Great Reviews or Great Money?

We all know that the books receiving critical acclaim aren’t always the same books that are selling millions of copies. The books that win literary prizes aren’t always logging big numbers at the cash register.

So tell me: If you had a choice, which of the following would you rather be?

(1) An author publishing steadily to positive reviews and strong critical acclaim, but selling low numbers of books and therefore unable to support yourself with your writing…


(2) An author publishing frequently (whether self-pub or traditional) to mixed reviews and sometimes even being called unflattering names like “hack” yet making an extremely comfortable living and never having to take on other work.

To simplify: Great reviews, critical acclaim and awards… or great sales? 

I ask this question about once a year, and I enjoy seeing how the answers change over time. Have a good weekend pondering that one!

  1. JW11 says:

    I am also a musician, and in music, we talk about sometimes creating that one hit, that one sort of sell out catchy tune in order to hit the mainstream which draws attention to your other work, which may not be in that vein.

    I would approach writing the same way. My book is memoir, but I have other projects in the pipeline that would not appeal as much to the wider audience.

    I see nothing wrong with doing both, and allowing one to sort of “finance” the others…

  2. benzeknees says:

    Personally, I would prefer to be able to make a living at writing than to write for the reviews. If I am only writing for reviews then I am not writing for my true self. I am not writing what is best about me, I will always be writing for someone else.
    If I can make a living at writing, I can always improve. I can become the writer I want to be & who is also critically acclaimed (or not). But isn’t the point to all this to write for yourself? Nobody else can be you, nobody else can write from your point of view, with your experience.
    I’ll gladly work my way to acclaim as long as I can make a living.

  3. A paycheck with enough digits to the left of the decimal is a greatest review for me. I don’t need the accolades of a critic to stoke my fire. But a bestseller is proof that I am reaching as many people as possible.

  4. I am writing to honor those who have given so much and received little notoriety—also to inspire others by actions of these unknown heroes and heroines—Also to help others remember or learn about events that have shaped lives,but of which many are totally unaware.
    $$$$ would be FANTASTIC. Therefore, I quote Louis Untermeyer again:
    “Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money.”

  5. I would not sell my soul to write well-paying absolute crap or something that violates basic moral and spiritual values.

    Overall, however, I would rather write something that people want and that makes me a great living than some intellectual material that gets some great reviews from snobbist socialist intellectuals who have never really did anything worthwhile for society in their lives. In fact, I would find getting great reviews from these people an insult.

    Two quotations to add to the debate:

    “Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money.”
    — Louis Untermeyer

    “Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”
    — Mark Twain

    “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that it doesn’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”
    — Flannery O’conner

  6. Kirstie says:

    Whichever one provides me happiness in my writing life. I don’t want to be churning out a million books and unhappy with it, I write because I love it – so which ever allows me to continue to enjoy writing and maintain my current level of happiness in life.

  7. Gdub says:

    Easy. Great sales. I would always try to write at my best and elevate above hackness.

  8. Thanks Rachelle for engaging us in this debate.

    While I would relish awards, for me the goal is respectable sales for quality writing. As many others have said, the sales will allow me to produce more while still providing for my family.

    And I believe that writing can improve with increased sales – as a writer I invest in ongoing education. I’d love to get to the point where I could support my family and my learning goals – without needing to maintain a pesky day job 🙂

  9. Jerry Eckert says:

    Context: Retired and 73. I write to tell the stories of those who can’t tell their own because they are now dead, either assassinated or just plain died. I write to know that my life mattered. I write to bring joy or hope to others. I write so my kids will someday know who I really was. I write because I am, as I was in high school, insecure and want to be loved. So screw the money. 🙂

  10. I think there could be an in between stage. There are some wonderfully written books and the authors aren’t hacks and they are making money. Yet they aren’t winning awards. It’s not an either or.

    Why can’t an author write quality, sell books, and earn income? And if an author is a hack it is sometimes in the eye of the reader.

    For me, I’d much rather be in a place where I’m proud of my writing and earning money.

  11. Jonathan says:

    Reviews, all day long, reviews. Of course it might make it hard to find the time to write because the bills keep coming in, and it could be hard to keep an agent, but since I don’t have the later and already have the former, why change now?

  12. Jim Gilliam says:

    “Call me Ishmael.” Anyone reading this who does not instantly recognize it as Melville’s classic opening line to Moby Dick, I have this to say: Welcome to Earth space traveler. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the comments. For our own very individual reasons, some of us desire acclaim, some of us want the cash, and a lot of us want both. All honest answers to Rachelle’s thought provoking question. For the “I want both” category I can think of no better example than Herman Melville’s classic seafaring tale Moby Dick. In James Scott Bell’s delightful book The Art of War for Writers (see my review on Amazon) he says, on page 70: “Was I daunted by the fact that Moby-Dick only sold about twelve copies in Melville’s lifetime? Not I; one of my ideas was that a novelist takes the long view, the lofty view, and that does not include the price of eggs. (My wife would not have agreed, and I doubt if Mrs. Melville would have either.)” Moby Dick was published in 1851 in London and one month later in New York. Reviews both here and in England are politely referred to by modern reviewers as “mixed.” Nowadays Melville’s classic novel is considered a canon of American literature. I don’t know if I agree with Mr. Bell’s statement that Melville sold only twelve copies of Moby Dick in his lifetime, but I did find out that his London publisher gave him an advance of 150 British Pounds. Extrapolating that amount would make that a six figure book deal today. I don’t know what his New York advance from Harper Brothers was, but I would imagine it was a like sum.

    So you see Virginia, it is possible to have your cake and eat it too.

  13. I just want to enjoy writing, and I think if a became a commercial success I would be pushed into a position of writing stuff to order rather than writing stuff because I love to write.

  14. Sam says:

    To be a little cheeky: if the only important thing is reaching readers, you can post your work for free. 😉

    And bad reviews don’t necessarily mean from professional critics– most of the really popular books have hoards and hoards of average readers declaring their hatred, so it isn’t as simple as egotistical literary acclaim versus happy masses. If you are loved by many readers, you are also likely hated by many readers, and that is just an idea to get used to.

  15. Catherine Hudson says:

    Change lives. I’m with you guys.

    The other day I had been feeling rushed by all that needs doing – deadlines, family etc.

