And thus, debate begins…

I'd take that contract!

Yesterday Brandon put up a post to explain his absence. I’m behind it; if you ever want to get paid for your writing, unless you’re a freakishly well-known author, you can’t publish that same material on a blog. No company will look at your stuff. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but these are the rare cases. These are the blogs that rake in the tens of thousands of views per post, if not more. Brandon wants to concentrate on material that he might possibly be paid for. Good! I’ve kept back some stories from the blog for the same reason. I’m going to keep publishing here as much as possible, but I’m more after writing for writing’s sake. Our purposes are different.

Which gets me to the thing I disagree with. Brandon’s a huge Jack Vance fan (and what red-blooded he-man isn’t?). He posted:

To quote something I once heard Jack Vance say, “If a story is worth reading, it’s worth getting paid for.”

I have to disagree with this strongly. Now, to be clear, what I’m not saying:

  • If an author asks for money and you’re not willing to pay it, you shouldn’t get to read the story. Stories are commodities and the seller sets the price. To read a story without the permission of the author is to steal.
  • An author has a right to ask for payment for his stories.
  • If you like a certain author, support them! That may be in money. If someone sent me a donation because they liked a story here, I wouldn’t fight. There are other types of support, and as long as you’re not stealing the story, these kinds of support can be greatly appreciated. For instance, I would love more comments on the fiction here. That’s a great show of support I appreciate!

What I am saying:

  • A story worth reading is not always worth monetary payment. For instance, if I make up a story to tell my children, I hope the story is worth reading for them. I don’t expect any payment other than a “thank you. The greatest payment I could get would be my children asking to read the story with me over and over again.
  • There are many, many great stories available for free. The authors are long dead and gone and their creations have become public domain. Hopefully they received their payments in full while they were alive; however, it’s not my responsibility to pay for them. (Project Gutenberg, anyone?)
  • There are other stories that are free that are worthwhile. For instance, many of my favorite webcomics are free. (I’ll point you to Powernap, a great sci-fi story that’s just really getting going.) Sometimes these artists are paid monetarily. Often they are not.
  • Those great guys at Ray Gun Revival, assuming they haven’t changed their business model, aren’t paid to put up their stories. I got paid for my fiction there, but the owners of the site were completely self-funded. They didn’t run ads! (I see that this has since changed. Alas, the ad-free days are gone!)
  • How about all the good writing that gets done in creative writing classes? Sure, a lot of it is dreck. A lot of it is decent, and some of it just plain sings. Just because it’s done in a class, does that mean it’s not worth reading?

I guess I may be railing at something that’s an assumption. I look at that quote from Vance, and I see him saying: “If you don’t get a check, your writing isn’t worth reading.” And I disagree with that; I’ve now listed a plethora of authors that didn’t get paid for their work (at the very least initially). Looking at the quote that way seems very jaded to me.

Basing the worthiness of a story on whether or not the author got paid? I guess there’s no worthy starving artist in Vance’s view. That’s not only frustrating to me; it’s insulting. I’ve been paid for my work a few times, and I can honestly say that the stories that were bought were of lower quality than ones that got rejected. If Vance is right, I’m viewing my stories wrong.

All right, I’ve ranted enough. Brandon, I’d love a rebuttal from you — and from anyone else! Am I going way too far with this? Am I shoving a tempest into a molehill? Turning a teapot into a mountain? Let me know!

No. If your writing was worth reading, you'd be getting paid for it. Now, stop being cute at me.
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16 thoughts on “And thus, debate begins…

  1. Luke, the quote from Vance is from a longer radio interview between him and…. can’t remember who. In any case, the interviewer asked Vance, “How do you measure an author’s success? It’s very subjective, isn’t it, whether an author’s writing is good or not? Is it just the number of fans? What do you think?”

    Vance’s response started with, “Look at his bank account. Well, he won’t let you see it, but I mean, look at how much money he’s made.”

    The interviewer was a little taken aback and said, “So you think that a person is only a good author if he’s made a lot of money?”

    Vance then went on to explain himself a little better. I can’t quote him exactly, but essentially the point he made was this: You can decide whether or not someone’s writing is quality from a mechanical perspective, but you can’t really measure if it’s good, that is, something people will like. That’s just not easy to quantify. What you can measure, though, is how much people are willing to pay for his writing, and how many people are willing to pay for it. So, the amount of money an author has made is a tangible measurement of how good of a writer he is. He also commented that it’s not the only measurement, perhaps, but it’s the easiest to quantify.

