The Elements of Style, Amazon Edition

By Neal Comment

After years of relying on its customers to provide content for the site in the form of reviews, recently invited authors to share in the workload with a blog hosting program called AmazonConnect. Now that it’s been up and running for a while, it seems Amazon has some feedback for the participants. Somebody passed along an email sent to all AmazonConnect participants, thanking them for helping create “a unique and compelling experience” for Amazon customers, and then telling them how to do a better job. Because if you’re going to get talented people to create content for you for free, you don’t want their sloppy seconds.

“Up to this point, we’ve provided with you very basic guidelines for posting,” the message goes on. “We would like to take the opportunity now to give you some constructive feedback on posting practices that we feel do not contribute to a good customer experience.” Among the sloppy habits they’d like authors to abandon: “re-purposing or serializing material from your books,” “posting reviews in place of writing posts,” and “filling your post with multiple links to other sites.” They also recommend taking customer feedback from voting and comments into account “as a way to craft future messages.”

“Yeah, I got it,” said AmazonConnect participant John Scalzi when I asked him if the message was authentic, “and was mildly amused by it, since it has the tone of a harried kindergarten teacher trying to convince the children that the crayons are not for eating. Interestingly, several of the suggestions are antithetical to what blogging is (don’t link to stuff on other sites? come on), which suggests Amazon might not have been entirely clear on what blogging is.” He added that the problems with the program are more Amazon’s fault than the authors’: “Jamming the blogs right into people’s faces without warning when they sign in to Amazon annoys people (the blogs look like unsolicited advertising), and it also means that Amazon has ceded control of its front page to a bunch of people whose content they don’t control, which is not the way I’d run my own business’ front page, personally.”

“What would really be interesting,” he concludes, “is if the authors start complaining on their Amazon blogs about the e-mail, and then someone at Amazon panics and deletes the entry, thereby starting an avalanche of author-Amazon silliness that gets covered in the media and blogs, and ends up with they guy at Amazon who suggested the ‘plogs’ demoted to stuffing copies of The Da Vinci Code into boxes at the distribution center. Let us hasten the day!” Well, they can’t delete it from our blog, so the full letter (with my own guesses as to paragraph breaks, because the version forwarded to us was one long blur) appears after the jump!

Dear Author,

AmazonConnect launched just over three weeks ago and already, over 2 million customers have received posts from you. With your participation in AmazonConnect, we’ve been able to give our customers a unique and compelling experience. AmazonConnect is a shared space between author and customer, and as the steward of this space, we at Amazon are responsible for giving our customers the best possible site experience. Up to this point, we’ve provided with you very basic guidelines for posting. We would like to take the opportunity now to give you some constructive feedback on posting practices that we feel do not contribute to a good customer experience.

  • Re-purposing or serializing material from your books (keep in mind that many of the customers receiving your messages have already bought your books…)
  • Flat marketing/promotional messages
  • Posting reviews in place of writing posts
  • Using brightly colored or bold type to write your full post (can be hard to read)
  • Filling your post with multiple links to other sites

Most of these practices are easy to improve. For example, instead of posting a straight review, consider talking about how you reacted to the review. When announcing an appearance, couch it in a narrative instead of just listing dates and times. It is great to include links in your message, but give these to your readers with some context from you. The more personal and thoughtful your messages are, the more receptive readers are likely to be.

One way to gauge how customers are responding to your posts is by looking at your votes. Voting is not designed to subject you to random judgment, but simply gives you baseline, objective feedback. Another good barometer is the Comment activity. Comments are there for you to dive into discussion, if you want, or simply to give you a richer sense of how readers are reacting to your post. Use these comments as a way to craft future messages.

In the interest of sharing best practices, we thought it would be useful to point out just a few of our favorite posts. These cover a variety of topics and deliver what we think is the kind of unique, ‘beyond-the-book-page’ content that speaks to customers. […]

As you continue posting on AmazonConnect, visit our Author Directory ( and take a look at what your peers are writing about. AmazonConnect is quickly becoming a destination for many of our customers, due in large part to the great content they’re finding here. We hope you’ve found this feedback helpful. Don’t hesitate to call on us as a resource at any time. We appreciate your support of this program, and we look forward to reading your next post.

Sincerely, The AmazonConnect Team