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Success or adoration?

June 12, 2012

Literary agent and blogger Goddess Rachelle Gardner

If you haven’t checked out Rachelle Gardner’s blog, you should. She’s a literary agent whose daily quality and relevance sometimes reaches the same neighborhood as this august publication. Often you can find it in the more affluent neighborhoods on the north side of the Internet.

Recently, in light of all the 50 Shades and Twilight bashing, she posted a simple question: would you rather have great reviews and critical acclaim or massive sales?

As you might expect, there were plenty of people answering on both sides of the question, and a few who refused to take sides.

Among the purists were people who said they would rather forego fame and monetary comfort for the respect of their piers. As someone who shoe-horns writing in around all the other crap in life, I’d be very happy to be able to find some time to devote to my craft without having to regularly give up nights, weekends, and holidays to make it happen. Would I write what I consider to be crap to make that happen?

It’s not that easy.

First of all, I suspect EL James and Stephenie Meyer don’t consider their work to be crap. I doubt either one of them sat down and said, “You know, I could go through this again and make the dialogue better and work with the characters to make them a little less two-dimensional. But if I did that, I’d forego fame, riches, and Saturday Night Live parodies, so I’ll take out the quality.”

It’s not like you go into a writing session intending to write books that make literary agents and other writers wince. You write what you write and try to sell it. For most of us, EL James and Stephenie Meyer have gone farther down that path than we have. Their books make money. Our books make our weekends full of something other than what the rest of the world does.

More to the point, they’re mastering an important part of the writing equation that often eludes some of us who aren’t published: it’s a business. People are willing to pay money for the privilege of reading what they wrote. A lot of people. There are two ways to get there: luck and luck. Sometimes luck is the residue of good design, the result of plenty of hard work, of a labor-like process of straining to birth a book good enough that other people read it and appreciate it. Other times, luck is the residue of good design, the result of plenty of hard work, of a labor-like process of straining to birth a book good enough that other people read it and appreciate it.

In other words, for most of us, the route to massive sales, if it exists, has to do with creating and marketing the best book we can possibly write. That’s the good design. And I suspect it’s something EL James and Stephenie Meyer did. The luck involves having that book available to the right people at the right time.

If you put a gun to my head, I’d pick the money, but I would then assert I don’t necessarily have to sell out my craft to make the money.

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