Are there still writers just in it for the fame/money?

I was listening to Storywonk Daily‘s 200th episode this morning. Lani and Alastair read an email that they’d received calling them out for taking potshots at ‘literary fiction’, and they apologized for taking out their frustration on a few snobby critics who consider anything not literary as ‘trash’ out on the whole genre. Alastair gave shoutouts to some of his favorite literary authors, and Lani said that whoever was passionate about literary fiction and inspired to write it, or loved to read it, they were a Storywonk at heart and that she’d avoid saying mean things in the future. It was all very sweet.

But something was nagging at me as I listened, and it took me a few minutes to figure out what I was thinking about. From a few places, including an article of Douglas Adams that was in ‘The Salmon of Doubt’, I’ve absorbed this meme of the literary author, (certainly not representing EVERY literary author,) who isn’t really passionate or inspired about the stories that can be told in that genre, but full of himself and just wanting to create a piece of “Literature.” (Douglas said in the article that he aspired to be literate, not literary.)

I have to admit, I’ve never really known another writer personally who I’d put into that category. And the broader bucket of ‘writers who are motivated more to be successful than by passion’ wouldn’t be unique to Lit fic – in other genres, considering the scarcity of artistic accolades, the equivalent would be someone who just wants to have written a successful blockbuster and get rich from it, instead of actually being inspired to write. I’m not sure I know anyone like that either.

Do writers like that actually exist, or are they just a cultural meme that sprang up from writers in one genre taking potshots at another?

4 Responses to Are there still writers just in it for the fame/money?

  1. Writers will always take potshots at each other. They all think that they are geniuses at heart. They all think that you should be reading their work. The fact that there are so many around today is a testament to the empowering effect of social networking wherein every person can consider themselves a celebrity. Narcissism is the new black and everyone is wearing it.


  2. avatar139 says:

    I dunno Chris,

    While I’m certainly cynical enough to believe that there are people who do it purely for the money out there, I think that like all art, writing requires more passion for the craft than skill in order for it to be commercially successful.

    I mean if you look at the odds, roughly 3 out of every 1000 authors becomes published and out of those only 1 in 10 ever makes enough money to be able to live off of it, so certainly if you were driven purely by ruthless ambition and greed, there are much easier ways to get rich with much higher odds of success attached to them.

    While I think there’s a pretty compelling argument to support the idea that genius is never appreciated in it’s own time, most of the writers who do end up wildly successful eventually bow out, but I don’t think it’s because they feel secure in the golden parachute they’ve secured for themselves, rather I suspect it more stems from the fact that the pressure from fans and the public but most of all from themselves suffocates the fire in the furnace of their imaginations.

    That’s not to say that I think that paying the bills isn’t a huge concern for aspiring and even established authors, but I guess my impression of most of the authors I know would be that while the art of the craft is what ultimately motivates them, the need for money is often what drives them to keep going at it full speed for pretty much the entire year! 😉


  3. Alastair says:

    Great post, Chris.

    I think the answer to your question is a qualified no. There are certainly writers who are motivated by fame and money, but I don’t know any of them who have crossed the literary Rubicon of being published. At that point, you have no illusions left about the way the industry works, and if you aren’t in love with writing, then you would quit.

    Prior to reading your post, I would have been inclined to say that there are writers who work in certain areas who are motivated more by the money than by the artistic or narrative merit of their work — I don’t know who wrote the Michael Bay Transformers movies, for example, but I’m fairly certain that the zeroes on their cheque were highly motivating — but that may be the same kind of snarky nonsense that we ran into regarding literary fiction.

    On reflection, I think that anyone who is motivated by money or fame can find a better way of achieving their goals than writing. The only reason to write is that you can’t do anything else; it’s what fuels you, wakes you in the night, bebothers and confusticates you. That, I think, is why we see so many “successful” writers leaving behind the action work of storytelling in order to embrace commentary or controversy. Pretty much anything is easier — and a safer bet — than writing.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the show, and thanks for listening!


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