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Why “Writing For The Market” Doesn’t Mean “Selling Out.”

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

Note: This post may contain affiliate links (in blue). What? I've got to make a living, too. The author (me) retains post integrity by linking only relevant and/or personally-approved products. Thank you!

Writers tend to have some pretty weird ideals. We believe in strange concepts like integrity and artistic values. What a bunch of nerds, am I right? Who do we think we are, anyway?

And when it comes to selling our work, which any successful writer has done and will have to continue doing, we largely find the exercise...uncomfortable. We get squeamish at the mention of marketing plans or sales tactics, and downright nauseous when we have to consider market trends.

The thing is - authors are salespeople. At some point, to subsist, you as a writer will have to sell your work to someone. This has nothing to do with the quality or soul of your writing. It's simply a fact of life.

Let's try to get comfortable with that shocking reality, shall we?

smiling salesman at laptop
See? This guy is in sales, and look how happy he is!

Sales & Marketing Are Not Dirty Words, People.

Look, I get it. Most of my life I haven't had the best mental image of "salesperson" in my head. I am the child of two civil servants and can name all of one person in my social circle who has a sales-oriented job.

I tend to picture pushy used-car salesmen when I think of sales. The thing is, when you go to a used-car are, in fact, looking for a used car. The negative aspect of this image isn't the sales part, it's the annoying guy with too much hair gel part.

Sales is just the bringing of a product or service to a person who ostensibly has an interest in buying it. Why is that frowned upon? What about the act of selling makes us - specifically, artists - so squeamish?

In some ways, the field of sales suffers from the same affliction as the writing field. An abundance of inaccurate, negative stereotypes covering up the generally-very-normal reality. Sales and its sister, Marketing, are the way you get your "stuff" where it is wanted and needed. The stuff in this case happens to be your work as a writer.

You avoid bad practices in sales by only selling what you believe in. If you don't believe in your work, and if you don't think it's something worth buying, why the heck are you even bothering to create it?

That is at the crux of the issue, if you ask me. Many of us simply have trouble understanding that our writing is worth being paid for.

two women in meeting room making a deal
"Wow, you'll pay me twenty whole exposure dollars for eighty hours of work? Where do I sign!"

You Are A Professional, And You Deserve To Get Paid For What You Do.

It has taken me a long time to get comfortable accepting honest, equitable payment for my work as a writer. Yes, really. It sounds odd when I put it that way, right? And yet...

There is a pervasive idea in the minds of many people (especially Americans) that you can't get paid well for something if you enjoy doing/making/creating it. I fell prey to that myth hook, line, and sinker. It has held me back more than any other self-defeating mindset out there, and it is, in fact, a complete and steaming pile of BS.

Just because you love doing it doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't get paid big heaping loads of money for it. Pleasure, enjoyment, passion - these are not antithetical to profit.

Whew, isn't that a relief? It feels taboo to not only accept but enthusiastically embrace the idea that you actually can be a successful, wealthy person by doing something you would happily do for free. Guess what? You don't have to do it for free!

hand holding burning one hundred dollar bills
REAL artists just LIGHT their money on FIRE because it's AESTHETIC.

In fact, I suggest that you not only seek to get paid for your writing, but that you seek to get paid more than you think you should be. Nine times out of ten, artists deeply and tragically underestimate the value of their work. People have been telling us left, right, and center that what we do is just a "hobby" or at best a "side hustle" and rarely, if ever, is it a "real job."

Not a real job? Who are they kidding? The world is built on writing. Writers not only provide recreation to billions of people - which, by the way, is vital to humanity and is no less useful than, say, engineering - but we also make economic success possible for everyone else.

CEOs of finance and engineering firms depend on writers to provide technical manuals and legal documents. Hospitals need writers to draft their mission statements and patient disclosures. Everyone needs writers. We have created and destroyed countries, forged social norms, balanced opposing views, and more.

Say it with me: what we do is not only valuable, but it is a necessity. And yeah - we deserve to get paid for it.

woman's hands holding a pile of gold coins
I, too, only accept payment in solid gold coins.

The Type of Writing You Do Is Important & Worth Actual, Real-Life Money.

Not Monopoly money or "exposure dollars." I'm talking real, actual money that you can buy things with. That is what your work is worth right alongside your other motivators. Hey, money is inspiring too, right?

Whether you write borderline pornographic erotica or draft the documents that become binding laws, your work is important. People value what you can do. In fact, a lot of people are extremely envious of your skills.

