An author friend on Facebook posted that he writes only for himself, and that to do anything else would not be true to his "emotional core."

But don't you think that nearly all writers need some editing from time to time, and that there's a learning curve to producing salable fiction? If your emotional core involves long rambling passages that don't advance the plot, and page after page of flowery descriptions, and a lengthy weather report at the beginning of each chapter, and dialogue filled with obvious information dumps, etc., then your emotional core might need an adjustment.

It seems to me that we've all learned some things about what it takes to sell books along the way, and that we naturally incorporate those things into our work as we compose. It doesn't mean we're not being true to ourselves, or "selling out." Just that we would prefer to be commercially viable than not.

And when you get down to it, those of us who write genre fiction are catering to a certain audience anyway, at least somewhat. We learn, by example and by trial and error and by advice from our peers, etc., what works and what doesn't work. Your stories can spring from your emotional core till the cows come home, but if your thrillers don't thrill and your mysteries aren't mysterious and your erotica isn't erotic, then you're sunk for sure.


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Oh, yes.  In fact, self-publishing allows you do just that. I have total control.  I like that. And for that, I'll settle for fewer sales.

I tried for years to be a classical musician and couldn't get over the hump. I played well enough to work and teach and make a living, but lacked the self-promotion skills to get enough gigs. I quit when my daughter was two years old, and I'm good with it, because I gave it my best shot. "Left it all on the ice," as the hockey players say.

Now  write, and many of the same things are true. The only thing i can control is the content. if I'm never going to sell any, I want to be able to look back and say I wrote the best books my talents would allow. If so, I'll be fine with that. In the end, the only person I answer to as a writer is me, as it should be.

To "sell out" implies a writer is creating what he or she knows is not their best work in the hope of catching the wave. All writers should evolve; that's good for their writing and souls. The example I cited earlier had one or more books in one vein, then turned on a dime to write books that superficially resembled what had come before; the genre descriptions didn't change much, if at all. To me, that's selling out.

It's not necessarily a bad thing; it just meant I don't read them anymore. They'll get over it.  These guys have families to feed. It depends on why someone writes. If you write to craft the best stories you can--essentially to please yourself, or a small audience--then do that; just don't expect to get rich. If you write because you want to make a living at it, write whatever you can get paid for. Thrillers, romance, erotica, pornography, corporate reports, sales brochures. Anything short of ransom notes. (Apologies to Elmore Leonard for the ransom note reference.)

Speaking of Elmore Leonard--whom I revere--he's famous for writing what he thought would sell. When Westerns started to fall from favor, he looked around to see what the next wave might be and started writing crime. Did he sell out? Maybe. Who cares?

Jude, I agree with you (and several others) that we all write for an audience. My question to your author friend is:  What's wrong with that?  

I almost get angry when I hear college professor types talk about "selling out your art" like they take writing as a holy pursuit only suitable to the most intelligent among us.  Why bother writing if no one is going to read it?  You can skip the hard work and just think about it.  Personally, I think this is a defense mechanism for those who are too afraid to jump in the water and write a book or maybe their sales are zero (like mine right now) and have to blame it on the stupidity of readers.  (My sales are zero because I'm a crappy marketer but learning)

As some of you know, I don't hold literary fiction (where this attitude is prevalent) in high regard.  It is just another genre to me.  It is marked by pretty sentences that academics see as profound, a general lack of plot, and characters oppressed by (fill in the blank).  It is held in high regard by college literature professors and college kids (who secretly go to Batman movies and read Justice League of America graphic novels.)

Give me a gritty murder case with real characters who are challenged by a monsterish bad guy.  Give me a John D. MacDonald book.  Travis McGee is much more interesting than chocolate skies or snow falling on trees.

Are there books I don't like?  Yes, but why denigrate the work of others.  I know one lady who belts out a romance every month.  I don't like her books, but I love her bank account.  Who am I to judge her choice of subject matter?  Most important, she is achieving her goals.

Rant complete!

