Are You Envious of Other Authors?

A few years ago, I read the entire oeuvre of a bestselling author, trying to figure out the secret of her success, and I never found it. Perhaps it was hidden beneath her appalling writing style, but her poor writing dimed any possibility of my enlightenment.

Even a neophyte writer knows that any action a character undertakes must be motivated. Although in life we often act on a whim or a hunch, when a character in a novel does it, it comes across as too slick, too much author convenience, as if the writer couldn’t be bothered to take the time to come up with a plausible motive for the action.

For example, in one book, the writer had someone searching the character’s house for a set of papers, which weren’t there because the character had removed them on a hunch. You and I could never get away with that! We’d have to come up with a motive, and it’s not that difficult. The character could have taken the papers to a diner to peruse them during lunch. Or maybe taken them to a safe deposit box. Or any reason other than a hunch.

Even worse, when the character found out her house had been searched, she was stunned. Then why the hunch to remove the papers? Maybe she was expecting rats to eat them.

In a roundabout way, I suppose I did learn something: write intelligently, at least until you become a bestselling author. Bestselling authors seem to get away with increasingly shoddy writing (since I read this author’s books in sequence it was very obvious how lackadaisical her craft had become in her later books), and yet we are supposed to continue to treat them and their books with respect.

In a discussion on Facebook, a writer posed the following question: Seems nearly every day I hear a writer complain that Grisham has become a hack, or King should go back to drinking, or Clancy wouldn’t recognize POV if he tripped over it. When you’re struggling with getting recognition, how do you deal with jealousy of successful authors?

Before I was a writer, I was a reader, and as a reader, I have every right to complain that such writers have become hacks. In fact, it’s because the writers I used to like started turning out substandard work and I couldn’t find new authors that I like, that I started writing. I figured if I couldn’t read the books I liked, I could write them.

Apparently, though, once you become an author yourself, you are supposed to give up your critical capacity. If you say anything against another author, it comes across as jealousy, as if you’re envious of the other writer’s success.

In the particular case of the bestselling author I critiqued above, I am not envious of her success, I am not envious of her fans, I am not certainly not envious of her writing style. Though I’m mystified by her ability to write so copiously since writing comes hard for me, but I’m not envious of that ability, either.

I am, however, jealous of the time and money I spent on her books, and I’d like them back.

5 Responses to “Are You Envious of Other Authors?”

  1. Books & Art - Spirit & Soul Says:

    Reviews and peek at the pages help me chose a book before wasting time and money. I have purchased so many books that are not cracked and it is not from reading too fast. Now even when I go to a used book store I look for the ones with the most cracks 🙂

  2. ahamin Says:

    Tell me about it, especially the bestsellers who wrote what’s really awful. The bad part is when you have someone tells you that your book is really good, and still, you are not successful. But if i want to be fair, all the successful ones were like us too.
    Best of luck with your work 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Ahamin. Yes, it is hard when one’s book doesn’t sell, but luck is a big factor (one which the successful writer disclaim) and I’ve never had much luck.

      Best of luck with your work, too.

  3. Rod Marsden Says:

    I tend to think that writers that make it have a uniqueness, I don’t like every writer that makes it to the best seller lists and there is no reason why I should, I have my favorites like Butcher and that is enough. I think it a waste of time to beat myself up for not being like my favorites and caring about best sellers that, in my view, don’t make the grade is also wasteful. You learn, you progress and you become the best damn writer you can be and that is enough.

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