I'm going to try to make this as short as possible, even though I could say a ton about this topic, because I really need to be working on Precious Things right now... I just became aware of a recently posted, now-deleted blog post in which an author claimed she wrote an erotica book, even though that's not her preferred genre, to "sell out," and it worked--she made more money on the erotica in two weeks than she had on her other books in their years on sale. I'm not going to name this author, but I have talked to her on Twitter and she's seemed like a nice, genuine person, so I'm hoping her post was a little tongue-in-cheek. And/or that her sudden success, after so many years of frustration, prompted an emotional outburst that was maybe a bit too exaggerated. In either case, I didn't agree with her view of the subject, and it reminded me of something I experienced in graduate school...
One of my professors was talking about what hard work, for what little financial reward, writing can often be. She made some comment about commercial writing for money, and I said jokingly (okay, half-jokingly--and it was a small, relaxed class, so I wasn't making a scene or anything) that making money was what I wanted to get out of writing. My teacher responded, being completely serious, "Well then why don't you just churn out a cheap romance novel really fast?"
Um...I don't write fast. Writing a book is hard, whether that book is about people having existential crises (i.e., a lot of literary fiction) or people falling in love. Even if I TRIED to write the most commercial book as I could, as quickly as I could, it would still be hard work. I couldn't sit down and do it in a night, or a week, and probably not even in a month. And in some ways, commercial writing, such as romance, can be HARDER than literary fiction--you don't just have to make the reader think, or dazzle them with your gorgeous prose. You have to ENTERTAIN them, for God's sake!
Look, I have read some absolutely horrible romance novels. I've also read some horrible literary fiction. I've read romance that felt sincere, and literary fiction that felt fake and pretentious, and written, if not for money, than for awards. But the fact is, it felt that way to me, and I can't say for sure what the author's intentions were. Perhaps some authors do write solely for money and fame, but my guess is there are probably less of those than we think.
In case you didn't know (!), I'm writing a new adult novel right now. Would I be writing it if the genre hadn't taken off in the last year? Probably not. But I've actually found that I really, really enjoy writing about a heroine that age (although I still maintain that writing is hard work that just makes me grumpy most of the time). I'm actually worried that my book still won't be commercial enough, because the romance is a very slow burn and there's, like, poetry and class discussions. And yeah, if this book doesn't sell, I might write another that focuses more on a relationship and less on school. But I still wouldn't consider that selling out--I'd consider it trying to write the best book I can while still trying to make a living.
I understand getting super-frustrated with the business--I'm there too. But I think calling something you've written, or an entire genre of work, "trash" or equating it to "selling out" is really selling yourself short. Remember the movie Knocked Up, when the Seth Rogen character and his friends start a website called Flesh of the Stars so they won't have to get real jobs? That's selling out. Writing a book? That's just hard work.