Seth Godin Gets it Wrong?

Today, literary agent Rachelle Gardner (website, twitter) tweeted a link to this article, saying that it made her blood boil.

In the article, Seth Godin said writers need to give up the idea that they deserve to make money from their writing. With the rise of self-publishing tools offered by Amazon and Apple, Seth Godin says, “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.”

Seth Godin then goes on to point out that writers who think creatively will continue to make money. Although self-published bestselling authors like Amanda Hocking and John Locke might not produce the best fiction, they succeeded because they were at the forefront of the self-publishing movement. Now, writers will need to pursue other options–serializing a story, say–if they wish to make money.

With all due respect to Seth Godin, I don’t buy it. First off, many very talented writers can’t make a living off their writing alone. Second yes, self-publishing tools have made it easier for writers to distribute their work, and with increased supply, prices will drop. But I don’t think that makes it impossible for writers to make money from their work.

Traditionally, publishers acted as gatekeepers to keep bad writing in the slush pile. As the power of those gatekeepers decreases, the slush pile, to some extent, will become the market. And yes, some readers may prefer to buy five e-books at a buck a pop instead of one mass-market paperback, but if you want your readers to come back and keep buying, you better be able to write (and edit, and format, and design a cover, and market your book). Who is going to do all of that for free? I believe that price will come to reflect quality because the more crap people have to wade through to find the good stuff, the higher that good stuff will be valued.

Seth Godin thinks this will kill the journeyman writer. I think the opposite is true. There’s suddenly a lot more room for the journeyman. Quality will continue to win out. Talented writers who once attracted the attention of publishers can now attract the attention of readers.

People will continue to buy bestsellers. And now people will also be able to buy a lot of other writing at a discount. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean people will turn off their crap-detectors. Bad writing will not sell, even if it’s free.

So keep writing. Feel free to give away some of what you write if you like. But the idea that writers can’t make money? Nonsense.