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The Seraphinians is a writeup and attempt to document issues with a movement within the Orthodox Church. They are the people who say you have to believe in Protestant fundamentalism's Young Earth Creationism and Creation "Science" to be an Orthodox Christian at all. Further details are available in The Seraphinians at essentially any length you wish to read.

Unsurprisingly, it has consistently gotten forceful one-star reviews Amazon. The most popular review reads:

Save your $

★ [live and the current top-voted response]

The author of this short set of ramblings claims that he expects several 1 star reviews from people based on his criticisms of the iconic priest monk Fr. Seraphim Rose. I am giving it 1 star primarily for other reasons. I, too, have issues with some of the teachings of Fr. Seraphim Rose, so I expected here some kind of evenhanded and even respectful analysis of where and how Fr. Seraphim Rose possibly erred in his biblical exegeses, or something of that nature. Instead, the collection opens with a rambling, incoherent article wherein Fr. Seraphim is cheekily parodied as “Cherubim Thorn”. This first chapter is the worst of the bunch, and I found myself skipping long, cryptic phrases to see if there was going to be anything of substance in this download. I found myself wondering if the author had been sober when he wrote the first unintelligible chapter. Things did get better, marginally, as I read on. The author’s main criticism, it seems to me, is with Orthodox converts (including some that converted because of the life and works of Fr. Seraphim Rose, and who tend to be particularly fanatical and willing to mistrust science) who drag Protestant baggage, Biblical literalism, and a kind of fundamentalist attitude into the Church. I did agree very much with the author of this piece that Orthodoxy is a way of living, an ever deepening process, and that there is no place in it for obligatory Biblical literalism, or such heresies of being saved instantly and once and for all. Ultimately, though, I cannot endorse this writer or recommend this download. I give it 1 star not merely for its irreverent treatment of an Orthodox priest monk, but also for its meandering, purposeless, repetitive, and poorly edited writing. And for charging people to read it. Only a page or two into reading this, and I felt duped. Save your money. One can find better essays online for free.

I might comment that people wondering if I am an utterly incompetent author are invited to peruse my books or if you want something free read my website; Amazon ratings for most books and ebooks tend to hover around 4-4.5 stars, and keep your own counsel as to whether I am unintelligible and dubiously sober when I write.

But there was something that left me puzzled, not that the movement met such a critique with venom, but that there weren't occasional answers by an outsider saying, "Hey, the book has merits." In this past week, I found out that my work has in fact garnered multiple five-star reviews; every single one has just been censored, er, deleted. The two reviews that were brought to my attention were:

Light hearted but no-nonsense. Nicely done!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Excellent! Hayward addresses the issues in a lighthearted (but no-nonsense) way. It seems to me that people’s opinions may reflect their church politics, and illustrate their use of malice to accomplish their goals. The comments on Amazon are drastically skewed from the truth. This is a wake up call. The fact is that a 6000 year old earth is not what a reasonable person would subscribe to. A reasonable person would enjoy this much needed book that exposes a nationwide problem in the Greek Orthodox Church, and beyond: fundamentalism + a lack of leadership = a huge mess.

 

CJS Hayward – an intellectual genius rooted in reality

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

In his address to the themes plaguing the Orthodox Christian Church of today, C.J.S. Hayward is an intellectual genius rooted in reality, and not a simpleton who fantasizes about the village life of previous centuries. C.J.S. Hayward has done a great service to the Orthodox Christian Church at large by addressing many of the topics plaguing the faithful. At a time where pro-active leadership from Hierarchs and Priests is needed (in the form of formally addressing the issues addressed in Hayward’s book) there is a resounding silence from those entrusted with protecting the flock. There have been a few here and there that addressed it, most of whom are either retired, or close to it. But from the executive leaders of the Church – silence. This has emboldened fundamentalist propagators and has also caused the Laity to start web sites around the country to protest these abuses and misrepresentations (as I have done). The net effect is a divided Church that will inevitably formally split if not addressed by those entrusted with protecting it (i.e. the Hierarchs).

I’m not sure that I deserve either the blame or the praise, or that I agree with any reviewer on all points. But the combination of what is live of Amazon’s site, and what was censored, strikes me as odd.

I've tried talking with Amazon, and when I was told they only work with review authors on their reviews, gave the customer service email address to the reviewer who contacted me. *Every single five star review remains deleted.)

Is there anything practical that I can do in a situation like this? The movement takes a bit of a spine to challenge, and both reviews were initially posted and then deleted later; I'm nearly certain that insiders demanded the postings be deleted as somehow falling outside Amazon guidelines.

Two questions:

