One of the questions I’ve often been asked by budding writers since publishing my two books is, ‘which is the better way to publish; Self Publishing or traditional publishing?’ My answer has always been pretty consistent. Self publishing if you want to be published quickly, but you have to have a strong marketing strategy. With traditional publishing, you may wait for years before you are published but if you get a publisher interested in your work, they will take care of the marketing for you and they know who to put your book in front of in order to get it noticed by the people that matter. With two self published books, I suppose you could say that I’m in the self publishing stable. Yes, to a point but it has not given me the commercial success that I crave!

Then a week ago last Friday evening, as I settled down for the weekend I received an email that may forever change my views on self publishing. It was from Amazon – yes the humongous on line retailer. My second book Whose land is it Anyway was published by an Amazon subsidiary called Createspace and so the book has been available on Amazon since its publication in 2016. Createspace has since been closed and in its place is another Amazon self publishing subsidiary called Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So happy was I with the services of these organisations that I was planning to publish my third book- yet to be titled – with them in the new year – until last Friday.

The email I received simply read:

“During an internal audit, we found book(s) in your catalog that violate our terms and conditions and may therefore disappoint our customers.  As a result, the following books will no longer be available on Amazon.

Whose land is it Anyway (ASIN…}

 They then gave me a link to which I could direct any queries. Needless to say, I contacted them immediately to say that I did not understand their communication. After a couple of hours, I sent a more measured email asking them to at least tell me which parts of the book violated their terms and conditions. The response I got was even more baffling. It said:

“Thanks for reaching out to us about the following book(s)

Whose Land is it Anyway (ASIN…)

We reviewed your response, but we’ve decided to uphold our previous decision to remove these books from Amazon.

We only allow significantly differentiated versions of the same book on Amazon”.

No requested explanations, just a confirmation that says, ‘We are AMAZON, what we decide goes’.

Of course there was the repeat of the previous statement which simply states that if my book was enrolled onto KDP select (which I don’t think it was), then I’m not entitled to any royalties that may accrue on Kindle Unlimited or Kindle owners lending library, whatever those are. So, as I write this, all I know is that unless I change the content of the book significantly, it will not be accepted on Amazon! But I do not know what it is about the content they do not like!

This is not the first time that this has happened to me, though! I published my first book, When Freedom Came, with a different Self Publishing Company. After it had been published, I noticed that there were too many punctuation and other errors and wanted them corrected, so I resubmitted the manuscript with the corrections, only to be told that it did not meet their publishing terms and conditions. At about the same time, I offered this particular company, the manuscript for Whose Land is it Anyway, which they also rejected for the same reason. At least, they told me why my books did not meet their terms and conditions. I don’t remember what they said about When Freedom came – although it seems to me that they were quite happy to continue selling the uncorrected version of the book. What I do remember is what they said about Whose Land, and it was something to the effect that they did not publish anything that criticises any government anywhere. They even gave me examples of  the content that they found unacceptable, which included, in Chapter one, Jacques Venter’s statement that “twenty years ago, they inherited from us a country that had one of the best run and most progressive economies in Africa. In twenty short years, they have fucked it up completely.” And in chapter   two, Pastor Jones’s sentiment where, when speaking to a young man called David, said, “they had to go to war to fight a recalcitrant, racist  government that would not even consider giving the indigenous  people of this country the same rights as the whites ”. Although I pointed out to them that these are the kinds of sentiments that people around the world express about their respective governments in private conversations, they still said that the statements were unacceptable!

At the time, I thought they were crazy and when Createspace, after reviewing both manuscripts, accepted them for publication, I simply moved over and forgot about the other company! Three years later, Amazon, it seems, have had a change of heart and I wonder why.

Whose Land is it Anyway has been so well received that it won the Zimbabwe National Arts Merits Award (NAMA) for outstanding fiction in 2017 (this is run by the National Arts Council, an organisation under the Zimbabwe Government’s Ministry of arts and sports etc. – which makes it sound as though the Zimbabwe government is not ‘disappointed’) ; It is being used by The University of Zimbabwe in their English Masters course on Literature and Land and I know it is also being read at Lupane State University and I have received inquiries from Great Zimbabwe University. It has been read across all ages and racial groups in Zimbabwe and the comments I get include that it is a balanced account of what happened in the early 2000’s and is an accurate depiction of the events of the time (which means that Amazon are asking me to change an accurate depiction to one that suits their narrative?). It has even been read by white Zimbabwean farmers – some of whom lost their farms – and they have given it the thumbs up!

I am therefore at a loss to understand which Amazon customers will be ‘disappointed’ by its unacceptable content! And why they feel so strongly about it that they have to remove it from their list of publications – and there are millions of them!

In the days since the email, I have had time to think while going through a range of emotions which included anger, despair, thoughts of conspiracy theories and even thoughts of giving up writing altogether. I’ve even tried to read the Amazon terms and conditions but, as I am not a lawyer, I have found them difficult to understand. During the last week though, I have also heard very encouraging remarks from two people – one a secondary school teacher, and the other an educationist who has been monitoring end of year examinations at the local secondary school. The teacher has just read WHEN FREEDOM CAME and the educationist has read both books in the last few weeks. Both of them separately spoke so highly of the books that any doubts that I had were dispelled. Their comments reminded me of what motivated me to write the stories. It was neither fame nor fortune that motivated me (although a bit of fame has never done anyone any harm; and one could always do with some fortune); rather, it was the desire to write stories that people would read and enjoy. Hopefully the stories will also inform future generations of some of the significant events in Zimbabwe in the period of the country’s independence from Colonialism.

What has become clearer over the week is that AMAZON are not going to say any more on the matter and are not going to change their minds. I emailed them after their second communication asking if they could at least tell me which of their terms and conditions the content of my book violated. I got no response. Strangely, I have been communicating with another department of this giant company about a small royalty cheque that they are supposed to have sent to me on September 29th that I have not received. They have been keeping me advised that they are looking into the matter. However, since being advised of the removal of my one book from AMAZON, they also have gone silent!

I am calmer now and it seems to me that I really have no recourse. Amazon are, I suppose, well within their rights to remove any book that offends them for whatever reason. Their reason only needs make sense to them and they are under no obligation to explain to anyone why they arrived at a particular decision. I get that. So I am not going to continue to pursue them on the removal although I will follow up on my royalty cheque. What I will do is explore other avenues through which the book can continue to be available to those readers that are not likely to be disappointed by its contents! And I will finish the book that I am currently working on, and the next, and the next…

Meanwhile, any comments from anyone who has read the book with suggestions of what might have been so unacceptable to AMAZON will be most welcome.

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