    Then my mum who doesn’t believe Jesus is the Son of God asked me to pray for her knees that were in agony because ‘you are gifted’ she said.

    I put my hands on her knees and said “I’ll pray for you, and Jesus will heal you. Sickness entered the world when sin did – and he nailed both, and death, to Himself on the cross and that is why He will heal you.”

    And He did.

    Amazing how the stress and striving was immediately replaced with joy and peace and order. Can we measure accolades and great fortune against those???
    Do the Mary thing – ‘the one thing that is needed.’

  16. If I had to choose one, it would be great sales.

  17. Laura DIane says:

    I want to write. I write to share. I write because there is something inside of me calling me to put pen to paper or hands to the keyboard. I prefer to spend the majority of my time writing rather than anything else. So, with that said, I’d like to be paid to write. I’d like to be paid enough to live comfortably with a few luxuries thrown in once in a while. I don’t care what people think of me. I don’t care if I win awards. I want to write and in order to devote most of my time to writing I need to be paid for it.

  18. Kiolia says:

    I want to write damned good books, and the reviews and money can be good or lousy or whatever. I know I’m supposed to pick one of the two, though, so I’ll roll with good reviews.

  19. TB Pasquale says:

    Although I’d rather self publish and change one life with words than getting 1000 awards.

    So in truth I’ll just reverse my banter from before for the serious stuff…

    I promised in writing that I would try to stick with the guideline that I would only work on things I felt made me more useful to God by way of being most useful to others. So I would rather write something (hopefully also pretty) which is useful to someone in a profound way than either critical acclaim or money.

    So, the not so quippy me says, I pick answer “c”. None of the above.

    I look at writing like I look at therapy–if in one hour I can help one person aspire for joy instead of sadness, and give them the internal peace of being heard and reflected in the mirror of me (writing or therapeutically) then that is a blessing far greater than any of the other silliness.

    Writing or reading has always been one of the most intimate forms of prayer and one of the greatest formulas of communion.

    All the rest of it is sprinkles–they might taste good on top but they don’t fill you up.

  20. TB Pasquale says:

    I’ll take great reviews and changing the world for $500, please. Although , I guess I would settle for just changing the world…one aspiring alliteration at a time!

    Also, I never really banked on supporting myself doing what I love…otherwise I would have rethought the whole clinical social worker thing as well :).

    This is a fun game!

  21. June says:

    Can’t you do both? I’d go for selling a lot of books that people want to read. In my mind, that’s the whole point of it. What good is it to sell a book that few want to read? It reminds me of the Oscars. Most of the movies that win Best Picture are not the one’s that are commercially successful and the masses are clamoring to see.

    If so many people are interested, it can’t be too bad. (I would hope! Lol…)

  22. David Todd says:

    Literary criticism of a current work is somewhat meaningless, since it is the test of popularity over time that determines what is good and what isn’t. What the critics are acclaiming today may be unknown in 100 years, and what the critics pan today may still be in print and selling in 100 years.

    So I’ll opt for current sales over current critical acclaim, and hope the judgment of history is in my favor.

  23. All things considered–and because I’ve =
    gained some wisdom along the way–I’d choose number one, the author with cr=
    itical acclaim but doesn’t sell much. Life is short and when I close my eye=
    s for the last time, I want to be able to feel good about myself and the li=
    fe I’ve led. So far, I feel enormous pride in my fiction work, as much prid=
    e as I felt as a high school teacher for thirty-four years. I did the best =
    I could, kept a high standard for myself and my students–often despite the=
    school’s attempts to dummy-down the curriculum. In my novels–both the wom=
    en’s fiction and the smart romantic thrillers–I’ve tried to keep my standa=
    rds high. Good writing, compelling characters and great stories.–Donna Del Oro, author

  24. Peter DeHaan says:

    I want both! Sorry.

  25. Charise says:

    Well, I just found out my daughter’s dad is paying her college tuition next year so I am in a position *today* to say reviews. BUT (there is always a but)…

    BUT it would be reviews that matter- so more like reviews that are meaningful. Reader reviews (hah! See they have to buy to post reviews!)

    There are plenty of folks called hacks that are very good writers. So I don’t want critical acclaim to mean I want highbrow opinions. But I’ve bought books and been very disappointed so sales don’t mean I gave readers what I’m hoping to give. Good reviews might…

  26. While I would love to make millions from my writing — or even thousands, I think being proud of what I do and being recognized for quality writing is most important.

  27. Heck, that’s a no-brainer for me – #2, hands down! Why?? I want to quit my day job so bad that it hurts. If I could make a living writing, then, well, that’s be incredibly wonderful!

    I hope all of you have a great and blessed weekend! 🙂

  28. After a morning spent at the mechanic, I arrived home to my son’s orthodontist bill – best if I opt out of today’s response. 🙂

  29. wendy says:

    Readers are good.

  30. Nikole Hahn says:

    Do I have to choose?

  31. Lisa Marie says:

    I’ll take “hack” for $500,000, Rachelle. 🙂

    In all seriousness, I would like to be both fairly prolific (sell a lot of copies) AND get rave reviews. My ultimate goal is to write three books a year, but right now I’ll settle for two. 🙂

  32. Janet Bettag says:

    More than anything, I want to do quality work. In a perfect world, that would result in critical acclaim and record-breaking sales – and my efforts would make a difference in the world.

    I don’t have any expectation of becoming rich and famous, but I would like to be able to support myself with my writing. However, I recognize that means I’ll need to write & submit magazine articles and online conent and do some freelance editing “on the side.” Great books take time to write and nuance into something remarkable. Even just so-so books don’t cook to well-done overnight. The proceeds from book sales can be a very long time in coming.

  33. Number 2, obviously!

    Though having actually won an award with my first book and enjoyed the critical acclaim that brought, ideally I’d like to be somewhere in the middle… writing books that change lives, but also sell enough copies to keep me writing. Finding that middle ground is difficult, however, hence my choice of number 2 to survive – then, having survived, maybe I can go back to number 1?

    By the way, you are quite right – my award-winner was not my best-seller.

  34. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser says:

    The trouble with the literary novel is that, like ‘hack-work’, it’s (almost) necessarily derivative.

