This week, I ran across an article on Medium about how writers’ rates haven’t kept up with inflation at all. The writer mentioned that in Ring Lardner’s heyday, $1 a word was a fabulous rate. (Ring Lardner was a contemporary of Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway – so we’re talking the 1920s and 1930s, when the New Yorker magazine was in its infancy.)
I would link you, but Medium only gives a person three freebies, and then you start paying. Sorry, blog audience, but I’m saving my two remaining freebies for something new, so I can’t go back and check the facts.
And that totally outlines a few of the many problems of combining money and writing.
The readers like getting freebies, and will pay if the quality is good, but not too much. The publishers feel perpetually pinched, and are constantly scrambling to make up the revenue somewhere. Writers get stuck somewhere in the middle, trying to make a living. Traditionally, ads have been a way for print journalism to make up the difference, but then the print journalists are beholden to advertisers.
I remember in the 80s when some romance publishers began sticking advertisements in the middle of their category romances. Often, the ads were for more romance books. These were very safe and effective bets, and are the best kind of advertising: readers want to know where to get more, and publishers want to provide that service. But I think some of the advertisements were for cigarettes and other non-book items, and it was distinctly jarring to come across one in the midst of a passionate love scene. The end of page 103 would go, “He gently stroked her silken thigh, coming closer and –” INSERT PORCELAIN COLLECTABLE AD HERE “—closer to the promised land of her essential womanhood.” Pant, pant.
Maybe it didn’t quite happen like that. I’m in a mercenary mood today and thinking, “I don’t get paid enough to go back and google that.” Which is true, since I get paid zero to do these blogs. None of us get paid. We are part of the thorn in the side for paid writers, in that we provide free content about writing. I can’t speak for all the ladies, but in theory, I’m doing this to build goodwill with potential readers, and a name for future googling.
Because I’m doing this for reputation, I usually will go back and google facts that I’m unsure about, and correct as necessary. But reading about how writers get paid just skews my mindset. I’m in a very different place as a writer when I’m doing it for the money.
And if I’m going to be honest, the other fact that keeps me from going back and googling is that the deadline has made that pleasant whooshing sound over my head. My blog post is late. There are no consequences here for a late blog except for a vague feeling of guilt and a blow to the kneecaps of self-esteem. I read a quote this week by somebody who said something like, “The key to making anything great is to have a plan, and not quite enough time.” Oh, I wish that were true!
But the day job has been crazy and draining this week, and all my imagination has gone into vocabulary worksheets and trying to cram three years of material into one for my students who are entering the new era of English in Japan. Again, money. I sometimes wish I could quit and write full time. But I like having a real paycheck, humble as it may be.
What all this contemplating has done, though, is confirmed my suspicion that for me, art and commerce need to be kept in separate boxes. It just does me no good to think about money while I’m writing, and I’m pretty sure when I move into marketing and publishing, I better not try to get cutesy and writerly.
Chaucer managed to combine a government career with writing; I’d do better to emulate him.