Imagine breaking your back writing your memoir with the dream of getting it published. Then your book agent receives 50 rejections from hot shot editors that give you amazing excuses why they have to pass on publishing the book. The next move is to self-publish. You do, and your dream of publishing your book becomes a reality when you use the Amazon owned company Createspace. Now, you wait for book sales and online reviews to appear from the huge base of followers you have built from your many years as an anti-drug war activist. But despite this no reviews are appearing. You look into the reason why and find out that Amazon is blocking your online reviews because of an ongoing war waged by Amazon against companies that offer fake reviews for cash. You realize that you are being SABOTAGED by your own publisher!
This is what has happened to me when I published my new memoir This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency. And I was not alone, the same thing has happened to many other indie authors that use Amazon as a source to publish and sell their books. Just look at "Amazon's Review Policy is Creepy and Bad for Authors" by Kiona Smith-Strickland.
A recent story by the Seattle Times, "Amazon steps up pursuit of merchants who pay for fake reviews": "Amazon.com, which has sued more than 1,000 parties for allegedly offering fake reviews for sale to post on the retailer's website, is now going after merchants who it says paid for false testimony." Amazon goes on to say "Reviews are key to purchasing decisions and Amazon's brand. While the company maintains that only a small minority of reviews are fake, it must show a lot of vigor in the courts in order to keep unruly participants in its marketplace honest."
This is great Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and I understand their point. But the question I pose is what happens to the little guy, who is stuck in the middle and is affected by this policy? I bought over a hundred books and gave them away to individuals that attended non-for-profit events. Despite dozens of online reviews that were written, none of them were posted on my Amazon online author book review page. I have written Jeff Bezos and Amazon and told them of my situation over a dozen times and they give me no answer why they continue to block reviews of my new book, despite my protest. I explained to Mr. Bezos that I blog for The Huffington Post and other online magazines and have built a following because of my activism.
In 1997 I received executive clemency by Governor George Pataki after serving 12 years. I wrote and published my first memoir titled '15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom' (Feral House 2004). My first book details my 12 years behind bars, and how I painted my way to freedom and used my activism to end the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.
My book agent Noah Lukeman sold it to publisher Adam Parfrey. In 2009 he tried to sell my second memoir. But despite all the hard work he did, no publisher was interested in publishing a book about my post-conviction life. It was far from the success of my first book. My book release party was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art and hosted by HELP USA and Andrew Cuomo (now Gov. of NYS).
I sold my life rights and my book was optioned to become a feature film. My two producers Brian Swible, and Barrett Stuart tried for 7 years, but for some reason they could not bring "15 to Life" to the big screen. This was despite extensive tries of pitching my story to many production companies including Brad Pitt's Plan B, and Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions. The closest they got was Tobey Maguire's Material Pictures and this was quite a story.
I got a call from my producer Barrett telling me that the meeting with Maguire's manager had been cancelled due to our director's father (Ondi Timoner) had broken his leg. Barrett went anyway with our screen writer and met with some of Tobey's production staff at the studio. They told Stuart that my book "15-to-Life" was a great story but it lacked violence. I had purposely not include this in my book because it was stereo typical in prison stories to outline violence. He asked if I could tell him some stories. So, I did and sent him an e-mail full of the most horrible things I saw in my twelve years at Sing Sing, one of the most dangerous maximum security prisons in America. I told him stories of prisoners getting stabbed, beat downs by sadistic guards and prison rapes. He was very excited and thanked me. Another meeting was made. Our screen writer pitched my story and included the violence I gave them. When I called Swible the next day and asked how it went, he told me they rejected the pitch because my story was too dark!
In the past I turned down a few offers to make my story into a documentary. I also had several successful directors interested in my story. Doug Liman of Go, Swinger, Bourne Identity, had an interest in it for a few years. After that there was Derek Cianfrance of Blue Valentine fame (before it was made) who wanted to make 15 to Life his next film and was willing to write the screenplay on spec! I turned down the struggling film maker and denied the offer Derek made, accepting a more lucrative option renewal by Swible. Blue Valentine was finally made after Cianfrance won a million dollars in a Chrysler Film Project prize where he used the money to make the film. Blue Valentine became tremendously successful, catapulting Derek into money and fame, (he now gets 10 million to direct a film) I banged my head into the wall for not taking the Cianfrance offer. And when I tried to contact him years later, he ignored me. Who could blame Derek, I turned him down when he was down and out, and now here I was begging him to make my film.
Swible and Stuart realized they were not going to get the film made based on a pitch. They needed a screenplay to be written. Swible finally found the money and hired Mike Jones who wrote a screenplay that was featured in Variety Magazine in a story titled "Producers Lock up Prison Memoir". Despite having the screenplay written my story did not become a film. Years later my life rights were reverted back to me. But I have not given up hope.
Without a doubt it has been a struggle to bring my story to the big screen. But now I realize, it's even harder to get an online review posted on Amazon because of the unfair book review policy they have. In protest I am closing my Amazon Prime account and am asking others to join me. So, I ask in the interest of justice and money (Amazon gets 30 percent of sales of a book) that Jeff Bezos the billionaire and owner of Amazon to bend the rules and allow readers of my book and other indie authors to post on line reviews.