Should you write for money or the love of writing?
Both books are great (like all Grisham’s books), and you should check them out.
A major recurring theme throughout the books is whether or not a book will sell. Bruce Cable, the main character, owns a book store. Most of the characters in the book are also authors. Because of that, the theme of selling books and money comes up repeatedly.
This theme is one that most writers (or artists in general) can relate to. There is a constant struggle between writing what you want and writing what will sell. People on both sides of this issue feel very strongly about their view.
For the money or the love of writing?
Bruce Cable, being a bookstore owner, constantly mentions how well a book sold. He also gets asked by many authors how well he thinks a new book idea will sell. It makes perfect sense for Bruce that he falls on the "write what sells" side of the argument. He is a book store owner, so his livelihood literally depends on selling books.
One couple in the book (Myra and Leigh) perfectly exemplify the struggle between writing for the love of writing and writing for money. When they met, they were struggling young writers who needed the money since their books were not selling.
Together Myra and Leigh came up with the idea to write cheap “romance” (aka sex) novels. They frequently describe their work as “garbage.” However, it does pay the bills, and they live a comfortable lifestyle because of it.
Their reactions to their writing differ significantly. Myra has accepted it and enjoys the money. Leigh is disgusted to even talk about what they write and is still dreaming about writing “good” stuff again.
Note: If selling erotica sounds like a good idea to you, you are not alone. Selling erotica, especially on Kindle, is actually quite popular, and many writers have made a solid living from it.
How about both?
Another character that struggles with the same question is Mercer Mann. Mercer is a struggling author who has already published one novel. It was well-received by critics; however, it did not sell well at all. It sold so poorly that she had to cancel her book tour in the middle.
She took a teaching job to hold her over while writing her second book. Writer’s block hit her, and years later, she was still teaching and while she “writes” her next book.
Being the ever-helpful bookstore owner, Cable was more than happy to give her suggestions that would sell well. He encouraged her to write one that will be commercially successful then write whatever she wants after.
Mercer struggled with the dilemma and even tried to write part of a book based on Cable’s idea. However, in the end, it never felt right to her. Someone else's idea never inspired her.
In the end, (or beginning of the second book), she finally did write a book. It was both commercially successful and something she enjoyed writing about. The book was loosely based on her grandmother's life.
So, in the end, Mercer was one of the lucky ones who did not have to pick. For her and many other people, it is possible to do both. Write for the love of it and make money.
Note: If you decide that you need a "day job" to pay for your writing, you are not alone. Only a lucky few make a living solely by selling their writing. There is no shame in needing to work to supplement your writing income. In fact, having a "real" job might actually help with your writing. Real-life experience often makes for the best writing.
Avoid the middle though
There is nothing wrong with writing for the money. There is nothing wrong with writing for the love of writing. There is also nothing wrong with switching back and forth between the two.
However, there is something wrong with the middle. The middle is a weird place where you don't really enjoy writing, but you also don't make much money.
People usually end up in the middle by trying to do both at the same time. Some people manage to do both successfully, but it is usually when what they love writing happens to be profitable.
Actively trying to do two competing things well is darn near impossible. What usually happens is that you end up doing both things poorly, and that is not good for anyone.
Moral of the story
The best solution is to write whatever makes you happy. That will probably give you the best chance at commercial success anyway.
If you don’t believe in what you are writing, it bleeds through, and your reader will see through it. Writing about something that inspires you will result in a better book anyway.
Another takeaway is that you should not feel bad about writing for the money.
We all need to eat, and there is no shame in making an honest living. If you want to write “for the money” first, then switch gears later, that is perfectly ok. It is also ok if you never leave the “for the money” phase. Anyone who would judge you for it is not worth listening to anyway.
Find what works best for you and go for it. If you are happy, other people's opinions don't matter anyway.
Not just books
This idea is not just applicable to books. It also applies every type of writing, blogs, ebooks, Medium, ghostwriting, traditional publishing, etc.
Figure out what kind of writing works best for you and do it. Or, if you can’t decide, try everything and continue whatever combination of things work best for you.
Writing in the age of the internet is unique because there is no cost of entry. You can write different types of things and see what sticks. If you succeed, great. If you fail, no problem. All you lost was a little time.