The Green-Eyed Author (or, Is It Okay To Say I Hated Your Book?)

Let’s talk about jealousy for a minute.

I’m not talking about jealousy over a man or woman.  Not the kind of jealousy that makes people do crazy and stupid things when they think their special someone might have another special someone on the side.

I’m talking about professional jealousy. Namely, Fifty Shades of Grey.  Oh, my God, I hate that book.  I hate it with the kind of stomach-churning distaste that makes my lip curl into a sneer every time it is mentioned. I’ll admit that I even find myself wanting the movie to flop.  Big time.  We’re talking Heaven’s Gate flop.  Waterworld flop. When Justin Met Kelly flop.

But to be fair, I have to look inside myself to understand why the Fifty Shades phenomenon provokes such a strong reaction in me, especially after a young co-worker made a rather pointed comment to me yesterday.

“You’re just jealous that those books are so successful and yours aren’t,” she said.

Ouch.

Let me just say right here that I truly value this young lady’s opinion.  She was one of the few people in my circle who was honest enough to point out some glaring errors in my first book, and I find her honesty to be worth more than gold.  To put it into non-writing terms, she’s the kind of person every woman wants to take on shopping trips because she’ll give an honest answer to that age old question: “Does this make my butt look big?”

So yes, my butt looks big and I am jealous of E.L. James. Of course I want my books to be read by millions of fans.  I want a movie deal. I want my name to be known by millions, my books to be the center of discussion and controversy, my bank accounts to be overflowing . . .

Um . . . where was I going with this? Sorry, got a little distracted by the fantasies of money, fame and adulation.

But I guess I have to look a little deeper and question whether my negative opinion of Fifty Shades would be the same if it wasn’t so successful. I have to ask myself if I might like the books better if they weren’t such a huge success. As a writer, can I ever separate myself from that envy to form an honest, unbiased opinion of another author’s work? Are any of us able to do that?

I believe so. I didn’t like Fifty Shades.  There, I said it. I just don’t think it’s a very good book. If she had only sold a dozen copies, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. That’s not jealousy; that’s the honest opinion of someone who started reading at age four and hasn’t stopped since.

I know I should be cheering for my fellow self-published author, but I just don’t understand what the fuss is all about.  I did not think the book was very good.

So, is my opinion invalid, simply because the book I dislike is doing so well? Is it fair to dismiss my opinion as petty jealousy on my part?

I like to think that I know the difference between a good book and a bad one.  That I can form an honest opinion regardless of my feelings about the author, regardless of my envying the success of others.  I like to think that I can be fair and impartial.

Then again, I also like to think that I look good in jeggings, and we all know that’s not true.

So let’s get to the point here.  When I say that I think another book is bad, am I saying that I think mine is better?  No, not necessarily.  When I wonder how a book that I dislike can possibly do so well, am I whining that its success is unfair or undeserved?  Again, no.  I am not.  Nor am I saying that the authors of these books don’t deserve their fame and fortune.

I’m simply saying that I don’t like certain books.

The fact that I am an author doesn’t take away my right to have an opinion. The fact that I wish I had E.L. James’ success and money doesn’t negate my opinions of her work.

Authors are allowed to have opinions of other books. We can say that we didn’t like Fifty Shades or Angela’s Ashes or even Catcher in The Rye if we really didn’t like those books.  It’s okay to question the popularity of something that we didn’t like.  And yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a tiny bit of jealousy or envy once in a while.  Go ahead; own it.

What’s not okay is letting that jealousy take over.  It’s not all right to use it as an excuse to shred someone else’s work unfairly.  And it’s definitely not okay to continue to disparage another author or his/her work because of that jealousy.  Express your opinion in the fairest way possible, own your envy, and move on.  Go write your next book and make it better than the ones you dislike.

Because I can guarantee that there are people out there who won’t like what you write, and some of those people are going to be your fellow authors.  And guess what?

They have a right to their opinions, too.