Here's another one of those annoying hypothetical questions. Which do you think would be preferable: writing one novel that was a huge success both critically and financially and then fading into relative obscurity, or selling forty or fifty books over a period of twenty or thirty years, while remaining in relative obscurity the whole time?

In other words, I guess, would you prefer the career of Harper Lee or the kind of career that a lot of mystery writers seem to have?

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Honestly? Selling the forty or fifty books. As many of us as there are out there, I don't see myself ever becoming a big name, but I'd love the income that forty or fifty books might bring in.
Yeah, but what if that one big one were like To Kill a Mockingbird? You'd never have to worry about income again!
LOL! Okay, sorry, I was taking myself into account. For one thing, I don't have a big book along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird in me. For another, I've been writing since I was nine years old. (That was 36 years ago--the math's easy enough on that one.) I know that when I write something, I want it to be read, and that it's going to take something major, like the birth of my child or the end of the world (or my own death), to make me stop writing. So from that point of view, as an inveterate writer who wants to be read, I'd go for the forty or fifty books. I guess that means it's not entirely about income, but it's sure nice to get paid for what you love doing.
Writers write. Except for a few of them. I think most people will go for the second option.
Take money out of the equation (for the moment). Take fame out of the equation as well. Let's talk quality. If I wrote one book as good as To Kill a Mockingbird, I would die a happy man.
Me, too, Jeff.
I'll go at it from a writing perspective solely. I'd rather the 40 or 50, because I'd be unable to stop writing and once you've had something in print I think bringing it to publication becomes more important to you. I wouldn't want to be Harper Lee.
How about J. D. Salinger?
No, I wouldn't want to be him either. I just want to be a writer. Whatever level of success comes with that is okay. If that means being successful enough to stay in print through 40 or 50 books, I'd say that's actually pretty damn successful in this day and age.
If I could make a living writing fiction, I would take either one. I think the latter would be more satisfying, especially if it followed the Elmore Leonard model of "being discovered" by a large audience after a few dozen solid novels.
I'm with Sandra on this one. Undeniably it'd be a huge ego boost to score the blockbuster. But I'd be happy connecting with readers and serving them with as many stories as they wanted.
I had a feeling the replies would tend this way. But the idea of the one big score is very tempting.

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