Monday, January 30, 2006

The "Are You a Hack?" Quiz!

You must answer yes or no or pick one of the choices offered.

No maybes or I dunnos allowed.

As Winston Churchill said: We've already established you're a whore, we're just quibbling over price...


  1. Is commercial success your goal?
  2. Would you ever write a movie or TV novelization?
  3. What's more important: Integrity or making a living as a writer?
  4. Do you rewrite based on editor or agent suggestions even if you don't entirely agree with those suggestions?
  5. Would you ever write an adaptation of a comic book or videogame?
  6. Would you ever change the ending of your book in order to make a sale?
  7. Would you write about something you didn't care about if you got a fat paycheck?
  8. If forced to choose, would you rather have artistic integrity or fame and riches?
  9. Would you rather be Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code, or Marilynne Robinson, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Literature?
  10. Would you rather be known as a genius by hundreds of people, or mediocre by millions of people?
  11. Would you ever write for a character you didn't create?
  12. What's more important: Getting the words right, or getting the words sold?
  13. Would you write in a genre you don't enjoy for a lot of money?
  14. Have you ever submitted something that you know isn't your best work in order to make a deadline?
  15. What is more important: Fans or awards?
  16. Would you rather have a bestseller that is critically panned, or a poor seller that is critically praised?
  17. Would you ever ghost-write another author's series?
  18. Did this quiz amuse you, or annoy you?



Webster defines a hack as: a writer who works on order; also : a writer who aims solely for commercial success.

To grade this test, check your answers with the key below, and keep track of how many times you scored as a "HACK" and how many times you scored as an "ARTIST."

  1. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  2. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  3. Making a living - HACK. Integrity - ARTIST
  4. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  5. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  6. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  7. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  8. Fame & riches - HACK. Integrity - ARTIST
  9. Dan Brown - HACK. Marylinne Robineson - ARTIST
  10. Medicore - HACK. Genius - ARTIST
  11. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  12. Words sold - HACK. Words right - ARTIST
  13. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  14. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  15. Fans - HACK. Awards - ARTIST
  16. Critically panned bestseller - HACK. Critically acclaimed poor seller - ARTIST
  17. Yes - HACK. No - ARTIST
  18. Doesn't count.



  • 0-1 HACK answers: you are an ARTIST whose integrity is solid.
  • 2-3 HACK answers: you are an ARTIST who realizes that publishing is a business
  • 4-5 HACK answers: you have some artistic integrity, but you'd rather make a living
  • 6-14 HACK answers: you are a hack, but may have some integrity left
  • 15-17 HACK answers: welcome to hacksville, population: you


JA Konrath said...

For all who couldn't guess, I got a score of 16, and according to this quiz I'm a hack.

The only one I answered no to was "would you turn in something that isn't your best work to meet a deadline."

I said no because I'd rather blow the deadline and make the work better, assuming I could turn the work in late.

I'd love to write a James Bond book, or a Superman comic. I defer to my edtior's suggestions, even when I don't agree, because it turns out she's right a lot.

I don't care about critics or awards, but I do like getting fan mail.

And I want to be stinking rich. :)

Jean said...

So, I'm a hack. What of it? Is there a difference between questions 9 & 10?

#3 is the only one I came back as an artist on. For all the others, there are situations where it would make sense to take the "hack" answer.

I'm in the Integrity First service, so I can't compromise that one.

Cute quiz.

Rob Roberge said...

i came up with a being way more important than awards, among others



Lynn Raye Harris said...

I'm a hack, no doubt about it, but I'd still rather be the author of Gilead than the Davinci Code. I know, I know, terribly unhacklike of me. I got my limits. :)

Daniel Hatadi said...

6, so I'm a hack. Assuming this is just as accurate as those Women's Weekly quizzes, in reality, I have no idea what I am.

The only question I have a problem with is 9. I'm not interested in a Pulitzer Prize, but I wouldn't want to be as successful as Dan Brown. Honestly, half as succesful would be preferable.

And I'm on my way, I mean, look at my first name.

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

You know many people still consider Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald as hacks.

I belive to aspire to be in their company is an excellent goal.