Yes, Brian, but you don't have much good to say about literary fiction.  Mind you, I'm not up on the recent stuff and probably wouldn't like it much either, but I do like the literary fiction of. say, 100 plus years ago very much and see a big difference between it and most genre novels.

Keep in mind, I write genre novels.  There are many genre novels I love, but they have a different aim.

And for that matter, you cannot please all readers. If you wish to please a lot of them, you must find the best sellers and write like them. 

It seems to me it would be hard to identify which authors sell out.

Some authors may simply share common denominator tastes and skills and succeed because of it, writing the best books they're capable of, writing the kind of books they most wish to write, while other authors may write down to their audience to appeal more broadly, not writing the best books they're capable of, not writing the kind of books they most wish to write.

But how can you really tell these authors apart?

Selling out implies that there was something to sell out in the first place. Maybe the fact is that the crappy stuff being published (self or otherwise) nowadays is just stuff by crappy writers with crappy minds.  And if it sells big time?

Readers don't pretend to be critics.  I'm with you IJ, I see 50 shades of garbage as a best seller and cringe.  But who am I to judge?  Folks buy books not because they are outstanding in some literary sense, but because Janie and all the girls are reading it.  (Boys only talk about comics that way).  And thank God.  If everyone agreed, we'd all be driving the same make and color automobile, using the same brand and model, cell phone, and watching comedies on TV.   Aarguh!

But the world don't work that way.

We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

From The Wall by Pink Floyd

You'll excuse me.  I need to take my medication!

That's funny, Pink Floyd, a bunch of private school guys who met at an expensive university telling the kids they don't need no education (and I'm a Pink Foyd fan ;).

I like most genres. I read more literary fiction than I do crime fiction these days but I wouldn't say one genre is better than the other. The only sci fi I've read recently has been by Margaret Atwood and Michel Houllebeq and I guess it was classified literary fiction, the same as JG Ballard. I don't care about these classifications.

But "writing for an audience" has the implication of not writing for yourself (it may not, it just looks that way) and the danger there is you end up with a book you don't like yourself - and no one else likes. At least write a book that you like yourself.


But "writing for an audience" has the implication of not writing for yourself (it may not, it just looks that way) and the danger there is you end up with a book you don't like yourself - and no one else likes. At least write a book that you like yourself.

I think some authors get carried away with the whole notion of writing for themselves, though. I call it the Serious Artist Syndrome. SAS. They'll be damned if anyone's going to tell them how to write their book. Unfortunately, what they end up with a lot of times is a big fat unsalable mess. If it makes them happy, and if they truly don't care about how many other human beings enjoy their work, then fine. I don't understand it, but whatever floats your boat.

But I think it's possible to have it both ways. We can write with an audience in mind (the bigger the better as far as I'm concerned), and keep an open mind about editorial changes and suggestions and such, and still love what we're doing in a very real way. I know I do.

That sure sounds right to me.

Otherwise isn't it just playing with yourself?   I've run into this in other fields and I always think, "You're trying to sell something you made.  Is it selling out to make it something that will sell?"

If you don't want to sell out you can always just keep sitting on it.

It's not aelling out to make something that will sell. You just don't know what that something is.
Sure, you can take either side of this to extremes. I just went through something in the TV business that relates. Last year I was hired to write a pilot script for a TV show. The show wasn't picked up. No problem, I got paid and that's the way the business works. This week the same network picked up a pilot that's very similar (almost exactly the same characters, undercover cops). The new show didn't steal anything from my script, they're just working from the same, very narrow template.
With books I think the template has the potential to be bigger, that's all.

I just think "selling out" is tossed around too lightly.

I think it's more like you do what you think's cool and if you're lucky everybody else thinks it's cool, too.

Then somebody says you're a ho because you're cashing in.

But bring a pro writer.... I mean... did they tell you to just sit down and write whatever you felt like?  Or did they have some pretty specific ideas what they wanted?

That's working for hire, the way I see it.  

Is it "selling out" to go to an office everyday when you'd rather be playing tennis?


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