Success != Sell Out

If you thought my last post was rabble-rousing, this should go over well.

I read this post on SFWA by a Monica Valentinelli, an author of whom I had never heard.  In short, she basically asks the question, "Why is having a sale-able novel a bad thing?  Having read the entry, I can't say I disagree with the thrust of her premise.

I understand this is supposed to be a "pure" profession.  I see that many approach this from the angle that they will not compromise their artistic integrity.  I get all that.  But really, why the attitude?  Artists (and writers) who insist on producing work that is artistically pure usually fall in one of two categories.  One, they have – in the fashion of Renaissance artists – powerful patrons who provide for their needs and keep them well fed enough so that they can subsist on their artistry.  Two, they are dirt poor and starving, unless they also happen to have what the real world calls, "a job."

Being a writer is a job.  I think we've covered that before.  Well, when you have an employer (in this case, the book-buying public), you have to meet a certain level of performance standard – in other words, you have to do what your boss directs, at the risk of being fired if you don't.  Well, for a writer, that means you have to often give the people what they want to read.  I saw here that Salvage the Bones, a critically-acclaimed fiction about a dysfunctional family enduring a hurricane, had an initial print run of 18K copies, with an additional 50K copies going to print.  I am happy for the author (seriously).  That's cool.  Meanwhile, the Twilight series is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 MILLION copies sold.  Quality work vs popular work?  There you have it.  You can see the same dynamic play out across most forms of entertainment and while there is intersection, those appear to be the exception.

I think it comes down to one of two things.  What is more important to the author:  following their calling or making money?  I don't think it's a bipolar answer but more along a sliding scale – and only an individual can say where they fall on the spectrum.  There's no right or wrong answer – just what's right or wrong for the author in question.

And allow me to clear up a potential misconception.  I've ragged on certain authors on this blog.  I've called out what I consider to be crappy, insipid work.  That, however, is just my opinion.  The old chestnut about trash and treasure has meaning here.  And I – a committed capitalist – never deny anyone the opportunity to make legal money.  I think Valentinelli's point that starting with a sale-able concept is a valid one.  I don't always follow my own advice – but then, I am partially in the first category above, in that I make enough money from other sources that writing money is bonus money, even when I work really hard at it.  Besides, what do I always say, anyway?

(Muse:  "I am an idiot?"  "I am a hack?"  "Next to me, guinea pigs look well hung?"  Any of these hitting the mark, Skippy?  )

Never mind.  I say, "Anything that gets people reading is a good thing."  Granted, if I had a personal preference, I would want people to read something a little more enlightening, something that caused them reflect a little … or better yet, read something I wrote.  But in a day when more people watch TV, when people have attention spans defined by the soundbite, by the Tweet, then can I really complain if someone chooses to read "Twilight" or some other fluff?  I mean, I'll bitch about it but at the end of the day, I'm glad they are doing that versus staring at the boob tube.

Glass half full, and all that.


2 thoughts on “Success != Sell Out

  1. I’m not sure why you would think this is rabble-rousing. Seems perfectly reasonable to me. It’s not better to be high-concept or populist. There’s an audience and a cultural hunger for just about everything, if in varying degrees.


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