My Advice: Get Paid To Write For Free

by | Mar 7, 2012

Digital Book World is running an interview with Seth Godin, author of several best selling business books, including Unleashing the Ideavirus, The Bootstrapper’s Bible, Purple Cow, All Marketers Are Liars, Poke the Box, and more.

Here’s a slice of the interview, where Godin advises writers to walk way from their financial expectations.

Q. 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?”

A. 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.

I don’t know how these halcyon days of writerly bounty could be over, if they never existed in the first place. The great majority of writers have always struggled to earn their way in the world. They either work odd jobs like bartender or taxicab driver, or they find a way to apply themselves as a teacher, or in a commercial setting like advertising, publishing, journalism or entertainment.

The future is going to be filled with amateurs, says Godin. And Mathew Ingram of GigaOm, commenting on Godin’s piece, is right to note “the rise of the amateur, powered by the democratization of distribution provided by the Web and social media.” Although “amateur” sounds more and more archaic to my ear each day. I prefer the word “apprentice.” There’s pro, semi-pro and apprentice. Apprentice captures seriousness of intent, in a way amateur does not.

Certainly, there are plenty of amateur writers, amateur photographers, and so on. Which is great, people need enriching hobbies. But the premise is about getting paid to write, and that’s why it makes sense to reframe the discussion around pro, semi-pro and apprentice. These are the people hoping to make money from their writing, and the people equipped to do so, via a mix of talent, training and good fortune.

Regarding Godin’s advice to offer content for free, I agree, as long as there’s a mix of paid and free in the writer’s bag. He says he’s offered more than 4000 blog posts for free. Great, I have offered more than 10,000 for free, but he also sells books, and I sell advertising (on AdPulp) and my writing there sometimes leads discerning readers to hire me to write copy for them. In other words, we get paid to write for free.

Thankfully, the buzz around free is starting to fade a bit. I’m actually happy to see so many newspapers begin to charge for their online editions. When you have exclusive content, as many city newspapers do, you can and should charge for it. The rise of eBooks is another game changer, where authors can and should charge a small price for their homemade digital book or booklet.

I do appreciate what Godin is saying, and it is good to approach your craft with humility. At the same time, a pro is a pro, and pros get paid. As do semi-pros, and on occasion, apprentices.

Bonus content from last fall:

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