Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Literary Acclaim or Big Money?

Nathan here! Well, actually it's Nathan of November 12th writing this ahead of time.

So wow, it's the future. Do we have flying cars yet? Did Nathan of November 19th get a haircut?

Today's You Tell Me comes from Orange Slushie, and it's a good one. Take it away, Orange Slushie:

"You go down to the crossroads and make a pact to have your novel and future novels published. You are given a conditional choice. Either you can receive the highest literary acclaim for your work, but a guarantee that you will never earn enough to give up your day job. Or you can always be considered a terrible hack, but make bucketloads of cash.

Which do you choose?"






190 comments:

Anonymous said...

Acclaim, no question.

some sellout said...

Cash, are you kidding? There's no shame in hackery. I love hack fiction. Some of my favorite stuff is written by hacks. I'll know I'm satisfied with it because I wouldn't send it out otherwise, and the bucketloads of cash prove that tons of people are reading it (I don't even care if they're doing it ironically). So the question is, Where do I sign up?

Scott said...

Cash. I'll use it to make something else that gets acclaim–like a really cool sculpture of my employees' plummeting 401k portfolio.

Anonymous said...

Cash money, bro. Acclaim won't pay my overdue rent bill.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Totally the cash and hackdom.

I like writing SciFi-- I'm not going to get literary acclaim anyway! =)

Anonymous said...

Cash. Someday, I'll need to put my kids through college.

Anonymous said...

Acclaim. I like my day job: it involves writing and language, it pays well, and I have no intention of leaving it. Plus, I'm one of those weirdos who persists in sending short stories to lit journals that pay in copies only... so, yeah, no one can ever accuse me of writing fiction with a big ol' paycheck in mind. Hand over the glowing Kakutani review, please!

Michael said...

I can't buy me love, especially love for myself, and if I were a hack, I'd have none of that. I'd have to go for the literary acclaim.

C.D. Reimer said...

Cash, hands down. I been unable to persuade the landlord and the utilities to accept payment in the form of rejection slips.

MC said...

Are we talking a William Hung-type of hack, or a John Grisham-type of hack? Because I'll take Grisham money and fame any day, but I'll pass on being Hung. (Okay, that sounds bad. Sorry.)

Anonymous said...

I say both. Go for the cash first, and then after that you can write what you really want.

K.C. Shaw said...

Hack, definitely. I'll let posterity judge my work for what it really is! And if that's still hackwork, at least I got paid for it.

Not to mention, if I'm selling so many copies that I'm that rich, a bunch of people must find my writing entertaining. Someone has to write the beach reads!

Anonymous said...

To quote Jerry Maguire, "Give me the money." I've got three teenagers to feed.

Anonymous said...

Acclaim. I would never sell my soul anyway, but if I did it would be for acclaim. I would rather have a small fanbase that appreciated my craft than have my writing be popular, but people ask why it is because it sucks. I hate it when things that aren't worth crap are popular, it really frustrates me. So I would definitely rather have acclaim and be appreciated for my craft.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Acclaim is vain, and money pays the bills.

Crimogenic said...

I'm going to cheat and say, I would go for the money, be a hack and then write under a pseudo-name for literary acclaim.

don't you hear my evil laugh muahh muahh muaahh!

p.s. Why Nathan of the future, you're oddly the same as Nathan of the past. (love for the Kindle, The Hills, etc)

abc said...

cash. what's the point of acclaim if you can't spend your day doing what you like? If I have to toil in day job mucky muck than I'm gonna be depressed. I'll take cash, do some good in the world, and leave the acclaim for Updike. Unless I'm hated like Dan Brown is hated. Then, I don't know...

Anonymous said...

Gimmee the money...now! Most of those awards aren't worth a bucket of warm...um, you know. What value could they possibly have when the supposed "best books" of the year average less than 3,500 in total sales?

clindsay said...

Ha ha ha! I'd choose hack. In this economy?

H. L. Dyer said...

Wow! I'm surprised I'm in the minority.

I'm for writing good stuff.

Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that other people rely on the income from books sales, the money wouldn't matter much. I would be very concerned that my agent/editor be happy with the sales figures, but I have no intention of quitting my day job.

I'm a physician and director of a hospitalist program; I don't see myself walking away from that.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Acclaim. If I made a lot of money but my book was constantly trashed, it'd take the joy out of it for me. I'm already used to the idea of having to work a day job anyway, so while the bucketloads of cash would be nice, I'm not writing for them.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

BOTH!!! Why not both? If you are critically acclaimed, you should be able to figure out how to rake in the money, too.

Anonymous said...

Cash.

No question.

No hesitation.

I'd lay my guilt to rest by starting a philanthropic enterprise of some sort.

Devoted said...

Acclaim...does one write for only money? I dare say, not!

spyscribbler said...

Money, absolutely. I need to pay the eat.

Plus I may be considered a hack, but I'd make them really good hacks. And clearly people would be buying them, since I was making bucketloads...

Kate H said...

I would never sell my soul for anything. But if I had a choice between cash and acclaim without paying that price, I'd choose
acclaim. Not that I care so much about acclaim per se, but I'm in this to produce good writing, not to make money. Of course I'd LIKE to make money; I'd love to be able to give up my day job. But not at the expense of failing to produce the best fiction I can possibly write.

Amanda said...

Acclaim, no doubt. I don't care if I ever make money - I just want to touch people and make them think.

Scott said...

I have no clue. I love my day job and really wouldn't want to give it up. Then again, money is money, and I'd love to pay off some of my debt. So, if I really had to make a choice . . . money. What is literary acclaim after all? A classic to some is junk to others! Is Tolkien considered someone who has achieved literary acclaim? Melville? Dickens? What about Guy Gavriel Kay? To me, he's achieved literary acclaim, as has Gregory Maguire. So, does "acclaim" depend on the person's definition?

Furious D said...

I'll be the most brilliant hack in the world.

I don't need the fawning praise of elitist snobs to feed my ego, it's big enough, but I do need to feed my bank account.

Cory said...

Acclaim.

But really, I'd settle for whatever I can get.

DeadlyAccurate said...

