Ursula K. Le Guin was, and remains to this day, a luminary in the speculative fiction genre. Her work was transformative, ground breaking, and her wisdom contains much that authors today can learn from. When I saw this article in my Pocket feed this afternoon, it struck home on a couple of levels.
I’ve always been of the mind that as writers, we write because we have to. We tell the stories that move our souls, and we hope, our readers. Now because we cannot live on sunshine and air alone and the kitties need fed, we do have to earn money. Plus there’s that pesky electric bill to power our laptops. *smiles* There are commercial considerations to be made. Even in this day of self-publishing, my 1000 page opus on the philosophical meaning of frog farts in relation to their resonance and volume probably won’t sell very much. Even if it’s a topic that moves my soul (it doesn’t, thank goodness or I’d be out of luck), it’s not going to be a commercial success. So yes, we must balance the two in the ways which feel good to us.
In my years as a published author, I’ve seen two things happen. First, authors have always jumped into genres where they had no historical reference points or even real affection for to make money. We saw this in the early days of paranormal romance where it became abundantly clear the authors who did not have a solid knowledge of mythology and/or speculative fiction try to weave these elements into their stories. It often showed in the reading, those books where the author was like “yeah just throw a vampire in because they’re sexy” rather than creating a mythos and a world for the reader to inhabit. It happens. It’d be like if I decided to write an Inspirational Romance. Yeah, that wouldn’t work because while I feel I would have a decent spiritual basis for it, well, let’s just say I don’t have the calling. My grandma loves them. Nothing wrong with the genre as a whole. It is just so not my cup of tea, piece of cake, or even stale can of pop.
The second issue I’ve seen is something my readers have heard me talk about. The “internet marketers” infiltrating writing and completely commodifying it. I won’t rehash that topic (or to quote grandma “hash and rehash”), but I feel that what they’re doing gets to the heart of what Ms. Le Guin has said in her article. We cannot turn out books the way we turn out widgets and expect them to be art. There’s also nothing wrong with a little reading candy. Another author whose name escapes me, talks about writing “for the love” and “for the money”, and frankly, I consider myself pretty darn lucky that the books I started writing “for the love” will be some of my top grossing books this year. Let’s just say the universe is sending some pretty dang good signs for 2019, and the books I thought were my “for the money” books have turned into “for the love”. And that’s okay too.
I do think we as authors need to be careful about this, however. That we don’t get too caught up in what “sells” over what experience we want to give the reader. If what we’re working on is at least partially for the love, even if it is also for the money, then I think personally we’re on the right track. Otherwise, I don’t care who you are, it’s going to show in your prose.