Throughout history, many of the hacks are the ones whose work indures and we remember; Van Gough, Mozart, Fitzgerald.

I'm not sure DB runs with this crowd, but I like the thought behind your premise.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. But which is right? Neither? Provided your achieving your goal - artist or hack. I was surprised though I'm not a hack - I thought I was more money focussed than a 7. Might explain why I'm still a wannabe.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Re: question #9-

Per your previous post, Joe, I thought Dan Brown was a great entertainer, not merely a hack.

Can a writer be hugely entertaining AND a hack at the same time?

JA Konrath said...

The quiz doesn't comment on how good the writing is.

Hack is thought to be synonymous with poor, but that's not the true definition of hack.

The quality of the final product has nothing to do with hackness.

Allison Brennan said...

I scored 9, though I didn't answer a couple of the questions. Dan Brown or Marilynne Robinson? This might sound trite, but I just want to be me. ;)

And on artist integrity, I picked it, probably because of the whole Frey flap. I don't think it's right to lie, cheat or steal to sell. But if it's something like changing something in my book because it isn't working for my editor, then I'd probably change it.

Because I'm a character driven writer, I think I'd have a hard-time writing a character I didn't create. In the same vein, I doubt I could write in a genre I didn't enjoy reading. Fortunately, I read a lot of different things :)

Jude Hardin said...

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. Integrity
4. Yes
5. No
6. Yes
7. No
8. Artistic integrity and riches. Fame I can do without. 1/2 a point.
9. I'd rather be Jude Hardin, bestselling author of the Nicholas Colt, PI, series. 1/2 a point.
10. A genius by millions of people. 10 points.
11. Yes
12. Can't we do both? -1 point.
13. When asked why he writes horror stories, Stephen King said, "What makes you think I have a choice?" Like Popeye says, "I amsg what I amsg." No to this one.
14. Nothing I submit is my best work. My best is always yet to come. 10 points.
15. Fans
16. Bestseller
17. Yes

By cheating, I scored a whopping 28 points. That makes me Mayor of Hacksville. :)

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Joe, we tied. So Hacksville now has a population of two.

Zoe said...

I enjoyed this quiz :) I got an 11.

My score would have been higher, but I answered "no" to all the questions about writing novelizations, ghost-writing someone else's series, writing about someone else's character, etc. I don't have any moral objection to doing this, but I suspect I'd be terrible at it. I've tried my hand at writing fanfiction, and it's fallen flat every time. I'm not so good at playing in someone else's sandbox, I guess.

And what exactly is "artistic integrity," anyway? And why is it automatically absent from work that sells?

Jeri said...

Ouch, a 12. Hackin' like a two-pack-a-day smoker.

I agree with Mark on the "making a living" part. I'd do just about anything legal to avoid putting on a suit and pantyhose again.

I'd never ghost-write because that only involves money and doesn't build a fan base. Ultimately it wouldn't further my career goals and would take away time from making a name for myself. So even my integrity answers are a little hack-y, I guess.

Jeri said...

Meant to add this to the end of my last comment:

I wonder if there's any correlation between Hack Score and actual experience with the publishing industry. One glimpse at a publisher's Profit & Loss statement has a way of making artistic integrity seem a bit quaint.

JA Konrath said...

"And what exactly is "artistic integrity," anyway? And why is it automatically absent from work that sells?"

Great questions. I'd define artistic intgrity as being devoted to the art and not worrying where/how to sell it, or if it fits into the marketplace. The words, not the sale, are important.

Every author has a point where they'd walk away and say, "Keep your money, I won't write that." That's integrity.

I don't think it's automatically absent in published work. A lot of work has integrity.

But the publishing business doesn't embrace prima donnas. If you're easy to work with, willing to change according to suggestion, and realize that this is a business, you'll be able to get more work and sell more writing.

Because of this, I try to create art for the market, rather than art for art's sake.

Millenia Black said...

I scored a 6. I'm a hack? Huh? Damn.

Tell me - why can't you have both? I'd love to be the author of THE GOOD EARTH and bank like Dan Brown.

Are there any critically praised, blockbuster writers out there?

Jeri said...