Cash. I want to write for a living. I don't write the kind of stuff that lends itself to acclaim. I write the stuff you read on the plane or at the beach.

MoJo said...

Isn't the fact that tons of people ponied up money to buy one's book its own acclaim?

Anonymous said...

Flip a coin. Either would be great. Why not just write the book you want to write--the best book you can--and let others decide where it falls? (I can say this since my best effort at this point is likely to produce neither.)

R.J. Keller said...

Acclaim. And a flying car.

Eric said...

I want acclaim. I'd love acclaim. Who wouldn't? So of course I strive to write worthy of acclaim. But acclaim isn't going to put my son through college, and having my ego stroked isn't going to pay the mortgage.

Besides, if they're sending the money by the truck loads, then that means I'm being read in equal amounts. So....

Lisa said...

Acclaim.

Marilyn Peake said...

It depends. I'm going to try to find some gray area, some wiggle room for my answer. :)

If "literary acclaim" means writing an exquisite masterpiece and winning the major book awards, I’d definitely choose that, hands down. If literary acclaim means only great reviews and fame without truly excellent writing, however, I might take the cash. On the other hand, if the fame could lead to travel and other great ways to make cash, then bring on the literary acclaim, baby.

Also, like mc said, it totally depends on what’s meant by "hack". If writing anything outside the literary genre’s considered being a "hack", I’d choose to write very well-written "hack" novels. However, I’m an eternal optimist who believes that anything’s always possible. Maybe in that alternate reality where we have to choose, writers of "literary acclaim" would suddenly discover that they’re also allowed to get rich as a "hack" under a pen name ... the best of both worlds. :)

Esther Jade said...

Acclaim. Because I like things other than writing and wouldn't want to have the incentive to give them up or not do them properly.

But I wouldn't mind being a moderately successful hack too. Nothing against being a hack. I just want to have the best balance of all worlds.

Vieva said...

I want to be read, and I want my writing to touch people.

Who the hell reads "great" books? Lit people. Who reads everyone's-read-it books? EVERYONE.

I'll go for everyone and heck with the acclaim.

Plus, money's nice too. :D

Leslie Johnson said...

I would choose acclaim. If I had too much money I wouldnt be depressed enough to write a single word. I would rather be poor and regarded, than rich and forgotten.

Elton A.R. Alwine said...

Absolutely acclaim! Keep the cash. Why write if not for others to ENJOY your writing?

Anonymous said...

Tell us, Nathan, who would you rather have for a client? A writer who wants to make big money, or one aiming for literary acclaim?

MoJo said...

Why write if not for others to ENJOY your writing?

If people enjoy it, they'll fork over money for it.

I don't see this as mutually exclusive.

Janet said...

I am so glad these questions are only hypothetical. I want both. If John LeCarré can do it...

Having said that, I'd accept respectability in both departments without being ashamed.

My word verification is brated. Is it trying to tell me something? I'll never be A-rated?

You're in league with the devil, aren't you?

Anonymous said...

"Who the hell reads great books?"

I DO. When I get very lucky.

That's why I vote for acclaim.

Anonymous said...

"Isn't the fact that tons of people ponied up money to buy one's book its own acclaim?"

Tons of people also bought a pet rock, making its inventor a multi-millionaire.

Does that equal acclaim?

Lapillus said...

Tough question. I'd love to be able to live off of my writing, but I already don't expect to so I'll take the acclaim. I think shining reviews and devoted fans would bring me more joy anyways.

MoJo said...

Tons of people also bought a pet rock, making its inventor a multi-millionaire.

Does that equal acclaim?


That's a bit disingenuous, comparing apples to oranges. Are you equating bestsellerdom with the shilling of pet rocks?

Isn't that like saying that only X number of people are qualified/smart enough to read one's work? And that the fact that there aren't enough people to make one a living is a badge of honor?

Just_Me said...

Considering I think most the award winners and Oprah Book Club are terrible hacks, I'll take the cash.

Awards for literature aren't given to genre fiction, with the exception of the SFFA awards. And, really the question is critical acclaim and the ability to bore generations of high school students to death, to be a hiss and a byword, or to be a well-read, well-loved, well-bought, favorite author of millions.

Oh, yes, hand me the cash!

R. Daley said...

I'll take the cash. There is a difference between critical acclaim and public acceptance, and I think a large sum of cash implies the latter. My goal for my writing is to reach the masses and entertain them, inspiring them to rush to the bookstores in droves because a special edition of my first novel was re-released with a new introduction that I didn't even have to write, further fueling the cash machine. At least that works in theory.

Yat-Yee said...

Right now, acclaim. If I lose the financial security, then cash please. Now where do sign up for one of the other?

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

Acclaim.

Anonymous said...

What is disingenuous about it? I'm merely pointing out that getting many people to buy something, anything, does not necessarily make that thing a good thing. And I do think that applies to books, even some best-selling ones.

And no, it is not like saying "only X number of people are qualified/smart enough to read one's work." The fact is, many people CHOOSE crap over good stuff because they don't want to expend any effort or have to have their ideas challenged. That is a perfectly legitimate choice. It's just not mine.

My only point was that selling a lot of any product doesn't make it good.

A Writress said...

Cash.

Acclaim is totally subjective anyway. Someone's hack is another's hero. Stephen King will never get the Nobel Prize, but who cares? Surely not the people who love his stories.

Vivian said...

Literary acclaim.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Cash. Screw acclaim.

bryan russell said...

I want to write something truly great. The rest is just smoke and mirrors, tantalizing though they might be.

Anonymous said...

Stephen king won an O'Henry award for one of his short stories, and in 2003 he was the recipient of the National Book Foundation's Medal for
Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. I would say that constitutes acclaim.

Julie Weathers said...

One, it would depend on who I was making a pact with. If it was the devil in O Brother Where Art Thou, then no. Soul is not on the bartering table. We'll discuss the rest.

Otherwise.

Cash. I can always improve my work and "being considered a hack" is an opinion.

Cash, would provide me the luxury of writing full time. My dream. It would also mean I had the money to do more for my children. Every mother's dream.

Many books that are considered literary greats, I couldn't force myself to read if someone held a gun to my head.