    Our perceptions and style are formed by who we read and admire, and I suspect that we end up emulating that style and voice.

    Not a bad thing – but it seems a bit inconsistent to laud the ‘the next Cheever’ while lambasting a formulaic writer like Spillane.

    I think there’s an analogous process for critics – their tastes are a product of their education. Look at visual art – a student of Jackson Pollock would hardly praise Claude Lorrain.

    So – does it come down to chasing tastes? Critics’ tastes, or readers’? I don’t know. But i do wonder.

    For myself…with apologies to Kipling’s ‘Convoy Escort’ (knew I should have skipped the poetry reading last weekend…)

    I was a writer for fools,
    who drank Miller Lite in the shade
    I’ll never be taught in good schools,
    but oh, my, the money I’ve made!

  35. Today, I’m going to say sales. But, really, do I actually get to choose?

  36. Jim Gilliam says:

    Great question and some really good replies.

    I didn’t write my first novel thinking that I was going to become as rich as John Grisham, especially once I learned that he self-published his first novel: A Time To Kill. I think he printed 5,000 copies and sold them out of the trunk of his car at flea markets and at meetings of local garden clubs. It wasn’t until his second book: The Firm, came out that a renewed interest in the first novel came about.

    I went the Indie route with my first book: Point Deception and have spent more money on book promotion than I’ve made on sales. No worries, I’m retired and book sales are not part of my retirement package.

    The book has garnered some decent reviews: “An exposed undercover agent awaits rescue and recalls his past in this ambitious cross between a coming-of-age tale and a period thriller. . . Point Deception has plenty of fast paced action . . .” -Kirkus Reviews

    Contrast that with an anonymous one star rating on the Barnes&Noble website, “There is no text for this review.”

    Hey, I don’t mind if you didn’t like my book, just please tell me why.

    Anyway, bottom-line I want people to read my book and so I do things like donate copies to local libraries. I check back every once in a while, and was thrilled to learn that in just about every local area library there is a waiting list to check out my book. Word of mouth is a lovely thing indeed.

    I gave a copy of my book to my dentist, who loved it. He told me not to give him a copy of my second book just tell him where he could buy it. However, he made me promise to sign it.

    I’m having a ball and my readers seem to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

  37. Rachelle, you’ve provided a truly thought-provoking post with a tremendous rainbow of responses. Please, please consider having a follow-up discussion next week on your own thoughts on the matter.

  38. I’ve loved reading this post and the comments. Rachelle’s question about literary acclaim or cash is a moot point to a writer since we can influence neither.

    All we can control as writers is our intent for connection with an audience that finds our books beneficial, whether our intent is entertainment or legacy acclaim.

    So my choice is always – both.

    I want the quality of my writing to be acclaimed. I also want the quality of my stories to connect to a broad audience who feels the cash & time investment to read my work was worth every dime, and the story resonates as beneficial to them, for a long time.

  39. Ellen Weeren says:

    I am going to aim for both – no need to live in an all or nothing world! And if that doesn’t work, then I will simply write about how great life can be in both worlds. 😎

  40. How about writing a good, well-written book, an original story with a non-predictable plot, something that makes you proud and pleased with your effort, an excellent product that fulfills God’s call on your life and changes the lives of your readers (thus changing the world through them)? Then, how about this book selling well and making you lots of money? Can’t we have both?

  41. Terri Nestel says:

    I would hope to strike some kind of balance between critics’ praise and commercial success but at the end of the day, money talks! I don’t mind having a day job, but would love to be able to make it a part time one.

  42. Eileen Cook says:

    I want to write books that I’m proud of, that express the stories I want to tell. How they are received isn’t up to me so I don’t worry about it.

  43. Shawn Inmon says:

    The question posed most definitely doesn’t say you ARE a hack writer, just that you might be perceived, especially by critics, to be that way.
    As long as I’m putting out the best work I can, and I am proud of it, the critics can sit on it and spin.
    If I am able to support myself through writing, then people are buying my work, and that would only be because they are getting something out of it. They are supporting me critically with their pocketbook.
    Critics = meh.
    Readers = Yes!

  44. Thank you, Rachelle, for this challenging, thought-provoking question. Thank you, as well, to all who have responded. Once again, I am so thankful for being blessed with this community of writers.

    When I finished reading the post, I was certain of my answer: good reviews and critical acclaim. My immediate reaction was that producing good writing, writing that I can be proud of, is much more important to me than tons of money. Having a reputation for quality is important to me. THEN I began reading other responses and my mind became muddled and my resolve crumbled. What made me reconsider was the idea that if your book is selling well, that means you are giving readers something that they like, so what difference does it make what the critics think. I went back and re-read the post to see if I had misinterpreted it and I had. I had turned it into quality with little money versus lots of money for mediocrity.

    In truth, I as a reader, I care not at all what the critics think. Usually I don’t agree with them. So logically, as a writer, I should go for the money and not for the reviews. However, quality is still what is most important to me. So, if I can write books that make readers happy and if I can consistently deliver what THEY want, then I don’t care what the reviewers and critics think, as long as I feel I have produced my best writing. If I happen to make tons of money in the process, then all the better! 🙂

    Have a great weekend everyone!

  45. PiscesMuse says:

    I would rather have my books be popular with readers than with critically aclaimed reviews. It’s the readers opinions that truly matter to me. I aim to write to be entertaining, not for some deep message. When I read I like to be entertained and amused. My reading is escapist. I hate books that talk down to me or try to make a point about life. So I guess that puts me on the sales side of things.

  46. Show me the money, honey. Praise and accolades don’t pay the bills.

  47. Megan says:

    Good question!

    I write what’s in my heart. If that means it’s a commercial success but panned by the critics, so be it. Or if my writing doesn’t sell well but wins awards, that’s okay, too.

    But if I had to pick just one, I’d rather my words entertained/touched as many readers as possible while allowing me to make a living.

  48. I’ll take respect for my work over dollars any day.

  49. Joe Pote says:

    Frankly, neither is a huge motivator for me.

    I don’t expect to ever receive awards or critical acclaim.

    I expect my reviews to always be mixed. One of my goals in writing is to express a different viewpoint that others may not have seen before, which is pretty much guaranteed to draw some negative criticism as well as, hopefully, some positive reviews.

