GUEST POST: Zachary Jernigan Wants to Talk About the Oddly Charitable or Merely Petty Phenomena of Amazon Reviews

(Joe says: So… Basically anything I’ve posted for the last couple weeks has been scheduled way in advance. Some of them scheduled on the wrong days, in fact.

I’m still busy. Here’s a post by Zachary Jernigan. Don’t know who that is? Well you should. He’s got stories coming up in Asimov’s. Good stories, too. I hear he’s working on a novel, now. Right, on to the guest post…)

I’m so in love with people who review books on Amazon. I want to give them all the biggest hug in the world and make them a cake with fireworks inside. I’ve been reading a lot of their words lately—mostly in response to various fantasy novels, as until a few days ago I was in the process of writing my own epic-fantasy-with-dwarves-and-flaming-swords—and I’m consistently stunned by how much freaking work these people put into them. It’s a full-time job, crafting these fine or amazingly petty or just plain idiotic reviews.

Do I write reviews for Amazon? I’m not being paid for it; it’s not to my ultimate benefit as a writer. Shit no, I don’t. I’m selfish. I use the reviews to see what bothers people about books they read—no, not so much what they like—and then ask myself whether or not I’m doing those things in my fiction. (The answer to which is: Of course I’m doing those things. Mistakes all over the place!—but hopefully I’m learning to watch out for common problems.)

Maybe to some this is an odd writing tool to use, especially considering I’ve dropped $50,000 on grad school. (More like $70,000 after I’m done paying off the loans.) Perhaps they suspect the real reason I’m doing it is to validate my own skills (yes, you got it: I’m talking about both the Amazon thing and grad school).

I’ll be honest; I do that a little. I’ve been an absolute bitch during the whole process of writing a novel. (A first for me. No, not being a bitch. Writing a novel.) As a writer who would like to someday make money off of his writing—correction: As an incredibly self-conscious, whiny writer who would like to someday make money off of his writing—it’s been oddly comforting to know that a lot of bad crap gets published by big publishing houses.

I tell myself, “Gee, if thy published that load of garbage, they’ll have to publish my load of garbage!” Obviously, this is a lie one tells oneself. Most likely, my load of garbage stinks five times as badly as that book 5 people criticized and 2000 people loved—a book, I might add, that I got a mere one page into before throwing down in disgust, my every suspicion of its horrendosity (definitely not a word) validated.

But it’s really so much more me putting down others to make myself feel better. No, it doesn’t have to be more—plenty of people get their jollies by putting other, more talented or simply harder-working people down—but for me that sort of thing gives only a vicarious thrill. I want to be the guy making loads of money, inspiring people through my words, using Cristal to make ice cubes, and generally living the life of an awesome writer. I—me! me!—want my book to be amazingly well received, reviewed by a billion people on Amazon.

Which will, surely, result in my hatred of all the people reviewing on Amazon. I will, like I imagine all other incredibly self-conscious and whiny writers do, open the page featuring my book and cry tears of cheap vodka and spite when I see that somebody has given me ONE STAR and written a really, really cogent review, highlighting everything I obviously did wrong but somehow got ignored by everybody else. They can’t all be good reviews, even if you’re an awesome writer like Stephanie Meyer. (Ooh, am I making fun of her or am I serious? I really don’t know anymore…)


So I ask myself, as I do every day: Why do I even want to be a writer when a simple review could crush my self-esteem? Man-oh-man, there are so many jobs out there. Unfortunately, I’m not suited for any of them. I’m not even suited for writing, but at least I’ve kind of committed to it. I long to be part of the writer community, even if it’s just tangentially.

And in this light, the whole Amazon thing becomes clear. By reading reviews, I ground myself in the perceived realities of writing—the street level of publishing, if you will. After reading a good, well thought-out review, I feel closer to being a writer. Not because reading (or writing) a review makes me more qualified to write and sell a book, but because it puts me that much closer to understanding the elusive, frustrating mind of the “normal” reader.

But here again I have to be honest: I think very few of these weirdoes on Amazon are in any way normal.

– Zachary Jernigan lives in Portland, Maine with his girlfriend, her cantankerous daughter, and a cat with an eating disorder. He has upcoming fiction in Asimov’s and Murky Depths. If anyone wants to buy his novel for an ungodly amount of money, that would make his day.

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