And, finally, if I am getting enough money to just write that means someone must like me.

No American is going to get the Nobel for literature anyway, so why worry about it?

Aaron Hanlon said...

It's a tough one but i supect i would go for the money.

Mark Wise said...

I would choose neither. Other people's acclaim is fleeting, fickle, and meaningless. Loads of cash only brings loads of trouble.

I write because I have to write. If I didn't write these stories, then something of my life would have gone unfulfilled.

Dara said...

Acclaim. As much as I don't care for my day job, to know that my novel is considered a great read by a small amount of people is worth it. That and it's more likely that it will stand the test of time and may be enjoyed by people generations from now.

Though I suppose I'm confused; I would think a great deal of acclaim would start earning you the $$...then again I'm probably thinking about it too much :P

Ann Victor said...

South African Nadine Gordimer has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

JM Coetzee (when he was still a South African before he joined the chicken run to Australia)won the Booker Prize twice.

They may not be billionaires from their literary efforts, but both received pretty good prize money(and all those extra sales arising from their wins) when converted into South African rands.

For myself? Hmmmm. Acclaim or cash? Cash or acclaim? Is there any reason why I can't aim for a healthy mix of both?

Anonymous said...

"No American is going to get the Nobel for literature anyway, so why worry about it?"

Actually, many Americans have received the Nobel Prize for Literature, including Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, and William Faulkner.

Anonymous said...

I agree with writress when she said, "Acclaimis totally subjective anyway. Someone's hack is another's hero."

As for me, I'd take the cash. My day job is a good one, but writing is my passion. When I feel the writing is as good as I can get it, I send it out. Sometimes it's published, sometimes it's not. The published work is obviously being read by someone, so if I can keep those someone's happy while enjoying my passion, then all the better.

Besides, acclaim alone won't allow me to write full time.

Sandra

Anonymous said...

Aye, there's the rub. (and the essence of my schizophrenia)

Dal Jeanis said...

You can't get lots and lots of money without providing an incredible reading experience that satisfied lots and lots of people, who then told all their friends.

Money is a measurement of how well I have served others. I'll go for that.

And if the critics like it, that's good as well.

Anonymous said...

For all of you saying that acclaim is worthless because it's subjective I ask: Why is acclaim any more subjective than money?

Money is just someone subjectively deciding to spend $20 on a certain book. That's a subjective decision of an anonymous person. At least acclaim is a subjective decision of someone who reads a lot, and thinks about books for a living.

Kristi said...

I'm not in this for the fame, or even the attention. I use it as a break from my day job, which give me a good living but bores me to tears most days.

I want the cash, and the opportunity for a career shift that could come with it. A job where I could actually go outside and still be productive? Hell yes.

Marilyn Peake said...

Thank God we don't have to make such decisions in the real world. Genre writers are not the same as "hack" writers. Writers like Margaret Atwood write within genres and also win major book awards. Sometimes the real world - with all its options - is a very nice place. :)

Kimber An said...

As long as I get to share my stories with the world, I really could not care less.

It is true I consider grammer guides to be a plague upon this Earth, so I doubt literary acclaim is an option for me.

Karen said...

I feel so much less shallow now!

While I don't write for the money, given those two choices, I'd pick the paycheck over the acclaim. Because, seriously, who really cares about literary acclaim besides a certain niche group? Money means regular, every day people are reading my stuff. And that means that they must think it's decent and readable.

And that's all the acclaim I need.

Kat Harris said...

Acclaim. I don't want to be known as the Spice Girl of the literary world.

nancydrew212 said...

TOTALLY take the cash!!! Write what you love (rule to live by, yes?) and if it makes you Big Money -- then, HELLO Buenos Aires and leave the naysayers behind...

Adam Heine said...

Cash. Because more than cash, I want to be read, and clearly the hack is getting read. Furthermore, if so many people are buying the hack's work, who is calling them a hack? As Vieva said, "Lit people."

calunes said...

I'm merely pointing out that getting many people to buy something, anything, does not necessarily make that thing a good thing.

Pet rocks have cultural cachet; they can be used as a symbol for faddishness, whimsy, or excess; they're something to groan and reminisce about with your friends, and when you mention them, people know what they are.

Things don't have to be "good" to be worthwhile.

Luc2 said...

"Literary acclaim?" A bunch of elitist critics who decide that I''m wonderful? No thanks. I write fantasy, so what chance would i have at literary acclaim anyway?
If I make a lot of cash, apparently a lot of people would love to read my stuff. That's acclaim enough, and the money is a nice bonus.

Surly Jason said...

Is both too much to ask?

Anonymous said...

Those "elitist critics" are often people who LOVE literature, and devote their lives to it. Why do you think it's okay to dismiss people who are genuinely trying to get out the word about books they love?

I don't understand how being someone who reads widely and thinks critically can be seen as a deficit.

I thought the Bush days when being an intellectual was a bad thing were over....

Ulysses said...

Hack.

Acclaim would be nice, but as Woody Allen put it, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying."

Actually, I just want to be read, and cash is a decent measuring stick as to how much reading is going on. It's also handy to buy things with. Like food, shelter, and shelter for your food. Refrigerator's ain't cheap, y'all.

So call me hack if you will, but buy my work and read it so that your opinion will be informed and accurate.

Amber said...

Money, honey. Gotta have the cash. I write Genre anyways, so never going to get the acclaim ;) Of course, I'm thinking Rowling type money...

I do what I love, and if it's called hack, well, at least I'd have something to show for it.

Perry said...

I'd take the glory. Money is vulgar, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Acclaim. Money doesnt make you happy.

Kathleen said...

Probably the cash. It may be hack-like, but I want my books to be widely read (and the option of writing without running myself ragged is nice, as well).

Katiek patrianoceu said...

I hate to think of myself as greedy, but nonetheless I take the cash. My justification being, because that means people are reading what I have to say. They don't have to like it, they just have to read it.

Gottawrite Girl said...

Bad self-esteem says I'll be heckled anyways, so... I chose people purchasing my "hack" book!

Marilyn Peake said...

