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Discussion Question

My friend and fellow writer Adam-Troy Castro likes to ask questions from the Zobmondo calendar on his SFF Net newsgroup every day. With his permission, I thought I'd bring this one here for discussion, since it seems relevant.


write a novel that sells only moderately well but is revered for centuries


one that hits the best seller lists, is widely ridiculed and all but forgotten
in your lifetime?"

Anyone who knows the themes I tend to explore in my stories can probably guess my own answer very easily...


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The former, definitely, as long as I could still support myself (whether by writing or some kind of day job). I'd rather have a book-child I could be proud of.
I presume you're allowed to support yourself, as the question doesn't say that you have to live a miserable existence. But that book will be the only one you get.
The latter first, then I could afford to support myself while I do the former.
I think that the rules of the Zobmondo only allow for one choice. So if you manage to sell the second type of novel, you will never manage to sell the first type.
I suppose 'yes' is not one of the allowed solutions, is it? One of each? Especially if the second one makes me bags of money?

If not, then clearly the former. I crave respect much more than I do money; money I can get other ways.
"Yes" is not usually allowed. :-)

Of course, if you can get goodly amounts of money in other ways, then you don't have to worry about the money from the bestseller. But for some of us, the choice is more difficult...
no contest. I'd much rather write something like Asimov's Foundation Series (which I believe is a perfect example of choice #1) than some best selling hack job. But what do I know? I'm just a programmer, programming in obscurity, although fairly well paid obscurity. :) Which is a lot like choice #2...ahhh!
Don't forget that Foundation's Edge did end up on the bestseller list. And, as sad as it is for me to say, we don't yet know if the Foundation series will be revered for centuries. It's been in existence for less than a hundred years.
Every day I write documentation for money that I wish were widely read enough to be properly ridiculed, that barely stands the test of time long enough for the next software version to be released.

Something that lasts for centuries has a pretty strong appeal.

It's possibly outside the scope of the question, but it's also nice that writing a novel that is revered for centuries carries the promise that my language and culture will survive in some form for that long, and that the world will contain people similar enough to me to think and feel in hundreds of years as I think and feel now. That, or our descendants have stellar imaginations, or I did an incredibly outstanding job and could almost write for aliens.
Your last point is one that I have thought about every now and then. I have a theory that the English-speaking world is subconsciously refusing to allow the language to evolve to the point where we can't understand Shakespeare anymore. (He came after the Great Vowel Shift; Chaucer came before, so his work we read in translation.)
See, I figure I'm going to write more than one novel in my lifetime, so I'm happy to write the ridiculed bestseller and have the cash I need to quit my job and spend the rest of my life writing many books of high quality. It seems much easier and more fulfilling than writing a book of high quality and getting your spirit crushed as you try unsuccessfully to promote it, doubt your own talent, and struggle to find time to write a second novel while slaving away at your day job.
As I noted above, by the rules of the Zobmondo game you're technically not allowed to work out a scenario in which you can choose both. Re-think the question in this manner -- what if in your whole life, you will only be allowed to publish one novel? Which of the two would you want it to be?
I'd write the trashy novel, then quit my job and go be a rock star.
When we say "hits the bestseller lists," can we assume that it also means "and you don't get screwed by your contract/advance/agent"?
Sure. We'll assume that the novel hits the bestseller list and earns you gob of tasty money.
Hmmm...the problem here, again, is that we don't yet know if Orwell will be revered for centuries. And we don't know if Clancy won't be. But other than that, yeah, pretty good comparison.
I'm going to have to be cynical and say the bestseller. Because then I can lead a life in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed, and then once I'm worm food I won't care.
It's not cynical to say bestseller is your answer. (At least, I wouldn't call it cynical.) And as you say, that's at least something you know you'll enjoy during your lifetime. Even if a time traveller or an angel told you that the novel would be revered for centuries, that doesn't necessarily do you any good today.
Off-topic, but I thought you'd surely be interested in this potential meme: http://www.livejournal.com/users/elfsdh/6664.html
It did pique my interest...
Is "revered for centuries" a way of saying "aggrandizes your self-importance"?

Incidentally, I should think the rules of the question perfectly well allow you to continue writing as much other stuff as you like, provided that none of it sells at all.
I think "revered for centuries" means exactly what it says, that the novel doesn't really make many waves during your lifetime, but after you're gone, people continue to read it and then revere it. Perhaps they even wonder why your novel wasn't looked upon so favorably while you were alive, kind of like the way van Gogh's paintings only took off after he died.

As for being allowed to write as much other stuff as you like provided it doesn't sell, that's fine. The cheat I was trying to fix is the idea that writing a bestseller then gives you the financial and artistic freedom to write the eternal novel. You only get one of the two, not both.
I see the point, but the real world usually offers more choices than that.

If the question is, "would I sell out?" -- well, yes I certainly would. If the question is, "would I sell out at the expense of further work?" -- the answer is, no. I'd go and sweep floors or flip burgers or something to make ends meet.

This is assuming that all my creativity gets somehow sucked out of me. That's not happened yet, although in dry spells it can certainly feel like it.

Art is made to be seen by others. I don't know and don't really care who likes my work when I'm dead, unless it would somehow provide for my descendants. But since there's no way of knowing that, I'll stick with a no answer. This actually surprises me a bit; I've always said that I'd love the opportunity to sell out!
I see the point, but the real world usually offers more choices than that.

Of course it does; I completely agree. But the point of the Zobmondo game is that you have to pick only one of these two choices, and they must be exclusive.

It's interesting to see how people react. I've been answering these questions in Adam's newsgroup for a while now; and many people look for various loopholes or ways around the restrictions. Some of the solutions are quite clever!

Over in her LJ, lisafeld just asked one of the perennial questions - if you had to choose, would you rather lose your sight or your hearing? One of the things I find interesting about that sort of "zobmondo" question (one that I know people have asked long before the game was created) is that people don't usually look for loopholes, like saying, "I'd lose my sight because I know that artificial vision is being developed right now," or something like that. But they do for most of the Zobmondos, probably because the choices are difficult to make.

Personally, I hope we all write bestsellers that become eternal...
If I had to make that choice, I'd lose my sight since I'm a musician, of course. I'd sure miss reading, though. (Books on tape aren't quite the same.)

Hey, I didn't bring it up!
I'd take the best-seller.

I want the recognition when I can enjoy it. I want to be able to use the money effectively to fund things I find important [like Charity work, SFWA's dangers group, WorldCon, etc.] and will outlast me.

'Sides, even if I go into obscurity, there will be some graduate student somewhere who will do their thesis on me.

Now that's a cool idea I hadn't thought of. Use the money you earn to find something. Perhaps your novel won't be remembered as a great work of literature, but you can still be remembered for doing the right thing with the money.
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December 2016

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