Book Envy



Noun: A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities or luck.

The Negatives

Have you ever thought you could write (or ARE writing) something better than what’s hot at the moment at the book stores?  Have you ever found a number of flaws in someone’s published work and thought to yourself – how did this even get past the slush pile?  Have you ever voiced these observations to someone else?  Did you share your opinion in an unbiased fashion?

We are human beings, and jealousy is unfortunately an emotion we’ve all experienced at some stage in our lives.  Jealousy is borne of fear; fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of inadequacy.  To envy another is a reflection of ourselves and our own insecurities or misery.  If we can recognise why we’re envious of another, we have the opportunity to address the problem within ourselves and hopefully grow as a person and as a writer.

Writers are no more unique when it comes to envy.  Much like the co-worker who gets promoted and is trash-talked by those who feel as though they are more deserving, writers have criticised books that they feel are unworthy of publication.  I’ve noticed that such criticism is usually voiced by unpublished authors, which strikes me as motivated by jealousy.  We all want our own books to succeed, and when another’s is taken on board, we feel as though there’s been a missed opportunity.  There have also been some quotes I’ve read by famous and best-selling authors who’ve trashed other best-selling authors who’ve had recent success.  What’s their motivation for reacting so negatively?  Are they threatened by ‘lowering standards’ in the publishing community?  If someone writes a flawed story (flawed in the respect of poor structure, weak plot and/or two-dimensional characters) but that story sells millions, why are we blaming the author?  Shouldn’t we turn our attention to the readership?  Aren’t we therefore disenchanted with the community at large instead of one novelist?

Consider this, nobody is ‘just lucky’ in the published world.  Even that imperfect novel you’re criticising came with (at least months of) hard work.  Someone poured their creativity into it, and enjoyed what they were writing, and thought it would be nice if other people enjoyed it too.  If the novel you’re trashing is someone’s first novel – or even a first series of novels – did you really expect this author to come charging into the publishing world with perfect prose?  Can’t you at least forgive some immaturity?  Does it really matter that it’s solely a piece of entertainment and not making some witty repartee on social issues or thought-provoking ideology?

The thing to recognise about jealousy-motivated behaviour or envious thoughts, is that they don’t help us as writers.  I hypothesise that they would stifle creativity, in fact.  If self doubt de-motivates a person, then surely jealousy or envy would remove focus?  It’s a distraction.  It’s not the same kind of distraction that surfing the net or procrastination provides, it’s immaterial and emotional.  It’s difficult to identify and can be claustrophobic.  It can impact negatively on the people around you as well as yourself.  It can damage your relationship with new acquaintances or business partners.


The Positives

Have you ever looked at the latest best-seller and thought ‘I want to be there myself’?  Have you ever looked at a book title, seen a book cover, or read a blurb, and wished you’d got there first?  Perhaps wished that you’d thought of it yourself?

Book envy can also be a positive experience.  It’s all about attitude – and in terms of attitude, a person really can “fake it until you make it”.  If a person is jealous of other people’s work, it can be used as a call to arms.  It can be inspirational.  This scenario couples jealousy with competitive spirit: Person A is envious that Person B has completed their book.  Person A works harder in order to publish their manuscript first.  A scenario that couples jealousy with self-confidence is: Person A reads Person B’s book and considers it below standard.  Instead of wading through criticisms fuelled by jealousy, Person A sees the publishing industry as desperately needing authors of quality – which is what Person A believes about themselves.  I would consider both of these scenarios as nipping jealousy in the bud.  It’s there, it’s wanting to rear up, but it was transformed into drive and ambition instead.

As far as reigning in jealousy and using it as a motivation, can a person really change their experience with a negative emotion to a positive one?  Yes, but only if they really want to.  Very few people truly want to, because change is hard, staying positive in the face of adversity or self-doubt is hard.  It’s easy to look at others and say: “I can do better than that” but the reality is, you can’t unless you genuinely want to.  Throughout my life I’ve seen evidence that the people who pay the biggest lip service (i.e., talk the talk) generally won’t follow through.  Those that are truly moved by something won’t talk about it quite so much, and I suspect it’s because of a fear of failure… ironically, they’re the most likely to succeed, because they’re making a genuine attempt.

“They’ll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you.”
― Suzanne Collins (Author of The Hunger Games trilogy)


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