I love how books like The Road by Cormac McCarthy break through so many boundaries. The Road is classified as science fiction, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, made the New York Times Best-Seller List, and was featured in Oprah's Book Club. Cormac McCarthy also reports thinking about the book for a year, but writing it in only three weeks.

jnantz said...

That's easy, I write mysteries. Cash all day. I got mouths to feed, and if I never hit the NYT list but I can afford to write fulltime (especially if my wife can quit her job, which wears her out), then I'll take it any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

jnantz said...

Better yet, Mr. Bransford, email me requesting my ms, and let's find out!!


:D

Anonymous said...

I like jnatnz's answer (above mine).

I answered cash before, but after more thought, let me add to that.

At this point I'd rather just get something published. Anything. If it falls under acclaim or money, I don't really care.

It can't be either if it never makes it to a bookshelf. I've done the whole "this is a beautiful book" thing and while editors were praising me for the, "beautiful book with rich, engaging writing" they also said, "Thanks, it's not for us. But I'm sure you won't have a problem selling it."

Guess what? It's not sold.

Merry Monteleone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzan Harden said...

I write what I'd look for and want to buy in the bookstore, a good entertaining yarn where I forget everything for an hour or two. If that be hackdom, so be it.

Sam said...

I have two goals when I write: 1) enjoy myself, and 2) entertain as many other people as I can. The first goal is always covered. I enjoy the creative process--so if I never get published, at least I feel fulfilled. If I DO get published and make tons of cash, that suggests I'm succeeding at the latter as well. So I'd take that option... because then I can also buy myself a yacht.

Anonymous said...

I'd undoubtably...cough...cough...hack...hack...go with...hack...hack.

SF writer said...

Acclaim. If cash came with it, that would be nice, too. =)

Lisa Iriarte said...

Terrible hack is fine with me. I want people to read my stories, enjoy them and escape reality. Lots of people. In cheap paperback.

Lisa Iriarte

lotusloq said...

Big money, baby! I'm not smart enough for literary acclaim, and, frankly, I love a book that is not completely angst ridden.

Nathan, it's cool that we're getting questions from the past. I'd be even more impressed if you could send them from the future.

Erika Robuck said...

Cash.

(The little artist on my left shoulder was just squashed by the little businesswoman on my right.)

Accalaim won't send my kids to college, fund my Starbucks habit, or allow me to buy other people's books.

Luc2 said...

Anonymous 11:33 Those "elitist critics" are often people who LOVE literature, and devote their lives to it. Why do you think it's okay to dismiss people who are genuinely trying to get out the word about books they love?

I don't write literature, and so few of them seem to even try and take fantasy seriously. And those same people who genuinely try to get the word out on books they love, will not hesitate to bash books they don't love. On what basis? Isn't the whole writing thing subjective?

"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they are unable to do it themselves."

Stacey said...

Um, I would probably go for the cash...because what many people think are Hack books that make lots of money are my favorites.

Kristan said...

Yeah, I'll be honest, I don't know which one I choose. I guess I'm hoping for half of one AND half the other, haha. But given everything I know about the industry, I'd probably take either.

... Leaning more towards the money side of the scale, though. (Again, I'm cheating/ignoring the question and thinking of this as a scale.) Because my dream has always been to BE A WRITER, a writer who supports herself off her writing, NOT someone who writes "on the side." (God I hate that phrase. Not because there's anything wrong with people who do that, but because that's what everyone tells me I could do, and it's not what I want.)

Anyway, was that long enough?

shilohwalker said...

I write because I enjoy it and I couldn't care less about literary acclaim.

I'll take the cash.

Unlike literary acclaim, cash will care for my kids, my family, my future...and their futures. Not too mention lots of other things.

Money's not everything, but it goes a lot farther than literary acclaim.

Erik Smetana said...

I think this is the same sort of question people enrolling, attending and graduating from graduate programs in writing have to ask themselves (William Lashner for example). Do you want to toil away doing something that you don't or moderately enjoy while getting praise in various reviews or be able to do the thing you love day in, day out without the stressors of another career (all the while ignoring the book review pages)? I'm pretty sure the likes of Grisham, King, Clancy and company don't regret how their careers have ended up (even if they might wish for a smidgeon of "acclaim," which King has collected a bit of over the last few years). On the the other hand (and an extreme example), you have John Kennedy Toole).

With that in mind, I'd go for the cash. Of course I'm a genre writer as it is, so I don't have any expectations for literary accolades .

JES said...

My first take on this, like that of others in the thread, was that cash is a reflection -- a measure -- of the acclaim. Who wouldn't want to know HOW MUCH one was acclaimed? So I was leaning towards the cash.

But now I'm not so sure. I think it would matter to me what I was acclaimed for. Money alone wouldn't tell me that. I could write p*rn and get that message, but I wouldn't be (heh) satisfied knowing that the source of all that $$$ was just a lot of lonely people whose plumbing works, so to speak.

So I think I'd go with acclaim, if by acclaim we meant something like "esteem" or "respect." I shed aspirations to capital-L Literary success long ago, but damn if I don't want people to hold my work in their hands (BOTH hands, not leaving one free for... other stuff) and say D*mn. Now THIS is a book.

Anonymous said...

CASH. I have no ambition to write the great American novel. But if I wrote something that people wanted to read--and voted with their wallets-- that's acclaim enough for me. Plus, I've got a student loans and mortgage I'd like to pay down.

Besides, when a critic calls someone a hack, it's because a small part of them is jealous.

Steppe said...

Aclaim is easier to carry.
A million worthless dollars is heavy lifting.
Especially when wheelbarrels are going for a billion dollars a pop and a electric car with back up rubber bands two trillion.


Easy money killed publishing.
No get up and go left to get up and go.
I've gone back to reading cereal boxes.
Tough times like these call for Cheerios.

John Q. Pessimist Phd.
Dept Of Rainbow Inspectors
Govt. Bailout Line Position 32476A

Other Lisa said...

Crap. Acclaim. I am kind of stoopid.

Nathan, no flying car, but we're getting close on the jet pack.

Jeff said...

Hmmm...let's ask Stephen King that question. Oh wait, he answered that long time ago. Buckets of money please.

