Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud: My Reading Life

Authors, Publishers, Reviews, and Amazon

The author in his native element

Richard Derus


I’m nobody much in the book-blogging world. My blog, Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud, doesn’t get tens of thousands of views a month, a week, or still less a day; instead the traffic is a modest-but-steady 1,500-ish a week. I work hard for those eyeballs to visit my corner of the literary web. I’m constantly tweeting about my reviews, posting teasers on Facebook and Goodreads and BookLikes and here on Medium, and generally doing what I know how to do to drive traffic over to read my various warblings about the subject I love most: books.

You see, I don’t write those books, so I feel completely comfortable promoting my posts about them. I’m reviewing books provided to me by indie authors, small presses, large presses, or my own magpie-esque acquisitiveness. I don’t get paid by anyone to do this. I don’t belong to any monetization scheme or “affiliate program” or suchlike conflict of interest (as I see it, and speaking only for myself and my own writing). That means to me that I’m free to say whatever the hell I want whether inside or outside the bounds of good taste, lovingkindness, or “community standards” whatever those might be.

This JPEG right here is what set me off today. It was posted by an author with whom I am tangentially acquainted on social media, one of whose books I bought with my own scarce United States dollars after his publisher ignored my request for a review copy. Which fact, I hasten to add, the author was unaware of and had no bearing on his decision to post this meme! It was serendipity alone that brought this to my increasingly irritable attention via that particular author’s effort. It will have no bearing on my eventual review, of which there will most certainly be one, and a pretty darn glowing one at that.

The key words there are “my review.” I’ll quote myself from my repost of the image on Facebook:

Authors: Many of us don’t leave reviews on Amazon. I myownself don’t because the Amazon review culture is abusive, or at least is tolerant of reviewer abuse. Amazon’s published policies regarding reviews state that they own the rights to your posts, and can edit the posts if they so choose in any way they see fit. They do not need to consult the reviewer or even give them notice if, in their sole discretion, the review fails some ill-defined standard and is rejected or removed.
That said, I will post my review of your book on Ammy IF YOU (or your publisher, should the two be different) SPECIFICALLY AND PERSONALLY REQUEST ME TO DO SO in a specific instance. There is no blanket request I’ll accept.
You worked hard to write your book. I worked as hard to review it as fairly, completely, and accurately as I am able to do. For you to ask me and all other reviewers to give you our free labor that others may use it to promote your books is exactly like our asking you to write an entire book to our own standards and preferences, for free. Think about that.

There it is, plain and simple. This is how it feels to me to be asked for my freely given labor in service of another person’s creative output to be made available for exploitation by a gigantic and profitable entity to fatten their own bottom line. Of course I’ve posted reviews to Amazon by the request of an author or publisher, but only after that entity has read the review and requested me to do so. Indie authors and small presses get a private consultation in lieu of a negative review: Are you sure you want me to raise my concerns publically? The impact of any sort of negative attention on those types of creators is so disproportionate in comparison to famous authors and/or publishing conglomerates that I feel a greater sense of responsibility to them. To date not one of those entities has said “Publish and be damned” or words to that effect.

So you see that I am, or consider myself to be, a conscientious literary netizen. I make a strong and concerted effort to post, repost, retweet, comment favorably upon, and generally interact with all kinds and sorts of creators across multiple social media platforms. I don’t pander to anyone, however. If I am retweeting/reposting/regurgitating something you’ve said (tired of the laundry lists, you’re all social-media savvy or you wouldn’t be reading this, you know what I mean by now), it is an endorsement of same. No, I don’t have tens of thousands of followers anywhere; I do have, because I cultivate them, involved and attentive followers. They’re active and they’re ready to listen to me. If I’m raising my voice on your behalf some few of them will notice and check you, your cause, your project out. I’m very proud and very protective of that credibility. I’ve invested time, thought, and effort into those contacts and ask them for their attention only when I feel strongly that said attention will not be wasted or cynically exploited.

Can you say the same thing to me? Have you invested anything at all in me, a retweet or a like or a repost for something *not* related to my efforts on your own heart’s-darling’s behalf? Not many of you, authors/publishers/creators, can honestly say that. I know this because I pay attention to how others behave towards me and others in their “audience.” If I’m still giving you the time of day it’s solely because I choose to. One day I won’t choose to. In all likelihood it will be down to the fact that you didn’t attend to your end of our symbiotic connection. I’m far from alone in this thinking and behavior. I’m just upfront about it. So please hear this: As much as I like you, my interest in being a good cyberfriend and literary netizen has limits. Paying it forward doesn’t preclude paying it back.

Expendable Mudge (aka Richard Derus) is a biblioholic, a tsundoku carrier, and a passionate reader. From underneath his tottering towers of unread tomes, he writes obsessively about his darlings at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud, where many otherwise unknown books are praised, panned, or poked fun at; The Oak Wheel, where every first Thursday he blogs enthusiastically about short story collections; The Small Press Book Review, Shelf Inflicted (where he was a founding blogger), and wherever else he can find editors who need content, as long as it’s about books.

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