Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

For Love Or Money

Back at the beginning of the month, when so many of you participate in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG), Nick Wilford posted about something many of us worry about: money. It’s something a lot of us worry about, especially in tough financial times. Early in the post, Nick said:

“I know that very few writers go into the game hoping that they will clean up–if they do, they’re either doing it for the wrong reasons or they’re suffering under an illusion.”

I found myself stewing over that line a little bit, to the point where, two weeks later, I have to comment on it further. The line bugs me. Note this is not to pick on Nick. I like Nick; I just happen to disagree with him, at least in part.

Success in the arts is often presented as an either/or thing. If you hang around any writing forum, it’s only a matter of time before someone posts a poll that asks, “Would you rather be a critical success and have very few sales, or sell a lot of books and be panned by the critics?” Essentially, the question is are you in it for art, or for money? My answer: why not both?

So many of us are afraid to admit the truth: we want money. Lots of it. We want to dive into it, like Scrooge McDuck, we want a vault like Harry Potter’s. But few are willing to admit. If we do, we’re mercenaries. We’re hacks. We’re not artists anymore. Few are willing to wear that label.

The truth is, once I started to see that maybe, just maybe, I could write pretty well, I started to hope, to dream. Dreaming that I could make it big, dreaming that I could clean up. Hoping I could sell enough to get a new car. Take the wife and kids on a proper vacation. Put a new roof on the house, replace some crummy windows, remodel the kitchen. I’d like to not have to worry about money–is that such a bad thing? Not in my book. Is it why I write? No. I write for assorted other reasons, some of which I can’t express easily However, money is part of the equation, particularly when it comes to seeking publication. Does this make me a bad guy? A sell out? I certainly don’t think so, but I’m kind of biased here.

Where Nick is right on the money (so to speak) is this: if you get into this expecting to clean up, you’re operating under an illusion. Especially if you’re doing your homework and understand the economics of writing at this point in time. If you base your retirement plan on having a couple of big bestsellers–really big bestsellers, like James Patterson bestsellers–then, yes, you’re doing it wrong. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming it, though. Dreaming is what we do, isn’t it?

Thanks as always for reading, and thanks for commenting. Have a great weekend!

6 Responses

  1. There's nothing wrong with dreaming. All writers hope of one day reaching the JK Rowling status, of going from rags to riches and maybe having our work made into huge blockbuster movies. But fact is it's a long shot. You may be lucky enough to find an agent who wantsto represent you, but even then you'll need to sell a good few before you can even consider becoming a full time writer living comfortably off profit. So whether you write for passion or for money, short of it is, it's rarely a 'get-rich-quick' scheme…but we can still dream 🙂

  2. Well said. I don't think the two need to be mutually exclusive. One of the biggest bestsellers of last year (The Fault in Our Stars) is also, in my opinion, one of the more artistic and better written ones. I like to believe good art gets rewarded. 🙂

  3. I'm pretty much with Nick on this. It's not that I think it's wrong to want to make a decent living by writing, it's more that I think doing so is a matter of luck on par with the musicians who come from nowhere and have the summer hit (and disappear into obscurity). Being good has nothing to do with it. Being popular does. Even authors who have a bestseller may not have one again (thus the "#1 Bestselling Author" adverts on the new book rather than "#1 Bestseller"). Being a bestselling author means you tap into the median section of the public. I don't know about you, but my tastes are very rarely in that median demographic. Authors like Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James are. *shudder*

  4. I'm with you– I dream of making money as a writer so I have more time to write. It's all connected. Money helps get rid of those pesky day jobs 😉

  5. -Lexa–Hmm. I've been thinking over your comment for a couple of days now. I think the 'summer hit'/'one hit wonder' types–whether musicians, authors, whatever–tap into something. And it's not something you can plan for or make happen. Luck? Yes, to some extent. And while I'll agree that Stephenie Meyer isn't the best writer out there (I've never read James), she told a story that people wanted to read, and that people connected with. Whether by luck or just understanding people, I don't know.

    -Olivia–Yes, indeed! Welcome back to the blog world, by the way.

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