    Mostly, I hope my writing impacts people’s lives, draws them closer to God or brings some measure of healing.

    Now…the next magic question might be…how many lives?

    I don’t have an answer for that one…

  50. Neither. I’d rather make decent money selling enjoyable books with touches of elegance and meaningful messages. I don’t want my books to be accessible to only a few literary people (not likely anyway). Neither do I want to produce junk that I will be embarrassed by. As in all things, I try to find the Middle Path.

    Bonnie Ferrante

  51. If I were in it for the money, I’d have given up about ten years ago. I’d rather have Shannon Hale’s reviews than Stephenie Meyer’s.

    But I’d really be happy with either. If I had a lot of money, but couldn’t write well myself, I’d start a publishing company and I’d publish great writers. I’d still be changing the world, and furthering the Kingdom–just not through my own writing.

    On the other hand, if I were a great writer, I’d be content with only affecting the handful of people who read my work. Because I’d figure that if I changed those few people, they would go out and change others and those others would change others and on and on.

    So I could be quite happy either way.

    Unfortunately…most of us won’t have either. Most of us won’t make scads of money or publish to critical acclaim. And that’s OK, too. I was saved while I read an obscure novel that I’m sure never made the author much money or earned her any awards. And yet, she did not labor in vain. She saved my life. I think that was a fine thing for her to do.

    Fun question! Thanks!

  52. Sundi Jo says:

    If you’re getting critical acclaim and reviews, but not selling tons of books, people will still be interested in what you have to say. Therefore, speaking engagements may be what pays your bills.

  53. Ted Cross says:

    Jessica, many of the pop bestsellers actually turned into classics, but were considered little more than pulp during their times.

  54. I’m wrestling with this question right now. I’ve been working to break into the traditional publishing rote for awhile now, hoping it could lead to good reviews & critical acclaim.
    However, I’ve also been thinking about self-pubbing freebies or cheap ebooks to boost traffic on my site, & in turn readership.
    I wonder if there’s some magically creative way to do both. 🙂

  55. I want to write books that last, and affect. We all know that the writers of the classics didn’t sell many copies, and in many cases died penniless, whereas the pop-bestselling writers of those times we have forgotten. I want to write to change the reader, not entertain the reader. If that means low sales then so be it; I’ll make my money elsewhere so as not to compromise my vision.

  56. Kele Moon says:

    I’d like to sell tons and tons and tons of books that I’m personally proud of and who gives a flying fuck what others think about it. . . because you know the more popular a book gets the more people feel the need to attack it. . . As long as i’m proud of it. . . I don’t care who calls me a hack. . . Gotta be true to myself and that’s all that matters. . . even more than the sales. . . just putting out books I’m proud of writing. . .

  57. This is a little like asking if I’d rather have a handsome man by my side because everyone admires him, but he’s not contributing to my happiness (unless I just like looking at him!) or would I rather have the ugly man who can make the mortgage payments and make love to me all night? Yeah, I’d ditch the pretty boy!

  58. Kaelaqlc says:

    Is this so awful….I would rather be making the money. There are several reasons for this:

    1) money is good, and supporting yourself/your family is important

    2) I think we all write the best that we can (otherwise what’s the point), so if my best isn’t good enough for the critics, I still have a nice fat bank account to keep me warm

    3) if so many people are buying my books, then the writing can’t be all bad. It’s like pop music. People who are “too cool” downplay pop music, criticize it, say it’s not artistic enough. But people have fun listening to it – that’s why it’s called Popular music. And there’s too much seriousness and tragedy in the world to not appreciate a good beat that makes you want to dance. Plus, more people are listening to it, so your message – whether the critics like it or not – is getting to more people. And that’s a pretty amazing thing!

  59. I love quoting movies on your blog, Rachelle. I’m not sure why, but…

    Show me the money!!!

    I’ve found over the years that what I really enjoy to watch on the big screen and the kinds of books that entertain me are not always the ones that have received critical acclaim.

    Also, I work in a career that I don’t love. I like it. It provides a good income (so, I’m not complaining), but I don’t love it. I love the business of writing. And the thought of making money in a business I love with the kind of writing I truly enjoy makes my insides tingle.

  60. MJ Donnery says:

    Honestly, when pen comes to paper, neither of these questions really comes to mind. Having said that, who wouldn’t love to make a living from their writing?
    While positive feedback is always appreciated, that’s not why I write.I write because I have something to say. I write because I want my words to be read.

  61. Rachael says:

    Sales. I would rather have readers love my books than critics because they’re really the ones that matter. I don’t write for critics, I write for average people like myself in the hope that I’ll be able to touch their lives in some way.

  62. Hmmmmm. Let me think. Oh, I know–BOTH!!! Can’t choose that one, you say? They contradict? I’m sure you can be acclaimed by one group and called a hack by another. Can I pick somewhere in between? I’d like to make a living … at least enough to keep my husband helping with dinner and the dishes to support my “habit.” I don’t need “acclaim” necessarily, but a sizeable group of readers, who relate to my characters and because of that are touched by the story, would be just fine.

  63. Lori says:

    I want my J-O-B to be writing books. So yeah, I will do what I need to do to make that happen.

    I don’t have time for hobbies.

  64. Colin Smith says:

    I think first and foremost, I want to write the best books I can. One thing I can’t control is whether or not everyone will love what I write, be they critics or book-buyers. The only thing I can control is whether or not I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m sure there are writers that could compromise on this just to write something that will sell. But I can’t. While I’d love to earn big fat royalty checks from my work, I also want to know I’ve written the book(s) I really wanted to write and I did so to the best of my ability. The two are not mutually exclusive (look at J. K. Rowling), but to me, personal integrity is priceless so that will always be more important.

  65. #2, hand down.

    Awards/acclaim boost my pride….

    Sales boost my bank account.

    A rich, humble person, yep, that’s what I want to be!!!

    Seriously, many of the books that receive the BIG reviews/awards are books that I personally don’t even like that much. I figure if I’m selling a ton, then the stories that I worked over, prayed over, and poured my heart into are being seen by everyday people, and that’s who I want to reach.

  66. Rondi Olson says:

    Great sales because, as others have put so aptly, great reviews aren’t necessarily a true reflection of a piece of works quality.

