Do Authors Have a Right to be Paid?

seth godinThis 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


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. London Accountant on March 12, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    That question of whether people ‘deserve’ money for their work is interesting to me. I think if people put creative work and pride into what they do than they certainly ‘deserve’ some sort of money if it benefits someone else. But often this does not happen, and that is the way of the world!

  2. Holiday Guy on August 20, 2013 at 6:28 AM

    I think it is true that writers and other creative types do have to put a lot of their free time in and not expect to get paid immediately, but I would hope that all writers would get to a stage where their work is recognised as a proper job.

  3. This Week in Favs… | Melinda S. Collins on April 22, 2013 at 7:45 PM

    […] “Do Authors Have a Right to be Paid?” by Rachelle Gardner […]

  4. Is It Worth Writing for Free? on October 10, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    […] this year, my agent mulled this question in a post entitled Do Authors Have a Right to Be Paid? She was referencing an interview with Seth Godin on the future of publishing. This is the snippet […]

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  9. Corporate newsletter copywriting on March 28, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    good fucking infomation

  10. Dozie Nzewi on March 27, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    On my way to this bottom, reading earlier posts I got laughing. What are these people all about. Its the same phenomenon as black kids hoping to hit it big in Hiphop or basket ball. Or some white kid hoping to become the new rock star. I am very sorry.It easier to be in this pretension in writing because it is not necessary to show your stuff to a live audience , and that is why wannabe writers are very persistent.It is hard to earn a living from a past-time because sometimes it takes your full time to achieve excellence. And the arts are a non-essential commodity that people can do without. With so much produced they will pay only for the very best. And the rest may have to be given away free. After sounding the waters a few times I turned my work, Business Lessons from the Rain forest(wealth secrets from nature)in at Smashwords.
    Thank you Rachel for these series of common sense posts. Thank God it’s not an auditioning.

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  12. José on March 20, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    I totally agree that you have to earn your right to be paid and that it’s going to get increasingly difficult. I think, as Godin always said, that ideas that spread win. So it’s not about how good you are at writing (which is important but not determinant) but how good you are at spreading your ideas, engaging people and building communities. You can be an average writer but if you excel at engaging you’ll get paid. You can have the writing quality of a Literature Nobel Prize winner but if you can’t spread your work you’ll have a tough time making a living.

  13. annual report writer on March 18, 2012 at 9:11 AM

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  14. Katherine Bolger Hyde on March 15, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    I couldn’t respond to this in the space of a comment. Response on my blog:

  15. Catherine Hudson on March 14, 2012 at 7:01 AM

    Hmmm, juicy topic. I tend to agree, even if the language he used is very strong. But I do wonder how corporate the entire experience is going to become. What I mean is, are some amazing writers who could shape our world, going to miss out on reaching an audience simply because they were not business savy enough? Would a modern day Jane Austin give up simply because they did not persist enough to ‘earn’ getting paid? (not the best example but you get my drift and its late here in NZ). We should earn the right to be paid, but will it deter some writers altogether?

  16. Lanny on March 13, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    I think Godin’s mostly correct, and I applaud him. However, it should be painfully noted that if Godin’s right, a lot of the self-help “How to Write” books are wrong. Yes, the old model’s probably collapsing, but every time we go to a grocery store, etc., we see seemingly “hack work” in some of the paperbacks offered near the checkout stand, and they’re getting published, somehow.
    So maybe we just give up the creative ghost and surrender to ebooks that pay us next to nothing. But I still embrace the gist of what Godin’s saying. Small presses and “pay in copies” outlets, where I started, may rule the day. But another painful thought occurs: where does the literary agent fit into that equation?

  17. Heather Marsten on March 13, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Hey, I want the best of both worlds – if possible 🙂

  18. Emily Wenstrom on March 12, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    I agree, Rachelle! To me Godin’s statement is really more about the state of the publishing industry than writers, and it’s old news that the old model is crumbling. But thanks to the digital age, writers are in a great position to shape publishing’s future. This is really good news for good writers with creative minds and a little business savvy. I expound on this more in my blog post, if anyone’s interested:

  19. Melissa petrini on March 12, 2012 at 11:04 PM

    So do you rcommend then just freely sharing our writings on our blogs? What if someone else tries to steal it and publish it? How do you protect yourself? I am 3/4 the way done with my novel and was hoping to finish it and send it (mostly to you because I would want you to represent me), but reading articles about the difficulties and obstacles facing writers to publish are discouraging. What do you recommend?

  20. Minding our Windmills | Emini wizard on March 12, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    […] If a tree falls in the woods, and no one reads it, does it make a sound? […]

  21. Dennis Parmelee on March 12, 2012 at 7:35 PM

    Write on.

    I have never been to this site before, but found it through a twitter post.

    Outstanding is all I can say, Rachelle.

    I love to write, whther anyone reads it or not. It helps me clarify my thoughts and determine my values.

    One of my daughters has her own marketing business; (she loves seth g) the other works for a major publishing company in NYC.

    ebooks to libraries are a big dilemma for them right now, so this topic will take some time to resolve on multiple levels.

    I have learned to trust my intuition.

    Selfishly, I write because it is something I enjoy, and it makes me a better trader.

    Yes, I have paid my dues of 10,000 hrs.

    If we bring value to the market place, as JK Rowling did, we get ridiculously compensated.

    The joy of being says that if we love what we are doing, that is reward enough.

    Authors have a right to be compensated for writing, but the devil is in the details.

    Do we get paid is a different question. We still have to eat and put a roof over our head.

    One of my favorite marketers is Roy H Williams, and for entrepreneurs looking for both writing style and marketing ideas,try

    Best to all, thanks for insightful dialogue.

  22. Otin on March 12, 2012 at 5:47 PM

    I’ve given lots and lots away. I have a 2,500 word story up right now as a matter of fact. The only thing I can say is that the few people who take time to read my work give me the inspiration to write the other things that I don’t give away. Sometimes a pat on the back and an “Oh Wow!” is just as good as a paycheck. My loyal readers are priceless to me.

  23. Liana Brooks on March 12, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    With all due respect, Mr. Godin is wrong. Poets do get paid. We call them song writers.

    I will agree with the idea that writers need to earn their pay. They shouldn’t expect to type up a rough draft and watch the money flow in. However, I don’t agree with the Free Philosophy, at least not the way he states it. If I do the work, I expect to get paid. If I wanted to write just for fun, I wouldn’t invest time in editing, or money in any form of publishing (assuming I was self-publishing).

    Yes, a blog is unpaid content. The blog is also a first draft of random thoughts that I write in under ten minutes. There is no serious time investment in a blog.

    A novel is a serious time investment. It’s months or years of writing, editing, and marketing. If you choose not to read it, that’s fine. I don’t have a right to the contents of your wallet. But if you want to read my work, then you need to pay, because you don’t own the right to my hard work or creativity.

    A postal worker gets paid for standing around putting stamps on letters. No one argues that we shouldn’t pay the postal worker because “anyone could put a stamp on that letter!”

