Sometimes, (gasp) writers deign to write for reasons outside of fame and fortune. Some of those motives are higher, while others of are baser than seeking fiduciary power and admiration. Among those alternative whys and wherefores are that writers believe that writing ought to scratch mental itches/allow them to exhibit intellectual self-pleasuring, and that writers believe that they ought to provide views antithetical to popular opinion.

First, grandstanding, openly self-serving, writing exists. This type of expression is not only the province of moneyed persons, but, given today’s cheap, easily accessible convergent media, the province of individuals of most demographics. “Carefully wrought and revised, [books] can say exactly what the writer wishes — a special boon to the creature seeking to [‘] get back his own[’]. The writer need never suffer from staircase wit; his books keep him forever in the room, striking his opponents dumb.”1 That verity of social positioning, derived from success with completing a book-length project, is what author aspirants want to believe. Many untutored souls hold that if they can write a book, by dint of creating it, they have endowed it, and, in turn, themselves, with significance.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


This issue of mistakenly attributed self-worth has become exacerbated by self-publishing. Increasing amounts of big-headedness, of attempts to disperse ideas because doing so “feels good,” exist. Whereas some of the writers, who are guilty of this behavior, might protest that they are virtuous because they are disinterested in profits, they concurrently admit to looking to publication as a means of communal validation. Simon Crump writes in “Is it vanity to self-publish?” [sic.], “Are all those folks on the forums self-published because they've been knocked back by every single publisher under the sun, or are they self-published because they have made a conscious/brave/mad decision to take the matter into their own hands?”2 Either way, such endeavors are not acts of altruism, but  of ethical egoism, i.e. are responses to what those authors think ought to be made manifest, or are acts of psychological egoism, i.e. are responses to what those authors deem to be of great consequence.


In the first case, ethical egoism, essentially showboating, Jonas Ellison expounds in “Creative Hedonism, Selfish Writing, and Eis Heauton,” that, as pertains to himself, writing selfishly keeps him sharp, clear, and self-refelctive.3 He’s prototypical in assuming that his clarity is of importance to the rest of us.

Joanne Penn gets to the same ends visa via a different, less personal explanation. She says in “Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing” that any authors who were in traditional publishing and are now in self-publishing talk about how painful it was to have a cover or title they hated, or to have editorial choices imposed on them that they didn’t agree with but were insisted upon. As an indie, you can work with freelancers of your choice and you can choose the ultimate look and feel of your product.4

Although veteran authors know that readers judge books by their covers, specifically, and by their overall marketing, more generally, and that audience loyalty has a greater impact on book sales than do product aesthetics, many authors still insist that their greatest fulfillment comes from writing for themselves.

In the second case, psychological egoism, aka hedonistic writing, would-bes don’t always grasp which among society’s many offerings are truly valuable. Writing “for the public’s benefit,” like writing for self-grandeur, can be problematic. Broadcasting beliefs that a writer thinks advance the public’s needs, simultaneous with giving notice that one is sacrificing money and distinction to push forward “unpopular” ideas, might seem unselfish, but is actually another form of narcissism.

At such times, wordies “hope that someone, somewhere, takes notice whenever [they ‘]do the right thing.[’]”5  Such “sacrificial” writing, i.e. such efforts to position “good” over “gains,” is at least as much about self-love as social contribution. While “[s]ervice and selflessness transcends …by tapping into the universal longing we all have for a mission that is so much bigger than ourselves that it transforms us, both separately and collectively, from selfish to selfless people[,]”6 much sidestepping of prominence and profits is ignoble. More precisely, authors sometimes engage in high-minded projects to build their brands, namely, to attract light by means of positive associations with their names. At best, marketing’s neutral - it’s rarely benevolent.

Alternatively, writers might act “magnanimously” because they actually think they are serving some well-defined social cause. “Writing is powerful. Whether it's a little girl hiding from the Nazis in an attic, or Amnesty International writing letters on behalf of political prisoners, the power of telling stories is usually what causes change.”7 Consider the global impact of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, and Nelson Mandela’s Long Road to Freedom. Contemplate, as well, the more localized impact of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses. The problem with writing about social ills is that such writing, regardless of its literary merit, can often, ultimately, be shown to be an artifice put into place to enhance a writer’s renown, not to serve humanity.

Additionally, there is the mistaken belief that success and attention are incompatible with selflessness. Writers, who hold that giving up personal advantage necessarily equals “philanthropy,” and thus uniquely improves their marketing game, are mistaken or confused. When subjective and public standards align, parties win regardless of whether or not their work “augments” the greater good. Reflect that the wealthier a writer is, the more that he or she can give tzedakah or in other ways manifest social influence.8 Highly recognized writers can put their names behind all sorts of causes. J.K. Rowling, for example, has become notorious for this sort of machination.9 YouTube vloggers even refer to themselves as “influencers.” Sharing resources never necessitated asceticism. Impacting society never meant having to start off poor or undereducated.

Overall, there are many reasons why authors might swim against the popular predisposition to chase social status or enriched pockets. Chief among these motivations are mental self-stimulation and social betterment. It follows that writers, who are unwilling to yield autonomy, i.e. who are unwilling to kowtow to publisher or audience needs, can be regarded as principled, stupid, or both. The relative merit of such writers’ brands, consequently, depends on the heuristics of their assessors. Readers who want their authors to be heroes will care about martyrdom. Readers who want quality work won’t.


1. Thomas Mallon and Anna Holmes. “Is Self-Loathing a Requirement for Writers?” The New York Times. Jun. 16, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/books/review/is-self-loathing-a-requirement-for-writers.html. Retrieved Jul. 24, 2018.

2. Simon Crump. “Is it vanity to self-publish?” [sic.] The Guardian. Feb. 4, 2010. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/feb/04/vanity-self-publish.Retrieved Jul 24, 2018.

3. Jonas Ellison. “Creative Hedonism, Selfish Writing, and Eis Heauton.” The Good Men Project. May 7, 2018. https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/creative-hedonism-selfish-writing-and-eis-heauton-chwm/. Retrieved Jul. 24, 2018.

4. Joanne Penn. “Pros And Cons of Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing.” Creative Penn. N.d. https://www.thecreativepenn.com/self-publishing-vs-traditional/. Retrieved Jul. 25, 2018.

5. Hannah Perlberger. “Who’s Gonna Know.” Chabad.org. Jul. 24, 2018. https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/4050491/jewish/Whos-Gonna-Know.htm#utm_medium=email&utm_source=72_the_jewish_woman_en&utm_campaign=en&utm_content=content. Retrieved Jul. 24, 2018.

6. August Turak. “Why Being Selfish is Good for Business.” Big Think. N.d.https://bigthink.com/experts-corner/why-being-selfless-is-good-for-business.Retrieved Jul. 24, 2018.

7. Erin Gruwell. “In Defense of the ‘Freedom Writers.´” The Atlantic. Sep. 25, 2012. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/in-defense-of-the-freedom-writers/262800/. Retrieved Jul 24, 2018.

8. Andrew Prokop. “Study: Politicians listen to rich people, not you.” [sic.] Vox. https://www.vox.com/2014/4/18/5624310/martin-gilens-testing-theories-of-american-politics-explained. Retrieved Aug. 2, 2018.

9. Toby Young. “J.K. Rowling’s schizophrenic politics.” [sic.] The Spectator. Jul. 1, 2017.https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/07/j-k-rowlings-schizophrenic-politics/. Retrieved Aug. 2, 2018.


Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

Think others should know about this? Please share