Writing to Sell vs Writing to Inspire

…For those of us who don’t do both at the same time.


Inspiration is often like staring into the sun. I think.

I write to inspire. Possibly to inspire myself. Usually I see my writing as a way to dump out the full bowl in my head, and see what delicious soup it has made. I do not write to sell, mostly because I’m not selling yet (Note: as soon as I do, I’ll change the title of this blog). But even when selling, I’ll write to inspire.

I’ve come across quite a few blogs (most blogs, actually) about writing to sell, why readers don’t like to read the author’s work, why people don’t like to read one series while another is really well received, etc. This doesn’t make sense to me, mostly because you’re the writer, you own your unique product, and your readers don’t control you. I understand the communal aspect that can be inherent in writing, but given the comments and replies to these randomly-checked blogs, it seems more like a compliment-seeking venture.

Note: don’t get me wrong. Studying market trends and following advice of successful writers isn’t a bad thing. I’m not promoting a complete discard of healthy homework. I do promote a deeper look into why you’re writing, and for what purpose you’re writing. (Believe me, I’m guilty of the same. Look at earlier posts of mine!)

I believe this is a continuation of a previous post, in part, where one writes openly or where one writes to an audience with the intent to make money (whether one writes of inspiration, or one writes a lot).

My biggest question is: how does one write well when one pursues money as the outcome? We all must live, we all must eat, and some of us are trying to make a living off our words. It makes perfect sense. And seeing a book tank after doing your darnedest to advertise for it is rough. Sometimes your work simply isn’t well received. Sometimes that book is crap, while other books are not.

I use Dan Simmons’s publication history as my shining example. Why? He writes like me, with an upturned eye to the previous greats. With an insight to the previous writers that came before him. I like him. I like his work. It’s unique and original and different and uncomfortable, in turns (and I’ve read so few of his books). When I read his science fiction novel Hyperion seven years ago, I fell in love. I found the similarities to classical literature (namely, the Canterbury Tales) a breath of fresh air. Then I read his historical horror fiction Drood, then a few others, in other genres. They were all different. They were creatively separate from each other (usually). They were mostly poorly received by the reading community. Or, as I’d assume, not as well received as his Hyperion novels. He’s been writing since the early eighties, starting off in epic fantasy with Song of Kali, and moving forward into science fiction, then horror, then elsewhere. He has a life outside writing. And while I’m sure he’s considered the trends, considered where the saturation is, he didn’t stay there. In fact, when the genre became saturated, he wrote elsewhere. He started in fantasy because Tolkien’s works had finally fizzled enough, and Stephen King’s saturation of horror had begun. Then he moved to science fiction, then eventually returned to horror with Drood, Abomination, and Terror (not in that order). He moved where he wanted (writing-wise), within reason, and he often either wrote (or published) counter-culture: he tried to stay either behind or ahead of the trend, and not inside it.

I think there needs to be people who strive to be the King of a decade, the Rowling of a genre, the Simmons of a movement. I am purposely leaving Joyce and writers pre-1980’s out of the mix, because the world was too different then. Heck, the 1980’s was a different writing landscape to now. I think that dedication to the art, not the money, still stands alone.

But. When the focus is on getting the most people to buy your work, I feel your work suffers for it. You play it safe. You don’t step out of your comfort zone. You water down that bowl in your head so more people find it palatable. You change it to fit them, the customer. Them, the masses. And you make short-term money. You make a small dent. A coffee table book. Some love it. Others don’t. And you might get really successful dancing around for the people.

This is art. Writing a book. Is art. Writing poetry: art. Short stories or serials? Art. Money? Comes second. In my opinion. If it isn’t making money for you, perhaps you should find another job, or come into an inheritance, or work really, really hard to improve your work.

Either you base your book’s success on others’ liking it, or on whether you are proud of it. And some day, if you work hard enough, others will like what you are proud of. Not everyone. Never everyone. And that’s a good thing. You need dissent to improve.

I also recommend not asking the world why your novel isn’t succeeding the way the previous ones did. I’d recommend doing the research, and making your own decision.


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