Simon Haynes said...

With four published SF/comedy novels featuring a character called Hal Spacejock, which path do YOU think I chose?

;-)

Paula said...

Cash. I've learned the hard way.

SAVanVleck said...

As much as I would love to be one of the very best writer's on earth; I have grown accustomed to a roof over my head and daily food. And, as long as I can write, I am happy. Much happier than I was as a secretary or grocery security; where I was periodically drug around because I grabbed biker's leather jackets to keep them from stealing cartons of cigarettes.
I'll go for the money that pays me to write.

Tricia Sanders said...

In this day and age---CASH. Acclaim won't pay the bills and keep me fashionably dressed. Look at all the wierdos in the news. Anybody can make a name for doing God Knows What--just look at reality TV. Those folks keep recycling on other shows and making the talkshow rounds. But cash always spends. And a hack by any other name...

Laura Anne said...

Cash, please. I love a glowing critical review just as much as the next neurotic writer, but a reader telling me I made a bad day better is worth all the literary acclaim in the world, and a hundred thousand readers waiting for the next story will take the sting out of any bad review.

However, I will admit that my short fiction tends to skew literary [and short fiction pays bupkis], so maybe that's my wiggle room?

Leslie said...

Acclaim. I like my day job too.

Sam Hranac said...

Sigh...

Acclaim. I'll be dead far longer than I will be alive to enjoy the money.

Lisa Melts Her Penn said...

PLEASE put me down in the ACCLAIM column. The cash would get spent, and then there would be nothing. But, yeah, I'd like the cash, too. But in part because it would speak to the acclaim.

Anne-Marie said...

Cash. I doubt I have the talent to be acclaimed.

John Darrin said...

Terrible hack with bucketloads of cash. I've already got the terrible hack part down. When do I get the bucketloads of cash?

Scott said...

Back in my 20s there would have been no question. I would have gone for the acclaim.

Now, though, nah. The acclaim would be great, and so would the immortality, but I've got kids to put through school and a pitiful amount put away for my retirement.

There's another plus side to being a hack who sells a ton of books, one that makes up for the loss of acclaim. Tons o' people would read my stuff, and I might be a favorite of many of them and bring them a lot of joy, instead of pissing off the college students who are forced to read and analyze and write papers about some professor's self-described brilliant interpretation of my immortal masterpieces, a professor who makes more publishing articles about my literary brilliance than I ever made off the books.

Nope. Gimme the money.

Linda said...

Acclaim. My narcissism wins over hedonism any day. Plus, my day job provides me muchos cashola and fodder for my books. Peace, Linda

philologia said...

Depends. If I loved writing the hack, then sure. But if what I loved left me penniless, that'd be fine too.

I can really enjoy hack, and I can really hate things that get boatloads of acclaim. (Does ANYONE else out there dislike the film Citizen Kane? Anybody?)

Jeanne said...

Oh, this is a question from the past. I recall being asked this in College. The answer for me was acclaim. Which is why I've never attempted publication. The fear of being published and mocked is greater than the fear of being rejected.

This is a great question and the answer is supposed to be very revealing.

Jeanne said...

And yes, the revelation of my answer is that I'm vain. My ego is more afraid of succeeding and getting egg on my face than not trying at all.

But, I've hardly had the time to write, much less think, raising three kids over the past 18 years. And parenting is a pretty humbling experience. Just a little more privately humiliating than being the Jessica Simpson of the literary world. She's the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of hack.

Ello said...

What's wrong with hackery?

Linda Lou said...

In my case, I'd take the literary acclaim. As a technical writer, I already make buckets of money writing drek. People read my software documentation and say, "Oh, you poor thing." It would be nice to have somebody read my memoir and say, "Wow! That's so inspiring!"

Anonymous said...

Authors who rake in the money shouldn't have to endure being called a hack. Call them entertainers, call them great story tellers...but please, don't call them hacks. That's just so mean. Let them enjoy their success.

There's room in this world for both writer's who aspire to acclaim, and writer's who just love being writers and happen to write books people love to buy.

Okay, I've said my words of peace and love. Now everyone hold hands and sing kum-bye-yah.

Shannon Ryan said...

I like my day job. I would probably go for the cash anyway though. I would rather have my books in people's hands in airports and malls than have the love of a few academics and critics.

David Weisman said...

They both sound wonderful beyond description. If I never get published I get no acclaim and can't give up my day job anyway - so getting acclaim but not enough money is better than the statistically average result for an unpublished author like me.

I may be considered a hack, but if my work is out there, it might be reevaluated after my death. And people who read someone everyone considers a hack love them anyway.

Gimme either one! Gimme I say!

Polenth said...

I don't equate acclaim with good writing. Possibly because I'm a science fiction/fantasy writer, and there's a tendency to label authors in those genres as hacks regardless of the quality of the work.

So it's got to be the money. I'd rather write what I love and be seen as a hack. If I can do that whilst having money to feed me and my cockroach, all the better.

(And I'm predicting yes to the haircut)

Eva Gale said...

I'm with the last commentor. I don't equate acclaim with good writing, and I don't equate being hack with bad writing.

That said-bring on the $.

Moth said...

I'll take the cash, thanks. Who says the critics know what they're talking about anyway? Millions of people buying a book aren't wrong. Besides, I'd rather be able to WRITE for a living instead of slave at something I don't love but have pretty plaques waiting at home saying how brilliant I am.

Sue said...

Cash. Literary snobs annoy me, and if we're choosing between a best seller and critical acclaim, I definitely choose the best-seller, because that means a whole lot of regular people liked it.

Diana said...

Ooh! I want to be a hack! And the best part is down the line, some lit student might discover you and you'll become "literature," and they'll study your writing and its effect on culture. You know, just like Charles Dickens!

mkcbunny said...

Acclaim.

That is not a criticism of anyone who chose financial success. I have been up and down the ladder of $$ vs. art enough times in 45 years to know the tradeoffs, but artistic praise pushes my happy buttons more than money. So there you have it.

And really, it's a stupid decision, because (a) being broke sucks, and (b) why would you not want a ton of people reading your work? "B" seems the obvious choice.

usman said...

