Writers: Critical or Commercial Success?

May 6, 2010 in Novel, On Writing, Social/Political Commentary by pacejmiller

Say you’re hoping to become a writer.

What is it you’re aiming for?  Is it to finish a short story and submit it for a competition or publication in a magazine?  Or is it to write a full-length novel?  Do you want to get published or is it enough that you’ve finished it?

And say whatever you write becomes successful.  Would you prefer that success to be critical or commercial?  Of course, the answer is probably both, but if you only had the choice of one, which would it be?

Actually, let’s face it.  Critical success alone won’t, in the words of George W Bush, “put food on your family”.  If you weren’t already wealthy and were faced with the choice between loads of money and the adulation of other people, I think it’s safe to say most would choose the former.

But say critical success would also bring about some level of commercial success (like many of the literary award winners), not enough to make you stinking rich, but sufficient for a comfortable living (and maybe a little extra).  Would that be preferable to being a massive international bestseller that is widely panned by critics?  Sure you’ll become insanely rich, but you’ll also be the subject of ruthless articles and extreme jealousy from peers, suffer pressure galore from fans and publishers, not to mention you’ll be recognised just about everywhere you go and no longer be able to live your old life like you’re used to.  In other words, you’ll become Stephenie Meyer.

Does that make it a little harder to decide?

[PS: I can't believe I just missed the advanced screening of 'Letters to Juliet' to write this crap.  Hopefully the movie sucked anyway.]