Write What Sells or Write What Matters?

One of my favorite novels is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and one of my favorite parts of that book is the Coda at the end. Bradbury discusses the atrocities editors and readers have committed on his novels. Everything from taking out the “hells” and “damns” to make it more “appropriate” for high school students to suggesting the writer insert more female characters into The Martian Chronicles. If you know anything about Bradbury you can guess his response. It is poetic and scathing and basically he says to leave his writing alone. He doesn’t give a damn what the reader wants.

The whole idea of editing a novel so it will sell to a particular audience raises an interesting question: Is it more important to write what sells or what matters? As a writer are you willing to let editors rework your material so that it is more marketable, and if so, how far are you willing to let them go? Will your message, if you have one, be distorted into something that you no longer recognize? Are you all right with that if it means you finally get to see your work in print?

I am not saying that every writer must have a message of some kind but surely each has an idea about how they want their stories to be read. But I think every aspiring writer must ask himself what sacrifices they are willing to make to see their writing become successful?

I’m wondering what other writers think. Is there anyone out there who has personally experienced this conundrum?

About M. Jaynes

A female educator with anger-management issues, M. Jaynes is causing change in the world by inspiring (some may say forcing) young minds to think for themselves and question everything.


  1. The problem with the “write what sells” theory is that no one knows what sells until, you know, it actually does. So, writing a vampire novel because Twilight sold doesn’t mean yours will, too, you know?

    The only thing worth writing is something that means something to you. Because then, even if it doesn’t sell, at least you have something with intrinsic value to you. And if you’re writing things that don’t matter to you, it’s almost guaranteed to come across to the reader.

  2. Great point Elizabeth and personally I agree. I would much rather write something that resonates with me and never see it published in print than to print something that I don’t care about one way or the other. Maybe I like Bradbury so much because I like his attitude about such things.

  3. I think it depends on whether you expect to make a living as a writer. Then the answer is simple: write what sells to pay the bills. If you feel driven to write what matters, do that in your spare time.

    If money is not a concern, you should definitely write what matters.

  4. But if you write something you know won’t sell, will you have an impact? Will it change or challenge anyone, like F451 ended up doing?

    Writing for oneself is absolutely fine – as long as you are open about that. But if you want to reach a larger audience, there is just no way you can avoid taking the commercial aspect of your writing into account.

  5. If you don’t write what your soul is longing to speak….there is much more to lose than money.

  6. Can there be the “Best Of Both Worlds” … day job = write what sells … night job = write what matters 🙂