Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Choices Presented by Canada

As I make my way through Richard Ford's latest novel, Canada, there are many thoughts that occur to me. Most of them are related to the book, but one that keeps popping up is a writing question.

In case you've never heard of Richard Ford he's about the age of my father and has a lengthy wikipedia entry. For purposes of this post all I want you to know is he's the first writer to be awarded both the PEN Faulkner Award and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the same novel.

In short, he's an amazing, well-respected writer. But, from what I've observed, E.L. James gets substantially more press.

Which brings me to my question.

Assuming the two options are mutually exclusive, would you rather be well-respected and widely awarded or well-compensated and widely read?

There's a part of me (the part that has to keep telling my kids, 'No, my books are not in the running for any awards at the moment') that salivates over the idea of writing a prize-winning work of literary fiction. It would be like winning the grand champion writer's ribbon. In my mind it's purple with an enormous rosette. I would pin it up in my office and whenever I doubted my writing abilities, it would be there to remind me someone, somewhere once thought my writing was award-worthy.

There's another part of me that would find immense gratification in an overflowing stream of royalties; the kind of money that could be used to pay for vacations or mortgages as opposed to shoes and lunches with friends.

I recognize the choices presented are extreme options. The kind of thing only at issue for the top 1% of the top 1% of all writers. I'd do the math, but you all know there's a reason I'm a writer and not an engineer.

Still, I'm curious. If you had to choose, would you take the E.L. James path of fame and fortune or the literary accolades of a Richard Ford?

And to those who take the time to answer...here's hoping someday you actually find yourself at that particular fork in the road.

25 comments:

ilima said...

This is hard. I would want to be well-respected yet widely read. I want those more than awards or money. I write commercial fiction, so I'd be more likely to fall in the E L James category, though I'd never write that kind of stuff just for popularity/riches.

Michael Di Gesu said...

What a great question to ponder over BEFORE my first cup of coffee, Johanna ...

Hmmm. Honestly I think I would chose the fame and money ... but not for the OBVIOUS reasons. I would like to be a JK ROWLING BECAUSE that kind of money can DO SO MUCH to help others. With that fame and fortune I would open clinics, help the impoverished, set up scholarships for many artists, writers, and musicians ... you get the picture.

But of course I would keep a few modest homes where I could write these bestsellers. LOL.

Beylit said...

I don't know. The greedy shallow side of me screams for the fame and fortune, and really who doesn't have that side to them? Though I would end up spending all of my money doing good things.
Of course at the same time a lot of the authors that are just crazy popular and getting rich off royalties are also often considered to be not very good writers. Their material appeals to a wide base of people, but at the same time a lot of their sales go to the morbidly curious. I hear as many horrible things about authors like Stephanie Meyers and E L James as I do good things. No actually I hear more bad things than good, even from people who like their books "Oh the writing is terrible, but the story is fun mindless fluff" or something to that extent.

The idea of being respected and awarded is very appealing as well, but if only a small percentage of the population even knows who you are, it is less satisfying. I mean if I write something that is considered genius and only a handful of academics ever read it, well that is almost depressing.

I don't know, tough choice. My shallow side would probably win.

Connie J Jasperson said...

I admire both sorts of success! At dinner parties you get a lot of mileage out of just being published, but fame in your own circle isn't what pays the bills. The sort of thing I write isn't deep or meaningful in any way, it's solely for entertainment. I don't think they make awards for fluff, so I'll take the cash (if the gods are listening)

~Sia McKye~ said...

The stories I write don't actually fit into literary--borders it sometimes, but more entertainment.

Writing fills a need in the soul--or it does for me. Awards and recognition is always nice, but not a necessity for me. I'd ,rather know people were reading and enjoying what I wrote--it's an award in itself and one of the best, imo.

Compensation is another award and if people really enjoy the adventures and tales you write then that will come.

Lol! You don't choose easy questions do you?

Kristen Wixted said...

When I first read your post, I thought, I love Richard Ford! I should check out Canada!
Who the heck is E.L. James?
Now I get it.
I think you know which one I pick. I read the kind of books I want to write. That's all.

Gail said...

An interesting question.

Jessie Humphries said...

Ummm, I am going to publicly say literary respect. And then internally hope for a little of both :).

