Thursday, 6 August 2015
Fame or Respect?: Measuring A Writer's Success
When I was young, I didn’t think I could pursue a career in the arts because it didn’t ‘help people’. Doctors and scientists and so on seemed like professions with more value – until I realised the necessity of being able to express yourself creatively a stress becomes our number one problem. Beautiful artwork, dance, theatre, literature and music can make us feel elated and inspired in a very unique way, so those who value and appreciate art will respect artists.
This era has seen a surge in indie artists becoming successful and so the question of ‘if’ I could, somehow, remotely help people through my art became the question of ‘how’ I could do it. I wonder about my authorly goals more often than I used to.
What do I want to achieve with my writing?
There was an excellent post on The Novel Project Chronicles about whether it is better to have your book critically acclaimed or popular. Would I prefer my book to be known only to fans of the fantasy genre but highly respected, like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin, or Across The Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn?
Or would I prefer my book to become staggeringly popular, like The Fault In Our Stars by John Green or The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North? As in, read by thousands of people not even part of my target audience, and straight off the back of it comes a movie deal, official merchandise, a rise in the popularity of previously published books, and then probably a mobile app, t-shirts and a McDonalds promo figurine inside every Happy Meal? Okay, I’m exaggerating. Slightly.
The last two aren’t fantasy books, of course. Naturally. That doesn’t happen to fantasy books very often. Harry Potter – a children’s book. Game of Thrones – first published twenty years ago. They are both incredible series’ and in my opinion their success is well deserved, but many other fantastic fantasy books fall by the wayside. I hear people complain about it, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
I would rather be critically acclaimed than popular.
Putting aside for one minute my irrational fear of fame (the idea of being in a viral video unintentionally makes me freeze up in terror), my goal is to become a remarkable fantasy writer and I think that the best judges of that will be dedicated fantasy fans. To me, it means more to have a quiet little family who understand and respect not only fantasy but the institute of writing. I always did prefer underground fandoms, and I think that the fact that fantasy has always been obscure and eclectic is one of the most appealing things about it.
Sometimes, you do want your favourite author to get a bit more recognition, though.
Still, when you put a book in front of people who aren’t the intended target audience, it provokes polarised reactions like you get with Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey... which makes the book all the more popular.
Writers who hope to get popular are often the ones who are building a business around their writing, like my sister. As the main source of income, success is the goal. But then you have the writers who hope to get massively popular, with the goal of never having to work again. But writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme, and most of the writer-bloggers that I follow are also avid readers who do not take writing lightly or as a lottery gamble. They want to contribute something worthwhile to the world of literature, which they love. I wonder if they would prefer critical acclaim too.
But then I think – isn’t wanting to be critically acclaimed counterproductive to my aim? Surely, the point of creating art, aside from the love of it – is for the art to be shown to the world?
Ashana Lian .
The dream of fame is a primary appeal to many writers - would you prefer critical acclaim or massively popularity?
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