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Amazon and censorship!

17th January 2022

Are Amazon book reviews still helpful to authors and readers?

How often have you perhaps received a message like this in recent months? 👇

Are Amazon book reviews still helpful to authors and readers?

 

Part of our commitment to authors is to add reviews to Amazon, as accumulated reviews on the website help promote books. At least, that has been the received wisdom to date.

However, I am coming to the end of my tether with the automatic rejection of reviews, based on the oddest criteria. The most recent review I submitted  was rejected, then accepted once I removed a couple of phrases, which I chose to use as examples of poor translation. To wit: Do English readers expect to see “genital organs” (it’s usually genitalia in English)?  And “she… placed her buttocks on the back seat” (I mean, that is quite an image! 😉). Once I removed these ‘offensive’ lines and resubmitted the review, it was accepted into the annals of the reviewing community.

I have fallen foul of Amazon’s reviewing guidelines on several occasions now and it’s VERY frustrating. In one review I used the word “funambulist” which clearly snookered the bot system and once I removed that word and replaced it with “tight-rope walker” (integral to the narrative), I was in the clear. The system went on to throw out my review of “Malibu Rising” because – shock horror – there is mention of drug taking and philandering. Amazon doesn’t like that! Such issues may appear graphically in the novel itself but Amazon really doesn’t like reviewers making mention of it.  Further, immediate rejection for any mention of drug cartels and the Foreign Legion – intrinsic to David Gilman’s Betrayal; now the review is sanitised it happily has its place among his 1,000 reviews. It is truly getting beyond a joke, however!

 

One novel I reviewed featured the conflict between Jews and Arabs, and frankly I was silly to think that any such reference, in a review, reflecting the content of the novel, would be acceptable. So, in a second attempt, I wrote an anodyne version and it went through fine. And that is the crux of the issue. I am often neither writing what I want to, nor fully reflecting the content and my thoughts where appropriate because I know there is a bot beavering away. This is censorship by bot!

Most recently I have removed the word “Dachau” (integral to the story) and “dolorous” and their removal allowed the review to be accepted. Reprobate and misogynistic are equally no go words.  Absurd? Of course it is. Our review of Marzahn, Mon Amour by Katja Oskamp got sidelined because it didn’t seem to like foreign words – Kiez and Plattenbau, so I have removed them… In Idol, by Louise O’Neill, I took out “…she writes about her own sexual awakening in her late teens” and “her sharply constructed and caring carapace” (Big words, you know…)… The review is now live. And in Do No Harm by Jack Jordan, the world trichotillomania was a no-no, despite the main character suffering from it. Fancy using foreign phrases, like “de trop” or “Weltanschauung”?  Forget it, you will be pulled up and your review will not be posted. Oh, it’s such a frustrating business! “Sex and salacious living…“? Forget it.

Rejections of reviews have become more evident of late, they almost feel like a standard feature. I do understand that Amazon, as a large organisation, needs to moderate content – people of course try and post irrelevant and offensive things (we know this from the TripFiction site, which is moderated), but for me, this has now moved into the realms of the absurd. I am beginning to feel the heavy hand of censorship creeping in and becoming more prevalent, and it really doesn’t sit well. If I find myself pondering the review and then having to consider what might or might not work for the mighty Amazon. Surely we are in a new, rather disconcerting realm?

At TripFiction we review for the benefit of authors. We don’t get paid for our reviews and all this hassle. Most authors need considerable exposure for their books to garner attention, no mean feat when up to 1,000,000 titles are published every year. The level of work required to submit a review is consequently growing and eating into my time. It is also quite inhibiting to have to look over my shoulder and wonder what might be approved and what might not.

I think it is time for a discussion and would ask you as a reviewer, author or publisher to add to this debate. The status quo is already changing and we need to ensure that it works to everyone’s benefit. It is not, to my mind, moving in a positive direction.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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Comments

  1. User: Judith Works

    Posted on: 01/08/2022 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve had a couple of reviews blocked and now I see what might have been the problem. So grade-school language is the way to go no matter how serious the book is.

    Comment

  2. User: Yvonne (@Fiction_Books)

    Posted on: 19/01/2022 at 11:56 am

    I really don’t think I can add much of benefit to your excellent summation, Tina.

    I generally post my reviews to my own blog Fiction Books, where appropriate to your own great site, Amazon, Goodreads, NetGalley, and via social media on Twitter.

    The only place I ever have any push-back is from Amazon and I’m afraid that I have long given up analysing individual rejected reviews, to try and work out where I might have put a comma or full-stop out of place, which is what it feels like. These days, my review gets posted to Amazon and if it gets rejected, then so be it, I tried my best!

    It’s bad enough that individual publishers, authors and publicists insist on setting the criteria for an acceptable review, after so say providing copy for an honest opinion! When what they actually mean, is that they only want you to offer a 4 or 5 star positive review, so that (in the words of one publicist), an author’s book sales aren’t affected.

    Whilst I do always try to focus on the positive aspects of a storyline and the author’s writing, just occasionally a book will cross my desk, for which it is almost impossible to do this. Does this mean I shouldn’t publish my 3 star review and stay true to my own integrity, whilst always adding a caveat in the review that it is my own personal opinion and others should make their own judgment? Or am I supposed to simply ignore terrible grammar or a stilted storyline, which to any of my blogging friends who then go on to spend good money on such an offering, makes me appear to be an inept judge of a book, simply to promote sales for the author?

    I certainly don’t take kindly to then being asked not to post my so-so review, after I have spent valuable time reading the book to the bitter end, in the hope of some last minute literary redemption, when I too need to add fresh content to my blog on a regular basis and a genuinely constructive, lower star review, should be acceptable.

    Would you do this for purchase of an item which wasn’t fit for purpose, a hotel room which was grubby and in ned of refurbishment, or a restaurant meal which was inedible?

    An author or seller should never be trashed unless they are really terrible, but they do have to be able to accept and deal with constructive criticism, when it is specifically noted that this is the reviewers personal opinion only of course, and Amazon are probably the worst offender in many instances.

    Comment

    1 Comment

    • User: Tina Hartas

      Posted on: 03/08/2022 at 10:09 am

      It really is a minefield, isn’t it. I think it is possible to review everything in a positive way and when I browsed for books, I like to see what people have said – and what the reviews I trust, have said. I think Amazon just boots out anything with a big word (or reference to sex etc – even thought that might be the tenet of the book). It takes so much work that I am on the cusp of stopping…

      Lovely to hear your thoughts on the subject.

      Comment

  3. User: bookertalk

    Posted on: 17/01/2022 at 9:16 pm

    The fact Amazon will not allow me to include a link to my blog site is a frustration. I don’t want to put my entire review onto their site so just thought I would do a short piece with a link to the blog so people could read the fuller version. Goodreads allows this but Amazon thinks its too promotional. I really don’t have the time to write a completely new review just for Amazon.

    Comment

    1 Comment

    • User: Tina Hartas

      Posted on: 03/08/2022 at 10:11 am

      Yes, they boot anything out that would take someone away from the site via a link. It is proving to be extremely frustrating, especially when authors can do with the support, and writing reviews on Amazon is one of the ways.

      Comment