When a good author writes a bad book

The other day I read a terribly bland book by an author I’ve previously enjoyed. (I’d rather not name the book or the author.) The book was remarkably unremarkable.

It reminded me that even the best strike out now and then. You have to evaluate someone by their best work, not their worst. If someone produces one masterpiece and a dozen clunkers, then they’ve produced a masterpiece. And that puts them ahead of people who crank out nothing but inoffensive mediocrities.

I also thought about how the author is likely to make a lot of money off his terrible book. That’s oddly encouraging. Even when you put out a clunker, not everyone will think it’s a clunker. It’s not necessary to do great work in order to make money, though doing great work is more satisfying.

8 thoughts on “When a good author writes a bad book

  1. I read a comment somewhere that suggested most books (> 75%) that get purchased don’t get read. So your observation seems to connect with that same idea:
    It’s better to be a “best-seller” than a “best-writer” as an author.

  2. Awesome post! Very true when you’re in the business of reputation. Doesn’t work so well in academia/corporate where you’re judged by the mean of your performance.

  3. Actually, in academe there’s a dual standard. Your reputation in professional circles stems largely from your best work. Raises, promotions etc. are more heavily influenced by volume and citation count. (Remember, someone writing “X is an idiot” counts as a citation for X.)

  4. This observation is described in the book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan.

  5. Look at an author’s output as a pipeline. Sometimes you have to push out some rocks to get a nugget. It’s a rare author who’s pipeline is nuggets all the way down.

  6. You need to name the author and the book. This is your blog, and sure, you have some responsibility to not be an ass, but it’s your opinion and that’s fine. Without these important details, the post turns into a facebook update. Otherwise, nice blog!

  7. Ralph: I’d rather keep the discussion focused on the points I raise in the post. If I named the book, the conversation would instantly degrade into an argument about that particular book.

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