Earlier today I read a question on a message board for writers, the Writer’s Cafe at Kindleboards.com (one of my favorite online haunts). The name of the thread was “Personal Glory or Commercial Success?” and the first post asks this:

Ideally, we’d like to be able to write books that are both meaningful to us as well as popular in the consumer market.  Realistically though, it’s extremely uncommon to have both.  If you had to choose, would you rather write for personal fulfillment even if it doesn’t attract much in the way of sales or write what will more likely appeal to the masses and give you some amount of decent profit?

Definitely both.

But I’ve come to a soul-searching moment with my book. Mine is at a point now where I think it’s finally in good enough shape to publish it, after working on the book for 21 months. If my top goal was to make money, I’d probably release it now and get to work writing another one so that I could try to have a second release before the holidays.

But I’ve found I literally can’t do that. I’m still poring over the book, making every detail as good as I can possibly make it. I’m trying to root out every weak instance of ‘telling’ in the cases where telling isn’t the best choice, and trying to make every sentence concise and clear. I want every piece of dialogue to ring true, and every character to work and feel real. I want every part of the story to be logical and to function with maximum emotional impact. These are some of the goals, anyway. I’m doing the best I can with them.

By doing all this, instead of releasing my book in May like I’d hoped to, I might not be able to release the novel until June at the earliest and probably August at the latest (I’ll guess July). And I know this might cost me some money because it’s slowing down my current and future release schedule (or maybe make me more money in the long run–it’s hard to say).

But when I’ve looked really deeply at it, I’ve decided that if people are going to spend some money on my book and, more importantly, hours of their lives reading it, I can’t feel good about that unless I know that I’ve given everyone my very best effort. That’s what I want from any author I read, so that’s what I have to give.

I’ve realized that my #1 goal, literally, is to write the very best book that I can, however long that takes, still absolutely with an eye toward commercial success–but regardless of whether my release schedule helps or hurts me in terms of generating an income from writing. I’m living off some of my savings to do this, but in the end, I want to know that I gave everyone the very best I had to give, and I think that’s worth more to me than commercial success. Then again, maybe this is the best way to have longterm commercial success. But I’m okay with or without commercial success as long as I know that I didn’t cut any corners just to make more money. That’s not saying anything about anyone who has that goal–it’s just not my top goal.

I want some people who read my book to feel like it’s one of the best reading experiences they’ve ever had. I want my book to be one that stays with some people for years, one that they want to re-read some day. Even if it’s just a small percentage of people that feel that way, that’s what I value most, the qualitative experience that those readers might have, not the numbers in my bank account.

Writing this book (and then hopefully more, similar books) is literally my top personal (selfish) desire, for my life. After this, my top goals are to be the best dad and husband I can be and eventually to focus more on charitable projects. This is why the writing of the book is more important to me than the money. This is just how I feel. I’m not comparing or contrasting myself to anyone else, and I know I’m very lucky to be in a position that allows me to approach writing this way. Then again, I’ve worked hard at other things so that I could do this some day.

Thanks for asking a great question. Sorry if I gave you more than you bargained for  😉


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This entry was posted on Monday, April 25th, 2011 at 10:24 am and is filed under Better Writing, Craft of Storytelling, My Work, Passion for Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 comments so far


I would hope that every author is trying to put out the best book they can book by book. Otherwise it’s just arrogant and unfair to ask the reader to spend their time and money on it.

That said, I imagine there are plenty of people who are going to write a genre or style of book based on more material concerns than artistic.

For now, my novel is not widely marketable and I know that. Writing the book I did limited my potential audience and slapped a label on it that many won’t look past–sci-fi and gay being the two major ones.

I can’t say I won’t, in the future, decide what and where to write based on a desire to make more money off my efforts. But for now, it’s more about sharing with people a story that moved me so profoundly.
Leah Petersen recently posted..Review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman

April 25th, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I wish more writers were like you.
Peter Darbyshire recently posted..Get your cheap books while you can

April 25th, 2011 at 2:05 pm
Moses Siregar III

Thanks, Peter. I think the world would probably cave in if there were two of me, though 😛

Leah, I respect that a lot. I can’t tell you how happy I’ll be to hold your book in my hands. Scout’s honor. Not that I’m a scout. Or have any honor 😛

April 25th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I’m in the same boat. Editing, editing, editing. The idea of giving in to second guessing so I can tinker things into perfection, is making me a little crazy. I could go on forever. Though I really hope it doesn’t go on forever. Hah, I’m making myself nuts.

