Everyone knows who Dan Brown is. Even people who aren’t active readers are familiar with his name, as they are with Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson and Jodi Picoult. Thesea re prolific authors, there’s no doubt about it, and you can find a whole shelf of them in nearly any bookstore. Authors like David Mitchell, Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Lethem, however, don’t have nearly as much name recognition, despite garnering amazing critical reviews in places like the New York Times Book Review.
Surely both sets of authors love what they do. All experience the glorious rush of inspiration and, conversely, the frustrations of writer’s block or dead ends. But what sets them apart from one another? Does either group feel better about themselves because they are invariably commercial writers or literary ones? Surely there’s no real distinction between them as writers—they all write, they all call themselves authors and rightly so.
There are clear merits specific to each set, however. There’s obviously more money involved in being a commercial author, yet more prestige comes from fitting into the latter category. While I can’t imagine one can make the choice in writing style—a novel written by an author who forced him or herself to think and write differently to what came naturally would just not be that author’s best work, no matter how technically perfect it was or how imaginative the idea.
That brings me to my question—no, I’m not here to start an argument pitting the two sides against one another. This is simply something that intrigues me. If you had to choose a particular author’s career to mimic, whose would it be? Would you prefer to be widely successful, raking in money and selling millions of copies of your book, but maybe suffering derision from high-minded literary snobs and going overlooked time and time again by reviewers? Or would you rather stunning, eloquent reviews and intelligent, deep discussion of your work amongst a small few, seeing only moderate success sales-wise? While there are some authors who have managed to bridge the gap and have both critical and commercial renown, it’s a very exclusive club. What say you?