal of sex. Think demons. While not all the heroes are actual demons, they all are in the darker plain of existence.

Whispers, Collection No. 1 is an anthology of eclectic erotic stories that will challenge readers and make them think. The endings are not always expected, nor are they easy—but they are well done.

Jennifer Porter,
Read the full review

Buy Links here


Review Copies Available for Whispers, Collection 1

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

I have a collection of erotic, romantic-ish, risky short stories that I am getting ready to release. I’ll send a review copy to you if you’re willing to read and post an honest review where others can see it.

Edited to Add: You do not need to be a professional reviewer or blogger. I am happy to send review copies to avid readers who are willing to post an honest review at the vendor of their choice. By honest, I mean, what you thought. If it doesn’t work for you, then you should say so.

Here’s the Long Description:

Five graphic, erotic, romantic, short stories from Carolyn Jewel.

Don’t read these if you’re offended by strong, possibly offensive, sexual content. Really. Don’t.

  • A demon delivers on an ice-cold revenge after a magician uses him and a human woman to satisfy his sexual perversions. Six months later, she’s not even close to recovered. He’s free and their first meeting is a volatile combination of minds, bodies, and the consequences of a promise made.
  • New Orleans, 1859. At nearly twenty-eight, Zoe remains at home to support her widowed father. She longs for something more in her life. David Nataniel is a dangerous man for a woman to know. He’s a client of her father’s and is often at the house, but Zoe believes she’s safe from his wickedness. She’s not.
  • My Goblin Boyfriend should say it all, but in case it doesn’t, Violet finds out first-hand why goblins have a rep for mastery in the bedroom after she finds an injured goblin passed out on her porch. She does the right thing for everyone involved and nurses him back to health. He’s big, strong, definitely not-human, and not shy at all. Features goblin sex. Doh.
  • In Edwardian-era America, Nathan reluctantly agrees to seduce and impregnate his good friend’s cousin. As he comes to know and like the woman, her tragic past changes him forever.
  • An unrepentant werewolf finds the woman of his dreams. She needs the kind of pain only he can deliver— As long as she’s willing to get Wild with him. Not for the faint of heart. Includes werewolf sex.

The stories are approximately 130 pages (32,000) words.

Looking for a few Good Reviewers!

If you’d like a copy for review, email me through this site (carolyn AT carolynjewel DOT com) and let me know your preferred format. All I ask is that you post an honest review.


Barnes & Noble reviews are Being “Gamed”

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Someone on an email list posted a set of bizarre “reviews” for her book on B&N. I won’t link there because I don’t want to out her. Also I don’t need to in order to show you that B&N has an issue they need to investigate and clean up.

Check out this Google Search, This Google image search on the “Lienstar”. You see several book covers. I moused over a couple of rows of them, and they were ALL from Barnes & Noble.

Click on an image, and go to the website. You’ll end up at a book page like this one: This Random Book. Now scroll down through the reviews.

Here’s a screencap of a portion:

Obviously Not Reviews

OK, so “Doomkit” is kind of odd. Google that and you end up at this DeviantArt site for Doomkit.

Read the comments (screencap)
A cat themed role-playing game?

And here Getting the picture?

Check out the last comment. Now Google “Lightening Clan.” After finding “Sea Breeze of the Lighting Clan” (also a cat) on DeviantArt I googled that phrase and ended up here:

And, at last, Google “Warrior Cats roleplaying” and you end up at

Take all this together and you get a role playing game centered around warrior cats with players who are, rather not very nicely, abusing the B&N website by conducting their games via “reviews”

I’m sure it’s fun for them, but to be honest, authors and B&N are collateral damage. These don’t even rise to the level of “fake” reviews. They’re garbage reviews.

B&N, you’ve been gamed. Clean it up.


I want to add a couple of things to this post. The first is that I understand that the RPG is mostly played by kids and young adults. And I bet it’s fun. But the process of using a third party’s website as an extension of the game does impact authors as well as B&N. Some of those books have over a hundred reviews, but only the first few are legitimate. ALL of the rest are these RPG comments. Not all the comments are 5 stars. A fair number are 1 star. This means that book is unfairly up-ranked or down-ranked in the overall star rating. Suppose a potential buyer only sees the first few legitimate reviews and, further, sees 100+ reviews. I noted, by the way, that they appear to be choosing books that have at least one lengthy review — so that the garbage entries are hidden (as it were) below the fold. The reader will have a false sense of how popular the book is. And so would B&N.

Here’s another issue: What does this say about B&N network security that it is unable to see what has to be an unlikely set of circumstances: A book with a low sales ranking suddenly sees dozens and dozens of “reviews” in a short period of time WITHOUT an accompanying or preexisting rise in purchases. That, all by itself, ought to trigger a warning that the servers are seeing network activity that is highly suggestive of a hack.

Yet another issue: What does this say about B&N’s investment in their reputation?


Handy Review Responses for Authors Looking to Behave Badly

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

I believe in paying it forward and helping my fellow authors in anyway I can. Lately, there have been a spate of Author DefendersTM weighing in on bad reviews. Some of them have been brilliantly effective, generating loads of ill-will among readers and all those lookie-loos who refuse to buy your book so you can hit #1 on that certain list. But some of those defenses just aren’t up to par, I’m afraid. Not to mention there are authors without husbands or significant others to help with that all important Author Defense WorkTM.

