Sunday, November 19, 2017

Can I have it All?

Today the question is, would you rather be rich or famous for all time.
Short answer: Why can't I have it all?
I was talking with a publisher recently, and he said, “Oh, I know who you are. You’re really doing well.” Although I was flattered, I was also puzzled. What did that mean, exactly? Yes, I have a good base of readers, but if I had to depend on the sales of my six books for a living, you could visit me in my trailer in Podunk, Tennessee, where I assume living expenses would be a lot less than in the Bay Area. I know a lot of reasonably well-known authors—those with a few awards, a couple of appearances on best-seller lists—who write good books, but are never going to be able to pay the rent on their sales.
Like a lot of authors, I’m puzzled about what it takes, once you’ve written a good book, to become one of those authors whose books get snapped up by millions of people the minute they are published. Several of my loyal readers have told me they like my books better than (insert name of any number of wildly successful writers). So how come I’m not rich and famous? And back to the question: which would I rather be; rich, or famous?

Did William Shakespeare, arguably the most famous writer of all time,  make money commensurate with the admiration that endures for him? (Since nobody knows much about him, it’s hard to say). Did Charles Dickens make money in his time? He paid the bills. How about Jane Austen? Or Anthony Trollope? Or moving to the last century, how about Virginia Woolf? Earnest Hemingway? William Styron? E.L. Doctorow? Toni Morrison? All those authors are household names. Did they make the kind of money James Patterson does?
These days, books of literary genius are often successful monetarily as well. The opposite, not so much. Nobody thinks James Patterson’s books are going to be read in 100 years as masterpieces. I’ll bet he sobs about that every time he checks his bank account. Does the wildly popular Louise Penny make buckets of money? How about Sue Grafton? Michael Connelly? Craig Johnson? Don Winslow? The answer is probably yes, they do pretty well.
Will any of those be read 100 years from now with appreciation for their fine writing? Maybe. Craig Johnson puts together a damned fine sentence. Louise Penny writes beautifully. John LeCarre is likely. But do they write any better than any number of mid-list (meaning “the rest of us”) authors? That’s where the question comes in.
The answer is: who knows what will stand the test of time in the crime writing field? So given that answer, I want to make money on my books now. Let time be the arbiter of whether they last. I’ll be long-gone, and won’t know the answer anyway. So if anybody knows how to be one of those authors who is doing not just “well,” but making money hand over fist, I’m all ears.


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