    The cashier at the checkout line gets paid, despite the fact that there is a self-checkout and anyone could go scan their own purchases.

    Both of those jobs could be replicated by almost anyone. Yet society persists on telling authors and artists that since “anyone” could write a book, or take a photo, or sing a song their work is worthless. New authors are encouraged to give away their novels. Singers are asked to work for free. Artwork publicly shared is blatantly stolen under the war cries of “Anyone can do it!” “You need exposure!” and “You don’t deserve to be paid!”

    So, no, writing a book doesn’t mean cash should magically appear on my desk every morning. By the same logic, the public should not expect art, literature, or music to magically appear for their pleasure. If you want the work done, pay the laborer.

    • Rachelle Gardner on March 12, 2012 at 5:25 PM

      Liana, I always appreciate your comments and your wisdom. Thank you for sharing them!

      However, I know you didn’t mean to speak so offhandedly, but to casually say, “There is no serious time investment in a blog” — in the comment section of a blog that is SERIOUS time commitment — kind of makes me want to shoot myself.

      There are MANY serious bloggers for whom it is a major time commitment, not to mention the thought and research that goes into creating content day after day.

      My life would be completely different if I hadn’t been blogging for six years. There are weekends where my entire Sunday is taken up with nothing but creating my blog posts for that week. My children would know a completely different mother if I didn’t have this blog.

      And the blog posts I’ve written since 2006 add up to the equivalent of more than seven novels (100k words each).

      Sorry to jump on one tiny portion of your comment, but it REALLY jumped out at me. This blog amounts to “giving it away” on a huge level.

      • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 5:43 PM

        And we truly do appreciate your time and effort for this blog, Rachelle!

        My blog has only a fraction of the posts and traffic that yours has, yet it does take a significant amount of my time, each week.

        Thanks, much!

      • Liana Brooks on March 12, 2012 at 6:11 PM

        I should clarify, there is very little time investment in *my* blog. :o)

        I am not a professional blogger, nor do I aspire to be a professional blogger. I know people who are and who have built a career around blogging. To the point where they do get paid for their work (which I applaud).

        My personal blog doesn’t get that much attention, and the posts that require research are few and far between.

        Sorry for the unintended insult. I appreciate your blog and the work you put into it. :o)

        • Rachelle Gardner on March 12, 2012 at 7:02 PM

          I didn’t take it as in insult, no worries! Just felt like a bit of an unintended false statement. Now I get what you meant!

      • Cherry Odelberg on March 12, 2012 at 10:07 PM

        Rachelle, I thank you from the depths of my heart for writing this blog. I don’t know how you keep up, but it has been a huge “port in the storm,” for me these past few weeks. I am not a speedy writer, if I wrote a blog post every day, it would be a full time job.

  24. J. M. Hochstetler on March 12, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    As both an author and a publisher, I have to agree with many of the points being made on both sides. We all need to earn a paycheck to survive. But the attitude that we’re entitled to pay for the work we choose to do is faulty from the standpoint that the free market economy will decide whether our work has value to enough people for us to make a living wage. We can choose any career we wish, but if there aren’t enough openings in the field for us to secure a full-time job, then we won’t get paid enough to live on. The issue is and always will be whether we’re offering what people want, and if so, are we getting the word out to them? It’s those who do both who end up with bestsellers.

  25. Crafty Mama on March 12, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    I’m not going to lie, I greatly appreciate being able to make money from freelance copywriting — we really need the money! However, though I’ve finally reached the highest writing level on the site I write for, that still doesn’t mean I’m a master. If someone asked me for tips on SEO, I would run the other direction.

    That said, I believe that if we waited until we felt we were “masters” of our craft, we might never get published. In fact, some of us may master the art of writing, but we still won’t have a huge following, just because our particular style of writing is a little too unique for the average reader.

    It’s such a tricky topic in this day and age where people demand too much money for their crummy ebooks, and those who actually write well are getting overlooked. I’m worried that those who DO deserve to be paid for their writing simply won’t get paid enough. And, well, editors….*curls up in a corner and cries*. Who needs an editor when people will pay $5 for a lousy ebook that isn’t even worth a blog post? 🙁 I need some chocolate….

  26. Joseph Baran on March 12, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    Writing is an art and a business if we choose to make money at it. It will be whatever each one of us will make of it, regardless of the time frame. I think we run a risk of skewing the argument by oversimplifying the issue, making too many generalized assumptions and applying them to all of us equally. This cannot be done as we all have different and unique backgrounds and talents.

  27. Dan Krokos on March 12, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    I got mad, and then I read closer and agree 100%. But isn’t that common knowledge? Of course you have to earn it.

  28. R. A. Evans on March 12, 2012 at 4:43 PM

    I didn’t write my first novel Asylum Lake to get paid – I wrote it because I needed to silence the little voice in my head and prove to myself that I could do it. Did I make a few bucks with it? Yep, just enough to fan the flames of dreaming that one days I might be able to actually pay the bills with my writing. Some very valid points are raised in this post and I can completely understand how each side stands on the subject, but the reality is that it is the reader who gets to decide which author gets paid and which author needs to reconsider his/her career choice.

  29. Lynn Rush on March 12, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Wow. Loving this discussion. Great points made. At first this article could steam anyone’s blood, but then as I look closer, like you, Rachelle, I see deeper into it. 🙂

    I’m blessed that one of the first things I learned when I started on this author journey was to not quit my day job if I ever get picked up by a publisher. Very few ever earn enough to make writing a full time job. It’s so true. First book out and my second coming in May I can attest to that.

    It takes time and hard work. But for me, it doesn’t feel like work because it’s what I love to do, so I’ll keep doing it as long as I can. 🙂

    Thanks for this post. Have a SUPER DAY!

  30. TC Avey on March 12, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    This is going to sound weird, but I honestly don’t care to get paid (though it would be a nice bonus). I really just want my writing published.

    So why don’t I self-publish then?

    Simple- I want it to also be read. While there are countess self published books that are read and very successful- I think I want or need to go the traditional route. Maybe that is a status thing, I’m not sure. I can only say I am seeking God’s will. If he tells me to self publish I will, but right now I am pursuing my dream of traditional publishing. Maybe some day I will get paid, but if not- I still love what I am doing!

    • Cherry Odelberg on March 12, 2012 at 10:01 PM

      That’s the spirit!

      • TC Avey on March 13, 2012 at 3:41 PM

        Thank you. Have a blessed day.

  31. Mindy Starns Clark on March 12, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    When my first novel was published and I quit my day job, an author with many years of experience in the field told me that was a mistake, that I shouldn’t expect my writing business to be in the black until about my 9th published book. I thought she was dead wrong, but she wasn’t. As it turned out, my 9th book was, indeed, the exact one that turned the corner for me, financially speaking. Thank goodness I had a loving and supportive spouse willing to cover my losses through the first eight! Those were some lean years, for sure, but because of him I was able to stick it out. Sadly, not every writer has that luxury.

    In any event, I HIGHLY recommend Gladwell’s Outliers. His 10,000 Hours Rule is based on solid research and is definitely an eye-opener. It has certainly proven true in my own life. (His book Blink is pretty amazing too.)

