The First Deadly Sin of Writers

By Randy Ingermanson

If there’s anything that can wreck your writing career, I’d say it’s envy.

What do I mean by “envy?”

Envy is not merely wanting what somebody else has.  Envy is the feeling of resentment you get when wanting something somebody else has.  The problem is that the publishing world naturally breeds envy. Here’s why.

It’s just a fact that different writers get very different results from their writing. Most writers earn hundreds of dollars per year or less. Some earn thousands. A few earn tens of thousands. A small minority earn hundreds of thousands. A very few earn millions. A tiny handful earn tens of millions.

This tells us that rewards aren’t proportional to talent. Those writers earning millions aren’t 1000 times more talented than those earning thousands.  In fact, it’s possible for one writer to do far better than another with quite a bit more talent. Talent is part of it, but there are other factors that matter a lot.

When you see somebody earning a lot more than you, it’s all too easy for the “that’s not fair” mentality to kick in.

And that’s not smart.

What goes wrong when you envy other writers? Isn’t that just another name for good healthy competition?

No, it isn’t.

When you envy another writer, you are the one who gets a sick, nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach. Maybe it keeps you awake at night. Maybe it sucks all the happiness out of your life. Maybe it causes you to dream of ways to hurt the other writer.

All of these steal energy from YOU, energy that you desperately need in order to write better. You can’t afford that.

So what do you do about envy? A little logic goes a long way here.

It’s not wrong to want to achieve the success that you see somebody else achieving. It wouldn’t harm them at all if you were to up your game so that you were doing as well as they are.

By the same token, their success is not harming you. When other authors do well, they are not taking money that is rightfully yours. They’re taking money that their Target Audience has decided is rightfully theirs.

So you begin by making a decision to let go of any resentment of other writers. But it doesn’t end with that.

When you see somebody earning vastly more than you, ask yourself why that’s happening. What accounts for this other writer’s success and what could you do to imitate it?

  1. Are they writing for a larger Target Audience than you? If so, do you want to write for a larger Target Audience, or are you happy writing for the one you have?
  2. Are they doing a better job of delighting their Target Audience? If so, can you learn any tricks of the craft from them that would help you delight your Target Audience?
  3. Are they using better discoverability tools than you are? Can you use those same tools to make your work more discoverable?
  4. Are they more productive than you are? Can you learn from them and increase your own productivity?

Sometimes none of the above explains the discrepancy in earnings.

Sometimes, luck is the answer. Luck happens. If it happens to you, be happy and enjoy the ride. If it doesn’t, remember that nobody deserves luck.

Sometimes, the other writer is vastly out-earning you because she’s been at the job for thirty years and you’ve been at it for five. If that’s the case, then carry on. If you build your career right, time is your friend.

The key thing here is to not allow envy to derail your career. It doesn’t hurt the other writer. It hurts you.

Put envy aside. It’s not a lot of effort and it has huge rewards. It might be the smartest thing you do all year.

Once you do that, you can take it one step further. You can learn to be happy when others are successful. That’s the flip side of envy. Instead of letting bad feelings ruin your day, let good feelings boost your day.


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 10,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit
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