Very Literary: A community blog

Small press book reviews and local author interviews

On Money

Written by Kari Larsen, Community blogger | Dec 11, 2012 1:40 AM

Last week, tumblr and twitter accounts were launched to anonymously provoke a dialogue about who pays writers. As Dustin Kurtz, marketing manager at Melville House noted, this information is not purposefully obscured and is reported comprehensively and annually in the Writer's Marketplace. But:

In part...writers see themselves as the allies of the magazines or blogs that may be paying them nothing at all, or only token amounts. They care about the well-being of these venues and enjoy reading them, and don’t want to seem unappreciative.

Providing carefully maintained showcases for the varied, diverse, incredible work that deserves as many eyes as possible is a valuable service and a thing apart from writing. Editing and publishing are important, but editors could not assemble the radiant issues that inspire donations, subscriptions, and loyal readerships if not for the writers who contribute their work. When I write for free, I prefer to think of it as pitching in to something I would - to put it lightly - rather be there than not.

Within days of "Who Pays" going live, Forbes ran an inflammatory article about Lena Dunham - she of the three-point-seven-million dollar advance - and how "weird" she claims it is, to venture into writing as a career expecting to be paid. It appears that the statement Forbes culled from Dunham is part of a piece of writing itself - that is, not a statement issued by her, reflecting her feelings about writing, but potentially a piece of fiction. Still, at its core, being made several million dollars for the promise of work is weird. Not being paid to work is weird. This inconsistency that has been able to flourish in publishing is weird.

This is an important conversation, but it is one I dread having with a lot of my friends who are young, at the beginning of their careers, and making compromises between making money and developing their skills as writers. Should this swarm of news preface a conversation in which I am the listener, I assume I am in for a long coffee, dinner, or bus ride restraining myself from quoting Joan Didion:

Do not whine....Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.

I am used to thinking of it on an individual basis, of course, where it is as easy to be generative as saying: stop complaining! Pick yourself up and keep trying. Pitch the paying markets hard, assert yourself tirelessly, act like you deserve it! Like the aforementioned Dunham says:

The worst stuff that you say sounds better than the best stuff that other people say.

That's the individual basis, though. And one of my favorite articles I have read this year, the Billfold's interview with Natasha-Vargas Cooper on how she does money, illuminates the difficulty of getting by as a freelance journalist, and Vargas-Cooper is incredible. This is pervasive, this problem with money. This is an issue of the publishing industry itself and how it has formed amidst evolution away from the old model.

The magazines and blogs make up, for me, the reason that I write. When I thought writing was a past-tense activity, strictly Melville-Poe-Hemingway, I was not willing to invest myself in it, not until I discovered who is writing now and who is publishing them, what a vibrant world contemporary small publishing is, full of people who are doing things because they must be done and they are not waiting for one of six (or five) stamps of approval.

It is rough in an industry full of utopian vision to swallow the necessity for business savvy, but the collapse of gatekeepers, the diminishing requirement of bulky overhead, and increased access to an understanding of how the market works keeps me optimistic that things will change for the better as long as people keep insisting that they must. And no one insists like a writer.

Published in Very Literary: A community blog

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