I always hear people talk about authors who are sellouts, i.e. an author that becomes popular. A good example of this is J.K. Rowling. Before becoming a multi-millionaire, Ms. Rowling lived in what most would describe as poverty, eking out a living writing books that weren’t big sellers. The same with Stephen King, who mostly wrote short fiction and taught high school English; or John Grisham, who famously sold his first novel out of the trunk of his car. All of these authors would be considered successful by most standards, but to some, they are sellouts. Why?
People come up with lots of different reasons for thinking someone is a sellout. The biggest offenders are the authors who let someone else publish their books instead of doing it themselves. In the publishing industry, most self-published books are ignored, and for good reason—most have never had the advantage of a good editor going over the manuscript. Words are misspelled, punctuation is off, grammar is atrocious, the plot has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese, the characters are shallow and one-dimensional, or the story just plain stinks.
Don’t get me wrong, I have friends that have published some wonderful books, but virtually anyone with enough money can self-publish. And when it comes time to get an agent to sell your next book, guess what? Your self-published book, unless it was a huge seller, will be counted as a big zero. Unfortunate, but that’s the way the cookie bounces.
Another form of sellout is the writer who decides to write something, perhaps in another genre, that is a breakout best-seller. The loyal fans that had been following her for the last ten or so years are incensed that said writer could do such a thing—sell out to the big corporate publishers and actually—gasp!—make money! How could she?
But it’s not about authors following current trends, though that does happen. I mean, how many vampire novels have you seen lately? But often, an author will tire of writing the same old thing and go a different direction or simply write a book that has wide appeal. A good example of this is Walter Moseley, who writes everything from science fiction to mystery and even erotica. I have author friends with four or five unpublished manuscripts who were ecstatic when they were finally able to sell a novel. Sellouts? Hardly. I call it something else—patience.
I have been asked so many times why I bother trying to find an agent or why I decided to go with an actual publisher for my first book instead of doing it myself and keeping all the rights. But guess what? I retained all the rights to my book after it got published, albeit to a larger audience than I ever could have gotten, or would have had time to get, on my own. My publisher gave me a lot of encouragement and insight, edited my book, listened to my input, printed, distributed and then marketed my book. And they even paid me!
Guess that makes me a sellout.