Writers, at least those who are published, open themselves to public scrutiny and to the possibility of criticism and even censor. Despite the risks, most of us do so willingly for the rewards of connecting with fellow readers and writers, sharing our love of books.
The same applies to the book reviews we write. As I said in a previous blog “New Directions”, I have been posting reviews on Amazon for many years, always buying the books at the site to get the cachet of “Verified purchase”. My efforts resulted in more than thirty reviews appearing on Amazon. Recently, I was quite surprised to find these have all been deleted.
This came about after I purchased the book “The Last Politician” by Franklin Foer. As I always do, I gave the book a close reading while filling half a legal pad with notes. I wrote a review and submitted it to Amazon and within a few days I received a terse email saying it had to be “edited and resubmitted”. This had never happened before. The message said the review was rejected “because it doesn’t meet our [Community] guidelines for one or more of these reasons: Profanity, Harassment, Hate speech, Illegal activity, Private information.”
I clicked on Amazon’s Community Guidelines, reading all six pages, finding nothing that I had violated. It was a typical policy statement, long, broad, and full of generalities. I still felt what I had written fell within the guidelines. Why couldn’t the Amazon Moderator be like a high school English teacher and take a red pencil to my review and mark the “errors”. If she had done that, I can honestly say I would have made changes and rewritten the piece to meet their requirements. But rather than affording me a simple courtesy, Amazon placed the onus on me, requiring that I pour over pages of “Community Guidelines” and scratch my head, trying to discern what I must do to make the piece acceptable. If I was dead set on getting the review on Amazon, I could have tried again, and perhaps again and again, never knowing if the piece would “pass”. That could have taken hours if not days of work but why would I? Like everyone reading this, I don’t have time for such nonsense.
The review, as written, would be passable to any reasonable person and there is nothing out of bounds in it. I read the book thoroughly and wrote an honest, critical review with no malice or evil intent. For anyone interested, a google search of “book reviews of ‘The Last Politician’” quickly takes you to other reader/book sites where you’ll find my piece and you can decide for yourself.
So why has Amazon cracked down all of a sudden when I have successfully posted more than thirty reviews on their site, many rated as either “Top Positive Review” or “Top Critical Review”? Because we are now in a hotly contested political environment and my review was critical of the current president. While I did say some positives about the author, I also faulted him for being almost sycophantic toward Biden. What he wrote was an uncritical fluff piece and I called it as such.
Sadly, we live in a time of instant communication where electronic messaging is controlled by powerful companies with the means of selecting who can or cannot be heard. Indeed, I was surprised and sorely disappointed that after spending hundreds of dollars on dozens of books that I closely read over countless hours in order to write honest and informed book reviews (over a period of several years), that all my effort has come to naught. I truly doubt that anyone has put more work (both in the reading and the writing) into creating a book review than I have. Amazon’s actions have not only hurt me but are a disservice to millions of readers who rely on quality reviews to make wise decisions in their book purchases.
This episode is now behind me as I continue to pursue my passion for reading and writing. But some of my habits have changed. Yesterday I ordered a piece of luggage to carry a new suit I will wear at the Readers’ Favorite Awards in Miami Florida at the end of November. I googled what I needed and went to the vendor’s site and placed the order. This is less convenient than the one-point ordering I used to do for something I needed, but I feel better about it.
A week ago at a Colorado Springs bookseller I purchased one item off the shelves and ordered another item that had to be procured from their online store. This is how I will be buying books in the future as I continue writing reviews that will now be posted on some of the many web sites like Goodreads and Bookbub. Also I will insure that all past reviews are available on these and other sites, fair-minded sites whose main purpose is to serve readers. There are scores of such sites on the web that cater to both readers and writers, furthering their passion for the written word.