Nathan here! Well, actually it’s Nathan of November 12th writing this ahead of time.
So wow, it’s the future. Do we have flying cars yet? Did Nathan of November 19th get a haircut?
Today’s You Tell Me comes from Orange Slushie, and it’s a good one. Take it away, Orange Slushie:
“You go down to the crossroads and make a pact to have your novel and future novels published. You are given a conditional choice. Either you can receive the highest literary acclaim for your work, but a guarantee that you will never earn enough to give up your day job. Or you can always be considered a terrible hack, but make bucketloads of cash.
Which do you choose?”
Ryan Field says
But the writing itself stays the same in either choice? It is what it is and the difference is in its reception? In that case, I take the money–easily.
Now, a tougher choice would be if the devil said, “You can have the ability to write work that you will be proud of but only awards committees will agree, or you can have the ability to write work that you will not be proud of but will satisfy a huge market demand.”
I’m afraid I’m a born hack. Can I bring a shopping cart for the cash?
Lady Glamis says
I’ll take the acclaim.
I’m not out to make a buck. Although money would be nice with that acclaim.
Bucketloads of cash would come from bucketloads of readers. So, cash.
Joseph Lewis says
Cash. I have a family to feed, and they can’t eat Hugos or Pulitzers or my ego.
Until the government decides to pay for my health insurance, which I need to not sleep 23 hours a day, cash is the only choice.
Can you please make a post where you address the fact that so many of the writers reading this blog nurse a hatred for people whom they term “literary snobs”?
In 158 comments, I counted four against literary people. Four more mentioned a dislike of literary books, but weren’t insulting the authors of said books. If we were to call it eight that’s approximately 5% of comments (with only 2.5% insulting the authors rather than the books).
That’s not many.
It doesn’t mean it’s right to insult people. I’m all for being tolerant of other people’s reading/writing preferences. But you’re calling the kettle black when you’re the pot by making a sweeping generalisation of your own.
Fun question. I’d take the cash, but not actually because of the cash itself–because making a pile of money in that way means lots of people are reading and enjoying my books. I’d rather be appreciated by the masses than the critics.
Though my dream is to make enough writing to quit my day job, I would rather people love my work. I’d be happier then.
Orange Slushie says
i like what RW said. s/he kind of got to the crux of what i was asking. it’s hard to formulate a question like this without encountering semantic difficulties. but those in themselves trigger interesting discussion.
fascinating answers, no? basically this question came out of an earlier discussion which included the responsibility (or not) of publishers to support capital-L Literature against market demand, and to provide wider choice to readers. But we see here that not just publishers are in it for the money. Writers, by and large, aren’t noble creatures either, starving in garrets for the sake of Art (not by choice anyway). Writers want to make big bucks like everyone else in the publishing food-chain.
People engaging in these kinds of discussions – all of us – are far more engaged with ideas about literature and its industry than your average book-buyer. This isn’t a judgement, just an observance. Most people don’t think terribly hard about what a book is, or should be – they just want their money’s worth of entertainment. I used to sit next to a woman at work who was horrified at the suggestion that you might read a novel for stimulation. She wanted quite the opposite from a book – escape and a chance to switch off, not on.
This as far as I can see is most of the book-buying public. i.e. where the money is. So while publishers and writers want to make profit, the kinds of books those readers demand – formulaic, predictable, very possibly written by terrible hacks – will constitute the bulk of what is published.
I think we only get upset about this when we cling to the humanist idea that art is (or should be) ennobling – that literature will improve us – rather than seeing it as simply rhetorical.
Polenth, we must count differently, because I counted at least 12 comments that had something negative to say about either literary writings, literary elitists, or critics who supposedly don’t know what they’re talking about, and who trash anything not literary. and I must not be the only one who feels this way since Anon two posts below me agreed.
Even if only 5 or 10% of the comments reflect a viewpoint that I think is destructive to writers in general, isn’t that worthy of comment?
And I don’t think that using the phrase “so many” constitutes a huge generalization that moots my point.
There’s an art to writing a story that works–whether it’s literary or genre. I think it would behoove both camps to read the other often. Writers only get better at writing by reading good writing. And good writing comes in many forms.
