I’m NOT Jealous of John Green! I’m NOT Jealous of John Green! (Some Thoughts on Being Jealous of Other Authors)

Okay, so today, for the first time ever, I found myself feeling a tinge of jealousy regarding YA superstar John Green. It’s not that his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, has been number one on the New York Times Bestseller list for — what? — six weeks now?

It’s that he has yet another glowing write-up in Entertainment Weekly.

I’ve met John a few times, and I remember he once told me how much more excited his publisher was about a “B” review of an earlier book in EW than they were about a starred review in one of the big industry publications.

Basically, in terms of actually moving books, EW is the big-time.

And let’s face it, Green’s success is absolutely surreal: at least two Prinze Awards, glowing reviews everywhere, break-out bestsellers, movie deals, and on and on.

In other words, he’s at the absolute top of the game in terms of both critical and popular success. Even Suzanne Collins can’t really say that.

And John is young-ish and handsome and thoughtful and generous, with legions of adoring fans. And here’s the really infuriating part: he’s also a fantastic writer!

Grrrrrr!

The thing is I’m actually telling the truth when I say I’ve never, before today, felt any jealousy toward John.

But this is as good an excuse as any to talk about something that I think every writer knows a little something about: jealousy of other authors.

These are the kinds of authors other writers can be jealous of:

(1) Writers Who Deserve Their Success.

These are the folks like John Green. And while I might sometimes be envious of their talent (and their fourth EW write-up!), I’m almost never jealous of their success. Hell, they deserve it! And when they find it, it means the world is working the way the world is supposed to work.

(2) Writers Who Don’t Deserve Their Success.

This is a little trickier. There are a number of wildly popular writers who I think are flat-out frauds. I feel like they don’t have any real idea what they’re doing as writers, and their success is mostly just a fluke. Either that, or they just happened to be the first to stumble on or create a trend that, for whatever reason, caught the world’s imagination, and their books were just not-terrible enough that they were able to ride the wave.

Sure, maybe they’re simply speaking a language with their books that I don’t speak — tapping into something that I just don’t relate to.

Fine, whatever. Either way, I just don’t respect their craft.

(And no, I’m not naming any names — but Suzanne Collins is definitely not one of these “fraud” writers!).

In my first few years as a published author, I used to feel terribly jealous of these writers, mostly because it didn’t seem “fair.” There were so many other writers — um, yes, myself included — who were so much more deserving!

After a few years in the business of the arts, I now understand that “fair” has very little to do with anything. So many things have to line up for a book to be a success that sometimes I think it’s extraordinary that any books ever break out at all.

And what is “good” anyway? It’s all so subjective.

If I dwell on it, I can still get mildly annoyed by these writers who I don’t think “deserve” their successes. But hey, people win the lottery all the time too, and I don’t get all bent out of shape about that, so what’s the point?

(3) Writers Who May or May Not Deserve Their Success, But Who Are Just Plain Jerks.

Of the many, many writers I’ve met, the vast majority seem to me like really decent folk — much more likely to be cool than the average person on the street, that’s for sure.

But over the years, I’ve met a handful of authors who just haven’t been my cup of tea. They say jerky, stupid things, usually behind your back. Or they’re arrogant, acting like they clearly think they’re better than others.

Basically, they act like, well, they’re still in high school. And I’ve always said that I write books about high school because the themes speak to me — not because I want to go back to high school and spend time with rude, petty, or obviously insecure people.

How do I react when these folks find great success?

There was a time when I definitely let it get to me. But truthfully? Now I’m pretty good at just ignoring these folks completely. The good thing about being an adult, about not actually being in high school, is that it’s quite easy to avoid the people you don’t like.

I also helps to think about the concept of “karma.” What goes around comes around. This isn’t always true in the arts — sometimes good, talented people really do never get a break. But it seems to be true in everything else. If I’m right that someone really is a jerk — if I didn’t just happen to meet them on a bad day — they’ll get what’s coming to them eventually.

The “wheel” of success in the arts is particularly unforgiving to jerks: people will always excuse “diva” behavior when a person is on the way up in their career — when there’s money to be made off them. But when the wheel starts to turn and their careers start to flag? Their “friends” will scatter like cockroaches. Why wouldn’t they? There’s no other reason to stick around.

Anyway, the usual advice I read about author-jealousy is: “Don’t do it! It’s a waste of time!”

And I guess that’s true. But it’s also kinda stupid, because no one really chooses to be jealous. You either are or you aren’t. (I guess we have some choice about how much we give into darker emotions, but let’s face it: the times when we’re feeling darker emotions are usually the times when we’re least able to resist feeling darker emotions.)

Nutshell? If you’re an author, it’s pretty normal to sometimes feel jealous of other authors’ success. Don’t celebrate or dwell on your resentment, but it’s okay not to fight it to the death either.

And as for John Green? I’ll have what he’s having. Please?

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8 Responses to “I’m NOT Jealous of John Green! I’m NOT Jealous of John Green! (Some Thoughts on Being Jealous of Other Authors)”

  1. Ethan 6 March 2012 at 2:51 am #

    I'm a big fan of yours Brent, but it seems like you could get rid of number two. Number three, the jerks, seems to be what makes someone undeserving. I mean at one point you provide virtually no criteria for being undeserving other than you personally just not respecting their craft, or luck (which every published author has to have at least some of) but then rightly say that quality is subjective…hmm..

    • Brent Hartinger 6 March 2012 at 3:29 am #

      The thing is, sometimes the jerks really are good writers. So they "deserve" their success, but not in a karmic sense. :-)

  2. Brian Katcher 6 March 2012 at 3:17 am #

    I'm totally and completely jealous of John Green…and you, quite frankly. Bitterly, hostilely jealous. Dangerously jealous.

    • Brent Hartinger 6 March 2012 at 3:29 am #

      Ha! In my case, you have little to be jealous of, but I'll take it anyway! ;-)

    • Brent Hartinger 6 March 2012 at 3:32 am #

      You're inspiring a fair amount of jealousy here yourself!

  3. Ben 10 March 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    I think there must be some truth to what you said about "speaking a language with their books that I simply don't speak." I am one of those who thinks the Twilight books are terrible for the reasons that have been explained numerous times by dozens of people who know what they're talking about. Yet, I know several girls (only girls, it seems) who have read the books 8 or 9 times, which must mean that Stephenie Meyer managed to create something that a good percentage of the population would regard as "almost perfect." (Whether or not Meyer intended this is another story, lol.)

    I love most of John Green's work except for the book that he wrote with David Levithan, which didn't have enough of the mysterious rising tension found in a few of his other novels. I'm worried this new book won't have it, either, but I'm only on Chapter Two.

  4. Brent Hartinger 12 March 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Ah, Twilight. Truthfully, it's one of those projects that makes me question so many things about the world, and about the arts. Sometimes people respond to things that just make me shake my head — I don't understand it at all. How could any girl relate to a girl who WANTS her identity to be primarily that of her boyfriend? He doesn't want to be independent and strong and active?

    But someone said to me once, "Twilight is a teen girl fantasy. Fantasies are often very very stupid. Superheroes are teen boy fantasies and for the most part, they're just as stupid."


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