I was recently gifted an original copy of an early critical review of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The joke on me was that “I like the book for all the reasons the writer says its evil,” and that’s probably true, but there’s an important point I’ve taken away from the document: having paying customers speaks louder than critics.
Atlas Shrugged debuted to outcry among the intellectual class. They described it as “immoral,” “fascist,” “non-stop day dreaming,” and it got very few critical press in the mainstream. And yet, business owners, construction men, assembly-line workers, soldiers, plumbers, entrepreneurs, pilots and short-order cooks all around America read it in droves. Atlas Shrugged is considered one of the perennial best selling American novels and was ranked in the reader submitted Modern Library Top 100 Books of All Time as the #1 (the critical list did not even include it at all).
The massive commercial success of Atlas Shrugged led to the creation of The Nathaniel Branden Institute and the self-esteem school of psychology, the Libertarian party, nationwide lectures, and an international newsletter. It continues to sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year over 60 years after its publication and has nearly 6,000 reader reviews on Amazon with 4.5 stars. Rand won, no matter how many nasty things were said about her in among the “intellectual” class, because she had real customers.
As she wrote in The Fountainhead,
The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The first airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.
It’s important to understand this. Your work might be unappreciated in the press. It might be ripped apart on Twitter. It might be slandered or ignored by intellectuals or critical reviewers. It doesn’t matter. The best metric for success are sales numbers and real readers, not the approval of the mainstream intelligentsia who were wrong about Rand as they are wrong about most things.
Publishers put quotes by hotshots on back of books. I hate it. Told them I would get GENUINE quotes from REAL users e.g. “Joe from Denver”.
Collecting quotes from readers (and re-readers) of Incerto & drafts of SITG.
Please add to this thread. pic.twitter.com/YNXMr9uDND
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) November 9, 2017
When we launched Praxis, we were viciously opposed by a number of academics in our circles who were formerly good friends or acquaintances. They said it was “anti-intellectual,” “ill-informed,” “Sham-Wow,” and that nobody would join. Social media periodically lit up with outrage and a few organizations boycotted us.
But students passed our blog articles around and invited people at Praxis to speak at their clubs and student conferences. They scheduled calls to ask for advice about their lives that they could not find in school. And they applied to Praxis, achieved incredible results, and allowed us to grow it into the company it is today.
So it goes with all new things. Judge your work by customers and sales, by those who pay you for your work, art or services, not by the voices of those who are paid to criticize.