Thursday, May 16, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Selling Out

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.


  1. Hi Stephanie, grrrrreat blog! You express yourself well and clearly and you are fun to read.

    I am here today, because I saw your comment on Twitter. Dry yer eyes kiddo, you're among friends you haven't met yet.

    One problem with your blog though - It took me twenty minutes to find a way to post a comment. There is no easy way to do it... you might want to fix that. In desperation I clicked on the 'No comments yet' which, surprisingly got me here.

    I'm the author of The XTERRA Series, a YA futuristic series more than sci-fi novels. Although I have two in the series published, I haven't garnered much attention (if attention is counted in sales) either.

    I write my stories because I love adventure. I love the hope and complex social storyline of the discovery of a new planet, and I love my characters - even the ones I love to hate.

    I have made one mistake however, I planned to develop the characters (and let them mature) over the life of the series, and that left them a bit too obscure at first... readers don't really get to know them as people till toward the end of the second book. It will cost me in the long run... even though I have a 4.27 stars rating on Goodreads.

    There's a lot to learn about, not only becoming an author and developing skill as a writer, but learning to manage your personal and public personas. The social sites are great advertising tools, but there is a steep learning curve there too. You have the edge there, you're naturally social (it comes through clearly in your writing) and I am not. It's probably a fatal flaw in my character as an author.

    Continue to make a joyful noise in the market place. Be your optimistic self and people will follow you because you're fun to read. And that, my dear, will translate into sales.

    I think you have a great future ahead, and I'm looking forward to reading some of your works.

    Ivis Bo Davis

    1. Thanks so much for the comment! I'll look into the comment feature of my blog.

  2. Writing a book is hard work, no matter what you write. There will always be trend jumpers, but that's because trends are trends for a reason. They're something that people really like. While some people may do it because the market is hot there, some do it because they truly love that genre/category. That post certainly has caused a lot of interesting discussions:)

    1. Yes. I wouldn't write something where the market is hot if I didn't also have an interest in/think I good do a descent job in that category. That's why I'd probably never write a dystopian or fantasy epic, for instance, even though at times those have been very popular.

  3. Keep doing what you're doing, Stephanie. Personally, I don't want to invest my time reading something that wasn't a time investment for the writer. Just like we were all told in high school, good writing doesn't happen quickly.

  4. Oh, you totally took the works right out of my mouth. I may be enjoying the New Adult genre myself (and am interested in writing at least a couple) BUT there are so many that are being just thrown out there these days. It actually is quite annoying because I know that some of them are only doing it for the quick money. They know once you stamp "New Adult" and say that it's for ages 18+ due to sexual situations, they're going to get some attention. Not that there's anything WRONG with that genre, it's fine in itself (like I said, I enjoy it). But if you're just going to just throw a book out there JUST to throw a book out there for money, it is almost like selling out.

    You're right on the way the publishing business is though--if you don't have something that will get attention, you probably won't get noticed right away. BUT, if you write something well and get it in the hands of the right readers/reviewers, they will help promote it to others for you BECAUSE of the quality of your work. And then once you're on their radar, when you write another book, they will pick that one up. It may be a slow chain reaction, but if you're committed, you'll get somewhere writing what you WANT to write, not just the latest craze. But, hey, if the latest craze is what you actually write, then that works perfectly. Lol. :P

  5. Ironically, I started out trying to write category romance novels, thinking that I would earn a living that way. It was only when I began writing more literary-type stuff that I got published.

  6. That's very interesting! I think there are so many misconceptions...people like my graduate school professor think it's oh-so-easy to churn out a romance and get it published. It's not! Self-publishing has changed that a bit, but in a way it's even harder to stand out and get noticed.