Choose Your Own Adventure: Bestseller or Classic?

Someone asked me the other day which I would rather write, a bestseller or a timeless classic? It’s a tough decision.  One the one hand, you’re famous, commercially successful and you get to dump that day job for good. On the other, you live modestly and you don’t really get any love until you’re too old or too dead to enjoy it.

Does writing a classic mean you won’t be financially successful in this life?  Well, probably not in the sense that J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer are.  J.K. is like, what, the richest woman in the U.K.?  And Stephanie was the Executive Producer on the last Twilight flick so who knows what kind of dough she’s accumulating in Hollywood.  And, that’s cool, but I’m not sure if I want that…

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it’s not like I would say no to that but really, what do I want?  I think it would just be awesome to create great stories and characters, enjoy them myself and have others do the same and stop working in cardboard, uh, I mean corporate America.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to know Edward Cullen as Stephanie does?  Or one of my all-time favs, Augustus (Gus) McCrae from Lonesome Dove.  Or even Blue Duck or Anton Chigurh  I would kill to conjure a villain like that – and believe me, I’m trying.

Ok, but what if you write a piece of work like 50 Shades?  You know, I couldn’t get past the first chapter and I listen to people just shred it but I really don’t feel any sense of superiority over E.L. James.  I mean, that thing has gone global.  Going to be tough for her to ever gain any kind of literary credibility but she has money and the rest of her life for that.  If she keeps writing, keeps honing, there’s no telling what is possible.  Yes, I mean that.  Look at Stephen King.  The man started in his 20s as a paperback horror writer and went on to be one of the most respected pop-culture storytellers of the last 30 years – and that’s mainly due to his work ethic, originality and the fact that time was on his side.

Ok, so fine. If you’re E.L. James or Stephen King, you’ll never get to be John Irving or Jeffrey Eugenides  or David Foster Wallace.

Do you really need to chase those people?  Is it healthy to even try?  I have a feeling they were born with their gifts (which showed on paper) as you were born with yours.  We’re not going all complacent here, pretending that you can just dial whatever in.  We’re saying that you’ll do your best in whatever you do, it’s just that trying to be a literary genius when you weren’t born probably isn’t real productive.

And also, I believe if you touch millions (Eww… No, not that way), then you spark conversation, leave an imprint that might last somewhat…  No?  Ok, then I guess all I’m saying is, I’d be thankful to spend my days here talking to you or banging out thoughts, ideas and people and having a shot at being a pop-culture flop as long as I was still one people read.

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2 thoughts on “Choose Your Own Adventure: Bestseller or Classic?

  1. From the King himself:
    “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” – Stephen King

    Sounds like what you’re saying in between the lines. I always thought Bestsellers had potential to become classics, but I may be wrong about that. If having to pick between the two I may go Bestseller, so then it could fuel (and fund) my future works in progress :)

    Hope to look back at some of your earlier posts when having some time!

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink

  2. Thx for your comment, Jak, and I couldn’t agree more that bestsellers do have the potential to become classics but the high-brow literary stuff often doesn’t get fully appreciated until much later. Ideally, I would like to have both but I feel that might be asking too much of the powers that be. If I had to choose one, I guess it would be bestseller because then, like you, it would fund other work. Oh well, we’ll keep trying, right? And we have Mr. King to guide us – I love him so – and thank you for sharing that quote of his! I look forward to reading your material as well!

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