Show Me The Money

Andy Warhol Dollar Sign 1982 ©The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.

Whenever I dream of chucking the 9-to-5 life to support my family on my poetry, I wake up in a cold sweat. Not gonna happen.

The latest issue of Poets & Writers magazine features an article by Steve Almond called, “Will Work For Free,” about how lit writers never ask to be compensated, and how they rarely get paid for their work. And he’s right. Whether you’ve published fiction or poetry, chances are you’re not making a substantial profit living the literary life.

I’ve never gotten paid more than publication copies for my poetry or essays. So when I consider how much money I’ve waited on postage, mailing materials, and so-called “reading fees,” I definitely write at a net loss. Of course, I publish to expose my writing to a larger audience. But isn’t it silly that the authors—the creators of the content—have to pay to have their work reviewed. It’s worse that participating in a lottery yet often yields the same results.

Now I’ve been on both ends. I’ve worked on my own lit mags and now I co-run a literary reading series. So I understand how organizers have to shell out the money for their startup ventures. It is too bad that we can’t pay participants more than exposure. But it’s my hope to receive a local grant to pay our readers something … anything!

If the Internet is the great equalizer, than maybe print publications have to figure out a new business model. Writers are finding new ways of getting their fiction and nonfiction to the marketplace, bypassing traditional publishing avenues. But it’s up to us—the content providers—to ask for compensation when we can. At least it will help to make up for the money we lose every time we drop a submission in the mail.

I’m curious about your thoughts. Are you getting paid for your poetry or fiction? Share your experiences.


chiefbiscuit said…
Like you January, I receive small amounts for any poem published, and maybe a small voucher or payment for reading (but often not.) I get about $2.00 for every one of my poetry books sold. I claim tax on any 'earnings ' from my writing, which helps. (I got a whole $50 back this year. Yay! if you detect a hint of sarcasm, you're right.)
I have recently started back at full-time work after working part-time for the past ten years in order to have more time to write. I have decided I need to work full-time in order to travel and to make sure our house doesn't fall into disrepair - and to help pay the mortgage. All reality checks to the 'dream' of writing full-time and earning from the writing. Not possible in my case. I'm running out of time too with only ten years or so now until retirement age. At least writers never retire (although I believe the Canadian writer Alice Munroe has announced her retirement?) I look forward to writing, writing, writing once retired. Meantime, I will write in the spaces provided between work and life.
I thought when I retired I would have more time to write--hasn't really happened, yet, except for blogging and Poetry Thursday! Oh, I did NaNoWriMo. And I am glad my $2.00 went into your pocket when I bought your book! The first year my novel was out I got some royalties, maybe $2,000. Then it dwindled to $25 or something, then to $2.50. They did give me a $5,000 publication award, but all of that went to the publisher. I got nothing for my poetry books except publication (but was happy for that!). The very best I ever made was when IBM paid me $1,500 for four little half-page children's stories for a reading program they did. A one-time thing, unfortunately. And BYU once paid me $150 for a series of seven poems....I wrote a column in a little newspaper that paid me $1,000 a month--unfortunately it went bankrupt after two months and eight columns. (I don't think it was my fault it died...).

That's about it. Not bad, but few and far between. Nothing you could live on. $1,400 of IBM's went immediately to pay some kind of fees when my son began law school.
Sorceress said…
I prefer to get paid for what I write. I've worked on mag articles and have been paid well.

I definitely spend more on the written word right now than gain from it!

But I love it!:)
January said…
I've worked on magazine articles, and been paid about $250 per article. I've also won a professional artist grant from the state, and a contest with no monetary award.

While I appreciate the recognition, it would be nice to be paid for my literary efforts. I try to be selective with the journals and contests in which I submit, but it's just a shame that writers are a dime a dozen. In other words, there are so many of us out there that editors can pick and choose who gets published.

They say cream rises too the top, but I bet we can all think of talented writers who will remain obscure and relatively unknown.

I, too, have to carve out time to write. And if I get paid, so be it. But not getting paid certainly won't deter me from publishing in as many places as I can.
bostonerin said…
Hmmm. I think it's interesting that someone who makes $150,000 or more per book (according to Publisher's Marketplace) is writing about not getting paid well to write (then again, I haven't read the article. And you know how I feel about Mr. Nut). I'm just sayin'.

That said, it *would* be great if all writers could get paid for their publications, every time. But those shoestring magazines provide a service to writers beyond payment: exposure. I'll gladly spend the 41 cents to send a story to a magazine (or send for free, if they accept e-submissions) for the exposure to readers, potential agents and editors, etc. That pub credit is worth more to me than my postage.

However, where I feel is a greater loss is the devaluing of writing on bid-for-job freelance sites. Most people posting opportunities on those sites want high quality work without paying quality rates.

Few of us are going to get rich from our fiction or poetry, or make a living off it. Any little bit, though, is great!
Catherine said…
New Zealand print mags tend to pay for poems, but online ones don't. It's small, though, about $20 - $30 NZD (about $13 - $20 USD). Our city's newspaper pays a $20 book voucher for poems published. A friend of mine was paid $150 minus tax for a poem - there are two mags in NZ that pay at that level, one is monthly so publishes twelve poems a year (it is a general interest magazine) and the other is a weekly publishing one poem most weeks. So, the chances of getting in are not high. Our poetry group got a grant to publish our collection, and after costs and sales we came out about $900 in profit on 200 copies, but that's for five people (and we are going to put it towards the next book, anyway). I don't enter anything with entry fees or reading fees. We don't have publishers here who have reading fees for manuscripts, only entry fees for competitions.
January said…
Catherine, I wonder in online magazines will eventually compensate authors once they figure out how to make money from the Internet.

And I think poetry is valued more outside of the U.S., so I'm not surprised that you receive some money for your efforts.

I do love that your group found a way to publish an anthology. I hope to be able to do that someday.
January said…
Erin, I'll make a copy of the article for you. :)

Even though "Mr. Nut" gets a large royalty, I think he wrote the article from the perspective of a new father with a mortgage, having paid his dues over several years. And, he's not teaching now (not mentioned in the article), so no regular paycheck.

I think exposure is great but it's almost as if publishers have stopped trying to compensate authors. Instead of finding a better way--streamlining costs, finding better funding sources--it's like the publishing industry does not feel like it has to change. Meanwhile, we generate the work with nothing to show for it but complementary copies, and maybe a yearly subscription.

And I agree with you 1,000% that e-lance, and other freelance sites make it harder for good writers to make a fair wage

Popular Posts