Well, Carolyn to the Rescue! Herewith are some canned Author DefenseTM review responses for you to copy and paste into any comment stream. All you need to do is customize for your specific situation. I ask nothing in return, but if you felt moved to leave me a 5 star review for any of my books along the lines of “My GOD THIS IS BRILLIANT” I wouldn’t complain.

So, suppose you were to get a review like the one below:

A composite review

Wow. I can’t believe I paid for this book. Nothing about the story or the characters worked for me. The hero cursed way too much. There was too much sex! (See page 275! Utter filth.) The hero was mean. Why didn’t he help the heroine? The heroine, by the way, was a complete doormat who didn’t kick a single ass. I prefer books with kick-ass heroines. The formatting was terrible and so was the prose. I’m sorry I wasted hours of my life reading this. The history was all wrong. Everyone knows there were no buggy whips in 1805 and besides, who would use one of those in that way?

The author’s dog responds

It’s obvious you didn’t read [Insert author’s name] book or you’d know how nice she is. What are you? Some kind of cat lover? She is a wonderful person who always gives me treats and takes me outside to do my business. ::BALL!:: If you weren’t a pet hating sociopath you would know how wonderful ::TREAT!!!!!!:: pant pant pant please give me a treat. The heroine is not a doormat. But if you were, and I think you must be, I would do my business on you.

The author’s cat responds

Who are you? If you’re not going pet me, go away. Here is what I think of your review: :::Yawn::: Also ::GAK GAK GAK:: Here’s a hairball. It’s smarter than you are.

The author’s mother responds

My [daughter/son/transgender] is a polite young [woman/man/transgender], and [she/he] was always a special child and very polite and [beautiful/handsome], too. [She/he] has the nicest smile! [She/he] is polite now, too, and I just don’t understand how you could be so cruel as to make those remarks when [she/he] worked so hard at that writing. You should be nice to people. I am so sorry for your parents. They must be distraught.

The pond turtle responds

The sun is very warm here on this rock, which is smarter than you are.

You’re welcome! And please, if you have a good one, please leave your contribution in the comments!


A Modest Proposal

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

It has come to my attention recently that certain book reviewers at the Goodreads site are writing reviews that are motivated purely by malice against authors. These reviews contain harsh and offensive language designed to deter people from reading truly excellent books. I don’t think any sane person could possibly disagree with how wrong that is. However, the real issue, and the one we need to solve, is the harm these reviews do to authors.

I think we all know it’s not just the Goodreads site., B&N, Kobo, the New York Times Review of Books, as well as internet review sites such as Dear Author and Smart Bitches all post reviews that are motivated by malice and ill-will against authors. They only pretend to care about readers when what they really care about is monitizing their websites. There’s a reason these sites are called “The Mean Girl Sites.” Worse, they do NO monitoring whatsoever of the comments. Anyone can comment without revealing their true identities. Jane at Dear Author actually pointed out that a commenter could use a FAKE email address. This just encourages the hate.

What do these sites think will happen when these out-of-control, mean, bullying reviewers and commenters have destroyed the careers of authors? Where do they think they’re going to get their next free book, I’d like to know. How many authors have already had their books tank because of a malicious, mean, snarky review? Do you really think someone like Mrs. Giggles should be allowed to mock literature and the authors who write it? It’s outrageous.

I think we can all agree that something needs to be done.

Therefore, I propose the creation of The Book Review Security Department, to be annexed to the Department of Defense and funded by the elimination of all Federal, State and Local funding of public libraries. Navy SEAL Team 6 will be relocated to New York City, with the West Coast operation based in Seattle, in a new command unit called Special Review Operations (SPECREVOPS), the team to be deployed whenever the BRSD determines a reviewer has written a malicious review. The BRSD itself will be headed by the US Poet Laureate, unless the current Nobel Prize winner for Literature is an American.

The BRSD will be tasked with carrying out the reading and approving all book reviews prior to their publication anywhere in the world. Since this will require hiring hundreds of thousands of Review Scrutinzers (REVSCRU) the unemployment rate will plummet to levels unheard of since 2006. Any review containing prohibited words, sentiments, or opinions likely to throw an author into the depths of despair, or otherwise deemed malicious or disparaging of the content reviewed will be subject to immediate, covert action by the elite SPECREVOPS.

Further, I propose the formation of a secret Black Ops Review Team, no acronym to be assigned. The Black Ops Review Team will assassinate all reviewers placed on the BRSD’s No-Review List by the current sitting head of the BRSD.

Best Regards,

Carolyn Jewel

Do not ask for whom the author’s tear is shed. It sheds for thee.


Interesting Fact About Not Wicked Enough

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Unless someone tells me it’s safe, I don’t read reviews of my current releases. It does no good to my writer’s psyche.

I have heard (without reading any reviews or comments to same) however, that some people are disappointed that Not Wicked Enough is not an angsty book like the previous two.

Well, in a way, me, too, though I’m pretty pleased with NWE. Angst is my natural style, I think. But if I had not proposed going with a “lighter” historical than Scandal and Indiscreet, I would not have had a contract to write any more historicals. That’s just a fact that is directly tied to sales.