Millenia, I can think of three right off the bat in mainstream fiction: John Irving, Anne Tyler, and Michael Chabon.

The quality vs. sales distinction is definitely a false dichotomy, but I don't think Joe is trying to make that distinction. He's saying that you can have both--in fact, sales are a mark of a certain kind of quality.

What you can't do is say "Screw what the reader/audience/publisher wants, I'm sticking to my vision at all costs," and expect money to fall from the sky.

Ideally you'd get to the level of popularity where you can occasionally do experimental side projects just for the love of it, to fulfill your artistic longings.

HawkOwl said...

Why is it that you can have more artist than hack and still be a hack? Not that this describes me - I had one more hack than artist.

Then again a lot of the questions didn't describe me at all and could have gone either way.

Then again, what if I think that an artist is just a more pompous, phonier, less talented wannabe hack? I think artists suck at art, personally.

Anyway, I'd love to make the game Jak II into a novel, so I'll take "hack" any time.

Jade L Blackwater said...

I scored a 3, but I'm un-published... I sense a correlation. :)

David Terrenoire said...

I don't have to take the quiz. I'm a hack. I've written everything except matchbook covers and I'd do that for the right money. I've ghosted a crime novel in a series and I'm currently ghosting a medical thriller for a doc in LA because he put my name on the check. I have a direct-to-DVD horror treatment with Lion's Gate right now and I'd be very happy if they gave it a green light. The last thing I wrote was a TV news show for the EPA.

If I had other skills or a trust fund I could afford to ride the high road. But I can't plumb a house or drill a molar or comb my hair just right to get elected, so I write what I can to get paid.

Yes, I'm a hack. But I drink like an artist. Does that count?

Allison Brennan said...

Millenia, Dean Koontz gets a lot of high praise from reviewers all over the place, and he does very well at the bank. Lisa Gardner, Laura Lippman, Linda Fairstein, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Crichton all seem to have good reviews across the board (maybe not all books, but the bulk of them), and they are all bestsellers. I'm sure there are a lot more out there.

But I guess it means we have to define "critically acclaimed." Maybe its those books which stand the test of time, like some of Steinbeck's and Twain's. I think Twain in particular was panned by his contemporaries, but I for one loved his books and short stories decades later.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I got 9 hacks...~sigh~ I gues I'm a hack in training...hey that equates to HIT...hope that's prophetic! LOL

Anonymous said...

I scored 5. But I want the best of both worlds. Fame, fortune, and integrity. I don't think not wanting to write novelizations or others' characters makes me all that artistic, though. I just enjoy doing my own thing. Some people would call that rebellious, intransigent, or impractical, not artistic.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Let's see, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and John MacDonald were all considered hacks.

Can't complain about the company...

Unknown said...

Wow. I'm such a big hack it's not even funny. A perfect hack score, down the line. There simply wasn't anything on the hack side of things I couldn't see myself doing in some, if not most, cases.

So my big fat check should be coming any day now, right? said...

I'm definitely a hack and proud of it! I've taught writing classes off and on for years, and I've always let my students know that my goal was to be published and make lots of money. I'm still working on the "lots of money" part, but I have sold 45 novels. Genre novels. Mostly romance novels. I'm proud of that, too.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

I'm definitely a hack, don't even have to take the damn quiz. Can't afford to be noble and take the artiste high road. Gotta eat.

That's also why I'm hiding behind the alligator. Gotta eat.

Stacey Cochran said...

I think if you POD publish all your books with Lulu, you are instantly qualified for "hack" status;)

Great post, Joe.

Keep up the great work!


Stacey Cochran said...

Unless there's some sort'a status below hackdom.

I want to rule whatever kingdom that is...

The Not-Even-Good-Enough-to-Be-a-Hack land.

Brett Battles said...

me <------- hack

Jim said...

There are worse things than being a hack. A lawyere, for instance.

Mark said...

I'm in the 3-4 middle ground. Most of that is based on the fact that can't myself in those other positions so they just wash out of their own volition.

I'd prefer not to charged with plagiarism or lying to be successful too.

Joan Reeves said...

That certainly cuts through the BS and clarifies issues.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late, but loved this post!! I'm a 7 scoring Hack. Hua!