A fellow writer once asked me, what would you prefer? To be acclaimed by your peers or by the reading public? By peers, he meant fellow writers, editors, reviewers, people somehow involved in the industry or the critiquing of it.
He caught me off balance because I actually hadn’t thought much about it. I can’t remember what I replied; doubtless it was something glib about wanting it all. Rich, famous AND loved – hey, why not?
But I have given a lot of thought to it since. And I am still not sure. At one time I think I would have replied, ‘Oh, my peers.’ There is a wonderful feeling about being nominated for an Aurealis. Even though your common sense tells you it’s only the decision of three judges, and people who have judged these things often say the actual winner is a compromise because no one could agree on the “best”. But hey, these are people who KNOW books, my kind of books. Who read widely, can recognise a plot hole or a cliche when they see one. They know enough to recognise the something special. And they like MY work. That’s a pretty good feeling.
But that reply contains a certain amount of arrogance too.
What is a writer if he or she is not read?
I was a secret writer for many years.
And no matter how much you enjoy the creative process, there is something missing if no one ever reads it. There is an incompleteness to that process. That’s not to say it is wasted, or not worth it. Just that it’s not quite…complete.
A writer needs an audience to go from being a shade self-indulgent to being an artist sharing a creation.
But that begs the question. How big does the audience have to be before the process is ‘complete’? Is your mother and Great-uncle Bruce sufficient? Your ‘peers’? Or does it have to be the average book reader who pops into the bookstore because Aunt Amy recommended your book as a great read?
I dunno. I guess I still want it all.
And there another tricky question here too. Just how much do you sacrifice to be a bestseller? Nothing – (if they like it, great, if they don’t, that’s their loss?)
Everything – (they liked my first vampire book so I am going to churn them out ad infinitum, all with variations of the same plot, and laugh all the way to the bank…)
[Of course, it’s not so easy to decide what you have to do to be popular anyway. Think about a runaway bestseller by any relatively unknown author. If you had read it before its popularity, would you have predicted it?]
But writers all make choices of some sort, and it would be a pretty strange author who doesn’t, on some visceral level, want to please the unknown reader, the person who just picks up a book in the local store. In fact, many of us agonise over it. Should we kill of the hero? Won’t the fans be upset? I have made a decision not to write in the first person, even though I know I do it well, because so many people have told me they won’t read books written in the first person.
The only thing I do know is that I have to please myself first. There is no way I could write to please only other people, even if I knew the secret formula to being a runaway success.