Somebody once said of me that if I could find a way of apologising to the population of Earth for the whole complex and messed-up device that manages the building blocks of creation, I would.
(They may not have used those actual words. They may have said: “ETG, you’d say sorry if God farted.” But I’m a slave to long words and besides, I don’t care for fart jokes.)
Now I firmly admit to being British, and we’re a nation of apologisers. We have a collective guilt complex so huge you could use it to humble a continent. If someone stands on our toes, we say “Gosh, was that your foot? Terribly sorry. I hope the blood hasn’t stained any of those massive, outsized hobnails.”
I’m also, of course, an introvert, and part of my being is dedicated to not being noticed. Being self-effacing is one of my finest defense mechanisms. It stops my remarkably minute ego being trampled on regularly with the aforementioned hobnails as possessed by most of the rest of humanity.
But self-effacing doesn’t sell, and neither, by this token, will anything I try to market, whether it be a short story, a novel or a picture.
I’m not helped by the fact that my works (which is much too grand a term for them – see, there’s that self-effacing thing springing into action again) are a little what you might call “fringe”. Or, if you’re Normal, call them Weird. Especially the art. Thanks to Harry Potter and the Hollywood blockbuster, fantasy fiction actually has a decent chance these days.
I also know a fair few people who make a fair few bucks selling artwork and stories that don’t represent their own core talents and/or interests at all. You know the thing. A painter who specialises in beautifully traditional chocolate-box perfect scenes takes up dada-esque splashy canvasses because large corporations want to buy them in bulk for their meeting rooms. A writer whose mind naturally dreams up perfect gory horrors takes up writing short womens’ interest stories for “Take A Break” magazine (actually, I’ve read that magazine. Horror writers may have found their niche after all, if only in mangling perfectly good vocabulary and syntax)
And they do it for the money, which causes other creatives to accuse them of “selling out”. I find myself wondering: would I be better off doing this? Does this in any way compromise one’s integrity as a creative? If, as I have previously asserted, anything at all that you do creatively has worth to your artistic soul, what of those who find material worth in it as well?
Because I feel I have to apologise profusely for anything that I do, I can’t help feeling that were I to write a deliberately potential best-seller (probably, given the latest developments in the field, a story based on a fanfic that features, I don’t know, a love triangle between a merman, a pixie and a vampire whose skin turns blue if it rains) I would then feel tremendous guilt over my inability to get my “other work” published. This isn’t to say I would feel my best-seller had no creative validity (though probably, looking at the central conceit, it might not have much of a plot unless you’re fond of tenuous MacGuffins).
Does getting paid for it make a difference? Is there, in truth, any such thing as selling out?