Prestige Or Fortune? The Writer’s Conundrum

I’m guessing there’s not a writer amongst us who has not ask him or her self the question posed on today’s Daily Post

A literary-minded witch gives you a choice: with a flick of the wand, you can become either an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades, or a popular paperback author whose books give pleasure to millions. Which do you choose?

It’s a tough one and though I would like to say that I would go for the prestige over the money, I am not altruistic enough to come to a quick answer right away. I think it’s an even deeper question for writers because what we are effectively choosing is whether our works add something to civilisation or gets lost in the backwash of bandwagon jumpers, forgotten in the maelstrom of shameless rip-offs – we are assuming of course that a book studied academically is said to be adding something meaningful. For me, that is a very powerful draw and I would (I think) give up all the fortunes of the world to be remembered as a writer who delivered something timeless and utterly profound.

I know most of my fellow writers who comment here seek to put meaning into their works. Assuming everyone is being honest, nobody is ever going to say “I’m writing something that grabs all of the tropes of the last ten years and regurgitates them. I don’t care if it’s rubbish, I just want it to make me money”.

My current novel in progress as you know is about a group of Roman gladiators investigating an alien invasion in the forests of Germania. Yet I feel I am carefully crafting six engaging characters and have given them complex back stories that will be fundamental to what they encounter in Germany. So in that respect, I am seeking meaning in my writing projects even if I do hope it’ll be a best seller!

So readers, which would you choose and why?

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7 thoughts on “Prestige Or Fortune? The Writer’s Conundrum

  1. I’d rather write something obscure that is admired for decades than a page turner that sells by the shed load but the ideal scenario would be a literary classic with meaning that goes mainstream 😛

  2. I really dont know. Lots of very distinguished writers say they coukd write a popular novel if they wanted too, but I’ve never actually observed any of them doing it… I think perhaps both are as difficult as each other.

    My first trilogy are complex, tricky to read books, because of the nature of the narrator and the story. They are dense with symbolism and word choices that could be studied and examined for years (and was deliberately selected for effect) with 3 intertwined heroes journeys, including apotheosis, psychopomps and hypnogogic reveries, all with a hard science-fiction explanation. In short very high concept, but they were the books I had to write first.

    The latest book however I have simplified, streamlined and reduced… The narrators are common folk for the most part, and while I use deliberate symbolism, it is with broad strokes not subtlety… I guess I want that pulp popularity really…

    1. That could be a third route – neither high-brow academia nor junk food for the brain… cult appreciation. I think, on reflection, I would prefer being accessible to a select few who get it.

      I downloaded your book An0maly a few weeks ago… I hope to read it before the end of the year.

      1. I’d definately accept cult status (some one described Paradox War as a cult hit waiting to happen, sadly not in a review but a conversation…)

        As for An0ma1y… I hope you enjoy it… I can at least be certain you’ll get some of the gags! 🙂

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