    He segued from there into the idea that anything worth reading is worth being paid for, but he continued by commenting that that doesn’t mean a story worth reading always earns money. He talked about how markets fluctuate (even in the world of fiction writing!), editors have bad days, specific publishers look for specific things at specific times. This is why perseverance is important, he said, because if your writing is worth reading, it’s worth getting paid for, it just might take a lot of time and perseverance to get paid for it.

    I think that he’d agree with your points, and so would I, but I think you misunderstood his. He’s not saying there isn’t great writing out there for which a person hasn’t been paid. He’s not saying that every piece of good writing demands a payment. He is saying that if it’s worth reading, it has the potential to make money.

    At least, that’s how I understood him, having the whole context. Which of course, you didn’t have.

    Now, you might still disagree with him, but I don’t. I think he’s right on. And I can explain why. Let’s use your example of a story for my kids. I might write a story for their benefit, and yeah, I don’t expect them to pay for it; it’s a gift to them from their loving father.

    But maybe my kids will tell their friends about it, and their friends’ parents will come to me and say, “Hey, I heard about this great story you wrote for your kids. I’d like a copy to read it to my kids.” I could gift it to them, say, “Sure, here you go, have at it, enjoy!” But I could also say, “Yeah, you know, I put a lot of time and effort into this story. I’m happy if you’d like to have a copy to share with your kids, but I think I’d like some compensation then. How about five bucks?” If they said, “What? Ridiculous! I’m not paying for it! What are you thinking?” well, then, either it’s not worth reading or they don’t have a clear sense of the value.

    My point is, I don’t have an obligation to give my writing away free of charge. If another person thinks it will be worth reading, they ought to be willing to pay for it if I ask them to.

    1. Mind if I focus on the last paragraph?

      “My point is, I don’t have an obligation to give my writing away free of charge.” Agreed. As the originator of any written product, you set the price. Or, when going fishing for paying publishers, you decide whether or not to accept the proffered amount. This is good and fair. If you decided to set a price, that is the price it shall be — like most capitalism.

      “If another person thinks it will be worth reading, they ought to be willing to pay for it if I ask them to.” And this is where I get a little… disagreeable, I guess. I may well think something is worth reading, but not paying that price. I mean you no offense, but I wouldn’t likely pay $5 for a story a friend wrote for his kids unless the thing was relatively epic in length or had amazing production values (a bound spine would be a plus!). On the other hand, if you had asked for $2, I might be willing to pay for that for computer-printed pages of a decent story my children enjoyed. I use similar reasoning when I go to a bookstore: if there’s a 150-page book sitting on the shelf next to a 450-page book, and both are the same price, which do you think I’m more likely to get? That doesn’t mean the 150-page book isn’t worth reading; it just means I’m trying to spend my money wisely. While it’s unfair to judge a book by its cover, we all do it constantly; what are you more likely to buy: A book with fantastic production values, beautiful cover, and solid binding, or a book that’s falling apart or simply printed on computer paper and stapled? There’s a certain charm to a book that’s falling apart, it’s true, but if I’m actually going to read something, I like feeling the weight of it in my hand. (Here we’re starting to wander into my admittedly personal preference for printed books as opposed to electronic.)

      Perhaps think of it this way: What am I more likely to pay $5 for: A fantastic story printed on computer paper and stapled together, or the same story in a simple bound book? The worth of the story in and of itself is the same, but my willingness to pay — and the author’s ability to get paid for it — is greatly curtailed. The story that was stapled I may think is well worth a read, but not worth my money, despite being willing to pay for the same exact content in a different form.

      Basically: I may think something is worth reading, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to pay the price that’s asked. Every time I walk into a bookstore, I walk away from many, many stories that would be worth my time, but I don’t count them worth my money — else I would buy them!

      I will admit that judging a story on monetary success is an easily measurable scale of success, but it’s also a poor measure. Compare Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight to, say, New Moon by Midori Snyder. Twilight made so much more money, and using the scale of money, it’s worth a read. I’d argue that Midori’s novel is worth far, far more, though. Or how about Peter Prellwitz’s books? Or any number of other authors that don’t get monetary attention?

