Having now made the commitment to fully pursue my nascent writing ambitions, I have recently been pondering what it is I most want to accomplish as an author. Following on from this, the one thought that has repeatedly come to the forefront of my mind is whether critical acclaim or commercial success is more important to me. I’m sure this thought crosses the mind of every aspiring author at some point before being published; maybe it is something even published authors think about, also. Ultimately, it is difficult to favour one over the other if you come to the conclusion that both options are equally desirable.
If those of us who are just starting out are honest with ourselves, we would all love to rack up the astronomical sales figures of J.K. Rowling, acquire a legion of devoted fans, and become multi-millionaires, as such accomplishments would be indicative of commercial success. By the same token, wouldn’t it be great to be nominated for, and win, prestigious awards? And how about the accolade of being heralded as a luminary of your favoured genre, in the way Asimov and Tolkien are, or Bujold and Le Guin are?
On the face of it the obvious solution to the quandary of choosing between the two stated goals is to try to achieve both; I know I would ideally like to have both. But if I was compelled to pick one or the other, I would choose critical acclaim over commercial success in a heartbeat, as I would regard it as validation of the quality of my writing in a way commercial success would not be. That being said, before anyone pulls me up on this viewpoint, I freely acknowledge that awards and accolades wouldn’t necessarily make my work more worthwhile any more than high sales figures would.
However, after thinking a little deeper on this matter I came to realise that my ultimate goal as a writer goes beyond attaining either critical acclaim or commercial success. What I really want to accomplish most with my writing is to craft stories that live on in the hearts and minds of readers long after I have shuffled off this mortal coil; to produce works that are not only memorable but also capable of having a profoundly life changing influence on those who read them. C.S. Lewis is one such author who had just this kind of impact on my life (and no doubt the lives of innumerable other people too) and I can’t think of any greater reward for my own writing that to have a similar effect on a reader; even if it’s only one person.
I’m not blind to the reality that, as a goal, the ambition I have for my writing is possibly harder to attain than either critical acclaim or commercial success. But did Lewis know how influential The Chronicles Of Narnia would be after his death while he was writing The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe? Could Tolkien have predicted he would become the most imitated author of the fantasy genre when he wrote The Lord of the Rings? And surely H.G. Wells couldn’t possibly have envisaged becoming the most influential science fiction author in history, or being hailed as the father of the genre; yet his legacy has inspired so many authors over the years, some of whom have subsequently become luminaries of science fiction in their own right, including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.
So, now that you know what I hope to accomplish with my writing, what are your own aspirations and goals? Is it critical acclaim, commercial success or something else?
Thanks for reading,