    Thanks for the fascinating discussion!

  32. Sudama Chandra Panigrahi on March 12, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    Right points.

  33. Heather Hart on March 12, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    The article was very mislabeled. After reading it, it made a lot of since. We have to EARN our money, not just expect it.

  34. Tom Burkhalter on March 12, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    Wow, this article sure stirred up a storm! I guess in the next ten years or so we’ll find out if Mr. Godin’s predictions are correct.

    In the meantime, I’m going to publish a book pretty soon. If people like it, they’ll buy it. If they don’t, they won’t. If I do my job as a writer properly and professionally and more to the point, tell a good story, they’re more likely to buy it.

    I think you could probably sum up the attitude as “Cream rises to the surface.” Not a judgment, just a fact of nature.

  35. Cheoy Lee on March 12, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    “Deserves” is a difficult one as it’s subjective, surely? The one who pays has to be the one to decide whether the author deserves to be paid?

  36. ChrisM on March 12, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    There are so many issues here, but I will center on the most obvious one. Anyone who is honest knows the key is women readers, who make most of the purchases. (I thought Rachel’s article about Pinterest was particular interesting on this note.) And … and I may be stepping on some toes here … those readers are being fed by an industry where more and more women agents hold the keys to the kingdom.

    Are you a romance writer? Great. There is a strong market for that, with almost all of it driven by women. Do you write mainstream? Better have a good hook for women.

    I ran into problems in trying to market my first novel. The main story line sounds dark and ominous, and I had to center on that in those brief query letters. However, there is a great deal of romance in the book, and there are issues women care about (the impact of old family wounds, the impact of the loss of a child, etc.). But that dark and ominous tone within the confines of a query letter gets me kicked to the slush pile in a hurry.

    I am learning that to find a spot in this industry you have to find a niche … make yourself comfortable in a particular genre. I am doing that. Do I write novels that appeal to women? No. I am most comfortable in writing “guy stuff” … thrillers, but ones in which my protagonist faces serious moral dilemmas. That’s the niche I am aiming for … that smaller market demographic of men who read and want “guy stuff,” but “guy stuff” with a difference. It’s the result of a lesson I have learned.

    On the issue of writers deserving to be paid … none of us are entitled. I just wish the industry didn’t have such rigid walls about content needing to squeeze into a certain category. But the industry has a bottom line … it has to sell, so it rests on those things it knows are likely to sell.

  37. Theresa Froehlich on March 12, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    My first reaction to the words “deserve to be paid” was the same as Michael Hyatt’s. I tend to think that none of us “deserves” anything. Everything must be earned, whether it’s money or respect.

    I haven’t yet read Godin’s book. Gleaning from the excerpts in this post, I think he is saying that credibility must be earned. When we have enough credibility capital, readers are going to be willing to pay for the value we offer.

    Recognizing this same principle, I’m offering my first eBook “How To Get Your Child Off The Couch and Make Something Of His Life” for just 99 cents on Amazon and then will soon be available as a free download on my website.

    I do think a writer has to build credibility capital over time.

    Great post.

    Coach Theresa Froehlich

  38. Helen W. Mallon on March 12, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Edgar Allen Poe deserved to be paid. Arguably, he changed the culture, making people aware of the undercurrents of the unconscious; he was wildly talented; he worked hard; he marketed himself (as a newspaper editor, he invited people to send him cryptograms, which he then solved.

    In his lifetime he made almost no money from his writing, and he died a “failure.”

    I don’t think all that much has changed since Poe’s time, except that sophisticated and extremely persistent marketing efforts might generate a readership for so-so writers. Smart people will always figure out ways to make money. Talented people will always write. They’ve never necessarily been the same people.

    I’m okay with the situation–any success I gain will be a gift. I “make money from writing” by teaching and being a writing coach, and it’s all part of being a writer.

  39. Jill on March 12, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    The world isn’t an equal place. Hard work is necessary for success, but not a guarantee of it. I’m not sure I’m actually adding to this conversation, because it’s a given that many people toil away and never succeed. I do find it fascinating that the free-market system doesn’t always honor greatness, either. Artists and writers are rarely supported by the church or monarchs any longer–I think we still have something like a court poet in the states, but the title is probably more honorary than it is monetarily satisfying. This article is a great look at our artistic culture. It’s both heartening and frightening at the same time. No matter who you are, talent and persistence might pay off for you if the free market deems your work valuable.

    • Helen W. Mallon on March 12, 2012 at 2:29 PM

      Jill, I like your comment. I bet that the patronage system was wildly unfair–we have Leonardo da Vinci and Co. as posterartists, but oy! Think of the politics that must have been involved.

  40. Beth MacKinney on March 12, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    No one has the right to be paid for writing. absolutely true that you have to earn it, and sometimes even when you do earn that right you don’t get paid.

    Your writing, just like anything else you might want to sell, is only worth (in a monetary sense) what someone is willing to pay for it.

    This being said, I do believe there will continue to paid work for “journeyman” writers simply because there are people out there who aren’t willing to pay top dollar for top ability.

  41. Maril Hazlett on March 12, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    I made a similar comment on another blog about the Godin article – I am a journeyman, and I do get paid. I think that the distinction here is (a) how people define writing, and (b) where they see opportunity.

    Do I spend a lot of time working on fiction? No, not right now. My time is spent probably 30-70 on fiction versus other projects.

    However, I spend an insane amount of time developing voice, persona, narratives, storyline and arcs, etc., in the area of of content development. I end up writing dialogue; I figure out how to navigate all sorts of formats; I draft a wide variety of digital copy; I edit (especially what would be called developmental edits – information architecture requires a very similar approach), etc.

    I am definitely a writer. Do many other writers consider me to be one? I’m not sure any more. I may not match their expectations. However, every day I am discovering more and more opportunities to grow in my craft, I’m making a living, I’m happy – and the work is stretching and training my muscles for other kinds of writing that I intend to develop further in the future.

    It might seem like a new and different route, but I don’t think it is – I can think of many ad/ pr writers who went on to become successful novelists.

    If you want to be a journeyman and stick to novel writing alone, I can see where that would be difficult these days.

  42. Jeanne T on March 12, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    Very interesting conversation here today. It does seem to boil down to a mix of what the market demands are, and to a smaller extent talent and timing that determines who and what sells.

    My hope is that as I improve in my writing skills to the point where what I write offers something of value to readers, then I will get paid for it. Money should not be my main motivator for writing, or for anything I do in this life. My main motivator is to please God and bless others as I walk each day out on this writing journey.

  43. Kendall on March 12, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    What I find surprising is that Godin isn’t suggesting that only new writers shouldn’t expect to make money at their writing but that *all* writers shouldn’t expect to make money.

    He’s basically saying the days of authors getting paid for content are over. With the rise of self-pub and e-books, it will be next to impossible for authors to sell their content and remain competitive; he suggests that writers need to accept this new world of publishing and learn to adapt.