I tend to underestimate what envy can cause people to do. I have often failed to realize that there are many, many people who will undermine your work's value in order to take advantage of you and get valuable content from you for next to nothing. Don't be like me.

homeless man sitting by an open fire
"Yeah, one time a guy told me he'd pay me in exposure dollars, and when I tried to pay rent with them I got evicted."

If writing wasn't worth getting paid for, society would still be in the stone ages. Most established religions wouldn't have lasted this long, and most governments never would have come to be. People have died for the work writers produce - do you know how many scholars and librarians ran right back into the Library of Alexandria while it burned?

And another thing! The value of written work does not go down due to quantity. Yes, there are a lot of books, content, blogs, etc. out there. There are also a lot of writers, with some niches boasting greater numbers than others. None of this has reduced the demand for writing in the slightest (in fact, writing is historically a perennially in-demand skillset).

Literacy continues to increase globally, and people are hungry for writing to consume. Some of them don't read for pleasure, but they still want to gain knowledge or skills that writers can bring to them through their work. We are communication embodied in human form, and that goes for pulp fiction novelists as well as social justice correspondents.

Do NOT knock your own work. It's awesome. Plus, the more you undervalue your own writing, the easier it is for other people to undervalue and use it for themselves (without paying you what it's worth).

man in expensive shades and car with the window rolled down
"Hey, baby, you ever gotten with a romance novelist? Cuz I'm about to turn your pages all night."

"Writing For The Market" Is A Dumb Term Coined By Dumb People - Most Of Whom Are Not Professional Writers.

Think about it. What better way is there for a green-with-envy, bitter, unsatisfied loser to undermine the well-earned joy of a financially successful writer?

"Oh, you're a bestseller? More like sell-out," they say from their depressing cubicle as they wonder, for the millionth time, why no one has come around to kiss their ass and pay them for the mere idea of a book they've let rot inside their heads for three decades. "Real art isn't about the money."

No sh**, Sherlock. What does that have to do with getting paid for a job you do, which writing professionally certainly is?

Every time I have heard someone snootily deride the alleged practice of "writing for the market," it has been someone who is:

a) unsuccessful because they won't put in the work to actually reach their professional writing goals

b) not actually an artist or writer, but is simply someone who studies it and writes useless critiques about things they couldn't create if their dog's life depended on it or

c) idiots.

In any case, they are full of stinky, useless hot air. If writing work that will earn you an income is "writing for the market," then I don't know what the big deal is. Okay, sure - I write for the market. The market that, you know, reads my work? And likes it enough to pay me for it??? Good for me!

mansion with an antique Bentley car in front of it
Actual image of my brand in action.

Imagine someone going up to Bill Gates and saying "oh, you made x money for building those computers and starting a company? Wow, I guess you're just a sell-out, then." I'm pretty sure people would give that guy some very confused looks, or possibly they would just file him away as a promising cringe-content-factory for their reddit page.

Artists have always made art for their market, whatever market that may have been at the time. In our case, "market" just means "audience." Writing, aka words on a page, is by nature an art that depends on an audience. We write to communicate, convey, connect. Generally speaking, we have either a real or imagined audience in mind when we are writing (aside from self-reflection activities like journaling, perhaps).

Not only should you write for the market, in that sense, but you should also be very suspicious of anyone who levels the label at you in a negative, judgmental way. I have learned to examine their motives very carefully. Someone who judges you for seeking monetary success as a writer is not someone you ought to trust or keep around, in my humble opinion.

person holding lots of cash

In Conclusion - Selling Out Is Not The Same Thing As Getting Paid.

When we seek payment for our work, we are doing the most natural thing in the world. We are presenting something we love to the world and seeing if we can bring it to other people who will love it, too.

Selling out would mean we are trying to receive payment for something we don't actually believe in, or which we think is a waste of money. It is by nature deceptive. If you feel deceitful when you market yourself or your work, it's likely because you have some serious underlying issues with self-esteem, and you need to work on those before you try to make a career out of your writing.

At the end of the day, value is subjective. If someone is paying you for what you've made or done, it's because it has value to them - it's one of the highest compliments an artist can receive. And the more you value your work and your abilities, the more the rest of the world will value it, too. This is not a cliche - it's one of the pillars of good sales and marketing.

Go get that money, and don't you dare apologize for it, you beautiful creature.

And don't forget to comment, subscribe, and share this post, either! Let me know your thoughts on the evils of capitalism, if you want, or just agree with me. That's cool too. I'll see you next time!

woman with expensive outfit holding many shopping bags


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