If you spend any amount of time talking to a writer, you'll eventually end up on the subject of Art VS. Commercialism. I'm not talking about the genre vs. literary fiction argument, but rather the starving artist vs. the successful writer. Not to imply that there is a conflict between these two classifications of people, but rather that there is a distinct tension between the two philosophies. The majority of writers who get paid for their fiction are called "midlist" writers because although they are professional and may even make a living from their work, they haven't achieved the fame and fortune of writers like Stephen King or John Grisham. I certainly can't speak for all of them, but I'd be willing to bet that a healthy number of midlist writers would say they'd love to make more money from their work. When it comes down to it, I think even Grisham and King would probably say they give some thought into whether a book will sell before they bother to spend the time writing it. I've heard Orson Scott Card say that very thing in an interview. Regardless of how serious we take our art, it's hard to pay the rent with a story nobody wants to buy, and even authors who don't have to worry about paying bills or putting gas in the car still don't really want to write a book nobody reads.
Somehow, for some people, this drive translates into a need for success at any cost. There's no need to revisit the sock-puppet accounts and fake reviewing situation that blew up last year. We all remember it very well. This year, there's something else going on. It's a backlash once again, and this time it's about copycats.
We've all seen how this works. A hugely successful story comes out, like Harry Potter, Twilight, or 50 Shades, and the next thing you know, hundreds of prolific but not particularly gifted writers have flooded the market with copycat novels. In the wake of Harry Potter, the market quickly became flooded with books about kids who were different, and going to special schools. There were schools for kids with magical powers, schools for vampires and werewolves, schools for superheroes or children with other unusual gifts. The supply was endless, and sales that broke records for the first year or two quickly went stagnant. The trend died and the market moved on. We see that happening today with 50 Shades, where sales of so-called "mommy porn" are plummeting and, in this case, retailers are starting to wipe out entire categories of books that pushed the limits too far. 50 Shades is an extreme example, but I believe it still fits into that same backlash definition.
Those of use who write should pay close attention, because this cycle can kill our careers. Do we really want to write knock-off books that everyone knows are knock-offs, and therefore will categorically dismiss anything we ever write that's original or serious? Sure, we can start over with a new pseudonym, but why put ourselves through all of that? Is it really worth the money, cranking out inferior work, hoping for a quick payout when it's all but guaranteed to backfire eventually? I suppose we all draw a line somewhere. I've considered "easy money" writing jobs before, but I've found I don't have any taste for cranking out stories like that. I want to create memorable characters and unique stories. And yes, I do hope to be just as financially successful as Stephen King, but even if I'm not I'll always be able to look at my library of works with pride rather than embarrassment. I love it when I get emails from readers who tell me one of my stories made their heart pound, moved them to tears, or made them stop and think about something, and I believe a story that can do this is great, regardless of how well it sells out of the gate. A good thing to remember is that many classics weren't considered classics until after the author's death. Would Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, or Mark Twain have liked a little more income? Probably. Would they have written sleazy knock-offs to fatten up their checkbook? I doubt it. Historically, most authors who sacrificed their muse for a better publishing contract usually ended up hating what they were doing, which in my opinion, seems to defeat the purpose of being a writer at all. It would also benefit us to remember that our books, if we truly believe in them, have forever to find their audience. The payoff may not come right away. It might take years or decades. It may never come. But at least we know that we did the best we could.
Now for my own shameless self-promotion: As you can see from the links above, I'm giving away Book Three in the both the Hank Mossberg series as well as the Tinkerer's Daughter series at Goodreads, but wait... that's not all! This week Hank Mossberg: Murder in the Boughs is on sale at Amazon for only $0.99. That's two bucks off the normal price, and just in time for the release of book three. If you already have it, pass the link on to someone who might appreciate a good fantasy-based pulp mystery.