There’s another side to the whole selling-out discussion that rarely gets looked at. And that’s the folks who think that if there is any resemblance whatsoever between what they want to write and any recent bestseller, they must be selling out. Or that everyone will think they are selling out. Never mind that they’ve adored vampire books since they were seven, have been dying to write one for the last twenty years, and have a plot that owes more to Beowulf than modern teen romance novels – if it has vampires in it, it’s a Twilight ripoff.
In its most extreme form, this attitude can be summed up as “If what you are writing is at all likely to make money, even a little, you’re selling out and you shouldn’t do it.” Which is complete and utter hogwash.
Writing a story you love is not selling out, even if it makes you a zillionaire. If you happen to love a story that looks like it will make money, you’re lucky, not a sell-out.
Writing something you hate and despise in order to avoid the appearance of selling out is just as much of a sell-out as writing something you hate and despise in order to make money. More, sometimes – money can pay medical bills or help a family member or friend who is in trouble; avoiding the appearance of selling out doesn’t really do any good for anyone.
In the long run, refusing to write what you love will almost certainly you miserable (in some cases, so miserable that the would-be writer gives up on writing entirely). And that holds whether you refuse because you want to make more money, or whether you refuse because you’re afraid other people will think you have lousy taste or are just greedy.
This is occasionally difficult to get across to people whose tastes cover only a small, specific portion of the wealth of literature that is available. Those who deeply admire the style and characterization typical of literary novels, but who dislike action-adventure or other genre fiction, often simply cannot understand why anyone would want to write the latter unless it was to make more money. I had more than one student in my writing class, back when I was teaching, who had been told in so many words that they could not be a serious writer, or serious about writing, if they wrote fantasy or science fiction.
You can find exactly the same phenomenon in reverse among certain devotees of particular kinds of genre fiction: people who can’t understand why anyone would want to write literary fiction or literary-style genre fiction unless the writer is “selling out” in order to get recognition.
And then there are those as-yet-unpublished writers who are terrified that selling their book at all will force them to sell out – who think that editors will demand more sex, more violence, less of whatever-the-writer-wants. Never having been through a professional edit or the publication process, they assume that such demands will be universally market-driven, guaranteed to destroy whatever the writer wants, and something that they won’t dare to argue about for fear that their book will never see print. It doesn’t occur to them that the editor a) probably bought the book because he/she liked it and thought it would sell, and b) wants to make it the best book possible so that it will sell lots of copies and make the editor look good to his/her bosses.
Write what you love to read; write what you really want to write. Don’t worry about whether or not it looks like the current bestseller. Don’t twist it out of shape to make it look more (or less) like what you think editors are looking for or what you think people will buy. Just do the best you can, then send it out and start on the next one.