Let's talk about selling out. The most accessible archetype when it comes to selling out is the musician. We hear a debut album by an artist and believe in the glorious act of creation again. Something new! Something honest! Something ground-breaking! Then a year later, after everyone has loved up on them from the Today Show to late night, the artist releases a sophomore album that sounds just like everything else on the radio. As fans, at best we feel bummed, at worst we feel lied to, and somewhere in the middle we'll call them a sell out. It's tough out there for a creative. We want them making things but not for too many people. We don't want the taste of their creations diluted by too many fans expecting too much of them. We just want what we expect out of them. Screw money. Screw paying their rent. We want them to stay true to us. We'd rather they make nothing than make something subpar. And for the creative, we're navigating the line between earning money to do the work we really want to do and actually doing the work we really want to do. We want clout. We want say. And sometimes the only way to get your voice loud enough to speak what you believe is through the dollar. Money talks, after all.
I've been thinking about this in how I'm going about getting my book published. I silently fight this battle all day long: go traditional, make some money and wait a few years for it to be released while a publishing team puts their stamp on it, or go self-publishing and do all the heavy lifting, possibly make no money, but get it into the hands of the people my way. And you can't go either way without a platform. I'm not sure if you've heard this before, but for a book to be considered a success, people are going to need to buy it. And for people to buy it, they need to know you.
So you go and google, "How To Build Your Platform" and everything says the same thing, and none of it sounds appealing. I don't want to tweet in the middle of the night. I don't want to follow hundreds of people just for a follow back. All of that "business" sucks the life right out of what I actually love doing, which is to write. And don't get me wrong, I've never been averse to the gritty, grimy work of pursuing the big and lofty goals. I've gotten my butt out of bed more than once for that one long shot audition, I've booked myself silly attempting to network and promote and write the best freaking query letter on this side of the East River. I understand business facilitates what our art is attempting to create, which is connection.
What I don't dig so much is when the business side starts to turn into the entire package. Soon your word count starts to dwindle. You find yourself in a heaping pile of hustle and the energy you thought you were going to pour into your next chapter ends up being wasted on the tweet you're hoping will generate at least two new followers. You listen to podcasts of authors explaining how they got the book deal but nothing about how they stay focused on their craft, and none of it sounds good. Not one line.
So the more I think about selling out, the less I think it's about money. The less I think it's even about whether or not you traditionally publish or self-publish. The more I think about selling out, the more I think it's about doing the things that stop you from doing your work. Maybe for some people that's their day job. Maybe for some it's building their platform. If selling out is really just about not following through with your work, then you can sell out for money but you can also sell out for followers. You can also sell out for comfort. You can also sell out for safety.
And the thing about making art is the best shit comes out of discomfort, fear, and those moments we don't think anyone is listening. Our Self dissolves and we just make, make, make.
The business-y stuff has got to get done. And we accept that. But as soon as a tweet becomes more important than the work itself, consider yourself sold.