We use the words “selling out” to describe artists, including authors, who sacrifice their art and craft for the sake of profiting off their work. Generally, “selling out” refers to people who are capable of high quality work, who instead choose to produce low quality work that they can churn out to please an undiscerning audience. Sometimes, “selling out” refers to people who give up on their dream, because they feel (either correctly or incorrectly so) that they are not capable of high quality work, so instead they pursue some “lesser” form of work that utilizes the skills they do have to make a living. Other times, “selling out” refers to people who make a conscious choice to act unethically in pursuit of gain, which may involve lying, cheating, stealing, or other forms of misconduct.
It is the assumption (correctly or incorrectly so) of the people who say someone is “selling out” that these acts involve less integrity. Taken to an extreme, this sense of lessened integrity is associated with all acts of marketing and business. The people who take the idea to this extreme will consider any activity that involves pursuing a profit “selling out.”
I admit there are ways to live that involve absolutely no form of marketing or business. These ways usually involve what we (at least, by American standards) associate with extreme poverty and hardship. Communities exist that manage to survive by providing their own needs from their own efforts, with little or no commerce with the “outside world.” These communities usually have some form of artwork, but again that art is done for their own purposes and is not intended for public consumption. I make no judgment against these communities. While these communities rarely prosper in the way of material things, this “cost” is often offset by rich rewards of a more spiritual substance. If that’s how you want to live your life, then you are free to pursue that lifestyle as you choose. I honor your choice.
For the rest of us, marketing and business is a natural part of our lives. You buy a loaf of bread? That’s business, and often a response to some form of marketing. You borrow a book from the library? That’s business, too, both from the perspective of the author and from the perspective of the library who acquired the borrowed book. You walk in a public park? Business makes that park possible, after all parks are supported by government, which is fueled by taxes, which is taken from businesses and employees. Many communities even market the use of their parks. Living in the City of Parks, I know my community certainly does.
Marketing is not inherently evil. Business does not require a lesser integrity. You can be honest, upright, even righteous, and yet still do business and market your products.
The basis of an honest marketing campaign begins with a product or service you can promote with integrity. That means a high quality product or service. In order to produce a high quality product or service, you have to think about what people want to buy! That’s not selling out, that’s selling in to your customers’ wants and needs.
If you want readers to want your book, but you want to keep your soul, your integrity, your art, and/or your craft in the process, then you have to produce a book that people want to buy that is also a book that you want to write.
It’s that simple.
But it’s not easy.
Acting with integrity is simple, but it’s rarely easy. If it were easy, then a lot of people would do it. If it instantly satisfied our every gratification, then everybody would do it.
Everybody doesn’t do it.
It’s not easy, and it won’t get you rich quick. It’s hard and it can be painfully slow. But it works, and it’s right, and it’s true to your art.
Selling in is about learning where the work you do and the readers that are out there meet. It’s about learning what those readers want and learning how you can satisfy their wants while staying true to the work you want to do. Your point of confluence may not be large, but then again it might be. Your point of confluence may not happen quickly, but then again it might. You don’t know.
We don’t ever know.
But we can commit ourselves to trying. We can market our work. We can stay true to our art. We can do both at the same time. We simply have to be honest with ourselves and honest with our readers. We have to be willing to work for it. We have to choose to do good, so that we may also do well, and do it with our integrity intact.
It really is that simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple.
What will you choose?