Acclaim.

BJ said...

Depends on what you mean by literary acclaim and bucketloads of cash. I'd be very happy if I could make a reasonable, even lower-middle-class living off my fiction. Is that 'bucketloads'?

For acclaim? The Nobel Prize? I'm not interested in writing like that. A Hugo? Maybe.

Acclaim is a pretty iffy thing, anyway. You never know if your work will gain it or not. That's something you can work fo and never get. Someone rlse said it's subjective. Very.

Someone else said they'd rather be remembered than make a lot of money. Literary acclaim doesn't lead to being remembered. How many people know who won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, let alone a decade ago? How many people have heard of Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, or other best-selling authors?

In agreement with yet another post: I want to be read!

Kim Stagliano said...

Well, my husband just lost his job for the second time in a year so.... If I were a rich hack I might well be entertaining millions of readers. Like this reader who turns to books to escape the grim reality of life! So I'll take the cash and entertain the masses rather than a great NYT Book Review and playing the churchmouse. I am the churchmouse right now, it's not that great.

KIM

magolla said...

I'll take hack with loads of cash. Literary acclaim doesn't put food on the table.

Rich said...

I'll take the acclaim, and live happily with that, and what my day job brings in. What, you thought you'd give up your day job? Who's zoomin' who, here?

ClassicsLover said...

Nathan,

Can you please make a post where you address the fact that so many of the writers reading this blog nurse a hatred for people whom they term "literary snobs"?

IMHO these "literary snobs" HELP all writers by paying attention to and publicizing writing, and no, they don't all "trash" genre writing.

I love some literary writing and some genre writing, and I hate it when people intolerantly lump other people (on either "side") into categories.

And why is it okay for a genre writer to trash "classics" or "literary fiction" and call them boring, snobbish drivel? Aren't you then doing the EXACT THING you decry "literary snobs" for doing? Just asking.

Axioo said...

Acclaim, like duh.......

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Classics Lover (above).

I read a mix of genre and lit fiction, and it's always interesting when -- in my opinion bookstores and sales are driven mostly by genre fiction readers -- that those that write genre fiction continually feel oppressed by the smattering of people on blogs that like lit fiction.

Genre books outsell lit fiction ALL the time and have the MOST readers. Who, exactly, is oppressing you? Is the 25 year-old cashier at the bookstore giving you the evil eye for buying Grisham? Are you being strip searched by the fellow book buyers for purchasing Patterson?

I've never understood this. Ever. MOST people write genre fiction. You ARE the majority. No one is asking you to justify why you like to write thrillers, suspense, or romance. So why call lit fiction books boring, unreadable and their readers snobs?

Jeanie W said...

A strong sales record can be construed as popular acclaim, and it can fund me doing more of what I love to do most. Y'all can keep your Harold Blooms; I'll take the cash.

freddie said...

Cash, baby, cash. Because a lot of writers that are considered hacks really aren't.

terri said...

Jeanie beat me to it while I was reading comments!

Who ever said that cash isn't acclaim. When King won the big literary medal, the literati poo-pooed it saying he was a 'hack'.

An editorial on the subject said, with some envy, 'yeah, a hack with 100 million books in print.'

Cash will bring you acclaim with those who matter, the people who read your books. I would gladly trade that for acclaim in journals I have never heard of and by the five lit profs who stuffed my books down their students throats in the name of literature.

So . . . hack, hack, hack . . .

freddie said...

Are we talking a William Hung-type of hack, or a John Grisham-type of hack?

I'm sorry, but William Hung did not even qualify as a hack. To be a hack, you've gotta have some talent. Maybe not as much as Cormac Mccarthy, but some.

Ulysses said...

I find myself realizing that this is a trick question.

Before I revise my answer, I'd like to see the big money. I don't believe it exists.*

-----
* That is, outside of Stephen King's bank account. Or J.K. Rowling's. Or John Grisham's.

Jeanne said...

My husbands "people" are all from Oxford, Miss. They would fall into the "literary snob" category. They own local newspaper, "The Rebel Press." But, they'd be really surprised that Grisham has been used as an example of a hack in this discussion. They knew him before he was an author and still keep a bit in touch now. He really doesn't spend a lot of time at his GORGEOUS home in that area. At least, he wasn't living there much a few years ago, when we were last there. But, he's very, very highly regarded there. So, I guess this is relative.

If I could be a Grisham hack, I'd do it all day long. I've seen what that can get you. A beautiful home in your hometown you don't even live in, and the respect of people who really know you.

I guess my idea of hack involves some sort of embarrassment. I would never be a sell-out to succeed.

That woman who wrote Peyton Place comes to mind. She wrote a best seller that she swore wasn't based on the people in her Connecticut community, but, sounded awfully familiar to the people in her town, and she was loathed. Her book was made into a movie - etc.. but I think she was run out of town on a rail.

If I wrote - I'd have to write what I know- and it might blow up in my face. If I had a great imagination- I'd hack it up.

Lastly, whoever referenced Dan Brown- that's a good example. He's hugely successful but has twisted something many people consider sacred for profit. I have an ignorant relative who believes the Davinci Code is real. That another sort of hack I'd hate to be. Someone who really messes with peoples heads. Like a talented psychiatrist without scruples. :)

Good discussion Nathan!!

WitLiz Today said...

Oh my, I didn't realize Mr. Bransford was so diabolically clever. Answer this question and you're royally screwed.

But since that's my natural state of being, I'll answer anyway. I'll write for anything. Cash, money, acclaim, fans, glory, fame. I'll take bribes, make a pact with the debil, and sell my ragtop Mini.

Just publish my damn book!

Thanks.

Josephine Damian said...

Screw the critics, show me the money!

Anonymous said...

It's funny you should ask the question because for the first time in my life I'm thinking: Show me the money. I've written two lyrical beautifully illustrated picture books that are about to get published. They are my publishing dream come true, but the pay is a joke. Until now, despite the money, I thought I'd spend the rest of my career writing lyrical picture books and saving money other ways (i.e. soup for supper). Now with our retirement fund perilously low, one kid in college and another one getting ready to go, my husband waiting for the NY state and city budget cuts to wreck his job security, I'm rethinking everything. Acclaim or even pride in one's work without cash for survival isn't good enough.

