Would you rather be a Best-Selling Author or a Best Writing Author?

Dan Brown’s new book “The Lost Symbol” will be out in September and the publishing industry is looking forward to blockbuster sales. Last week at the Sydney Writers Festival, it was pointed out that literary fiction doesn’t sell and one of the panel asked authors to ‘please write more books that sell’. After all, it will help you as an author as well as the suffering publishing industry!

So what do we aim for as authors?

One the one hand we want to win prizes, be literary geniuses and praised for our glorious ability with words. On the other hand, we want to make money! (after all, most literary prizes are very small! )

Here are some examples of best-selling authors that cannot be considered “literature”, but are definitely books that are popular and have touched the hearts of millions (and made a lot of money for their authors and publishing houses). 

  • Dan Brown “The Da Vinci Code” has sold more than 80 million copies. The movie made more than $700 million at the box office. I have read “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”, the non-fiction book that the ideas came from, as well as perhaps the literary equivalent Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum”. I enjoyed both other books, but Dan’s comes out tops in terms of popular appeal! 
  • Robert Kiyosaki with The Rich Dad series of books, which have sold over 27 million copies in 109 countries. Robert is a multi-millionaire, and says himself “I am a bestselling author, not a best writing author”. 
  • JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame is constantly criticised by literature fans especially for her use of adverbs. But that hasn’t stopped her from becoming the first ever billionaire author and loved by millions around the world. 
  • The Chicken Soup for the Soul series by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen is just a bunch of stories told by real people in simple language. Those simple stories have touched hearts in 40 countries and sold over 112 million copies, as well as developing into aself-development franchise model. 
  • Stephenie Meyer with the Twilight series. Stephenie is even criticised by Stephen King on her writing ability, but that hasn’t stopped her books selling over 30 million copies, as well as the movie rights and associated merchandise. 

There are many literature prizes – the Man Booker is just one of them that I follow. I found this excerpt on the impact of winning the Booker Prize on Yann Martel, author of “The Life of Pi” (which is a great book!). 

“…after the announcement of the Booker win, Life of Pi sold 7,150 copies in the UK, making it the bestselling hardback fiction that week…. D.B.C Pierre “Vernon God Little” went from a sale of 373 copies to 7,977 in the week after” 

Clearly, literary fiction sells less than mass market popular fiction. 


Some of my groaning bookshelves

Some of my groaning bookshelves

Now, I love books of all kinds. I have a lot of literary fiction, stacks of non fiction and many popular fiction novels (although those often get recycled through second-hand bookshops!) 

I go to Writers Festivals, I have taken writing courses. I write journals and poetry and have 3 non-fiction books to my name. I have always wanted to win the Booker Prize because of the prestige! 

But I have decided that I want to be a best-selling author, NOT a best-writing author lauded by lit fic critics! I want to write well, but not be classed as literature. I want to be popular, not literary. 

How about you? Would you rather be a best-selling author or a best writing author?

This post appeared on The Creative Penn: Writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, internet sales and promotion…for your book.