Novel Writing Reality
Some of what he talks about makes perfect sense. He was looking around for a way to break into the SF novel publishing game and did his research at the bookstore to see what was being published. More importantly, he was looking at what was being published that he could write, especially by coming up with an idea different from 99% of what he saw on the shelves. (You can never, in my guestimate, be 100% sure that someone hasn't done a variation on your theme before -- grin.)
Now some would criticize John for being mercenary and manipulative. But come on, let's be realistic. You should have some sense of your markets if you're serious about writing to be read. Some people say they write for themselves -- and some of them are believable, others are just whistling in the dark. I think that I would continue to write even if I never sell another story -- but don't tell the editors that!
If by being flexible in your writing increases your chances of making a breakthrough, then it's something to consider.
It's the being interesting and original that most people forget. A whole lot of Tolkien-clone and Harry Potter look-alike stories exist because not that they're fans, but because they think "anyone" can do it. These people are fooling themselves because they aren't interesting nor original -- and they fail to do the research. J.R.R. Tolkien on one extreme and J.K. Rowling on another, both write "fantasy" stories -- and both have more pages of research and development work than they've written as stories.
Okay, Now For Today's Blog Title
One thing you shouldn't take away from John's interview -- and he specifically says so -- is that "you" aren't likely to sell your first two novels the way he did. See, John did this market research which suggested a direction he should take a marketable hard military SF novel, then he wrote the original and interesting story, and still had to be lucky in order to get offers.
So maybe this is more a cautionary tale for moi -- I can see sending off a novel manuscript sometime in the next two years. And just as I am nearing my hundredth short story submission without a "sale to the majors", I cannot allow myself to be moved by long delay and rejection at the novel level...
... But you know, serendipity is sometimes a very pleasant surprise. (grin)