  67. And, of course, clever publishers have been editing critical reviews for years to make them seem positive. A review that states: “Joe Blow has written a spectacular mess of a book!” simply becomes: “…spectacular…!”

  68. Money. Period. The only acclaim that matters comes from readers. And Oprah and, in the past…Oprah.

    Too many critics are frustrated writers. Best (although crude) commentary on the topic came from Mel Brooks. “And thus was the birth of the artist…which was followed shortly by the inevitable afterbirth…the critic.”

    Of course not all critics are bad. Some are smart, erudite, honest and tasteful. But Mel’s commentary is funny because, in large part, because it’s true.

  69. Josh C. says:

    Sales, definitely. I want readers, not awards.

  70. For me it really comes down to the question “how many people am I able to help?”

    Critical acclaim is all about stroking my own ego. Popular sales is about getting my book into as many hands as possible so that I can entertain and give hope to as many people as possible.

  71. Kay Elam says:

    I want my books to be widely read and I’m not naive enough to think everyone will like them–critics or readers. What’s important to me is to sell the best book I can produce and have it read by many. Enjoyed by many would be even better.

  72. Stephanie M. says:

    I want my writing to be a legacy, not an embarrassment, to my children. So I’m going with quality.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser says:

      Your legacy will be the sweat and sleepless nights you spent, the honor of hard work with no assurance of reward. I hope and pray that your children will honor that above all, because you’ve earned it.

  73. Roxanne says:

    I would go with the sales and mixed reviews because the truth is, no matter how good a writer you are there will always be some critics or readers who just don’t get you. Getting the sales means you are being read by a wide array of people and therefore getting their nod of approval, even if the critics don’t like it.

  74. Jeanne T says:

    Interesting question, Rachelle. I think I would take sales. I may be naive, but if I can write well, get good sales, that will move toward a long term relationship with a publisher.

    I also agree with what’s been said above about being able to have an impact on more readers. Which happens when my book gets in the hands of more people.

    You made me think before my first cup of coffee. Thanks, I think. 🙂

  75. Mark H. says:

    I already know that my writing will never win any awards. Too many exploding 18-wheelers. So I’ll stick with sales.

  76. Maggie Lyons says:

    I best remember well-written books. Popular sellers produced with little regard for the art of language may have given me great enjoyment when I read them, but they didn’t hinge themselves to my memory and delight my thoughts for years afterward. But must we divorce art from popularity? Must what the mass of consumers want always come down to the lowest common denominator level? Some exquisite writers – Jane Gardam, for example – have managed to wed critical acclaim with enviable sales. That’s my inspiration.

  77. If I could be a hack like John D. MacDonald, I’d take it. 🙂

    He was once considered the hackiest of all hacky writers, churning out titles by the bucketful.

    But he was also amazingly gifted, with piercing insight, and wizardry with words.

    I’d take the money over the accolades, because that would mean more people were reading my books.

  78. Else says:

    It’s funny– druthers or not, I’m in the first camp. My books are apparently literary. The thing is, I have *no idea* what makes them so, what the criteria are, how I ended up there. None, zip, nadda.

    And I suspect I’m not alone in this.

    Someone should publish a guide, or at least a checklist, telling what makes a book literary. Then we could make our choice knowingly.

  79. CG Blake says:

    Rachelle, this is a more complicated question than it may appear at first blush, or perhaps I’m reading too much into it. When I read a James Patterson novel (which I try not to) I’m overcome with the sense that it is such unbelievable drivel and that I can and have turned out better work. I also suspect Patterson is a better writer than what we see but he has hit upon a formula and he is a marketing genius. When I published my first novel, what meant more to me than sales have been the positive reviews by people I don’t even know. If the craft is strong and a writer is persistent the sales will come.

  80. My greatest fear as I embark on this journey to publication is that I will publish something that, ten years down the road, I’m embarrassed by. So yes, it’s very important to me that I write well. It’s also paramount that I glorify God with my writing. Whether or not the literary critics like what I write is less important to me than actually selling books.

  81. B. James Wilson says:

    I am reminded of Ayn Rand“s Fountainhead and the sharp contrast between the characters, Howard Roark and Peter Keating. It is representative of the contrast between art and entertainment. Can I have my cake and eat it too? In other words, I don’t mind a bit of compromise, but I refuse to surrender. The best selling fiction genre by a long shot, is Romance. Should we all write romance novels? Many have succumb. I’m happy for them but I am reminded every time I check out at the grocery store that our culture is at stake. As artists we are soldiers in a war for people’s minds and, maybe, their souls. (Pornography sells much better in the male market than electronic books.)

    Why does it have to be one or the other? I want it all and I think with a little extra work and good editing, that’s possible. I look to authors like Martin Cruz-Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, and John Irving. They may not be the best selling authors in the world, but their doing O.K.. How about Harper Lee, or Thornton Wilder? A Pulitzer Prize will keep you in bacon for a long time.

    As I said, I’m O.K. with a little compromise, but I refuse to surrender.

  82. Depends on the critics. My stories will NEVER be up for a Pulitzer or any other major literary awards (unless, of course, the world shifts and everything gets topsy-turvy), but for a RITA…it’s hard to say.

    Ultimately, I wouldn’t have to make a lot of money, but I would choose sales if that meant I could live off doing something I love. My husband makes enough money to support us so that I only have to work part-time, so I’m in a nice situation to start with, but I’m going to have to pay student loans back soon, and an income from writing would be icing.

  83. Yes, I agree…great reviews, because I want my writing to change lives! Money means nothing in this context…

  84. Ted Cross says:

    One person’s hack is another person’s favorite writer. Give me George R.R. Martin any day over Amis or Franzen.

  85. Timothy Fish says:

    I don’t really care much for critical aclaim. I’m also not sure that I want to make lots of money from writing either. I don’t exactly want to change the world. I would be happy with a few people buying my books every month and the occassional e-mail from someone to tell me that they got something out of what I wrote.

  86. Loralie Hall says:

    We have this discussion at home a lot. While being rich and famous isn’t my ultimate goal (though I sure wouldn’t complain), I don’t expect to be writing books for critical acclaim, either.

    If I had my choice, I would probably pick the ‘hack’ route. I want people to read and enjoy my words, and that seems like the best way to make it happen on a large scale.

