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.


  1. I don't know if crime pays, $$$-wise. I never tried that business... But writing, or acting, or painting, or music making-- all have the honor of sharing a distorted public perception as ways to make a living. This is because a few (very few) actually make a living as full-timers in the arts, while even fewer actually get fabulously rich. It's a bit like the lottery. Someone wins the jackpot now and then. But who's telling the stories of the many millions who faithfully buy non-winning tickets?

    I didn't use the L-word^, see? ;)

    If you create art because the process is making your life richer, you are a winner, period. If, in addition, you hit the $ jack-pot, you're a winner who's also lucky.

    1. Well said Mirka. My father was an artist but never made his living that way. Instead he worked as a policeman, a sandblaster, a maintenance man, a janitor, an ammunitions technician...whatever he had to do to feed his family. But his heart was always happiest when he had a paintbrush in his hands.

  2. Stop me if I told you this already, but a couple of years ago I was contacted by Countryside Magazine and asked if I was interested in writing regular blog posts for their online edition. I would "start" with a couple of posts a month, they couldn't afford to pay me, but it would be great exposure. She would send me a contract ASAP. RED FLAG! If they aren't going to pay me, I wondered, then why do I need a contract? And "start" with a couple of articles per month? I had a hunch I'd end up blogging for them for free instead of my own blog. I emailed a fellow blogger who is a freelance writer and she told me "people die from exposure."

    I once traded an article for Goat Rancher magazine for an ad for 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. They couldn't pay either, but when I offered the trade they accepted readily. I thought that was a good deal.

    In the end, one writes becomes that is what one does. Especially the creative stuff. I do like reading about how proactive you are in promoting your work, and who knows? A little here and a little there; name recognition should eventually pave a broader path.

    1. No Leigh, I hadn't heard that one but the same had happened to me a couple of times when I was writing my old blog The Midlife Farmwife. You were so right to say no because all of our time is valuable whether we are homesteaders, writers or like you and I, BOTH! I have to fight to carve out writing time and I'm getting more selfish as I get older. No more is ever going to give me permission to focus on what I love most...except me. Oh, Ok. Keith would too. He is a good guy.

  3. "People die from exposure." I'm going to remember that one! We recently had someone ask to use our farm stay AirBNB for a photo shoot for a well-known magazine. They wanted to use it for free, in exchange we'd get "exposure."

    These days people don't expect to have to pay for the work of writers, artists, musicians. Maybe unfair, but I don't see that changing.

    1. Several years ago, on our old place, A Chicago TV show talked us into doing one of their shows on our farm. We spent hours cleaning up, preparing, being filmed. It disrupted everything. We barely got a thank you. Oh wait. One film maker did buy one pound of hamburger.

  4. Good luck with your endeavours.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.