In one of my random notes from hither and thither, I have this phrase: "There's a lot of money to be made in both saving people from themselves and telling them what they want to hear."
File under Depressing But True, I suppose. Not a day goes by when I don't see opportunities — as a writer, as a human being — to sell my skills short for the sake of easy money, easy attention, easy anything.
Random example: romance fiction. There's a ton of it on Amazon and it sells like mad, and from what I can tell it sells to an audience that devours it and then promptly flings the empty bag over its collective shoulder. It's popcorn, and everyone involved knows it's popcorn, which is fine.
I've thought, at one time or another, about popping some variety of that corn, a way to make a quick name for myself (not to mention a quick buck). But the plans always get scotched by a couple of pieces of brutal reality:
- There's only a finite amount of time and energy in the world. I don't know how long I have to live — although I hope it's a good long while, and that I enjoy a decent degree of health during that time — and I don't like to waste it posturing.
- Writing something cheesy to get an audience, and then trying to switch tracks and write the thing I really want to write, sounds like a recipe for getting and then promptly losing an audience. The audience I get with product #1 isn't going to be the audience that cares about product #2 for the most part. ("Wasn't he much better before he started writing all that confusing deep crap?")
- And yes, I already write for a living. My bread is on the table.
Every now and then I come back to this whole conundrum and try to find a way to refine it without veering into the territory that everyone who writes product for a living is a fool. I don't believe that for a second, in big part because such thinking cuts me off from the whole world of genuinely good stuff that is written strictly to entertain. I just know that for what I'm doing, it's not the right choice, and it would lead me to do things I wouldn't feel proud of.
Brad Warner once said "There’s really not much money to be made in this line of work [in his case, being a Zen teacher] unless you cheat people anyway." In my case, yes, there are a few (VERY few) people who make something like a living doing this. Some make enough of a living for ten or twenty other people, which is I guess not something limited to any one profession; do you really think the CEO of GM or Ford or whatever deserves to be paid nine figures?
My point about bringing up the line about cheating people — and it's hard to say this without sounding like I'm disparaging other others — is that I can't bring myself to be "just an entertainer" or what have you without feeling like I'm cheating people. I know my ambitions are bigger, if stupider, than that. I'd rather have a few people reading my books who are the right kind of audience than a whole lot of people who are mostly there to kill some time or follow their friends and read whatever they're reading. Again, I don't think those things are bad, just that I'd rather do my best to have them not be the primary motives for why people want to pick up something that has my name on the cover.
You see how hard it is to say something like this without sounding snide? I'm not trying to say that people who either write or read "entertainment" are idiots or panderers, or cheaters/cheated. Both parties fulfill irreplaceable functions in this world. All I'm saying is that I don't think I'm comfortable being on either side of that particular equation, and I don't think I ever will be. It's also easier to attract and keep a small but devoted audience (if one that doesn't put a lot back in your pocket) than it is to attract and keep a big but indifferent one. And none of this is my way of trying to prove to more successful people that they've got it all wrong, because I'd never convince them anyway.
I promise this is the last time I'll bring this up. At least until next year!
As for the bit about money to be made in saving people from themselves, more on that one another time.