  87. I’ll take option (3), both (1) and (2). Not possible, you say? Why not? Why is pleasing critics so much different, to the point of being mutually exclusive, from pleasing the public? What’s wrong with the critic system, then?

    But if I must choose, give me the money because I’d much rather read negative reviews from a beach in Hawaii than read glowing reviews in a crappy apartment in the city. Though that’s only part of it. Low sales = few people enjoying my writing. High sales = many people enjoying my writing. I like many more than I like few.

  88. Katharine says:

    I lived without money and survived. But if I was being read and yet told that I was no good, not clever, and not regarding as a distinct literary voice, I would take it personally. Money comes and goes, but my view of myself and my art is forever.

    • Janelle says:

      I don’t need a lot of money to live on. I’d rather get the acclaim than be called a hack, just out of self-respect. I do, however, think it’s a bit unrealistic to say you can’t have both, but for this either/or scenario, I’d rather be able to look myself in the mirror each day.

  89. Angela Brown says:

    Great sales.

    Here’s the deal: Great sales can also be interpreted into more people reading my story. Critics can have their say. Awards are nice, but it comes down to basic storytelling, and that’s where many high-selling books – even if they aren’t written to perfection or receiving critical acclaim – win.

    Plus, I want to make writing my career. Unless all that critical acclaim equates to supporting me and my daughter, then I’ll have to take Great Sales for self-sustaining support.

  90. Otin says:

    Although I would love to write the next great literary epic, at this point I would do anything to get out of my day job. Even as I type this my back is still aching from yesterday.

    If it came down to it, I would probably endure being called a hack to make a good living as a writer. However, in my spare time I would still be trying to write the next great literary epic!

  91. TNeal says:

    Which one gets a movie contract and helps me meet movie stars and professional athletes?

    Looking at my first sales report yesterday (which happened to touch on two weeks of the first quarter) 🙁 and reading my latest review 🙂 , I’m inclined toward sales.

    In reading other responses, I can’t help but think, if we want to be read, we don’t want awards or pats on the back, we want sales because they indicate our story is in the hands of readers (rather than critics).

    I also think to equate awards with quality work would be misleading. The title award-winning author does mean something, but so does #1 bestseller.

  92. I want HUGE sales. Because I value the opinion of readers over critics any day!

  93. This is a tough one. Hubs and I have 3 boys at home who eat their weight in money A WIP won’t feed them, a salary barely does. Speaking of salaries, hubs just submitted his 4th article this year. I’m VERY proud of him. Too bad it’s to “Nerdy Tree Doctor Monthly” and he gets paid in glory and pen protectors.
    But to be totally honest with myself, I’d really appreciate the moolah, but to totally true to myself, I want my work to be hailed as page turning, breath taking, heart wrenching, life altering and totally inspiring.

    Rachelle? Can we PLEASE have both?

    • I completely agree, Jennifer. I want write brilliant books that people love. I want money. I want BOTH! Can’t we start a movement, like Take Over the Publishing World? No? Oh well, pen protectors come in handy (as long as you can afford to buy pens).

      Congratulations to your husband!

  94. Although I’d rather have both, if I absolutely had to choose, I’d pick #1. Quality over quantity. Passion over paycheck. I don’t write to make money, if I did, I’d be dead… 😉

    Loved your poem, Andrew. Very clever!

  95. This is an interesting question Rachelle! I’d have to say #1. I want my writing to count and touch lives.

    I enjoy your posts. Thanks.

  96. I’m #1. I’m #1. Now, that was just fun to write. 😉

    Not sure I’ve budged on this question.

    But it’s a good one & I enjoy reading the answers here.

    Happy Friday, Rachelle.
    ~ Wendy

  97. Quality. This was like asking teachers why they teach. We teach to change lives not for the money (which isn’t there). I write to make a difference and maybe get my students reading. It would be great to make money at it but I still prefer the quality over quantity and money.

    • Timothy Fish says:

      Having a summer vacation isn’t bad either.

    • Jeanne T says:

      Been there, done that, in the teaching field. I agree with what you said. 🙂

    • I’m a teacher to, and you are right. We teach because we love it. We certainly don’t get paid quality salaries, but we throw ourselves (and often our own money) into teaching because we are passionate about it. For me, it’s the same thing with writing. I write because I love it and I’m passionate about it, so I want to produce really good writing. If I get paid well in return, great! If not, I still know I’ve done good work — even if it goes unrecognized and unappreciated (another thing teachers are used to).

  98. You know, Rachelle, it’s funny you should ask this. Is this really a conscious choice? I mean, if there’s a book inside us, it doesn’t specify one or the other. Maybe some authors approach this differently, but kind of like birthing a baby, the child is already who he or she is made to be and can’t be any other.

  99. carol brill says:

    ah, the literary vs. money arguement that keeps some MFA programs afloat.

    I take the money.
    Lots of money = lots of readers, which means some number of “critics”(the ones who are spending their hard earned cash to buy the book) think the writing has merit.

  100. Adam Heine says:

    I want more readers, which usually means more sales (convenient, that).

    I once worked on a PC game that got fantastic critical acclaim, but sold terribly. I’m proud of what we made, and it’s nice to occasionally run into one of our two fans, but it would be nice to be able to say I made a game people had actually heard of 😉

    • Elissa says:

      Readers. All I want is readers, too. Money comes with that, I know, but that’s not my motivation. Sharing my stories- that’s what makes me fire up the computer and start typing.

  101. Alice DiNizo says:

    Well, I’d do a middle ground,writing as well as I can, suffering through whatever reviewers say and maybe making enough money to pay my electric bill.

    • Sue says:

      I agree. I don’t need awards, but I don’t want to be a hack either. I would be happy with a book I was proud of that had average sales but meant something to those readers.

  102. Last time I checked you can’t eat critical acclaim, however if you happen to know a recipe……..

  103. I like Andrew’s poem. Serving God comes first for me too. That said, if there were fewer books written by hacks, more people would read the ones that recieve acclaim. And yet, really great books often don’t win awards. So, I’d rather write well and say something valuable whether my books win awards or not. Making money is important but secondary to craft.

  104. I would really like to be a full time writer, so that I wouldn’t have to have another job. I have always dreamed of writing books and want to make my dream a reality. But, I want my words to go out into the world and make a difference in the lives of those who read my words.