      Again, my contention isn’t that an author has a right to set a price on his or her works. My contention is that monetary gain can be a metric of worth of reading.

      1. Okay, so the part of what I said that you found disagreeable wasn’t worded well. Maybe it would have been better to say, “If a person believes that what I’ve written is worth reading, they should be willing to pay something to read it.”

        The price has to be reasonable for the work. The person who is being asked to pay has to first be convinced that it’s worth reading. But the principle remains: If an author’s work has value, that value can be communicated monetarily.

        You brought up Stephanie Meyer versus Snyder or Prellwitz, and the thing that’s interesting about those is that while you and I would say that Snyder or Prellwitz are much more worth reading, a preteen girl might vehemently disagree. Even my wife might disagree (to my chagrin). You or I might be willing to pay much more to read a Prellwitz book than we would a Meyer book, but the world isn’t made up of only people like you or me. If it was, Prellwitz might earn much more for his writing than he does, right? To many, Meyer’s books are really, really good. We can remark on the vapidness of the personality that thinks her writing is great, but we can’t argue that there aren’t many, many people who consider her writing worth reading and worth paying for.

        The originator of this discussion, Vance, makes an interesting example in this discussion because, while he made plenty of money on his writing, he wasn’t widely recognized in the US. Sure, he won awards, but among SF authors in America, he was not the most popular of his time. But in Europe he was huge. It reveals the subjectivity of what we call “good” writing.

        I’m not sure, but I think we’re looking at this from different angles. I think you’re taking issue with the notion that the money made off of something is a measure of the quality of the writing, but that’s not really what I was saying by quoting Vance. I’m also not saying a person has to be paid, or that there’s a certain absolute value placed on any one piece of writing.

        What I’m saying is that if the writing is the kind of thing someone is willing to read, then it’s reasonable for me to look for payment in return for people reading it. I think that’s what Vance was saying too. Sure, it’s relative to the audience, it’s relative to the market and medium (because you’re not alone in the thought that a hard copy of a book is worth more than an electronic copy), but those are details. I’m speaking about principle – if people want to read it, they can be asked to pay for it.

      2. “What I’m saying is that if the writing is the kind of thing someone is willing to read, then it’s reasonable for me to look for payment in return for people reading it.”

        I think this is fair — I’m thinking I switched A and B, which is actually a logical fallacy: Basically, if someone isn’t paying for it, it’s not worth reading.

        (And, sorry, after leading worship on a Sunday I am fried enough that… there’s not much more in my brain at the moment!)

  2. Love the kitty cat picture! I agree that money shows support. Writing is still worth reading even if ur not paid– I’m not paid but I try to write! I by books that I think are amazing-showing support for the author!

  3. Remember the books English teachers loved as ‘great literature’ and no one enjoyed reading? I’ve read ‘great literature’ and enjoyed it–I’ve also tried reading Lord Jim 4 or 5 times and can’t get past the 1st 25 pages. What makes a story worth reading for the average reader? What makes a book worth my money to me? I may buy one book to see if I like a ‘new’ author–if I like it, I have the tendency to try to read all that author’s works (just found John Ringo–many books now to find!). What grabs me? A story that pulls me in; characters that I care for (without taking pages to describe them); action that moves the story forward; scifi, fantasy, action, history, all can grab me if written well.

  4. A thought occurs that maybe part of this debate is that we’re operating on differing definitions of the term “worth reading.” In my mind, that phrase assumes an audience, and the value of reading it is based partly on that audience. For instance, the Magic Tree House books are not really worth reading for me, since they’re written to a 1st grade reading level. However, for my son, who is just learning to read and is starting to appreciate chapter books, they are definitely worth reading. So, the phrase “worth reading” is somewhat relative to the audience, but it assumes that there is an audience for your work.

  5. It’s a question I know I get a lot: “Why do you write?”

    I write because I MUST write. I have stories inside me that I want to tell. And when I tell one story, other characters come up to me (in my mind’s eye) and say they have an interesting story and I should write about them, too. And so it goes. So should I give my writing away for free? Does it have value if I give it away? Does it have more value if I sell it? Does it have less value if no one ever reads it? Would it have more or less value if I paid someone to read it? All of the above reading scenarios have occurred to me over the years, and I expect all of them to occur in the future.

