The Literary Hourglass: Art Versus Commerce


A writer’s legacy should be determined by the variety and fearlessness of their choices. It’s tempting to establish a formula or rip one off (just look at all the Harry Potter clones out there) and milk it for every cent. Another option is to pander to the demands of a readership and just give them what they want. Some writers (I never used the word “hacks”) are capable of doing that and are very successful. I can’t write something if my heart is not in it. It’s that passion that drives me to complete it.

Too often today, artistic merit is decided by commercial sales. We live in a virtual world of instant gratification. Being a successful author is the equivalent of going viral through commerce. Everyone wants a flake of viral gold dust for themselves. It’s being said in many online articles how unreliable website reviews have become as a way of determining the merits of a book. Hire the right people and you can have wall-to-wall positive reviews.

So it’s not easy being a writer in today’s world.  They are in a Faustian pact with websites, readers, agents and managers. Most agents would have a fit if a writer wanted to write something they wanted instead of being “on trend” and giving the readership what it wants. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they’ll parrot. The greatest writers always challenge their readers with their ideas and test their loyalty. If they really are fans, they’ll respect the creative process and the risks taken by their favourite author.

Play it safe too long and you become stale and so does your work. That’s when you have to seize the reins of your career from scaremongering agents and managers and write what you want. Money is great to have but it’s temporary, the work lives on after you die. The priority should be what you want to leave behind. Others can and will decide your place in the pantheon, if you have one. The most important thing is what you think of yourself and your work. No monetary gain can fill the emptiness of a wasted career and promise unfulfilled.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

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