  105. Personally? I want both. I want the awards and acclaim, and I want the money. But since I have to choose one or the other, I’ll choose the money. If I’m selling books to the point where I can live off of my writing – yes, that’s still a dream of mine even though I know it’s a long way off – then I know someone likes me. They’re reading my books, buying my books, buying my books for other people to read, etc. And if they’re popular today they may continue to be popular over the years. At least, that’s what I hope.

  106. Ted Cross says:

    There are some critics whose opinions I’ve learned to respect, but there are far more with whom I rarely agree. The biggest literary awards almost always ignore my favorite books and go to books you couldn’t pay me to read.

    So yeah, I would take the sales over the aclaim any day. I already know there is a huge number of readers out there who think that if something has been written once then why would anyone want to read about a similar thing again. If you put elves and wizards in your book then it’s ‘derivative’ and that means ‘bad’. These people ignore a whole lot of others out here who get a taste of a world we love and we want more of it. We can’t get more from authors like Tolkien, because he is gone. They can hate authors like Brooks and McKiernan for publishing books derivative of Tolkien, but those books still sell in great numbers. It was D&D that made me love the Tolkienesque high fantasy style of world, and I’ve spent decades searching for more good stories set in such world. Publishers and agents are rejecting such stories and refusing to publish them. That’s why I’m writing such stories myself, even knowing that agents will not even bother with me. I don’t think it’s right to ignore a huge segment of the populace that could care less whether a book is derivative or not–we simply want a good story set in the type of world we have grown to love most.

    • Ted Cross says:

      I don’t like the set up of these comments. I copied out my comment before posting it and spell checked it to see where I fat fingered things, and I corrected everything. When I pasted back in, it looked like it did the paste, so I hit Enter. But it didn’t take my corrected version, and it won’t let me delete it and repost. So, I do know how to spell ‘acclaim’ and there were a number of other corrections I would have made before posting. Why can’t you allow a Delete function here?

  107. I’ll take both, just like Mira said. Kudos to you, Mira, for making your point, no matter what your attitude was in the moment.

    I’d start by making the money so that I would then be able to work worry-free on my critically acclaimed masterpiece. And just because I make money doesn’t mean I’m not putting out quality stuff, does it?

    Both for me for sure.

    You’re poking where it hurts, Rachelle; you know, that hollow place under the ribcage.

  108. I think writing for acclaim & awards reeks of ego. We write so others will read. We want to reach as many readers as we can. If people are buying, then they like it & that’s all that really matters. Who the hell cares what some “hack” reviewer says? That road goes both directions. No matter what a writer does, s/he will never be able to please everyone. Why try? Write for your readers, not critics. If, instead of a book, this were a restaurant, and as the owner I had to choose between serving food the critics love or food the masses love, there would be no question. Without the masses to consume, why in God’s name would I cook?

  109. Cath Bore says:

    I’ll be honest with you here – great sales. Simply because that means lots of people are reading and enjoying my work. I would far rather that, than just a few get to see it

  110. joylene says:

    Honestly, I could use the money. I’d be in the position to make a change, first in my neighbourhood, then the next. There’s more to life than fame.

    Great post, as usual.

    Joylene Nowell Butler, Author

  111. “Wake up, John! You’ll be late for your massage!”
    “Oh that’s right. Thank you, honey.” I crawled out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. As I sat in my seven foot circular tub and turned on the jacuzzi, my mind contemplated all the horrible reviews the critics gave my latest NYT bestseller. They were so cruel. Heartlessly, the writer posers ripped my work to shreds. My Blackberry rang. It was my agent.
    “Hi John, this is Janet.”
    “Oh hi, Janet, what’s up?”
    “I was just cruising in my new Jaguar and wondered when you’d be done with your rough draft?”
    “Soon, I hope. I’ll email you the document before Friday.”
    “Great! I’m sorry the reviews were so bad on your book. Are you doing alright?”
    “I think so. You’re not upset are you?”
    “Well..” she glanced at her Rolex, “I was upset about five minutes ago, so I bought a new set of shoes on Rodeo to cheer me up. All better now, thanks.”
    I climbed out of the tub and put on my robe. Hopefully the massage would relax me, I thought. It did a bit.
    As I looked out over the lake from my balcony and saw my kids playing in the pool, I realized how selfish I’d been. Sure, I provided them with all they needed and had time to see all their games and plays. But what I should have given them was a plaque that honored me. Only then would they have seen the true greatness that is their father. Yeah, I was pretty dang selfish to make money.

    Yeah it’s extreme, but I’d rather put food on the table than eat a trophy any day of the week. I’m sure my agent will feel the same way…someday.

  112. Arlee Bird says:

    In an ideal world where money was not a concern? Of course I’d prefer the quality product and the reputation. From a realistic standpoint where I have bills to pay? I’ll hack ’em out and rake in the cash if that’s my guarantee. Riding a high horse looks good, but not being able to pay the bills is not so great.

    But–on the other side of the coin, if one were writing truly respected works and had an esteemed reputation as a writer, one might be able to make a decent living speaking, teaching, and doing respectable things related to ones position in the literary world. Now, if this were the case, I’m all for quality with not so hot sales.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

  113. Aishah says:

    Great Money, cause that means your book is fab anyway.

  114. Josh Kelley says:


    I believe deeply in the message of my book and care more about getting it out than good reviews or even money (not that money wouldn’t be really, really nice).

    Here’s hoping Rachel Kent likes it when I meet her tomorrow!

  115. LC says:

    I’ll take seeing the cover of my fourteenth bestseller in every other airline seat and beach lounge next summer.

    Who won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1981? I don’t know either, but a lot of people still read Mickey Spillane.

  116. Ida says:

    I write my children’s novels under my own name and adult
    mystery and fantasy novels under a pen name. The adult books sell better probably because there is a bigger audience. Middle grade children’s novels seem to inhabit that short period of time where a child’s reading skill has sufficiently advance to be able to read a novel with chapters but still young enough to enjoy a child’s book with all that entails.

    Unfortunately, when 12 year old students at my school are reading The Hunger Games this year and Twilight last year, I feel like I am writing to a 2 year age span.

