John C. Wright’s Your Book of Gold

Subversive Literary Movement

For this week’s Superversive Blog article, we have a reprint of an article John posted before the Superversive Blog started.

John C. Wright writes:

A guy with the vunderbar name of VunderGuy takes a frustrated pen in hand and writes:

Even great authors like you, Vox Day, and Larry are relatively obscure, so what’s a chump like me to do to have an impact, ESPECIALLY as a writer?

All Saint Veronica did was wipe the face of Christ with a cloth as He was being led off to crucifixion, a single moment of compassion and pity. And she was granted sainthood for the act.

If you only write one book in your whole life, and only sell 600 copies or less, nonetheless, I assure you, I solemnly assure you, that this book will be someone’s absolutely favorite book of all time, and it will come to him on some dark day and give him sunlight, and open his eyes and fill his heart and make him see things in life even you never suspected, and will be his most precious tale, and it will live in his heart like the Book of Gold.
Let me give you three examples to support my point: VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsay had perhaps more effect and influence on me in my youth than any other book aside from WORLD OF NULL-A by A.E. van Vogt. To be fair, I misinterpreted both books, and took them to be preaching a resolute form of scientific Stoicism, an absolute devotion to sanity and truth which I doubt either author would recognize. I never wrote Mr. van Vogt a fan letter, despite that my whole life was influenced by him (but I did write a novel to honor him). Had it not been for his books, I never would have studied philosophy in High School, never would have gone to Saint John’s in Annapolis, never would have read the Great Books. I never would have met my wife.

As for Mr. Lindsay, he sold less than 600 copies of his book, and died in poverty, ignored and forgotten, of an abscess in a tooth any competent dentist could have pulled. And this is a book luminaries such as Colin Wilson, C.S. Lewis, and Harold Bloom regard as seminal. Mr. Wilson called it the greatest novel of the Twentieth Century.

The third example is my own. I wrote a short story called AWAKE IN THE NIGHT for the website of Andy Robertson, and was paid enough to buy a new stove. People have written me to say that this tale inspired dreams and nightmares, inspired new resolve, inspired hope, and at least one woman who was in the midst of her most wretched hour of despair, said she found strength just from the one description of a star appearing through the darkest clouds. What these readers see in my work is far beyond what I have the power to put down on the page: the hand of heaven touched that work, and those readers who express awe are seeing not the author’s hand, but the hand of the Creator who is author of us all, who guided the work without my knowledge.

I was luckier than Mr Lindsay in that I have gotten the letters and applause from admirers denied him, but like him,  I have no idea of what future generations, if any, will read and admire my work. I will never know. It is beyond my event horizon. So that is not why writers write.

I write for that one reader I will never see, the one who needs just such a tale as I can pen, in just such a time and place, some rainy afternoon or dark hour, when providence will bring my book into his hands. And he will open it, and it will not be a book, but a casement, from which he will glimpse the needed vision his soul requires of a world larger than our own, or a star in a heaven wider and higher than ours, a star aflame with magic more majestic than any star mortal astronomers can name.

I humbly but strongly suggest you write for that unknown reader also, and not for worldly praise, or influence, or pelf, or applause. The world flatters popular authors, and the clamor of the multitude of brazen tongues is vanity. It is dust on the wind. The unknown reader will greet your work with love. It is a crown of adamant, solid and enduring.

You will never meet that one reader, not in this life. In heaven he will come to you and fall on his face and anoint your feet with tears of gratitude, and you will stand astonished and humbled, having never suspected.


  • hlvogel

    As sales of my second novel — out for about a month now — lag far behind the sales my first novel achieved at this same point after release, you chose to reprint this column at a very good time for me. The problem is less the novel’s slower than anticipated sales than it is my hope that sales of this novel would lift my spirits against the drag five years of health problems (my family’s, not my own) exert on said spirits. Now I shall endeavor to think of that one reader somewhere out in the world rather than my current Amazon sales rank.


  • As an author, it is so tempting to judge our effectiveness by Amazon ranking…but really, that is not what it is all about.

    Do not lose heart!

    • hlvogel

      Rest assured I have not lost heart. After all, I still like my books! Plus, my third novel (currently due for release at the end of the month) is better than the first two and my fourth (release as yet unscheduled) is better still (even if it’s the first one without a princess, space or otherwise).

      Meanwhile, it’s time to cracking on the rewrite of my fifth novel and to get started writing my sixth.

  • That’s the spirit!


  • This is the second time I’ve read this, I think, and it’s more encouraging than ever. Pushing through on the novel has occassionally left me questioning whether anyone will buy the stupid thing, lol, or if it’ll just sit on Castalia’s virtual shelves and gather virtual dust.

    But I’m sure I can please at least one person. 😉