Do Authors Have a Right to be Paid?
This controversial blog post by Matthew Ingram made quite a stir last week: Godin to authors: You have no right to make money any more
After a quick look, I responded via Twitter:
“For obvious reasons, this article kind of makes my blood boil.”
It wasn’t until the weekend that I had some time to slow down and read the whole article, and then I read the original interview on Digital Book World: Seth Godin on Libraries, Literary Agents and the Future of Book Publishing as We Know It. (It’s not very long—you should read it.)
And my blood’s no longer boiling.
Here’s the important piece to help you understand what Godin is saying:
Rivera: Many authors hear your message about being willing to give away their books for free, or to focus on spreading their message but their question is: “I’ve got rent to pay so how do I turn that into cash money?”
Godin: Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? I gave hundreds of speeches before I got paid to write one. I’ve written more than 4000 blog posts for free.
Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage. The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word — over.
Further illuminating what he means is this Godin quote from earlier in the interview:
I got nine-hundred rejection letters my first year as a book packager … It took me awhile to see that the shortest path involved no shortcuts and a fairly large amount of the long way around.
In the connection economy, what’s really clear to me is that there are more opportunities to be generous and to lead and to curate than ever before. If you spend a year or two or five doing that, in your spare time, with no real focus on getting repaid, sooner or later people are going to want more of you … and then you can’t help but get paid.
It’s an idea that I’ve already addressed in many different ways over the years on this blog: Writers shouldn’t expect to get paid “right out of the box.”
Many of you have been putting in your time for years, learning the craft of writing and building your platform, and you’ve seen the truth that it can take years to monetize your writing.
Most of you have already been doing what Godin says, “giving it away,” through your blogging and perhaps contributing your writing to online and print venues without getting paid.
So really, Godin isn’t saying anything untrue nor particularly revolutionary. We always talk about building your platform (“giving it away”) and we also discuss perfecting your craft, putting in the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that Malcolm Gladwell says is necessary to master a skill. Godin’s just stating it in terms that feel more stark:
You don’t DESERVE to get paid for your writing, nor do you have a RIGHT to get paid for it… you have to EARN it. You have to build towards being paid for it.
And this is something I can’t refute.
Godin is also pointing out that, as more and more amateur writing is available for free or cheap, the bar will be higher for writers to get paid. He’s mentioned several times the disappearance of the “midlist” author, or the “journeyman” author who still makes a living writing. He’s saying that as our content-economy continues to evolve, only the best writers will be paid.
And we must understand “best” to mean, “those whose writings are enjoyed by the greatest number of people.”
What do you think? Do journeyman authors deserve to be paid? Should you not expect to be paid until you’ve put in your 10,000 hours and given lots and lots away?
Today on the Books & Such blog:
Old-Style Agents vs. New-Style by Janet Grant