  117. Amber says:

    Oh, definitely the money. We can all write whatever we want on the side, for free, but publication is about turning that writing into money. Why not make a lot, while we’re at it? And yes, if given the choice between pleasing a single “critic” and 10 readers, I will pick the readers every day.

  118. Mira says:

    Which would you choose, Rachelle? Lots of wonderful, high quality clients who made you no money, so you had to take a day job to support yourself on the side?

    Or clients who turned out trash but made you alot of money.

    You don’t choose. You have both – quality clients and a comfortable living.

    Why on earth imply that writers have to choose? What is gained by this type of question?

    There is absolutely no reason on earth that any writer can’t have both.

    • Mira says:

      Arrggghhh. I did it again. I tell myself I’m not going to do it, and then I do it!

      Konrath really got me going today, I’m breathing fire.

      I may have misunderstood your intent here, and if so, I’m sorry.

      • Back awaaaaay from Konrath! I’m sure there are others with the same amount of wisdom, but with less anger and vitriol.

      • *wisdom* is used loosely here…

        • Mira says:

          Jennifer, I sometimes have concerns with Konrath’s tone too. I worry that it may put off some of the very people he is trying to reach.

          But, on the other hand, that’s who he is. And the qualities that make his tone harsh sometimes are the very same qualities that help him take such a strong stand in support of writers. He is confident, articulate, not afraid to speak truth, not afraid to risk being disliked. He is a powerhouse, and writers need that.

          Therefore, he has my full support. There is a very good reason many writers are angry, Jennifer. What Konrath says is worth listening to – especially for anyone new to publishing, who may be trying get a big picture of this publishing world.

      • Mira,

        I agree with your point. Yes, you lashed out at Rachelle in a way that she didn’t deserve, but your point is valid. Agents and publishers are business people who, therefore, want / expect to make money from their writers. At the same time, they don’t want “hacks” who write formula stuff that sells but is the epitome of mediocrity. (Well, admittedly, SOME publishers DO want to writers to write the same story over and over and over again, but they are not the norm). If they don’t settle, why should writers? Having said that, I don’t think that Rachelle ever implied that we should. She was raising a question, I think, about focus and values.

    • Mira, as much as I, too, enjoyed Konrath’s post today, I have to back up Rachelle here. We do live in a world where critical acclaim and reader popularity don’t often come to the same person. It’s not implication, but rather a statement of reality. Readers, by and large, don’t care what the critics think; they–well, we, honestly–care what our friends think when we’re talking about books. That kind of makes me feel good about readers, and not as good about critics.

      • Mira says:

        Stephen, I was prickly because I came away from Konrath’s blog upset about agents and hidden agendas, and I think I was being unfair to Rachelle. So, it wasn’t so much the content.

        Because I do agree that critical acclaim and popularity don’t always go together. But it is possible that will change in the future.

        As readership grows because of the accessibility of e-books, readers looking for recommendations may have more of a dialogue with critics, and critics may re-think some things.

        An increase in the sheer volume of readers may also mean that literary works may get more eyeballs. Which would be kind of cool, actually.

  119. I agree with what Natalie said about sales. Like she said, it’s not just about the money; it’s about the fact that a lot of people are reading (and enjoying) your books. And most writers do want a lot of people to like their work. I read somewhere that writing is about making connections with your readers, and that’s what I want to do too.

  120. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser says:

    If they also serve
    who stand and wait,
    great writers deserve
    acclaim, si vous plait.
    But I’ll take the sales
    and critics’ attack
    make money by bales
    and serve God as a hack.

  121. Daniel says:

    I’ve been writing for artistic expression. But very few people seem to know I exist. I think I’ll have to write at least one commercial best seller just to draw attention to my real writing.

  122. Natalie says:

    Sales. As Heather said, sales mean people are actually reading your book and it is popular with a lot of people rather than a few snooty judges and reviewers (I am a fiction judge and reviewer so I am allowed to say that). If books no-one read are winning the awards and getting great reviews, then either the judges are getting it wrong or no-one is listening to them.

  123. Chihuahua0 says:

    If choosing a second job or relying on a partner is a choice, I’d rather have critical acclaim, great reviews, and a small yet devoted fanbase.

  124. Heather says:

    I’d absolutely choose sales over critical acclaim. There will always be someone who doesn’t think I’m a great writer, but it’s a compliment of the highest kind if someone pays for my writing. Sales also mean that you’re being READ. I can’t speak for every writer, but that’s more important to me than winning literary awards for a book no one has ever heard of.

  125. Jill says:

    I am a perfectionist only when it comes to my work, and I love a beautiful, multifaceted tale, which takes time. Give me the great reviews, critical acclaim and awards. They last longer, and may lead future generations of youths to read my books.

  126. Me says:

    As somebody that’s tried to make a living as writer for years, taking shitty jobs to survive… barely. I can say unequivocally that I would rather make money as a writer than anything professionally I can think of, short of selling my soul.

    • suz says:

      oh i soooo agree with ‘Me’.
      What good is writing in a garrett?
      Let me support myself as a writer. I always write the best I possibly can.
      Nice words from critics are no good if I’m working shitty jobs.
      Changing the world? Yeah mine please.

  127. Quality over quantity. I would definitely rather put out the best book possible, even if it meant selling less and publishing less frequently. =)

  128. Carolyn says:

    I just want to change the world.

    • I’m with you, Carolyn. Changed lives and bringing a ray of hope in this darkened world is my goal.

    • Lisa says:

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Well said and exactly to the point.

    • Joe Pote says:

      Love this response!

    • Jason says:

      I’m with Carolyn. I think the best writers view their work as a make a difference.

      I’m for getting the book into the hands of the folks who need your story or message.

    • John Wayne Hawks says:

      I haven’t read all 179 prior comments, but I think some people are missing the point. You can have great sales without the awards but still be putting out quality work. The question doesn’t say “Would you rather write well or write crap the people buy?” Just because your bestseller doesn’t win awards doesn’t mean it’s not good. I’d rather have the sales.

      • Carolyn says:

        My point at the top is that writing for either sales or awards is limiting. Both imply that you are writing for someone else.

        • John Wayne Hawks says:

          If you’re writing for either, yes I agree it would be limiting. In my comment I’m looking at it as doing your best work, for you, but getting sales instead of awards.

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