Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Crime Might Pay But Writing (Usually) Doesn't

From Muzzle Magazine: "Artists should be paid for their labor. We wish we could pay you. We cannot pay you."

I ran across that-what would you call it? A regret? An admission?-when I was submitting yet another group of poems last month. I loved it. The verbal recognition of a writer's worth. It made me want to be published by this magazine and so I submitted five of my best poems. I have yet to hear back from them, but it's only been two months. Not long for most literary journals.

Truth is, few writers, especially poets, are recognized in terms of cash. In the year since I graduated from UIUC and focused seriously on my craft, I have submitted to 123 publications and been paid real money-once. My other acceptances were "paid" via journal copies, or web page shout outs, or just a nice email.

Gemini Magazine sent me such an email regarding their 2017 Poetry Contest.  In a nutshell it said, Thanks for entering. You weren't choosen as a winner but your poem was kinda good. Not good enough to be published but good enough to be listed as "notable."

I liked that email. I'll take notable. It's better than being outright rejected. Better than never hearing back at all. Better than being told Good Lord in Heaven your poetry reeks worse than that piece of salmon you forgot in the back of the fridge.  Stick to feeding pigs already.

At this point in my writing career, two whole years in, I will take whatever reward I might get. A coin tossed my way, a cyber nod, a minor mention at a family event-Hey sister, I read your story in After Hours, it was ok. This does not mean I don't value my work. I do. What it does mean, is that I am a realist. My work is still raw. My work is still new. My work needs work. My work must please me for the sake of writing it-first and foremost.

Besides, most literary magazines operate on donations and subscription fees. Little is left for writer payment. Like many restaurants, lit mags tend to come and go. Which is why so many writers also teach or manufacture fidget spinners or run small farms: because mortgages must be paid, computers run best with electricity, and wee mouths must be filled with food.

When thinking about my future as a writer, and the possibilities of bringing in a bit of income doing what I love sometime before I turn eighty,  I remember what Stephen King said in his book On Writing: A memoir of the Craft. He and his wife Tabitha were under great financial stress in the 1970's and dealing with an ill child with an earache, when he received his first substantial book advance for his novel Carrie. His most immediate thought at the time was, and I paraphrase, "Great! Now we can afford to buy the Pink Stuff."

Me too, Stephen. One day, I hope that my work brings in enough extra cash to buy a bit of The Pink Stuff.