The Vanity Author

“So you won’t listen to Ramona. Your own agent. God, you’re a pain. You do know, genius, that ‘artists’ starve?”

“But I don’t want to write a series. I know she says readers like those, but I don’t think I can do it. And it’s so restricting…”

[Copyright page of my uncle’s last book (2004). Photo by me, 2019.]

“She says you can…”

I often remember my (now late) mother more than once arguing with my (now late novelist) uncle over advice he was getting about writing more toward what readers seemed to want – especially what his agent had started to tell him in the early-1990s. He always resisted. He always craved to be “artistic” and thought of for the quality of his books and never wanted to become one of those who wrote “predictable” cop stories that were easy to turn into a weekly television program.

He sold reasonably well over his twenty-five or so year writing career. Yet late in his life he told me he could definitely have sold many more books, and maybe even gotten a prized television adaptation of something, had he sought to write more “commercially” than he did. I think back now and believe he could have easily written his own “Bosch.”

So when I see social media writing advice like this pop up, I just have to laugh:

[From Instagram, August 29, 2022.]

As I start writing my own next novel, that issue again is rattling around in my head, too.

There is a line here and every author needs to know where it is for themselves.

You should certainly not just toss away your “originality” for what “the market” appears currently to demand. On the other hand, though, an author I believe should never confuse pushing their personal writing vanity at potential readers with standing reasonably for their own artistic integrity. After all, if readers – who are “the market” – don’t love your story nearly as much as you do, what was the point to writing it in the first place?

[Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon. Photo by me, August 28, 2022.]

I would be hopeless at writing, say, a sci-fi fantasy and would not dare embarrass myself by trying to do so. Nor am I interested in writing such stories. Many others out there write those… and can do so much better than I can.

I like to think by now that I aim to write what I want in terms of broad genre: historical, travel, romantic, etc. All of THAT is my “artistic” choice.

Working from that starting place, and knowing lots of people out there love reading such tales, I try to write them in a way that I hope is appealing as well to readers.

[Photo by cottonbro on]

As their audience is only themselves, a secretive and private diarist certainly CAN write whatever they want. However, if an author whose aim is to reach and entertain a public readership tries that, they should not be surprised and disappointed if what they have written makes almost no impression on actual readers. An author should not delude themselves into imagining they can just write whatever the heck they please.

Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