    One of Mark Twain’s famous quotes is, “The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.” In that I agree wholeheartedly. But by definition that means I need to make a living from my writing. And to do that I must sell books. But selling my books is not the goal of my writing. It is the means through which I can hopefully gain the freedom to write more; to tell the stories of all the characters who have formed a long line in my mind’s eye.

    Does getting paid for my stories help me write? It can. People who have paid for my writing have taken an additional step in “earning” the right to comment on what I’ve written. Certainly, anyone can make comments and provide feedback and demonstrate an emotional commitment to my universes. But the reader who has gone out of their way to purchase my works has taken it to another level by investing literally in my literary success. And, yes, while I don’t write for the money, getting a nice-sized royalties check does positively impact my writing motivation.

    But being paid for my efforts can have other positive effects. It demonstrates a will by the author to go through the gauntlet of getting published. It also shows that others in the writing profession – agent, publisher, artists, editors – have taken a financial risk in a work, as well as invested their time, talents, and their reputations. So when a potential reader sees a title sitting on the shelf in a bookstore, he or she knows that the story has passed a series of hurdles to get published. Whether the story itself is interesting to the reader or not is always, of course, subjective.

    That’s not to say there aren’t countless stories written, sung, spoken, or signed that don’t have value. The value of a story is in the story itself; where it is told, how it is told, to whom it is told will alter that value, because there is far, far more to value than just how much money you can make. A few of my best stories are available for free on my web site. Another is a web comic. Others are novels that, yes, you must buy. All have value to me, though. And I hope they all have value to my readers. And my relationships with my readers adds value, too. An email, a comment, a review, a critique, and yes, a purchase, all create a relationship between myself and my readers.

    I’d like to offer a final insight to how buying a book does add value. At the conventions I attend, there’s a “hand high” challenge that an author must pass before a person will buy. They’ll listen to your sales pitch; they’ll look over your books; they may ask questions; they may even be interested. But then they’ll stretch their hand out over the floor. Sometimes it’s chin-high; sometimes it’s waist-high. Only rarely is it below that. They are showing me how high their “books I’ve bought but have yet to read” pile is. These are readers who buy books that they WANT to read, but also know they may never read. But they buy the books anyway, hoping they will read them all, but KNOWING that they’ve supported the author, the publisher, the editor, the artist, and even the agent. They’ve supported creativity by rewarding those who’ve brought a story to life.

    And there’s REAL value in that.

    1. Thank you Pete, for the insight. It’s great to have a published author here once in a while! I find it fully worth buying your books. Even if I read your books in a library, I’d still end up buying your books! And I know what you mean by the “books bought but yet to read pile”… There’s like 80 on my to-read list, if not more.

    2. Thanks for stopping by and sharing another side — the side of value to the author. I mentioned to Brandon in private discussion I think I flipped the propositions and that’s what got me bent out of shape. I had read it as, “If it’s not paid for, it’s not worth reading.” I’m fairly certain that wasn’t the point of the original comment now.

      And I can imagine the satisfaction in knowing others believe your work is worthy of their hard-earned money. I’ve been paid once for my fiction, and that was a huge success. The check still sits on my desk as a reminder that someone wanted to pay me!

      Thank you for sharing this side of an author’s life!

    3. As an additional response:

      You wrote, “That’s not to say there aren’t countless stories written, sung, spoken, or signed that don’t have value.”

      Thank you for including signed stories in that list. So often this type of communication is forgotten.

  6. I’m not a published author (yet), but there’s nothing more satisfying to me than knowing my writing is worth someone’s time. I can’t imagine how accomplished I would feel if someone were to PAY for my writing.

    Peter, I know exactly what you mean about NEEDING to write. There’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t write something. It might be journaling, scribbling nonsense, or posting…well, not so much on the posting lately. Anyway, the few days I don’t get a chance to write, I still find myself telling stories. I believe that it’s part of who we are–some people are storytellers by their very nature. Other people can read numbers or brushstrokes or music more deftly than I could ever wield a pen. It’s a wonderful gift!

    Peter, is it more of a compliment to find someone whose hand is chin-high or waist-high? Just curious.

    1. There’s no difference, unless they buy one of my books. Then it’s the chin-high measurement. But the real compliment is when someone says they’re going to read my novel next, DESPITE the pile of books they already have.

      Keep on writing!

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