My twitter friend Josh aka Sophistifunk wrote this article in response to my closing steps in 'Selling Your Shorts all By Your Lonesome', which were 8) Profit! and 9) Psych! No one makes money from writing, fool! Obviously I was being a little sarcastic, and it's understandable that readers might have been confused, because I've never been sarcastic before. In truth, my intent was to somewhat cynically adjust expectations of wealth and riches. I've said before that I feel writers write because they must, not because they expect to be hugely financially successful. At the same time, it's important to reward writers for their work with appropriate wads of cash.
Josh posits an argument based on supply and demand as to why the idea of making a career in writing isn't as realistic now as it was, for example, in the 50's. Josh's perspective is that of a reader, and valuable.
In the short term, as the supply further outstrips demand, and the advertising model currently supporting a lot of non-fiction continues to falter, there will be less money to go around. There will be fewer full-time writers, more part-time writers, and all making less money at it. In theory, the best writers will be the ones who make it through. Good for those of us who like to read – and who do something else for a living. We can hope for all our sakes that the best writers will be the ones to see it through, and the quality of new material goes up. This should also drive the comparative attractiveness of a lot of older material down.
It's well known that the quality of art does not correlate to its success, but I generally agree with this idea. A lot of success also relates to networking and visibility in the writing community: if an editor is looking for an author to fill a gap in an anthology project, they are more likely to ask around their professional network first rather than to reopen submissions. In this way, two authors may be of equivalent quality in so far as their output, but only the one recommended by the editor's network will get the call (or email, or tweet; it's hard to keep up with technology).
This is interesting too:
You’ll find that the Stephen Kings, Dan Browns, and Tom Clancys of the world will do fine. While their writing obviously meets a certain standard of quality, what they’re really selling is a) celebrity, and b) tribal membership.
Although I agree, modern technology allows much more of the '1000 true fans' phenomenon, which can create many tribes of smaller celebrities. If you went back to the article that inspired Josh's post (this one), and you put all your short fiction up on the digital shop that I build there, and then directed a thousand true fans (ie. folks who will buy everything you produce) to the site ... well, you might find you make a reasonable living writing after all.
Josh does say...
There will also be a lot of complaining on the internet.
...which I find hard to believe; but, hey, I could be wrong.
I encourage you to engage Josh in the comments (on his original post, please).
As writers, we're obviously more in tune with the reality of the industry than some, some reader*, so check it out here and set him straight: http://rantinghacker.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/on-writing-for-money/
*I'm kidding, ok? It's the holiday season. I love readers. I love them. I wish I had more.