Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's More Important: Commercial Success or Writing What You Love

I want to hear from you all today.  

I want to know what you consider more important for your careers...be it writing, painting, software programming.  Commercial success or doing something you love.

I know that there are a lot of authors who manage to find that sweet spot where commercial success means writing what they love, but I think that often, authors choose one or the other.  They write something because they know it has commercial appeal despite the fact that they don't love it, or they write books they know won't reach a wide audience because it's what they love.  

And I want to know what is more important to you all.  

So fire away!  Tell me what you think.  Would you write something you weren't in love with if you knew it would sell well?  Could you be happy writing stories you love if you knew they'd never find a wide audience?  Where's the line?  


  1. I guess my plan is to do something I can only just barely stand day in and day out, because it pays the bills, and then to write what I love in my spare time, even though it will probably never earn me a dime.

    That sounds more depressing than I mean it to. Hmm.

    1. It's not depressing at all! It's the reality of life. You have children, which makes your situation different, but the truth is the same. We both have bills to pay and lives to lead.

      What I question (which is what I question myself) is why bother working at a job that I can barely tolerate and write on the side? I mean, I'm doing my best to make writing my full-time gig, just as I know that you are, but does that mean either of us should be unhappy in one area just to satisfy another?

      Life is so short, and I don't want to miss any of it.

    2. Well, we could always sell drugs or do internet porn, but I'd rather avoid jail and diseases. I do have friends who seem to be making a living at writing though, even a couple a sulf-pubber ones, but it's definitely not common.

      The annoying thing is that it's such a catch-22. If you quit your job so you can write more, you'll have more to sell, and will make more money, and so on and so on, but you have to get over that initial hump. Right now, I'm lucky to finish a manuscript a year.

    3. I've been struggling with this question a lot lately. And frankly, I would rather have commercial success. For one, the stuff I write is naturally commercial, so I'm not compromising myself completely. And most writers who are lucky enough to get paid for their work make the sacrifice at some point. Just look at highly paid TV writers who write on procedurals like NCIS or CSI. I love to write. Even if I'm not writing something I'm in love with, I still love the act of writing and am able to find some joy in it no matter what, which is important.

      Like you Shaun, my goal is to be able to write full-time. I hate that most of my days, and energy, are spent on a job that pays the bills, rather than doing what I love. Ever since I sold my first book, I think a lot about quitting my day job. But it does give me financial stability (and benefits). Currently, I can live cheaply. But what about down the road if/when I have a mortgage and a family? Can my writing support that lifestyle? This is the debate I have inside my head most days. For now, I'm just going to keep plugging away. Maybe one day something will change.

    4. Philip - I appreciate your honesty. I think we're all struggling to find that sweet spot where commercial appeal meets writing something we love, but I definitely don't think there's anything wrong with bending one's writing to make it more commercial.

      An actor I admire, Robert Sean Leonard, who played Wilson on House, but who I remember best from his role in Dead Poet's Society, did an interview that I once read. I wish I could remember WHERE I read it, but old age and all...Anyway, he said that he took roles like Wilson in House so that he could do stage acting work, which is what he really loved.

      My goal, I suppose, is to find a way to make the projects I love more commercial. I love action type books that seem to go, go, go and that readers love, but I just don't have the knack (or desire) to write those. I mean, I've tried, but they always come out really bland. I tend to love writing character driven stories that explore stuff that interests me. But those ideas aren't always commercial. I have to find a way to make them that way if I'm going to achieve my goal.

      You seem to have a leg up if your writing tends toward the commercial. Some people have an innate talent for that (and I'm jealous!). I would, however, advise giving up the day job. As much as I detest working in an office, the financial freedom has made it easier for me to write. I have a very cluttered brain. The more cluttered it is, the more difficult it is to write. So, if I'm always working about how I'm going to pay rent or how I'm going to eat, I'd never get any writing done.

      At the same time, I know self-pubbed writers who thrive on that fear. It drives them to write more, write better, write faster. Its' just not for me.

      Congratulations on your first book!

    5. You meant 'not' giving up the day job, right? I'm not going to anytime soon. I really do appreciate the stability. It's only when I had a steady, full-time job that I began writing seriously because I didn't have to focus on where my next paycheck was coming from. Plus I shouldn't complain. I'm treated well, paid well, have fairly standard hours (a few late nights here and there). I could have it so much worse, especially in this economy. I just wonder if there's a job more fulfilling, more creative, that I could pay the bills with.

      For you, I wouldn't worry so much about writing commercial books. What's great about YA, as opposed to movies and TV shows, is that character-based, "quieter" stories can find an audience and even flourish. Those are the books that people connect with and recommend over time. People want to read about interesting characters, not car chases. (unless this is for upper-MG boys like The Recruit or Stormbreaker) But I do like what RSL did, a little one-for-you, one-for-me strategy, and that can also work.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.