    He says: “It’s not the market’s job to tell authors how to monetize their work. The market doesn’t care. If there’s no scarcity of what they want, it’s hard to get them to pay for it.”

    This is something that I think is pretty alarming, that publishing will basically have a few bestsellers at the top of the pyramid and then everyone else. It’s not a model that suggests talent will be rewarded but popularity.

    • Josh C. on March 12, 2012 at 1:29 PM

      But how is that popularity obtained? I’d say it’s a model that rewards hard work rather than talent alone. Writing is hard work, for sure, but it’s not the end of it.

      • Kendall on March 12, 2012 at 1:43 PM

        I agree, but hard work + talent doesn’t necessarily equal popularity. Nor does popularity necessarily equal the best or most-deserving (case in point: “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” is one of the most popular shows on TV). When writers aim for popularity, they often end up in mediocrity.

    • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 5:38 PM

      Whether we like it or not, in the world of sales, it is popularity that sells.

      To some degree, popularity may be indirectly linked to talent and/or hard work.

      Nevertheless, when more buyers buy a product, by definition, that is a more popular product.

    • Stan Gibilisco on March 14, 2012 at 12:30 AM

      In the new digital age I suspect that we, as individual writers, will have to identify scarce things that people want, create plenty of them, make them accessible on as many cloud-based platforms as possible (think Wi-Fi on iPad, Nook tablet, Kindle Fire), and then make our readers aware that they exist. First on that list in my mind is a willingness of the writer to directly engage readers and respond to their needs.

  44. Wendy Paine Miller on March 12, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    Quite timely for me considering I spent the morning meeting with a woman who sought me out in hopes to hire me to write posts for her organization’s blog.

    As with so many things in my life, I’ve learned to work hard and not come at projects with a sense of entitlement. I’ve been amazed time and time again how rewards seem to show up on my doorstep when I’m not looking for them or needing them.

    Intriguing discussion broached here.
    ~ Wendy

  45. Ashley Prince on March 12, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    I never thought about it like this. That article was very interesting.

    Overall, I do think writers should have the right to be paid. But I also think there need to be some limitations. Not everyone who pops out a blog or a book has content worth being paid. I do understand the need to earn being paid versus the right to be paid. I guess my concern is what if you’ve worked so hard and still don’t “earn” it?

  46. Meghan Carver on March 12, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    I disagree that a number can be assigned arbitrarily to how many hours it takes to master a skill. God gives talent and skill in varying amounts, and some may need only 5,000 hours while others might need 20,000.

    I wonder how much of it comes down to greed — everybody wants everything for free and then have the right to complain about it if they don’t think it is good enough.

    Thanks, Rachelle, for tackling a tough and controversial issue.

    • Rachelle Gardner on March 12, 2012 at 1:09 PM

      I don’t think anyone, even Gladwell himself, means for the 10,000 hours to be exact, specific, and applied evenly across the board. It’s a concept that we all need to understand. Whether it takes someone 2 years and anther person 20 years, the point is that to become a true master at something, a significant amount of time must be spend learning it and practicing it.

  47. Christine Dorman on March 12, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Rachelle, thank you for putting this on your blog. As I said to you previously, if professional athletes have a right to be paid, then so do writers. Why should writers be different from other entertainers or, in the case of non-fiction, educators? The argument that self-published authors are less worthy of payment than those who’ve been accepted by established publishers holds no weight either. Self-published authors are business people who have invested time, energy and capital in order to get their product to the marketplace. They have as much right to sell their product as any other producer does. I have never heard anyone complain that because someone has opened up his or her own restaurant or shop that he / she should offer goods and services for free. Just because we love our work doesn’t mean we “have no right” to be compensated for it.

    • Carrie L. Lewis on March 12, 2012 at 12:33 PM

      Ah, but those professional athletes don’t just show up at the team owner’s office. Many of them have played for years at the high school and college levels and some have played at the little league levels, too. Years of playing for no monetary return.

      Even AFTER they’re a pro, they continue to train, to work out, to find ways to improve their skills and their performances.

      And even after all that, if there comes the time when they are replaced by someone who can perform better.

    • Rachelle Gardner on March 12, 2012 at 1:07 PM

      However, many self-pubbed authors have NOT put in the effort or hours required to master a craft. They simply decided the first thing they ever wrote was amazing and so they decided to charge money for it. People reading this blog don’t fall into that category for the most part; maybe that’s why so many have trouble with the 10,000 hours concept. I guarantee you, the people in any field – sports, business, art – who are are the top of their game are people who have put years into mastering their skills.

      • Christine Dorman on March 12, 2012 at 5:41 PM

        I agree that writers who have not put the work in to master the craft don’t deserve to get paid. In fact, I don’t think they will be paid. If a product isn’t good, it won’t sell, at least not for long. A few people may buy a book in the beginning, but the word will get around that it is not worth reading. By the same token, a great book will get some marketing from word of mouth in book clubs, from online sites and simply friend to friend conversations. I’m sorry that I didn’t make clear that my first comments assumed writers who were serious about their work and their art.

      • Cherry Odelberg on March 12, 2012 at 9:56 PM

        I appreciate the disclaimer, that people reading this blog probably don’t fall into that category.
        Here is my story: Regarding the children’s novel I published independently; I had worked on it for eight years after taking a six credit online writing course in children’s literature. I had submitted to critics and contests with some interest shown. I was told by an agent that there was no market for children’s books. I wanted to complete what I had begun, so I paid an English teacher friend to edit for grammar and punctuation and paid $900 to a publish on demand company. I had no funds for marketing. Juxtapose this with an acquaintance who got a cute idea, wrote furiously and submitted directly to a known name publisher. The book was accepted without editing, change or suggested revision. This writer had only to pay $4,000 up front for marketing. This is not called self-publishing?

        Marketing is huge. I know I cannot afford to market and I can not afford NOT to market. So, I will keep writing my three WIP and keep blogging and keep interacting on social media until my time comes.

        May the best books win! For I am not likely to stop reading – or learning- or writing.

  48. Traci DePree on March 12, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Great article, Rachelle. A good reminder.

  49. josey bozzo on March 12, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    I agree that the best writers should be paid, and you have to earn it, you don’t automatically deserve it.
    I personally don’t care if I ever get paid, I just want my words out there.

  50. Charles Specht on March 12, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    This was my favorite:

    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.

  51. Megan B. on March 12, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    The headline “Godin to authors: You have no right to make money any more” is misleading. It makes it sound like his position is that writers should never get paid. After reading further and discovering what his actual position is, I agree with it. And I agree with Rachelle’s statement that he didn’t really say anything that should be surprising.

    I have yet to be paid for writing, although I’ve had a couple of stories published. And I don’t mind at all. I am putting in my hours, getting my name out there a little (tiny) bit.

    If and when I sell a novel, I expect to be paid for it if the publisher is making money on it. But I definitely don’t expect to make a living by it.

  52. Lindsay Harrel on March 12, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    I agree that those writers who offer something unique–and something readers are willing to pay for–will naturally make a living from it.

