What Stephen White “Gets” and Seth Godin Doesn’t

Fortunately for all of us, my books don’t go directly from my word processor to the bookstore. First, the pages go through the hands of exemplary professionals who tune them, shine them, and prepare them for the light of day.

The above comes almost at the end of the two pages of acknowledgments that one of my favorite thriller novelists, Stephen White, includes at the close of Warning Signs. Given that this guy — a clinical psychologist  as well as a New York Times best-selling author so no duffer in the intelligence stakes — recognizes the value of the people who helped him with research, editing, and general feedback, I’m at a loss to understand why Seth Godin continues to perpetuate the unhelpful view that writing a book is a “solo endeavor.” 

Well, let me rephrase that, because in reality oftentimes it is, especially in the world of self-publishing. But writing a quality book is never a solo endeavor. Godin may well point out that:

One person with time but no money can produce a first draft that is substantially similar to what the public will end up reading.

And therein lies the issue with so many of the poorly conceived, badly written, never-edited, and barely read c**p that is available online today – novels and nonfiction.

Please!!! Pay no attention to this nonsense. If your first draft looks “substantially similar to what the public will end up reading” you are either a genius or not trying hard enough. With all due respect, I’m going to opt for the latter. Certainly, I would never embarrass myself — after 25 years as a professional writer and internationally published author — or show such disdain for my readers to put out something that too closely resembled my first draft.

I’d rather be influenced by the humility and professionalism of Stephen White, and the many others who echo his sentiments in their own Acknowledgments pages, given that his 19th novel is about to hit the bookstores and the man goes from strength to strength with his writing. More so than Seth Godin who, I swear, would never sell that many books if he wasn’t in what my friend calls the “G2F” market: Guru to Follower. People will buy whatever he churns out because he’s Seth Godin. Much of his writing isn’t that good, in my opinion. It was once, but not any more.

Could it be because Godin takes his own advice and his first draft too closely resembles what he puts out for the rest of us to read?

What do you think?

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4 Comments

  1. While I will cheerfully bash Mr. Godin six days out of the week, you seem to have ignored the essential qualifier in his statement. These are the the five words:

    “with time but no money”

    A person who has an inordinate amount of time can produce a first draft which they have meticulously edited, forced upon friends, forgotten, reworked, abandoned, retrieved and wholly reworked. A “first draft” for these individuals might take a decade or two to produce. When you are your own editor, your own audience and your own critic, there is no distinction between each of the versions that exist within this time. They are all part of one mushy shade of grey. The “first draft” is your own best work.

    However, if you’re interested in a form of publishing which is even moderately efficient, you may consider working with other people. There are certainly typos in this brief comment. Even an unskilled editor is more likely to catch them quickly than I am, simply because they are not the author of these words. If you have “time but no money” your entire effort is effectively a first draft.

    Writing with the intent of publication with time but no money, however, is stupid.

    • Excellent point Robby…you are right, I completely overlooked that qualifier. I also agree with you that to publish anything worth publishing you need to think about what budget you have. Of course, people are at liberty to publish whatever they like…I’m just amazed at how many of them think that the world and his wife is waiting to buy it from them when their prose is littered with typos, poor grammar, and unsubstantiated (in the case of nonfiction) “facts.”

      Really appreciate you commenting. Thanks 🙂

  2. I am not generally prone to bashing – but I have to agree here. I wake up some mornings to find Seth’s latest entry in his blog – all of 2 sentences, with some typos to boot!
    I just think it’s a bit lazy and undisciplined. Couched in jazz and packaging cannot make it right. Thanks for holding true to your standards!

    • Appreciate that, Vinay…to me it smacks of such disdain for one’s readers! At least give them quality, considered content, free of typos and other errors (and I’ve just re-read these sentences several times to ensure I haven’t fallen foul myself!).

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