Ryan Field said...

Big Money.

RW said...

But the writing itself stays the same in either choice? It is what it is and the difference is in its reception? In that case, I take the money--easily.

Now, a tougher choice would be if the devil said, "You can have the ability to write work that you will be proud of but only awards committees will agree, or you can have the ability to write work that you will not be proud of but will satisfy a huge market demand."

DCS said...

I'm afraid I'm a born hack. Can I bring a shopping cart for the cash?

Lady Glamis said...

UM, SUPER-easy.

I'll take the acclaim.

I'm not out to make a buck. Although money would be nice with that acclaim.

nomadshan said...

Bucketloads of cash would come from bucketloads of readers. So, cash.

Joseph Lewis said...

Cash. I have a family to feed, and they can't eat Hugos or Pulitzers or my ego.

Anonymous said...

Until the government decides to pay for my health insurance, which I need to not sleep 23 hours a day, cash is the only choice.

Polenth said...

ClassicsLover said:
Can you please make a post where you address the fact that so many of the writers reading this blog nurse a hatred for people whom they term "literary snobs"?

In 158 comments, I counted four against literary people. Four more mentioned a dislike of literary books, but weren't insulting the authors of said books. If we were to call it eight that's approximately 5% of comments (with only 2.5% insulting the authors rather than the books).

That's not many.

It doesn't mean it's right to insult people. I'm all for being tolerant of other people's reading/writing preferences. But you're calling the kettle black when you're the pot by making a sweeping generalisation of your own.

AmyB said...

Fun question. I'd take the cash, but not actually because of the cash itself--because making a pile of money in that way means lots of people are reading and enjoying my books. I'd rather be appreciated by the masses than the critics.

Madison said...

Though my dream is to make enough writing to quit my day job, I would rather people love my work. I'd be happier then.

Orange Slushie said...

i like what RW said. s/he kind of got to the crux of what i was asking. it's hard to formulate a question like this without encountering semantic difficulties. but those in themselves trigger interesting discussion.

fascinating answers, no? basically this question came out of an earlier discussion which included the responsibility (or not) of publishers to support capital-L Literature against market demand, and to provide wider choice to readers. But we see here that not just publishers are in it for the money. Writers, by and large, aren't noble creatures either, starving in garrets for the sake of Art (not by choice anyway). Writers want to make big bucks like everyone else in the publishing food-chain.

People engaging in these kinds of discussions - all of us - are far more engaged with ideas about literature and its industry than your average book-buyer. This isn't a judgement, just an observance. Most people don't think terribly hard about what a book is, or should be - they just want their money's worth of entertainment. I used to sit next to a woman at work who was horrified at the suggestion that you might read a novel for stimulation. She wanted quite the opposite from a book - escape and a chance to switch off, not on.

This as far as I can see is most of the book-buying public. i.e. where the money is. So while publishers and writers want to make profit, the kinds of books those readers demand - formulaic, predictable, very possibly written by terrible hacks - will constitute the bulk of what is published.

I think we only get upset about this when we cling to the humanist idea that art is (or should be) ennobling - that literature will improve us - rather than seeing it as simply rhetorical.

ClassicsLover said...

Polenth, we must count differently, because I counted at least 12 comments that had something negative to say about either literary writings, literary elitists, or critics who supposedly don't know what they're talking about, and who trash anything not literary. and I must not be the only one who feels this way since Anon two posts below me agreed.

Even if only 5 or 10% of the comments reflect a viewpoint that I think is destructive to writers in general, isn't that worthy of comment?

And I don't think that using the phrase "so many" constitutes a huge generalization that moots my point.

Anonymous said...

There's an art to writing a story that works--whether it's literary or genre. I think it would behoove both camps to read the other often. Writers only get better at writing by reading good writing. And good writing comes in many forms.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe all of these people taking the money option.

I would rather have the acclaim. I guess the reason would have to be the possibility of immortality. I would love to produce something like The Count of Monte Cristo. Something that would survive beyond my own mortal coil.

Color me a lame-ass I guess.

Scott said...

I hope people aren't counting my comments about bored students and a certain type of professor in their anti-lit counts. Almost every book I own is a classic. I'll occasionally venture into genre fiction, but that usually to read a classic of the genre.

I'll also bet that a lot of the anti-litfic crowd feels that way because of the type of prof I was talking about (luckily a small minority in my own studies). Those of us who discovered classics on our own or were lucky enough to have great teachers probably feel differently.

Thing is, most of those classics weren't written to be classics. They're classics because they resonated with enough people and were of a high quality to survive long enough to become classics. People have mentioned Dickens. great example.

Two of my favorite writers (Laxness and Steinbeck) are Nobel prize winners. Others probably would have been if the prze was around 500-1000 years ago (and, in many cases, if the author was actually known).

In my own experience (and yours may vary), a lot of novels that are written to become classics die quickly because they don't find an audience that will keep them alive. Short stories and poetry are a slightly different matter.

Chaucer wrote to be paid, although he couldn't quit his day jobs as a courtier, a collector and inventory keeper of scrap metal, or organizer of the king's building projects. Shakespeare didn't write for today's professors. He wanted to eat, and probably enjoyed the fame. Doesn't mean they didn't care about art.

Much of what we lit students (especially those of us who read old, old stuff) study was written on commission for a patron. It wasn't really until the 20th Century that entertaining others wasn't enough of a goal to justify our hard work.

Dal Jeanis said...

Just like to point out that the people who permanently keep the acclaim, like Dickens and Shakespeare, generally are the hacks.

Polenth said...

ClassicsLover wrote:
Even if only 5 or 10% of the comments reflect a viewpoint that I think is destructive to writers in general, isn't that worthy of comment?

It's worthy of comment... but not of exaggeration. The way you handled it felt like you were lashing out at those who insulted you, but you ended up hitting a lot of innocent bystanders (the many who weren't many). Those people insulting literary fiction were also lashing out at the people who insulted them, but they ended up hitting a lot of innocent bystanders (the literary authors/reviewers who haven't insulted other writers).

