LB: “The Only Writers Who Haven’t Sold Out are the Ones Who Haven’t Been Asked”

Nope, I’m not quoting myself. The above are just a few words spoken to me by Norman Mailer back in the day. (I.e., when he was alive and holding court in Manhattan and I, as a young writer, had just been introduced to him by – I kid you not – an NYPD detective. (No, not one who’d ever arrested him…yet.)

Mailer’s words to me come to mind because of this invigorating article from one of my favorite sites, io9.Com. I like io9 a lot. (Mostly because from time to time they mention me and seem to like me too. Just call me the Sally Field of TV writing.)

what does this have to do with selling out

How to Write for Money Without Selling Out Too Much by Charlie Jane Anders

This past weekend, it seemed like all of the Twitter conversations were about fiction writing, and selling out. It’s a weird conundrum: Most advice for writers assumes that you’re doing this as a business, and you want to make money at it. But you shouldn’t want to make money too badly.

Is there a line between trying to sell your fiction, and just plain selling out? And what’s so bad about being a sell-out, anyway?

So like I said, there were multiple Twitter conversations about art and commerce this weekend, that I noticed. One of them was on Friday, when Wind-Up Girl author Paolo Bacigalupi tweeted:

What’s the point in writing, if you don’t get to write whatever the fuck you feel like writing?

— Paolo Bacigalupi (@paolobacigalupi) January 4, 2013

And Tim Pratt and John Scalzi, among others, responded that sometimes they need to buy cat food, and sometimes people want to pay you lots of money to write something, and that works out well. This turned into a really interesting back and forth about art and commerce, and how the two aren’t really a dichotomy but feed off each other. In particular, Bacigalupi clarified that “I tend to think of it as a formula of Fun + Learning + Cash + Politics + Creative = Whatever-the-Fuck-I-Want-to-Write.” And Scott Westerfeld chimed in, saying: “Writing for a big audience can mean more than $$. Some lit experiments improve when put in front of more readers.”

(Seriously, you should read the whole thread, which you can probably see here. It won’t take that long to read.)

Read it all

FWIW, I love the way Charlie Jane writes, and Mailer and I agree wholeheartedly with much of what she says, including these little nuggets:

Everyone’s a sellout

At least, if you write creative stuff for money, and hope to get an audience for it, you’re a sellout to some degree. There’s no getting around it….

this stuff is hard to talk about, in large part because artistic choices are often indistinguishable from commercial ones….

How do you know if you’ve compromised too much? Maybe if you get a sick feeling in your stomach. Or maybe if people come up to you and say your last book sucked, and they liked it better when your characters were more flawed and less sympathetic. Maybe you’ll never know, for sure. There’s a reason writers don’t always sleep that well.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.

2 thoughts on “LB: “The Only Writers Who Haven’t Sold Out are the Ones Who Haven’t Been Asked””

  1. Sorry, but I can honestly say — other than writing for various TV series, or being a staff writer — that I have never written a TV EPISODE, PLAY or MOVIE simply for the $$$. Therefore, I can also say I’ve written perhaps 50 features, with only 5 produced while only one of 25 plays was also made into a movie starring Jayne Mansfield. Her last by the way, as she was killed the night after it wrapped. Believe me, the movie wasn’t that bad. In fact, my motto since writing my very first “FADE IN” is, ‘WRITE TO TELL A STORY AND NOT SELL A STORY.” A motto that also helped get me fired teaching writing at UCLA. And YES, those of you faithful to L.B. are probably bored stiff of hearing me say this. And my answer to that is — ‘WRITE TO TELL A STORY AND NOT SELL A STORY.” I promise years from now when your a famous writer, and you might well be, you’ll thank me. ‘FADE OUT’: by GERALD SANFORD.

    1. What does that have to do with selling out? I’ve never written anything for free. Never. But I never took the gigs solely for the money. I took them so I could rub my talent in everybody’s face.



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