I want to make money, (of course!) to be a full time writer, but that wont happen if the book doesn’t stick out from the masses. (and boy are there masses.) To do that it needs to be strong in itself and it needs to be clean, equally.
Writer and reader, both sides of me expect it.

So, right on for all the polishing you’re doing! As a future reader I thank you. I want to be in good hands and have faith in the storyteller I’m spending time with. Go nuts. 😉

April 25th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I’m not convinced that the commercial aspect of the business eclipses the meaningfulness of the writing experience more often than not, nor that polishing a novel’s prose to the point of near-perfection is necessarily better than focusing all that energy on the next book. I just finished my third reading of Dave Wolverton’s first novel, On My Way to Paradise, and even though in a few points the prose could have been more polished (not many, but some), that in no way took away from the meaningfulness of the book (which, in my opinion, is one of the best sf novels ever written). The thing that made it so powerful, however, wasn’t the prose, the voice, or any stylistic aspects of the writing, but the story itself–and the story doesn’t improve at all when all you’re doing is polishing prose. In fact, the story can be awesome even if your prose is horrible–and the way to practice storytelling is to move on to new material, not to endlessly polish your current WIP.

My concern is that if we, as writers, focus so much on the prose that we rarely move on to new material, our storytelling abilities will not improve as quickly as they ought. While my creative mind tends to work better in the revising stage rather than the drafting stage, I tend to agree more with Dean Wesley Smith, who says that the best way to practice is to write something new.
Joe Vasicek recently posted..How to say “I love you” in math

April 25th, 2011 at 6:16 pm
Moses Siregar III

Thanks, HH. I’m with you on all of that 🙂

Joe, good points on the importance of storytelling. I’m the type of reader that’s much more likely to read a story if the prose is strong. So I’m trying to cover all my bases, I guess. The education I’m getting with improving my first novel feels priceless, too.

April 25th, 2011 at 9:26 pm

I’m not much of a prose polisher, as I tend to lose my character’s voice if there’s too much sentence-by-sentence prettification (yeah, that’s a word, really), but I want to tell the most entertaining story I can, and it takes a few passes to iron out all the wrinkles, for sure!

I wouldn’t be writing high fantasy if I was too worried about commercial success, but one does think, from time to time, how lovely it would be to work as a full-time author. 🙂
Lindsay recently posted..Ebook Cover Art Tips with Designer Glendon Haddix

May 5th, 2011 at 1:39 am

I’m with Joe Vasicek. If you really want it to be the best it can be, why not find a freelance editor to do a copy edit or, if you can afford it, a more thorough edit. Doesn’t have to change the story wholesale… and perhap helps to prove one way or the other, after you’ve published, whether the story was as compelling as you hoped. 😉
LP King recently posted..A Newbies Guide to Publishing- Guest Post by Scott Sigler

May 11th, 2011 at 1:35 pm
Moses Siregar III

@Lindsay: It’s possible with high fantasy, too! It’s a dream, but some people manage to pull it off.

@LP: Amen. I’ve actually paid three different editors with different skills (including one that’s a pro copyeditor and another that’s an excellent fantasy editor). The story hasn’t changed dramatically because of this, but I definitely think it’s become much better because of their feedback.

May 11th, 2011 at 1:38 pm

It’s hard to separate the writing from the money. The money isn’t about the money. It’s a big fat symbol of someone else validating what I write with their hard-earned cash. In a weird way every penny that comes in is hugely important to me, and not beause I can spend it. It’s how I know someone values what I did.

I do believe that, from a purely mercenary perspective, you will likely make more money in the long term by crafting a better book. The fact that you’ll feel better about it and be proud of what you created is awfully nice too. I don’t think you’ll ultimately be choosing one over the other.

May 24th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
Moses Siregar III

I like that, Brent. I hope so 🙂

May 24th, 2011 at 4:28 pm

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