This becomes a never-ending cycle.

A more productive thing would be to question where the ill-feelings come from. In this thread, we've seen people complain about being forced to read certain books at school. Could schools promote a wider range of books? Could they prepare students for reading adult books before giving them such books? In my school, many kids had to jump from children's books to dense literary works. They were set up to fail.

Are advanced creative writing courses promoting a cross-genre approach? Some do, but there are more horror stories about the ones that don't... could the ones that don't learn from those that do?

Could prize systems be shaken up to include a wider range of literature? Certain themes are more likely to win, despite the fact we know other themes have literary merit too. This might be as simple as having a greater diversity of people as judges.

Liz said...

Is this a trick question?

CASH!

I can't write unless someone pays me to do it. Okay, not entirely true. I can write, but I make my family crazy and have a hard time justifying my obsession with characters and plot to them (and another night of leftovers for dinner) if I'm not actually contributing to the household for it. Critical praise is flighty, from what I can tell. I love to write. I want to be able to write ALL THE TIME. Cash. Absolutely. And a happily successful agent who can take that extra vacation to Taos.

Elissa M said...

My ego is fine and healthy. I don't need literary acclaim to stroke it. I don't need bucket loads of cash, either.

I'd like a third option. Mid-list author who sells steadily until the day I die.

eli.civilunrest said...

Cash. My genre's are SF&F, I'm prepared to be labeled a hack. Besides I met plenty of critics in undergrad. Enough that I don't particularly value their moral and aesthetic opinions.

Ardin Lalui said...

I want to be Charles Bukowski.

Jean said...

I'll go with the majority (66%) and say I'd like to make a living at this writing thing.

Cash, Hack, Bestseller, whatever you want to call it.

Anonymous said...

In order to recv lit acclaim you have to write depressing bull@*#%. Cash will be fine. Thanks.

Braja said...

Hack: I need the cash, and those who read me know I ain't no hack. So gimme the cash. Now!

Vieva said...

To anonymous that claims we shouldn't be bashing literature people:

It's like movie critics, or anyone else that spends their time immersed in a field. They get picky. They get burned by so much they're unwilling to stick their necks out. And they want new and different in a way that regular readers don't.

There's nothing WRONG with lit people (or movie critics) - but they're not my target audience. And if I write to please them, I won't be pleasing me OR my readers. OTOH, if they choose to love me, I'll be thrilled to pieces.

But I ain't gonna hold my breath. ;)

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

I'm going to write the stories I want to write, and let the other pieces fall where they may.

Gaining either money or acclaim would be humbling.

[I'm in an MFA right now and around here if you spend too much time focused on literary acclaim you'll go crazy b/c it feels like racing the bulls - we're all just trying to keep up waiting for the next person to make it or to give up trying and take a position at Barnes&Noble. If you write to please everyone else and garner that acclaim you'll end up burning out faster than if you write for yourself.]

Go where your heart is. The rest will follow.

The Crystal Faerie said...

Can we pick door number three, making a difference?

If not, then literary acclaim for the win and more power to those who make money on top of it.

-Laurana Adams

thecardboardwritings said...

This is a hard question to answer, because you're not saying who you'll be judged by. Who's calling you a hack and who's acclaiming you? Your peers or your literature professor? Someone you care about - who's done the hard yards you have - or someone who is 'of the moment?' Personally, I'd take the cash but interestingly; if you'd asked me this question when I was twenty, I would've opted for acclaim. Now that I'm 42, I'll take the cash for sure. Just to have something published would be a dream. I don't care if some smart arse rubbishes it - I've been published baby! And think on this; Google the first reviews for 'The Sun also Rises.' According to almost all reviewers at the time, Hemingway was the definition of hack.

Brian said...

For me, the key phrase here is "be considered a hack." There's a difference between being considered a hack by the world at large and actually being one. As long as I can still see the merit in my work, everyone else can call me a hack until the cows come home.

Plus, every great writer has been considered a hack by someone at some point. I've heard people call Dickens a hack before.

Brian said...

Damn, I didn't read all 180 comments...the guy above me just said the same thing I did. Sorry, guy above me, didn't mean to steal your thunder.

Shayla Kersten said...

Since my day job already left me, I'd have to say cash. Job prospects aren't looking so good...

Anonymous said...

Big money, hands down.

Anonymous said...

big money, hands down.

Pam said...

Sell my soul? Only for the body I had as an 18-year-old ... and on that shallow note, I'll take the buckets of cash behind door number two. It's a win-win situation: 1) I'm writing, 2) people are reading.

BTW, I'd like to see this question presented again when the economy is back on its pegs. I wonder if more responders would lean toward acclaim.

Sal said...

My dream is to write a novel and for crowds of people to read it, once my first novel is published, if it gets published and I'm recognised as a great author, I will write for free and put it up on a website, with buying it being optional.

Anyway I'm writing sci-fi, imagine that, a sci-fi writer with actual literary acclaim, I'll be a legend!

I can get any job and live modestly, it's not like I need to make millions.

Yvonne Eve Walus said...

I'll take the money.

It's not about being able to afford that Fiji cruise or the swimming pool - it's about generating more writing time through:
- quitting the day job
- hiring a publicist
- not to mention a house cleaner
- replacing home-cooked dinners with healthy gourmet takeaways every night
- ditching all the cash-cow non-fiction writing and concentrating on my novels.

lucidkim said...

bucketloads of money without hesitation...

Cait said...

I'm take the literary acclaim. If I can have my writing published and appreciated, then I might have an opportunity through that to work for a newspaper, or a publishing company.

Who will last longer? The greatest writers of our day, or the richest? Maybe we'll consort with Homer on this one.

Julie Weathers said...

Hey, Anon, good to see you. As for the No Americans will win Nobel Prize, might I refer you to this article?

http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/books/09/30/nobel.literature.ap/index.html

According to that, the last person who won was in 1993 and Americans are too "ignorant" to be competitive. If that is true, then I guess the "Bush Era" of ignorance has been in effect for 15 years and will be for a long time to come.

Related Posts with Thumbnails