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Rules for Write-icles: The Hallmark of the Second-Rater

by | Oct 31, 2019 | Tips & Tricks, Writing

As an author, I have a regular experience that never fail to amaze me. It’s when I read a book that people are talking about, or one that has tons of good reviews on Amazon, or one a friend recommended to me and … it’s awful. Not just awful, but so awful I wonder how it ever got published in the first place, much less became a hit. Now as a writer, you become hypersensitive to story and narrative mistakes, but still, I’d like to think I give other writers some slack in these areas. Apparently I don’t. Because this happens to me more often than not. Maybe I’m just on a run of bad books and it’s not like I don’t read awesome stuff (The Martian, and Ready, Player One for example) but a depressing number of books seem to fall into this bad book category. The really unfortunate part is that, occasionally, these books are written by people I know.

This is why I don’t review books on Good Reads.

About 10 years ago, an acquaintance of mine got me to read Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. As a person with rampant ADHD I tend to shy away from enormous books, but I got it on audio and listened to it. I quite liked it, but that’s not the point. Something one of her characters said resonated so loudly, that despite having the attention span of a cocker spaniel, I’ve never forgotten it. The character said that to be envious of the achievements of others is the hallmark of the second-rater.

It’s very easy to look at the works of others and think; “Wow, they got lucky.” It’s easy to read a book and tear it apart. Maybe you think you could do better. Maybe you could. But your opinion, however valid, doesn’t dim the achievement of whomever wrote it. I know lots of people who profess to loathe Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer but would sell their firstborn for even half of that success. Brown, Meyer and others are successful because they did what authors have to do to succeed, sell books. You can be a NYT or Amazon bestseller without writing a good book. You can do it without having well rounded, deep characters, and you can do it without deep thematic meaning. All you have to do is sell books. That’s the author’s job. And if you can do that, the other things don’t much matter.

Tearing down someone’s work, especially when you don’t like it, is easy and it’s fun. It doesn’t take any particular skill to have a negative opinion and express it, but that’s second rater thinking. Far too many authors sit around an bemoan their lack of success. They pontificate on the inexplicable success of other authors who have written bad books. It’s easy to do, I’ve done it myself. And every time I do I have to stop and remind myself that I’m thinking about it all wrong. That complaining about another’s success is second-rater thinking. The real lesson in the success of a bad book is that if it can succeed, so can my books.

That’s why I don’t review books on Good Reads.

Comparing yourself to other writers is the single most destructive thing an author can do. It erodes your self-confidence and gives rise to doubts. Doubts about everything from your style to your characters to your fundamental storytelling. It leads to the paralysis of analysis. That’s where an author sits around for years “intending” to write a book, but never puts a singe word down. It’s death for a creative person.

I’m under no illusions, I’m a C-List writer. But I have no intention of staying there. If I ever want to be more, I’ve got to learn to do what those successful authors do. I have to learn to sell books. The only way to sell books is to write them first. The first-rater never lets the success or failure of others get in the way of their own success. They take responsibility for being successful themselves.

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