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I would not want to be well known in the way EL James is known. I don't have anything against erotica. My problem is with the terrible writing!

I think I would like a path down the middle- a book that is somewhat popular, with a modest award. Just one. I'd be satisified with one! ;)

Johanna Garth said...

Ilima, it's a tricky choice, right!

Michael, you wrote all that BEFORE your first cup of coffee. Color me impressed.

Beylit, I think it's very common for popular authors to not be great writers, but to have happened upon something that connects with the general zeitgeist at the moment.

Connie, will put a note into the Gods that you're down with the cash :)

Sia, I know! I'm still going back and forth because I feel like compensation is a sign that you're doing something right and I can't write it off as sheer greed.

Kristen, you are officially the only mom who hasn't read 50 Shades ;) And that's why I always like hearing your viewpoints.

Gail, it is!

Jessie, maybe that's where I fall too.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

I'm sure this is breaking the rules, but I choose both. Like Audrey Hepburn said, "Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!"

Alison DeLuca said...

Great question! Would you believe that I'm happy just knowing that someone, some where, is reading my book?

OK, neither would I. Writers are gluttons for attention and punishment. And I think either road - the supremely popular route or the award-winning serious path - is filled with unforeseen problems as well as moments of overwhelming happiness.

Actually, maybe my little pulp fiction-y writer-y life isn't so bad. I get to stay under the radar, meet some lovely readers and writers (present company included of course) and write whenever I have a spare moment.

I love that.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've never worried about winning an award - and don't pay attention to the books that do win awards. Not looking to make a fortune, just want a lot of people to enjoy my books.

Carol Kilgore said...

I would like for my early books to be well-compensated and widely read so I could afford to keep writing books that would be well-respected and widely rewarded.

Nicki Elson said...

This must be a question every writer has pondered at one point or another - I know I have. Respect is more important to me than killer sales. I don't aspire to win a Pulitzer or anything of the like and I know I don't write the kind of stories that will ever be considered important, but that doesn't mean I don't strive to write them well.

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Arlee Bird said...

I was reading an article just yesterday that was making the claim that winning awards boosts sales. If that were the case and I could make a respectable living from book sales I'd prefer that route. I guess it would depend on what kinds of awards were won. An award-winning author could also probably supplement his income with speaking gigs and other things.

But really it would be nice to make piles of money. Did you really have to use E.L. James as the example though? That really makes it a tough decision. How about I go with Stephen King?

Lee
Wrote By Rote

TL Cooper said...

I want my work to be widely read and respected, but more than that I want my work to have an impact whether it inspires, encourages, provokes thought, or just makes someone smile.
Having said that, earning enough money from my work to live without the need to worry about money ever again would certainly be nice...
As for awards they're nice, but I've never really given them much thought unless someone directly asks me... :-)
We all have different motivations. That's why we have so many wonderful writers producing such myriad work...

Stina Lindenblatt said...

As long as I'm know for great writing (or writing better than in 50 Shades), I vote for being well read. :D

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

I have a difficult time thinking about BDSM, much less writing about it. So I'd have to take Ford's path. I'm a social worker and writer (two of the lowest paying career tracks), so I'm clearly loving living below the poverty line. I wouldn't know what to do with her fortune.

xoRobyn

Chuck said...

I 'd take the money side. Then I'd go buy me some respect...and a blue ribbon!

Shell Flower said...

I think I'd rather be wide read, though I do have huge respect for award-winning writers. Can I just has both and a cherry on top? LOL. My mom would want me to go for the literary award, though...

Pk Hrezo said...

It's a good question, and I think each has their own purpose. It's proof that not all readers need the intellectual read, but want to have fun and feel. Not to say Ford isn't feeling, but you know what I mean.

I'd really take either one. I strive to be the award winner, but if I happen to fall into the commercial success superstardom, I won't turn up my nose. ;)

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

All I want is to not be mediocre. By the way, is Canada a good read? I feel like I should read it, just because of the title.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

If I was going to be honest, I'd say that I want both. If I had to choose, though, I'd pick the literary accolades. Fame can be fleeting. Everybody talks about E.L. James now, but that doesn't mean that they'll still be reading her stuff years and years from now. I'd rather write a book that I know is good rather than write a book that everyone likes (but that deep down, I am not happy with or proud of).