Thursday, March 8, 2012

Seth Godin Speaks. What do you think?

I must admit that I'm not too familiar with Seth Godin. But according to his interviewer, Jeff Rivera at Digital Book World, he is arguably one of the most successful bloggers and thought-leaders of our time. (And I thought that honor went to Matt MacNish!)

I'll link to the whole interview, but here's bits and pieces of what he says:

About publishing: I think we’re going to see consolidation, fire sales, layoffs and a lot of uncomfortableness … Not happy, but true.

Rivera: When do you see the book publishing industry being completely unrecognizable as we have come to know it? What will it look like instead?
Godin: Big advances for midlist authors are the first to go. Second: all the hard-working people in the book production chain, because the lack of scarcity makes it hard to pay them to do the work they do. Mostly, though, I think it’s a fading of the power of a published book to influence the conversation. (My emphasis) When anyone can publish an ebook, anyone will.

Rivera: The role of literary agents has changed in the last few years and it’s changing even more. What can literary agents do right now so that they remain apart of the equation instead of lost in the digital eBook dust?
I’d start by redefining what you do. I don’t think the goal of the agent is to maximize the size of the advance (which is what it was, as evidenced by what agents talked about and how they got paid). I think the goal going forward is to represent every element of an author’s impact on the world, including their permission asset, the way they build a following, the approach to building a tribe.

He goes on to say this about writers:

An author starting out today needs to pick herself, establish a niche, become truly the best at it and relentlessly and generously give it all away as a way of leading and making a ruckus.
It takes a long time, but it’s still faster than waiting for Binky Urban and Knopf to find you.

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?”
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. (My emphasis.)

Journeyman writer in the new publishing age
(Actually "The Death of Chatterton" by Henry Wallis)

Rivera: If writers shouldn’t presume they will make money directly from book sales, what other opportunities exist for them indirectly so they don’t have to flip burgers?
Godin: Depends on what you write! The Grateful Dead certainly didn’t depend on CD sales.
Are you a chef? A public speaker? If you’re a mystery writer, can you find 1000 true fans to pay a hundred dollars a year each to get an ongoing serial from you?
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.

Sounds Darwinian, doesn't it? It all goes back to whether, and how, an artist or a creative type should be paid for their art. If you have time, try to read the comments on the article too. Lots of agents (Wendy Strothman, Peter Riva, Jeff Herman, Jenny Bent, and Deborah Schneider among them) chiming in.

What do you think of Godin's suggestion to give it away for free and therefore build a following? Creative or Crazy?


  1. I wish I had something intelligent to say here, but I don't. I certainly know what my agent has done for me--and it goes so far beyond negotiating advances that that contention seems laughable to me. I think the key in this publishing environment is to let go of assumptions based on the old way of doing things, to be flexible and nimble, and to do one's best. I'm not quitting my day job anytime soon, and I don't mind lower pricing or limited and strategic offering of free downloads of some things, but I simply do not have the time to make distributing/promoting my work my full-time job--especially if I'm supposed to be giving things away! In some ways, it seems like Godin's indicating that would be required. Anyway, this time limitation, as well as the support I'm being given, is why I chose traditional publishing over anything else.

  2. Interesting interview. I hadn't heard of Seth Godin.

    I've never really thought I'd make a living writing. I think that only happens for the really popular authors like Beth Revis and Maggie Stiefvater. I'm not sure you have to give it all away, but spending some of your advance for book giveaways if you're unknown is a way to help build a following. I know it's helped a lot in building my blog following.

    It will be interesting times in publishing. But just because people can independently publish books doesn't mean that they will all be good. There's still a place for agents and publishers.

  3. In essence, I agree. I already have plans for revolutionary distribution of my works that I can't talk about, but at the same time, I'm still a little scared. I still want to be published traditionally, and lately it seems more and more like I've gotten into the game at exactly the wrong moment.

  4. I'm with you on that last point, Matt!
    I'm still just trying to make sure everything I write is the best it can be. I feel like I'm good enough at this and I've jumped through all the right hoops and worked hard enough to be one of the ones who gets published traditionally. But who knows in this market?
    At least, I think, children's MG books still have to be available in paper, b/c most kids don't have access to e-readers, at least not at home.

  5. Interestingly, another blogger asked the same question yesterday regarding how much we as writers should "give away for free". So I hope you don't mind if I copy and past my comment from her post to yours. :)

    "...when we're just starting out, we have to say yes way more than we can say no. For example, when my dentist first opened her practice, she was open six days a week, 7AM-6PM. Now, after 12 years and many clients, she is only open Mon-Thur, 7AM-4PM. She can do that because she now calls the shots (literally).

    I self-published my first novel and gave away many copies. My husband wanted to know why I was giving them away. I told him word-of-mouth would sell my book. And it did. Ten years later and that book is still selling on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and several middle schools in my area have it as required (not just recommended) reading.

    So, yes, we've gotta work out tails off to make a name for ourselves. And we've gotta give away lots of stuff."

    Eventhough I am now seeking traditional publication, I plan to do the same thing, using any advance I might get to purchase copies of my book from the publisher and give them away as a marketing strategy.

    And I hope I haven't offended anyone by taking sides with Mr. Godin, whom I had never heard of until today. :)

  6. I don't have enough know-how to comment intelligently here. That said, I probably shouldn't comment, I suppose. :-)

    But I do know I will pursue traditional publishing regardless of the uncertain times.

  7. There appears to be a lot of doom and gloom here, but isn't it possible the "new wave" of things is an opportunity to excel? The old cliche "the cream rises to the top" will be true even of self-published books, won't it? The crap will be recognized as crap and the great stuff will be read and talked about. Publishing isn't dead; it's just changing, as everything does. We writers can't stop the flood, so we'd better learn to go with the flow! That said, traditional publishing is still viable for now. For those of us dreaming of that venue, it is still very possible.

  8. nice opinion.. thanks for sharing....


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