Over the years, I believe I have heard every rant and rebut about writers who “sell out”. The last 10 years have made this topic even hotter with the enormous influx of people writing on/over/throughout the internet.
There seems to be two camps of writers on this idea: those who figure writing is writing, no matter who you do it for or why or for how much – and those who figure that writing anything that doesn’t follow established print rates or show up in established print venues is “selling out”. Recent discussions, purposely ignited, have now revealed a third camp: second-campers who have mutated into first-campers and are working hard to make internet writing an “honourable” venue for freelance writers.
Third-campers create a fusion of experience and some very exciting work.
For me, the whole coolness of being a writer only became frontal lobe important when it appeared that being paid for my word art meant I was truly a writer. At the time, I would have written articles about wart removal cream in order to flash a pay check and be considered a real writer. The internet didn’t exist back then, so I did the next best thing – I wrote “adult” stories for men’s magazines. And believe me, that first check for $60 – with the name of the magazine on it! – was just ridiculously cool. Please note that I was 16 years old and on my own already.
I relate this fascinating bit of self-history to show the background of my particular point of view. I ran with a large group of experienced, older artists who all made money through their artistic efforts. Some taught at universities or colleges and some sold their works. Of the artists who sold their works, I never once heard any pegged as being sell outs.
It wasn’t until a cartoonist I knew branded another artist as a sell-out for taking a job with an advertising company. My understanding of the sell-out aspect was that the artist would be using his talents not to express himself personally, but to create “faux-art” for business purposes – like advertising.
This was heavy stuff for a 16.5 year old writer and formed my views of being a sell-out for many years to come. It was ok for me to write soft porn, have a by-line and be published in a men’s magazine known for showing absolutely enormous breasts on their cover (no faces, just breasts) – but, by golly, I better not be caught writing ad copy!
Years later, I am still a freelance writer, but as a freelancer, the idea of selling out is almost silly. I freelance for money. I’ve been paid in some other things, but that’s another topic – “the blessings of barter”.
I write just about anything. The sell-out line I won’t cross has been moved countless times as I’ve pursued the writing market. Global values don’t always match mine and I’ve learned that writing ad copy takes talent and skill and particular knowledge of human nature. The diverse markets opened by the internet are a veritable playground for any freelance writer with wit and flexibility. And selling out should be defined by your own personal values – if you are committed to going green or are a vegetarian or abhor torture or are an animal rights advocate – writing something that goes against those personal tenets would be selling out. As a person – and as a writer.
At this point, I feel that any writer who romanticizes writing to the point that they are comfortable with defining what is quality writing – and therefore, quality writers – is not going to be making the move to the next creative iteration.
I have a pointed stick (as Monty Python would say) and ask the question: Do you feel “selling out” exists for writers today?