  53. Josh C. on March 12, 2012 at 11:38 AM

    There are always exceptions to the rule, but I mostly agree with what Mr. Godin is saying. If a writer has something to say that’s worth spending money on, he’s got to prove it. I relate it to learning to play the drums. It took years and years of practice, concerts, and other performances before I ever “got paid” (granted, it was in the form of a scholarship, but still). We’re talking over ten years of learning the craft, figuring out my style and getting comfortable with it. It takes time.

  54. Robin Patchen on March 12, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    Great comments above. Personally, I cannot imagine my life without writing, whether I get paid for it or not. If I can bless others with my work, all’s the better. But I don’t expect to get paid until I’ve written something of value and convinced someone who matters to read it. It’s talent, it’s hard work, and it’s patience. At the end of the day, I believe God had a plan, and He’s worked it out down to the word, down to the penny. And I can live with that.

    • Jeanne T on March 12, 2012 at 1:18 PM

      Well said, Robin!

  55. Cherry Odelberg on March 12, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    I firmly believe that the worker is worthy of his hire. In an ideal world, all those with grand ideas and the acquired skill to put them on paper (or web), would be rewarded. Those mediocre or laking in this specific area of talent would reciprocally find some other area of expertise. Unfortunately, there will always be the undeserving who get rich, and the deserving who have to work their fingers to the bone for a morsel. Mira (above) expressed it well, “It benefits the culture tremendously to have talent be able to devote the primary amount of their time to creation. Having a day job, for a truly talented author, is a potential waste of a gift.”
    The reality is; one must have a pretty good day job to support all this giving away.

  56. Ann Bracken on March 12, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    I remember the times when I purchased textbooks instead of groceries and paid tuition while my car remained parked for months with no gas or insurance. I worked for professors for free, hoping to at least get a letter of recommendation for a scholarship, grateful when they bought us a pizza. Years later I went back for a masters, staying up after my children went to bed to do homework, only to get up a few hours later to study some more.

    If I was willing to do this to progress in my day job, what makes me think writing will be any different?

  57. Emma Cunningham on March 12, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Authors deserve not to have their work stolen. If someone chooses to read something that has a price tag attached, then yes, the author deserves payment for it.

  58. James Scott Bell on March 12, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    Of course writers deserve to be paid. We’re the only ones who know what’s going on in this crazy world.

    • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 11:16 AM

      LOL! If that’s the case, then the world’s best hope may be lost… 😉

    • Carrie L. Lewis on March 12, 2012 at 12:28 PM

      Laughing out loud.

      We at least think we know what’s going on!

  59. Evelyn "Lyn" Morgan on March 12, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    I truly enjoyed this article and the spirited discussion that has ensued. Yes, I’d like to be paid for my writing, but I have written much that has been just for the joy of writing.

    As a retired person with very limited income (social security and pension), any pay I get from my writing supplements what I can afford.

    “Luxuries” such as gifts for my children, trips to see them, gifts to my church. I am thankful when I am paid. I keep writing anyway when I am not.

  60. Natasha on March 12, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    It’s an interesting point and I think one that I’ve heard before. I have spent years of my life writing for free too. Not only because I’m building my ‘platform’ but because I love it, it is my passion and I know that thinking I can earn a yearly salary after the first article I’ve written is absurd. Though, there is one question I still ponder. Does all this ‘giving away’ writing still get appreciated by book and magazine publishers? I’ve heard the argument about ‘building your platform’ so many times by refuted by the fact that publishers don’t look at small publications on your CV. Even more so, do book publishers care about the years writers spend perfecting their craft or do they still just want to see what you have in your bio?

  61. Elizabeth Seckman on March 12, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    I think the ‘owed’ is just attention getting language and as a writer, he got our attention. Applause Mr. Grodin!

    As for the midlisters…I see it a little differently. I think there will be more midlisters. Already, as a reader, I am able to get a wide variety of affordable books from small presses that quite frankly excite me more than large press. They are less formula driven and I like the freshness.

    As a writer, the drive isn’t to get rich. I just enjoy writing. I think Ben Affleck said it best when he said he’d have sold ‘Good Will Hunting’ for a cheeseburger. Hungry writers like that are more dangerous to people on the top than those of us on the bottom or in the middle.

    • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 11:15 AM

      I like your perspective, Elizabeth!

      You come across as having a very balanced attitude gained thru writing experience.

  62. Stephen H. King on March 12, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    I think talk of “deserve” and “rights” obscures the true nature of the author’s enterprise. If somebody comes to work for me at the college and delivers the educational hours I’ve asked them to, then whether they’ve done a mediocre job or a great one they deserve to be paid. That’s the nature of being an employee, and there are tons of laws out there that protect that nature.

    An author isn’t an employee, though. An author is an entrepreneur. We create a product in the most ancient of ways–by loving hand–and then try to market and sell that product. Some sell it to major publishing houses who then reach out to customers for them, while others decide to go directly to the customers. Some hire guides–agents–to help them along the path, and some don’t. But like every business venture, money calculations should be expected to be colored red for the first year or two (or 10,000 hours, or 1,000,000 words, depending who you listen to). Sometimes a happenstance can provide an opportunity that can be managed into something BIG (think Microsoft) and sometimes a book is just in the right place at the right time (think Facebook).

    Continuing for another moment on the nature of business: some authors have such a large customer base that they could burp on a page and it would sell. Others write stories about sparky vampires and make millions of dollars. Still others continue to craft story after story and nobody can really tell you why they don’t take off. Our customers–the readers, remember, not the publishers–are a strange bunch, wanting this esoteric thing called “entertainment” that can’t be quantified. Why can’t they just want certain features like every other customer group?

    Anyway–no, no entrepreneur DESERVES to be paid. Nor do they consider it their right. Eighty percent of small businesses fail. BUT–twenty percent succeed. Some of those strike it rich, while others “just” manage to provide a living income to a family or two.

    • Cherry Odelberg on March 12, 2012 at 11:26 AM

      Well said!

    • Jeanne T on March 12, 2012 at 1:13 PM

      I agree–well said!

  63. Timothy Fish on March 12, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    I pretty much ignore everything Seth Godin says. He and Pat Robertson have a lot in common when it comes to saying controversial things that really shouldn’t be controversial at all.

    As for whether authors have a right to be paid for their work, scripture is clear on the subject. “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7)

    But we can’t make the assumption that we will make money from the work we do. The people we are writing for may be unaware of what we’ve done. They may also lack the resources to pay us. The only work we’re guaranteed to be paid for is the work we do for God, and even there, we won’t receive full payment in this life. Still, if the question is whether every author has a right to be paid for their work, yes, every author has a right to be paid.

    • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 11:12 AM

      Two sides of the same coin, and a matter of phrasing, I think, Timothy.

      It is less about rights than it is about realities.

      I completely agree with you in terms of reward from God for service of love.

      However, if we are talking about direct monetary compensation in this life, the reality is that not every writer will be monetarily compensated for everything they write.

