A lot of people aren't familiar with the Modest Mouse song “Gravity Rides Everything” until they see a certain Nissan minivan commercial. Most folks have heard their song “Float On” – it was everywhere for awhile; commercials, movies even one of those stupid “Kids Rock” CDs.
The licensing deals brought Isaac Brock, the guy who wrote those songs, quite a bit of money and a reputation in the indie rock circles as a sell out. That may be, Brock said in an interview with the A.V. Club in 2004, but he doesn't have to worry about money while he goes about writing and performing what he wants to write and perform.
"People who don't play music for a living can criticize my morals while they live off their parents' money or wash dishes for some asshole,” Brock said in the A.V. Club interview.
“Figuring out ways to pay the rent isn't really a tough decision. Around the time we did the beer commercial and the shoe commercial, I thought, 'Am I compromising my music by doing this?' And I think not. I like keeping the lights on in my house. … Principles are something that people are a lot better at checking in other people than keeping their own.”
I bring this up because, in the literary world, this same sort of artistic purity argument makes its way around the Internet, causing arguments among friends and turning normally benign writer forums into seething pits of hate and animosity. I've have people accuse me of selling out, although I'm still not quite sure why. It might be my attitude that if some large publishing company wants to pay me a lot of money to write books and work with one of their editors, I would be happy to do so.
As it is, I'm going the indie route, not so much as a choice, but out of the necessity of building a following, no matter how small. I'm doing it myself right now because no one has stepped forward to offer to do it for me. Honestly, it would be great for some publisher to worry about marketing and such – although I understand that isn't always the case anymore.
I do see where those casting aspersions about selling out are coming from. There are some things some writers will do, such as writing vampire romance novels, in order to tap into a book market that is hot. Currently, the rage in publishing is young adult books. I suppose that anything I have written – with some editing – could be changed into a YA novel. Would I do that to make a sale to a publisher? Probably not, unless a large amount of money was thrown at me to do it. My reasons aren't necessarily greedy, but basic laziness. “Time in the World” took three years to write and edit. After that amount of time, I'm kind of tired of the characters and the book. I really don't want to revisit it and change it. Unless someone paid me to make it worth my while. Not every person may have a price, but I certainly do.
I guess that probably makes me a sell out who hasn't sold anything. Actually, in a lot of eyes it makes me someone willing to compromise my art. So be it. While there are certain aspects of “art” to my writing, I like to think it is more vocational in nature because it is hard work. I write stories I find entertaining and hopefully other people will as well. I'd like to be paid for the work I do.
A lot of writer self-help books impart the advice to potential writers to look at the market and to write what the market wants. I don't do this with my projects, but I certainly will not judge anyone who does. Mostly because people who write to the market are in for a lot of work for a piece that – even if it sells – will not make you a successful writer. For instance, I know I could not write a convincing vampire romance novel for the simple fact that I don't read vampire romance novels. The same goes for young adult adventure novels. I've read a few because those with a science fiction tilt to them tend to be derivative of other stories and aimed at a younger audience. The good ones are really good, the bad ones are really bad; but on the whole, I don't much care for kids or their problems. (Yes, yes … I love my own children and am involved with their lives. But there's little of their “world” I find interesting.)
When it's done well, some of these books can be really entertaining, but let's not kid ourselves and call this high literature; although many of the themes are borrowed from Literature, with a capital “L.” There's nothing wrong with that despite what your English literature professor tells you. I suppose the literati have always looked down their noses at something that is popular, mainstream. But there is a reason some books are trashy and still popular.
It's those who write and read “Literature” who are the most derisive about selling out. I suppose I could accuse these people of being jealous, but I doubt that's the case. After all, us writers who are slogging along working at creating works of fiction are the ones who are jealous. We want to be accepted by the hoi poloi of the Ivy League literary set. Yet we still like a fun science fiction or romance novel. And frankly, I have fun writing them – when else can you sit for hours and think about time travel?
As writers, there is a large amount of people out there willing to tell you how to do things. Advice is fine, I suppose, and some of these books and articles have good advice. But the decisions you make in creating a writing career are yours alone to make. If you want to maintain your artistic integrity and sell nothing, go to it. If you want to write a teen ghost story because the market is looking for that type of book, you have my blessing.
Personally, I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing; which is avoiding work on my science fiction thriller and doing blog posts.