Messing About With Words
Warning, this piece contains off-colour language for the purpose of making a @$£$ing point.
The blackguards at Amazon filtered me today, not for a book, but for a review. This was the Facepalm of the Day, now becoming a regular feature in my writerly life. I had written a review longer than the (new) recommended length, and further more, I had committed the hideous sin of using an obscene word in my review. That word is [drumroll] pussy-foot! As in “the author doesn’t pussy-foot around.”
Just as with my beta reading, I review widely across genres, everything from speculative fiction to contemporary romance; from international law to writers reference books. I’ve been reviewing books on Amazon for several years. Nearly always, those reviews are voted helpful, and drive sales to Amazon. I reached top reviewer status completely by accident over a year ago. My reviews have been republished by other websites, and they are nearly always voted helpful. I admit occasionally resorting to snark here and there, but I am never abusive, never use profanity. The reviews, especially if I’m busy, might be longer because for a reviewer to be both brief and thorough requires time.
It would appear that Amazon has problems with words. Words must not be used to either market your book or by your reviewers to review it. Words are doubleplus ungood.
I’m now having to find euphemistic ways of writing reviews for Romantic Fiction—which I do not write but DO review, along with just about every other genre. Something like this hypothetical one:
This review is from: So I Married A Kinky Cowboy!
“This book is contemporary Western romance that deviates from what might considered to be usual for the genre in that the content centres on three being somewhat of a delicious crowd in which two best friends compete for the same woman, in the same stable, with the help of such aids as one might find commonly lying around an equestrian centre. Frankly, I’ve never contemplated that a saddle might be employed in quite that manner. At the centre of this gymkhana event lies a voyage of self-discovery for the female protagonist which inexplicably leads to a conservative marriage into a pastoral American family where nothing remotely deviant happens ever again. Buy this book if you don’t know anything about ranching, farming, and have an inexplicable stetson obsession. Don’t expect to see any actual cows.”
It was pointed out to me that this fake review might still get filtered because of the use of the word ‘deviant.’ Good job I’m a writer and therefore have all the little synonyms dancing to attendance at my pleasure, something that my colleagues who write erotica and romance have to deal with every day: they have become experts at euphemism. If they don’t their work gets bumped to the Dungeon which makes their work unsearchable and therefore unsaleable.
Because sex is taboo and violence is not, it is, however perfectly okay for the Amazon Keyword Monster to let you Pass Go even though your review says something like this (the quote is from an actual review, but the emphasis is mine so you can see what keywords are left in):
This review is from: Violence: A Writer’s Guide (Paperback)
Whether you write in the heroic tradition, or if you write crime, action, historical or speculative fiction, at some point you will reach the stage where you characters are going to kill, maim, disfigure, strangle, or otherwise incapacitate your other characters . . .
So what’s my response?
I could write a sober letter of complaint which might look something like this:
You recently rejected a review of mine based on the length and also because I hyphenated the word ‘pussyfoot’ (e.g. ‘the author does not pussyfoot about’). As an Amazon Top Reviewer, I feel compelled to point out to you that brevity of review takes longer than writing informal feedback on the novel, and you do not pay me to write professional reviews, as, for example, Kirkus (who stipulates a word limit of 350 words) might.
This shocking action comes in the wake of growing concerns over unethical business practices. You undercut independent bookstores, your Kindle Unlimited has cause a significant drop in the revenues for authors, you avoid or evade paying tax in the countries where you operate and your workers are kept in miserable sweatshop conditions without access to decent pay, healthcare, proper employment contracts, and the minimum concern for health and safety. In light of this, you may wish to consider that filtering a work or a review for obscenity or for the protection of morals is a tad hypocritical given the conduct of your business.
All of this might be overlooked. What can never be tolerated is the unreasonable censorship, by a company who purports first and foremost to be a bookseller, of books and reviews of those books. I note with growing alarm the complaints of many of my fellow writers of the draconian filtering of their work. Now it seems that you are not merely content to censor authors but also reviews. Your censorship of my review left much bad feeling and for this reason I will no longer be reviewing work on Amazon unless you pay me for my time.
Everyone, though, knows that if Amazon will not respond to 65,000 customer signatures asking them to pay their workers properly and held a major publishing house to ransom, they will not listen to lowly LJ McDowall. Besides, they would know, wouldn’t they, that the true, unexpurgated complaint letter—so great was my wrath this morning—would perhaps go something like this:
Dear International Board of Literary Censorship (Amazon):
If I reviewed for a professional review site they’d pay me to write a short review of no more that three hundred and fifty words, which takes more time, more effort than a longer one. For doing this I would be paid, and paid well. A short review actually requires brain power, and more time than I have. Seeing as I don’t get paid for leaving feedback on a novel, I will just write what bloody well comes into my head about the book. So if I f**king well write a longer review than is strictly f**king necessary, you sodding ungrateful bastards, then bear in mind you do not pay me to leave my feedback. I do it out of the goodness of my little heart.
Honestly, I’m a top reviewer, and you turn around and f**k me in the arse like this. F**k you sideways, mate. I revised the sodding review to meet professional standards, and given you three hundred and fifty words of pure sales-driving gold. Where’s the f**king money for my time, then?
Oh, and what is this utter sh*t about filtering my language? If you can’t f**king well tell the difference between a f**king obscenity and normal bloody English, then you need to buy a f**king dictionary and internalise it.
Here, have a f**king link from your own website:
and a-f**king-nother one:
My review contained the very sober and rather conservative phrasing “author x does not pussy-foot about”. The fact I hyphenated pussyfoot got my review f**king well filtered. Pussy-foot is not a f**king obscenity, you f**king f**kwits. Neither is poppycock, cockroach, cockrel, or even cock if its used in the right sodding circumstances. For example:
“If you have a donkey and I have a rooster and your donkey eats my rooster’s legs, what do you get? Two feet of my cock in your ass.”
There you go! What could be f**king obscene about that?
I might be willing to overlook the fact that you bloody well put independent bookstores out of business. I might be willing to ignore the fact that you f**king well don’t pay any tax, your unethical business practices keep your workers on minimum wage, zero-hours contracts, that you fire union reps, and all of the rest of it. But when you start f**king-well policing the f**king English f**king language, I get f**king pissed off at that prudish, Orwellian censorship.
On behalf of all lovers of words everywhere:
F**k you and the f**king pale sickly horse you rode in on.
I wish I’d bought a f**king kobo.
I confess, the only reason why I didn’t send it, was because a fellow writer pointed out that the customer service wage-slave who would read it was probably being paid in actual peanuts.