      Which, then, begs to question whether monetary compensation should be the primary motivator…which brings us full circle back to more eternal rewards…

  64. Mercey Valley on March 12, 2012 at 5:10 AM

    Before reading this article/post I saw the subject line in my inbox and something Michael Hyatt once said came to mind, so it’s pretty funny for me to see he made the first comment here on today’s blog. Now that I have read the post, my mind is still made up the same way:

    We don’t HAVE to write; we GET to write. No matter who we are or what we write or what our philosophies are, writing and sharing that work are PRIVILEGES.

    The best will be paid more as a sheer matter of fact. Should “lesser mortals” be paid? Sales speak for themselves and the worker is worth his wages.

  65. Ellen Gregory on March 12, 2012 at 4:35 AM

    It all comes down to supply and demand, doesn’t it? Moreover, in this changing industry, it’s so easy to self-publish and charge/not charge with no regulation. Something may be brilliant and free, or cost $4 and be average. The reader has to take a punt at the moment, and therefore it seems to me that writing is worth exactly as much as people are prepared to pay (or not pay) for it.

    I went back and read the original interview and think Seth makes a heap of sense. Thanks for a great dissection, Rachelle.

    • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 11:06 AM

      Supply and demand, yes…

      But also marketing, name recognition, etc.

      Even with a good potential market for a given book, if nobody knows the book exists, it still won’t sell much.

      But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a tremendous blessing to those who do read it! =^)

  66. Dave Whitaker on March 12, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    Interesting article and well-made arguments, but I disagree with the basic concept that an author has to put in the time before expecting to be paid. How many of us would take a job if told we had to donate six months of 40 hour work weeks (roughly the 10,000 hours Godin suggests) before we’d get paid?

    • carol brill on March 12, 2012 at 8:35 AM

      most full time employees work about 2000 hours a year…so 4-5 years of no pay?
      For me, the difference is many (most?) jobs can be learned well enough to contribute to results within weeks or months.
      that is usually not true with the craft of writing, which takes much longer…is it 10,000 hours? I do not know but it takes a long time for most writers. Think of it like a sport such as golf…many, many take lessons, practice and play. Few get good enough to be paid.

      • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 11:04 AM

        “Think of it like a sport such as golf…many, many take lessons, practice and play. Few get good enough to be paid.”

        Well put, Carol!

        Yet, we can still enjoy it as a hobby (or a ministry), just as the amateur golfer does.

        It doesn’t have to be about level of monetary compensation, to be of benefit and value.

    • Rachelle Gardner on March 12, 2012 at 1:02 PM

      Dave, you can get any number of unskilled jobs with no experience whatsoever. But to get the jobs that require, skill, experience, and a talent that has been properly nurtured, it takes many, many hours of experience. You could apply this concept to a pro baseball player. Or working your way up the corporate ladder to the top job. Or being an artist on display in a gallery or museum. Yes, everyone started somewhere. But for most people to reach the top, it took many thousands of hours of practice.

      • Sra on March 13, 2012 at 3:15 PM

        Interns, anyone?

    • Melissa Alexander on March 12, 2012 at 4:56 PM

      Dave, I didn’t put in 4-5 years of time for free before I started my job. I PAID for them — in college!

      To assume that you should be able to step into a writing career without learning the craft just because you want it SCREAMS entitlement. Would you expect to transition into a medical practice without the requisite practice and education?

  67. Claude Nougat on March 12, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    Thanks for a clarifying post, Rachelle, very useful! Bottom line, the question really is: can the market for midlist authors, the “journeymen” of writing (often journeywomen) survive the digital revolution?

    Godin’s answer is a stark “no” but he’s looking to the future. He’s surmising that in the tsunami of free words overwhelming us, midlist authors will be carried away and sink out of sight.

    Maybe. But for the time being, the midlist authors are doing very well: I know lots of them (some 250) and nearly all are making a handsome living from self-publishing their back list – displacing in the process newbies (like myself) who find it hard to compete because they haven’t got the head start midlist authors have, i.e. a fan base (maybe a small one, but still better than having none).

    So the days of journeymen aren’t over yet. Even assuming the trend is in the direction indicated by Godin, I’m not convinced at all that it means only the “best authors” (whoever decides what’s “best”?) are the only ones that will get paid. You’re right Rachelle if you define (as you do) “best” by meaning those authors who are “most read” – in short, best sellers.

    But best sellers have always made a nice elite living…There’s nothing new here. What may be new (but hasn’t happened yet)is that the middle class of writers will disappear. Most writers will belong to the 99 percent and only one percent will make it!

    Is the Digital Revolution really creating -nay, exacerbating – inequality? Something to think about…

  68. sally apokedak on March 12, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    Writers who write what people read deserve to be paid. The workman is worthy of his wages.

    What is sad is that so many people expect to read for free these days. We don’t pay the workman because we figure we’re entitled to free everything–from birth control to books.

    We download free apps, free plug-ins, free-ware and share-ware, and we read for free, all day, every day on the Internet. My kindle is full of free books. We are so overwhelmed with free reading material that no one ever has to pay for anything again.

    But I do think authors should offer work free. I think Cory Doctorow is right. If people love it, they’ll buy the hardback. I do. If I like a free e-book, I’ll buy several copies to give as gifts.

    Should the midlist disappear? I have noticed that the entries I see in contests I’m judging have been getting better and better each year. It seems that a lot of people are reading agent blogs and learning how to write. So the competition is stiffer than ever. (Or am I imaging that? Are the proposals better?) I think that’s why we’re beginning to see better ebooks now. Before bad writers couldn’t get published traditionally. Now good writers can’t get published traditionally, either. The midlist authors might end up in the Kindle store selling for $2.99.

    • Jaimie on March 12, 2012 at 9:58 PM

      Birth control won’t be free. You still have to pay for the insurance. Just FYI.

  69. P. J. Casselman on March 12, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    Some journeyman writers hit the proverbial jackpot which makes others think this is possible. Burpo’s book hit the big time, but it is nothing new (several like it came out before), was not well written, and was penned by a literary novice and small church pastor. He struck a rich vein and won the author lottery. But that is just it- these are rare wins.
    For every one of him there are thousands of writers who cannot even get their book read by an agent.
    The big win authors are a misleading example. Their success makes everyone think that it is one good book that creates a gold mine. It happens in music, investing, inventing, etc. as well. Once we get rid of the “big score” mentality and realize that writing is 99 percent “meat and potatoes,” then we begin to take the appropriate steps to becoming authors who earn their checks with highly developed works worthy of being purchased.

    • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 11:18 AM

      “The big win authors are a misleading example.”

      Good point, PJ!

      Same logic that keeps the casinos in business, isn’t it?

  70. catdownunder on March 12, 2012 at 3:38 AM

    Perhaps writers do not “deserve” to be paid but surely good writing should be paid for?
    Writing is the least well paid of all creative acts. The rise of the internet and the ease with which things can be “published” has made it even harder to get paid. The argument seems to be “why pay for something if I can get some (almost) as good for nothing?”
    I can do my 10,000 hours. I could write something brilliant but it is going to take more than that to get someone to buy it. I can (and do) write a blog post each morning and the only way I have of knowing whether anyone has actually read it is if they leave a comment. What I write is meaningless unless someone else reads it. It is only then that there is some form of “payment” but leaping from there to monetary rewards (however small) is like trying to leap a building in a single bound.

    • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 10:59 AM

      Yes, there are many forms of reward for writing. For me, as for you (at this stage at least) it is much less frustrating to enjoy the little encouragements of comments or e-mails by someone who has found meaning in my words.

      It’s not likely to jump to significant monetary compensation any time soon.

  71. Joseph Ramirez on March 12, 2012 at 2:59 AM

    I don’t think anyone deserves to be paid simply for writing a book, any more than anyone deserves to be paid for making a sandwich. Sure, kid, you made a great PB&J… but why should I pay you for that when I could go make my own that’s just as good, or find someone who will do it for free?

    But then… there are Reubens… marbled rye with melted cheese all over the sauerkraut and beef, served with fries and the house sauce over at the local diner… and I am more than happy to pay for it. Because it’s awesome. And I can’t make the house sauce myself, nor can I find it anywhere else.

    I agree with Michael Hyatt. It’s simple market economics. People must earn their pay. Writers are no exception.

    • Sra on March 13, 2012 at 3:11 PM

      Well explained.

  72. C.T. Blaise on March 12, 2012 at 2:27 AM

    I took umbrage to the word “deserve” and agree with Mr. Hyatt. I’d add to that by saying that anything worth having is worth working for. I’m old-fashioned that way. Still, I’ve been giving away my writing skills for years and recently decided to take a try at earning a living while doing what I love. Of course, I’ve not spent my life dedicated to writing. I raised a family and supported my husband in his endeavors FIRST. I suppose that makes me selfish. Perhaps. However, it’s my turn now. As a writer on the downward side of 50, I don’t have the luxury of putting another 20 years into crafting and waiting for my big break. So what do I and others like me do? Do we turn up our noses at the opportunities that self-publishing can bring? Or do we keep swimming upstream against a rising tide while surrounded by hungry predators? The decision isn’t an easy one.

    • Cherry Odelberg on March 12, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      C.T., I find myself of similar age and situation. There are many varieties of self-publishing available, but all have this in common: beyond writing for free, the author is paying for the privilege of writing.

      As a learning experiment, I published a children’s novel via print on demand. Many friends and acquaintances showed an interest. They were hoping I would give them a copy. Authors do have books do give away, do they not? Yes, I paid for a few copies to give as gifts.
      Imagine my chagrin upon finding a used copy available on Amazon.

      • Gary P. Hansen on March 12, 2012 at 5:45 PM

        “Imagine my chagrin upon finding a used copy available on Amazon.”

        Please note that “Used” books on Amazon may very well be new. Often Amazon uses the word “Used” as a marketing ploy. The same day one of my novels was listed there were also “Used” books listed. Gary P. Hansen

        • Rachelle Gardner on March 12, 2012 at 7:05 PM

          Gary, to my knowledge, it’s not Amazon doing that. Used books are always available from third-party sellers, not from Amazon itself. There are many third-party sellers who build their business this way.

          • Gary P. Hansen on March 12, 2012 at 9:07 PM

            Amazon has a book buy back program so I just assumed that they resell the books they buy back. Anyway, my point is that sometimes new books are sold as “Used” as a marketing ploy.

          • Natasha Kern on March 18, 2012 at 5:57 PM

            A blog really is a lot of work, Rachelle– but back in the old days before blogs existed (or email) agents used to have to travel to writer’s conferences often, in my case, at least one/month when my children were young to meet with writers– as well as looking at all of those physical submissions. We used to receive a tub of mail every single day! As you say, everyone does pay a price for success and probably 10,000 hours is about right. (but hey my kids learned to be good travellers and manage on their own in hotels! Plus I would introduce them in a business context which at the time was regarded as definitely REALLY unusual).

            Your blog has clearly been worth the effort and is very informative.


        • Cherry Odelberg on March 12, 2012 at 9:35 PM

          Well, that’s a new perspective. I’ll have to think on that.

  73. Karen Coombs on March 12, 2012 at 2:01 AM

    Goodness, how times have changed. I got my 10,000 hours of practice in by writing and submitting to editors who rejected my work until I had improved enough to have eight books published. Now, anyone can write anything, self-publish, and expect to make money selling their work. There are plenty of books available that make it obvious the writer has not put in the hours. I’m not against self-publishing. I recently published my first e-book, a revision of an older, out-of-print, middle grade novel. I’m hoping it earns some money because I have put in decades on improving my craft and it’s time. But, who knows? I don’t deserve to get paid unless my work is worthy. I hope it is.

    • FLT on March 12, 2012 at 11:57 AM

      But one could also argue that there are many best-sellers where the writing is sub-par (Twilight, anyone?) but something speaks to the reader.

      • Karen Coombs on March 12, 2012 at 1:04 PM

        FLT. Absolutely! It’s important to read all kinds of writing though, because unless a person reads the “not so well written,” to put it euphemistically, he or she won’t recognize and appreciate the marvelous. It’s upsetting when the dross earns millions though and the gems little.

  74. Mira on March 12, 2012 at 1:17 AM

    Interesting question. I had the same inital reaction, and I appreciate that you clarified it, Rachelle.

    In terms of Godin’s point, I agree and I disagree.

    I believe it’s not hard work that earns the ‘right’ to be paid, it’s talent.

    The reality is: talent varies. I think that elbow grease, as well as study with a talented teacher,(sadly, these are not seen as necessary in the writing world right now, something for talented agents to think about) will make someone into the best writer they can be. Whether they become someone who can write great books, is another question.

    All art forms give tremendous gifts to those who practice them, in terms of access to self-knowledge, connection to the Universe and joy. Whether someone is talented enough to reach others through their art is a different issue, though.

    What talent is – I don’t know. I suspect it’s the result of many lifetimes worth of learning (hope that doesn’t offend, it’s just my belief system).

    But whatever it is, talent absolutely deserves to be fairly and liberally compensated because it’s relatively rare.

    One thing that is sadly missing from the discussion of the new author who wants to be paid, is that a talented author SHOULD be paid for their work.

    It benefits the culture tremendously to have talent be able to devote the primary amount of their time to creation. Having a day job, for a truly talented author, is a potential waste of a gift.

    So, no, I don’t think people should be paid to write. But I do think that talented authors should be compensated for their time and gift at a high value.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion, Rachelle!

    p.s. lest this come off as arrogant – I’m unpublished, and have no idea if I have talent or not. But – if it turns out I am, I’m charging money for it!

    • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 10:53 AM


      I’m still learning, but it appears to me that it has less to do with talent than with marketability.

      Yes, talent is one aspect of marketability, but not the whole.

      Many talented writers do not receive compensation, and many highly compensated writers are not outstandingly talented.

      • Mira on March 12, 2012 at 11:51 AM

        I think you have a really good point! You’re talking here about supply and demand.

