“If I Were to Write for People in General, I Would Have to Drastically Lower My Estimation of the Intelligence of My Reader” — William Vollmann on Difficult Books

In a 1993 interview with Larry McCaffery, William Vollmann explains why he doesn’t worry about book sales—

LM: You Bright and Risen Angels is a long, difficult, obsessive work. Were you aware when you were writing it that it was going to be difficult for this book to attract a large audience? In other words, is audience much of a consideration for you when you’re starting out with something, or do you just write the book you feel compelled to write?

WV: I just make the best book that I can and try to not worry about audience or if it will sell. The odds are against you, so why abuse your talent for the sake of a chimera? The only real pleasure for me in writing comes from pleasing myself. What readers think is interesting and illuminating (and it may even be correct), but that is nothing compared to the excitement of seeing a world develop. Besides, even though I like most individuals I meet, I have a pretty low opinion of people in general. So if I were to write for people in general, I would have to drastically lower my estimation of the intelligence of my reader. Rather than doing that, I write the way it seems the book has to appear. I don’t think that’s egotistic. There are often things I would like to include in my books—things about me personally and other materials—that I feel I have to leave out because they aren’t relevant to the book. I’m fairly ruthless along those lines, because I try to let nothing come in the way of what’s best for the book. If that means that the book won’t sell or that a publisher won’t buy it, then that’s my problem. I’ll suffer for that, but I won’t let the book suffer for it.

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