I cannot believe all of these people taking the money option.
I would rather have the acclaim. I guess the reason would have to be the possibility of immortality. I would love to produce something like The Count of Monte Cristo. Something that would survive beyond my own mortal coil.
Color me a lame-ass I guess.
I hope people aren’t counting my comments about bored students and a certain type of professor in their anti-lit counts. Almost every book I own is a classic. I’ll occasionally venture into genre fiction, but that usually to read a classic of the genre.
I’ll also bet that a lot of the anti-litfic crowd feels that way because of the type of prof I was talking about (luckily a small minority in my own studies). Those of us who discovered classics on our own or were lucky enough to have great teachers probably feel differently.
Thing is, most of those classics weren’t written to be classics. They’re classics because they resonated with enough people and were of a high quality to survive long enough to become classics. People have mentioned Dickens. great example.
Two of my favorite writers (Laxness and Steinbeck) are Nobel prize winners. Others probably would have been if the prze was around 500-1000 years ago (and, in many cases, if the author was actually known).
In my own experience (and yours may vary), a lot of novels that are written to become classics die quickly because they don’t find an audience that will keep them alive. Short stories and poetry are a slightly different matter.
Chaucer wrote to be paid, although he couldn’t quit his day jobs as a courtier, a collector and inventory keeper of scrap metal, or organizer of the king’s building projects. Shakespeare didn’t write for today’s professors. He wanted to eat, and probably enjoyed the fame. Doesn’t mean they didn’t care about art.
Much of what we lit students (especially those of us who read old, old stuff) study was written on commission for a patron. It wasn’t really until the 20th Century that entertaining others wasn’t enough of a goal to justify our hard work.
Dal Jeanis says
Just like to point out that the people who permanently keep the acclaim, like Dickens and Shakespeare, generally are the hacks.
Even if only 5 or 10% of the comments reflect a viewpoint that I think is destructive to writers in general, isn’t that worthy of comment?
It’s worthy of comment… but not of exaggeration. The way you handled it felt like you were lashing out at those who insulted you, but you ended up hitting a lot of innocent bystanders (the many who weren’t many). Those people insulting literary fiction were also lashing out at the people who insulted them, but they ended up hitting a lot of innocent bystanders (the literary authors/reviewers who haven’t insulted other writers).
This becomes a never-ending cycle.
A more productive thing would be to question where the ill-feelings come from. In this thread, we’ve seen people complain about being forced to read certain books at school. Could schools promote a wider range of books? Could they prepare students for reading adult books before giving them such books? In my school, many kids had to jump from children’s books to dense literary works. They were set up to fail.
Are advanced creative writing courses promoting a cross-genre approach? Some do, but there are more horror stories about the ones that don’t… could the ones that don’t learn from those that do?
Could prize systems be shaken up to include a wider range of literature? Certain themes are more likely to win, despite the fact we know other themes have literary merit too. This might be as simple as having a greater diversity of people as judges.
Is this a trick question?
I can’t write unless someone pays me to do it. Okay, not entirely true. I can write, but I make my family crazy and have a hard time justifying my obsession with characters and plot to them (and another night of leftovers for dinner) if I’m not actually contributing to the household for it. Critical praise is flighty, from what I can tell. I love to write. I want to be able to write ALL THE TIME. Cash. Absolutely. And a happily successful agent who can take that extra vacation to Taos.
Elissa M says
My ego is fine and healthy. I don’t need literary acclaim to stroke it. I don’t need bucket loads of cash, either.
I’d like a third option. Mid-list author who sells steadily until the day I die.
Cash. My genre's are SF&F, I'm prepared to be labeled a hack. Besides I met plenty of critics in undergrad. Enough that I don't particularly value their moral and aesthetic opinions.
Ardin Lalui says
I want to be Charles Bukowski.
I’ll go with the majority (66%) and say I’d like to make a living at this writing thing.
Cash, Hack, Bestseller, whatever you want to call it.
In order to recv lit acclaim you have to write depressing bull@*#%. Cash will be fine. Thanks.