  1. What, if anything, can I still do to work with Amazon on the censored reviews?

  2. If the answer to the first question is, "Nothing, but here are ways you can compensate," what can I do to compensate?

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    Your question is a valuable one, but it will be more on topic for this site if it is more general in nature. As it is, the question is on topic, as using your own writing as examples is fine. Pasting the long reviews as purely 'examples' though might be a bit of a stretch. I feel a synopsis of each one would get the point across just as well in fewer words. At it's core, this question can be summed up very succinctly, after all. – Thomas Myron Jun 1 '17 at 20:49
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    Since the question is about dealing with Amazon's handling of reviews, and not your work itself, I think this question would be more valuable if you removed most of the details that are about your book and the specific criticisms of it. That the topic of the book is controversial is important, but right now most of this question is about the specific controversy rather than your problem, which is disappearing reviews. Could you edit it down to focus more on that? Thanks. – Monica Cellio Jun 1 '17 at 22:03
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    Are those samples representative? The reason I ask is that the one star review seems like a reasonably objective review of your book, while the five star ratings are basically by people promoting their personal opinions and rating your book high because they think it supports their opinions. – Ville Niemi Jun 2 '17 at 12:45
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    Amazon has some very strict rules regarding reviews. If the people that put the 5-star reviews on your work were some sort of paid reviewer or were pushing any type of agenda inside Amazon, they probably got purged. Also, their systems gets very suspicious of reviews that are wildly different from the others. Amazon may not be at fault in this case. – T. Sar Jun 2 '17 at 13:00
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    I did have a look. It seemed at a fairly cursory glance that the fiction books scored consistently higher than the non-fiction ones. I've not read any of them so I can't comment but it does suggest that maybe novels is more your thing. Besides, a review is an opinion and unless you've got some very hard evidence that someone is deliberately manipulating the reviews based on some sort of top secret agenda you're unlikely to get much joy in court. You can't sue people for saying they think your book sucks. In their opinion that might be a perfectly accurate assessment. – GordonM Jun 4 '17 at 16:33
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Coming to this question 2 years after it was posted, I find the following:

Of a total of 11 reviews, there is 1 5-star review, 1 4-star review, and 9 1-star reviews. Nothing in-between.

Of the low reviews, some are clearly against you because of your positions.

We will be attacked by the world and by the devil, we do not need these kinds of attacks from "within". If the author has a conscience he must listen to it and remove this text from circulation.

Others talk about a need for better editing, clearer arguments, and other critiques of your writing.

Rambling from lack of focus and structure. Some what incoherent both topically and in organization. Needs massive editing. I actually needed information with issues he semi addresses but could not track his thoughts as expressed. Reads like a flight of confusion and ideas. I admire him for trying. Just not cogent. Please get an editor or rewrite and update.

And some are in the middle or uncertain.

While some things that Fr. Seraphim taught are controversial, they are not heretical and certainly not worth incoherent rants full of veiled ad hominems. There are many other people who teach much worse things, that have no basis in any patristic writings, that deserve refutation. The author seems bent on blaming Fr. Seraphim for a number of things that really have nothing to do with him.

Since I haven't read the book and I know absolutely nothing on this topic, I am not making any claims about the accuracy or reasonableness of the reviews. It's clear that you pushed some buttons and a handful of people have chosen to push back.

Amazon is not removing your good reviews since there are 2 there right now. As others have mentioned, those other good reviews (which are not present now) were probably seen to be fake. Perhaps they thought you had friends write them. Whatever the reasons, they're gone. It's also possible they removed some of the bad reviews too.

You can report reviews as abusive so another possibility is that your detractors reported the good reviews. This seems unlikely to me because neither of them looked problematic to me (though they did look like they were made to order).

To compensate, make sure your website asks people to leave honest reviews on Amazon, and include links. Create an author's page on Goodreads and say the same. In your social media, encourage people to leave reviews. Don't ask for good reviews, just for people to take the time to populate your Amazon pages with star ratings and reviews. This will increase your bad reviews too but, hopefully, it will increase the percentage of reviewers who read the book and did so with an open mind.

  • One note: I was not involved with, and did not request, the reviews that seemed to you "made to order." I was contacted by the authors after they were deleted, and I was not particularly impressed as they seemed a response to the topic rather than a specific response to the text. If I were to request a made-to-order review, I would have it respond to specific points of the text. Also, I have significant disagreements with the authors on other topics; I briefly accepted an invitation to join their Facebook page, then left when I saw what was being advocated. – Christos Hayward Jun 5 at 9:45
  • One other note: I consider the four star response, at two words IIRC, to be a rating but not a proper review. It is positive towards the text, but does not really clarify if the book is good as a writeup of what people do under the banner of "Blessed Seraphim Rose," good as text on an unrelated topic, or good kindling or a good frisbee. Other (live) reviews alike, including every negative review I can remember, make some specific point relevant to the text. – Christos Hayward Jun 5 at 10:25
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IANAL but I would suggest looking into legal actions for this. I mention this because deleting or removing reviews directly hurt your ability to make money and also your reputation. If people only see bad reviews, they will not buy it and may recognize your name later down the road with another book and avoid it as well. You may need to find a lawyer who will sit down with you to discuss legal actions to be taken.

Before doing this though, I would suggest going over any contracts or fine print that Amazon may have in regards to such matters. Guidelines for reviews are certainly things you cannot control with what others say. However, those usually pertain to vulgar/hateful language or bot spamming. Neither of which appears to be true in the examples provided.

It seems odd though that Amazon would intentionally delete positive reviews as it would cause that item to not be sold and in turn, they make no money. There is also the possibility that those accounts may have done a mass review on many books in which their account got flagged and said reviews removed.

There are honestly many possibilities to this, but ultimately I suggest reading over the fine print of contracts/paperwork/agreements/ToS/anything Amazon made you agree to before publishing the book to their site. Also read over any guidelines or rules to review posts to see if anything was violated. If nothing in there merits the actions taken on your reviews, I would consider finding a lawyer who would do a free/cheap consultation on the matters to see if you have a case. See if there is any other department(s) you can possibly call within Amazon for a better answer as well. Not sure if you would get anything or what you would get from Amazon would balance out the costs of legal fees, but they have hurt your ability to make/earn money by removing positive reviews which could have lead to more book sales without adequate explanations (based on what you have told us anyways).

EDIT: If your book is posted else where, say iTunes or any other store that has a fair amount of reviews with a much higher rating, it may be worth noting and keeping records of. If it came down to it, you can compare the other place(s) to Amazons to help prove your case that the reviews and rating shown is unfair especially with better reviews being kept deleted. You can also use this to demonstrate any possible lost income due to this lower review by comparing making X amount here vs Y amount there. Either way, I wish you the best of luck and I hope you can come to closure with your situation.

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