Twitter Chat #2: Do Writers Want Readers or Money?

14 Apr

So I’m going to while this is my second article based on a twitter conversation, I’m dubbing it the first of my “Either/Or” topics.

In this case, I stumbled on a great conversation on Twitter involving @realjohngreen , @WolfsonLiterary and @SarahDarerLitt regarding a writer’s true goal: is it to reach readers, or to make money?

Here’s the convo, and I’ll comment at the end:

WolfsonLiterary Not sure this is true. RT @realjohngreen: Right. But given that writers care more about readers than about money, should all books be free?

realjohngreen @WolfsonLiterary You mean most writers care more about money than about maximizing the number of readers? Not my experience, at least.

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen I think writers care about both, which I think is perfectly normal. I also think in general, more readers lead to more money

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen I think it’s fabulous to be in a position to do experimenting with free content, self-published material, etc.

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen But this isn’t the case for most writers. Established writers are in a different position. Can afford to care abt diff things

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen I’m not criticizing you or anyone else here. I just don’t think it’s wrong to want to make money at what you do

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen And I feel like when people say writers should care more about maximizing readers vs money, there’s an implied criticism

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen And the other responses I’m getting here seem to agree, that writers want both. That’s the goal-making a living at writing

realjohngreen @WolfsonLiterary I don’t think it’s wrong to want money. I just think writers want readers, and publishing is a race to those readers.

SarahDarerLitt @WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen Unless u have a significant other supporting you, you need $ to have luxury to write & get readers.

realjohngreen @SarahDarerLitt @WolfsonLiterary And unless publishing expands its overall customer base (unlikely) those sales will hurt the rest of us.

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen They want to be able to quit their jobs and write for a living. You need readers, yes, but that suggests making money at it

realjohngreen @WolfsonLiterary @sarahdarerlit I agree, but we’re already seeing free/cheap books becoming hugely popular in large part bc they’re free…

SarahDarerLitt @realjohngreen @WolfsonLiterary Believe me I have HUGE arguments w/17 yr old son abt copyright issues. He doesn’t get that it helps feed him

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen Yes…but I’m not sure the answer is providing quality material for free. Then again, I’m not sure I have the answer

WolfsonLiterary In case I wasn’t clear, I think there’s a huge benefit to building readership. I think used books, cheap books, sharing books all helps that

I have to say, while I appreciate John Green’s point of view, and I do believe that the desire to gain users is a prime motivator to become a writer in the first place, Michelle Wolfson makes a very good point: those who wish to write for a living also (usually) want money.  Not that they’d stop writing if they didn’t get it, but I think they want both.

Really, it’s not an either/or proposition, and readership often leads to money.  Lack of readers will curtail the opportunity to make money. The better question might be which does a writer need… and while the answer is again BOTH.  But while you can gain readers without making money, if you have no readers, you wont be able to (continue to) make money: not if you want to extend your career past that first lucky deal.

Of course, Sarah Darer makes another great point. You could continue to write full timeif you have someone who will support you.  Not so much if you don’t.

So should a writer be content to allow their work to be read when there is no money involved?  I say it’s not necessarily a case of giving it away for free OR holding out for a check.  I think smart writers will do both… the internet presents an amazing opportunity to use writing you give away to promote writing that you don’t.

Of course, the challenge will still be to find readers, even if they’re reading for free.  But heck, if you know giving it away will help you build an audience for your work, do it.  And use it to promote yourself on the way to making money.

There were some other great things that were said about the internet, performance art, and the writer as rock star, but you’ll have to wait to read about those in another post.

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