Hack: I need the cash, and those who read me know I ain’t no hack. So gimme the cash. Now!
To anonymous that claims we shouldn’t be bashing literature people:
It’s like movie critics, or anyone else that spends their time immersed in a field. They get picky. They get burned by so much they’re unwilling to stick their necks out. And they want new and different in a way that regular readers don’t.
There’s nothing WRONG with lit people (or movie critics) – but they’re not my target audience. And if I write to please them, I won’t be pleasing me OR my readers. OTOH, if they choose to love me, I’ll be thrilled to pieces.
But I ain’t gonna hold my breath. 😉
Eileen Wiedbrauk says
I'm going to write the stories I want to write, and let the other pieces fall where they may.
Gaining either money or acclaim would be humbling.
[I'm in an MFA right now and around here if you spend too much time focused on literary acclaim you'll go crazy b/c it feels like racing the bulls – we're all just trying to keep up waiting for the next person to make it or to give up trying and take a position at Barnes&Noble. If you write to please everyone else and garner that acclaim you'll end up burning out faster than if you write for yourself.]
Go where your heart is. The rest will follow.
The Crystal Faerie says
Can we pick door number three, making a difference?
If not, then literary acclaim for the win and more power to those who make money on top of it.
This is a hard question to answer, because you’re not saying who you’ll be judged by. Who’s calling you a hack and who’s acclaiming you? Your peers or your literature professor? Someone you care about – who’s done the hard yards you have – or someone who is ‘of the moment?’ Personally, I’d take the cash but interestingly; if you’d asked me this question when I was twenty, I would’ve opted for acclaim. Now that I’m 42, I’ll take the cash for sure. Just to have something published would be a dream. I don’t care if some smart arse rubbishes it – I’ve been published baby! And think on this; Google the first reviews for ‘The Sun also Rises.’ According to almost all reviewers at the time, Hemingway was the definition of hack.
For me, the key phrase here is “be considered a hack.” There’s a difference between being considered a hack by the world at large and actually being one. As long as I can still see the merit in my work, everyone else can call me a hack until the cows come home.
Plus, every great writer has been considered a hack by someone at some point. I’ve heard people call Dickens a hack before.
Damn, I didn’t read all 180 comments…the guy above me just said the same thing I did. Sorry, guy above me, didn’t mean to steal your thunder.
Shayla Kersten says
Since my day job already left me, I’d have to say cash. Job prospects aren’t looking so good…
Big money, hands down.
big money, hands down.
Sell my soul? Only for the body I had as an 18-year-old … and on that shallow note, I’ll take the buckets of cash behind door number two. It’s a win-win situation: 1) I’m writing, 2) people are reading.
BTW, I’d like to see this question presented again when the economy is back on its pegs. I wonder if more responders would lean toward acclaim.
My dream is to write a novel and for crowds of people to read it, once my first novel is published, if it gets published and I’m recognised as a great author, I will write for free and put it up on a website, with buying it being optional.
Anyway I’m writing sci-fi, imagine that, a sci-fi writer with actual literary acclaim, I’ll be a legend!
I can get any job and live modestly, it’s not like I need to make millions.
Yvonne Eve Walus says
I’ll take the money.
It’s not about being able to afford that Fiji cruise or the swimming pool – it’s about generating more writing time through:
– quitting the day job
– hiring a publicist
– not to mention a house cleaner
– replacing home-cooked dinners with healthy gourmet takeaways every night
– ditching all the cash-cow non-fiction writing and concentrating on my novels.
bucketloads of money without hesitation…
I’m take the literary acclaim. If I can have my writing published and appreciated, then I might have an opportunity through that to work for a newspaper, or a publishing company.
Who will last longer? The greatest writers of our day, or the richest? Maybe we’ll consort with Homer on this one.
Julie Weathers says
Hey, Anon, good to see you. As for the No Americans will win Nobel Prize, might I refer you to this article?
According to that, the last person who won was in 1993 and Americans are too “ignorant” to be competitive. If that is true, then I guess the “Bush Era” of ignorance has been in effect for 15 years and will be for a long time to come.