        Some talented authors may write genres (romance vs. literary fiction, for example) that are more or less popular or content that is not a good match for the culture at the moment.

        Stephanie Meyers is a good example. She is very talented (although her craft needs work, imho) and she spoke to the culture at exactly the right moment to sell widely.

        However, talent is still required. Despite urban legend, I believe it is not possible to be a best-selling author unless you have talent (unless someone else writes your book for you). You may not be the MOST talented, but you definitely have to have talent.

        So, I agree with you that how much an author is paid will depend on demand for their particular work.

        But, in terms of my first post, I still believe the crucial element for compensation in art isn’t hard work, it’s talent.

        And talent deserves to be valued and compensated highly.

        Thanks for the good discussion!

        • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 12:00 PM

          Talent, yes, necessary.

          Supply and demand imbalance, yes, necessary.

          Yet, there seems something more is required…a hurdle I have yet to overcome…

          Even if you had the best book ever written, of great potential value to many readers, with nothing else comparable in the market…

          …there is still the need for getting word out.

          People can’t know they need or want a book they’ve never heard of…or know nothing about…

          • Mira on March 12, 2012 at 5:22 PM

            Oh, sorry Joe. I added to my own post, and didn’t realize that you had responded – sorry!

            In terms of getting the word out, I really think we should be counting our blessings. 15 years ago there was virtually nothing a writer could do to reach readers directly. Nowadays, there are sites like Goodreads, that connect writers and readers.

            And I predict that many more of these types of services will be popping up. Readers want to find good books, they want to know what the good books are, and that demand will be met by services.
            But, I do think there is something indefinable about what books reach readers. Timing, luck, karma, destiny, fate – there are alot of things that are out of our control.

            But the question here, Joe, wasn’t whether writers WILL be paid. It was whether they have a RIGHT to be. 🙂

        • Mira on March 12, 2012 at 12:02 PM

          Although, I should add that I think talent often requires hard work to really blossom! I’m not downing hard work. 🙂
          I’m just pointing out that there is an elusive quality that makes an artist special. Artists are not easily replicated. Not just anyone can work hard and write in a way that will reach people. Therefore, compensation is extremely appropriate.

          • Joe Pote on March 12, 2012 at 5:30 PM

            “But the question here, Joe, wasn’t whether writers WILL be paid. It was whether they have a RIGHT to be.”

            Hah! Touche’ 😉 That was the question!

            See my comments to Timothy Fish…

            Whether or not we think we have the RIGHT, we must still deal with the REALITY.

            Apparently, I really need to spend some time on GoodReads! Thanks!

          • Mira on March 12, 2012 at 6:02 PM

            Joe, I honestly belive there has never, in the history of mankind, been a better time to be a writer! 🙂

            If you’re really interested in the marketing stuff, Rachelle has some really great posts here about marketing and reaching audiences.

            Also, I’d really suggest you browse some of the self-publishing sites (not a knock at legacy publishing. It’s just the experimentation is going on with the indie writers). There are tons of people forging paths, trying to have their books be read. Some really good stuff is coming out of that.

            Pricing discounts; free give-a-ways; presentation (cover and title); the benefits of publishing frequently; the benefits of writing a series for certain genres; all kinds of experimentation is going on right now.

            It’s kind of an exciting time. 🙂

  75. Richard Gibson on March 12, 2012 at 1:07 AM

    I agree with Michael Hyatt about the word “deserve.”

    I make a conscious choice between writing (or tour guiding, or geological consulting, or anything else I do for money) for free versus what I choose to TRY to get paid for. The latter, whether it is writing or professional services or whatever, will fly only if there is a willing buyer who will pay – i.e., a market.

    I completely accept the idea that I will only get paid for my writing if someone is willing to pay – there must be a market for what I do. Agents and publishers provide a high-grading role that can be very valuable to end users (readers) and to me, so in my mind, that’s part of the market too. They have to buy in, with approval if not with dollars, in the traditional publishing market, even though ultimately the reader is the “real” market, and he or she can (maybe) be found in other ways as well (self-publishing).

  76. Michael Hyatt on March 12, 2012 at 12:53 AM

    Thanks for raising this important issue.

    I personally don’t like the language of “deserve to be paid.” It is the language of entitlement. None of us is owed a living. We have to earn it. If we had enough value, the market will reward us.

    I don’t think is a moral issue (as the question implies) but simple market economics. In this sense, I think Seth is right. When we add enough value, we will be rewarded accordingly.

    • Joan Cimyotte on March 12, 2012 at 11:22 AM

      Yes. That entitlement mentality is a sham. Work hard and keep working.

    • Charles Specht on March 12, 2012 at 11:46 AM

      I agree. Entitlement comes from the people who support (and purchase) your work. So we aren’t entitled to anything, we’re given it.

    • FLT on March 12, 2012 at 11:49 AM

      I don’t think “deserve to be paid” is entitlement (and I’m not referring specifically to this article, because I haven’t read the originals). Obviously, if you have a job, you are earning a living, but you deserve to be paid. If you don’t do good work, you will get fired. Let’s not call bringing home wages “entitlement,” because the last thing we need to do is give corporations an excuse to exploit people.

      • Sra on March 13, 2012 at 3:03 PM

        I think that when people say ‘entitlement’ we’re mostly referring to the idea that we all have an inherent right to get lots of stuff, whether or not we do any work to earn it. (And sadly, some people do have the idea that we should give them money just for existing.)

        That’s what it means in the political circles anyway.

    • Mary Netreba on March 12, 2012 at 12:00 PM

      Many new authors have high hopes and even higher expectations. But writing as a living is like anything else. We have to earn our way to earn our pay. When we do this it’s in line with the Godly principle “the worker deserves his wages”

    • Jennifer Major on March 12, 2012 at 4:54 PM

      Then there is the concept of “intellectual property rights”. My husband has published quite a few scientific papers and gets the *joy* of being part of peer review teams. It’s interesting how many people try to publish a re-worked version of a lousy paper in a different journal. Although most scientists do not have labs with pink dry ice bubbling in beakers, they still have to put in looooong hours doing brain work. Most of them have to dig for their funding, then they have to earn and keep it by reputation and hard work.How is this different from being a pre-published writer honing one’s craft? As in science (and no, we don’t have a Darwin fish on our car), fiction and non-fiction writers have to discover, protect and refine our ideas until they shine. If there does come a day when we see our name up in font, then and only then have we earned it. There are very few truly entitled people in our world. Most of them come with crowns, countries and have their pictures on money.
      Ask someone with a Ph.D in something useful, they probably did spend 10,000 hours on it, but they earned it!

    • Terry Hadaway on March 12, 2012 at 9:09 PM

      “Deserve” has the connotation of out-of-control egomaniacs who bless the world with their presence. I’ve often found that those who think they deserve something did very little to earn it.

      The earners, on the other hand, seldom demand payment; they are compensated for their contribution to society and are inspired because they are investing their skills in something that matters.

      As a ghost writer, I understand that some of the most prolific writers actually write very little. I bet they are the ones who think they deserve to get paid.

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