Monday, May 19, 2008

Writing for a living

From Asoboo - Japan Fiction Writer's Forum

Barbara asked me over the weekend: "How is the writing as a way of making money going for you? I am always curious about that."

It's probably one of those things that writers don't talk about to each other - the money that they make (or more to the point, that they don't). It's estimated that the average Australian writer makes $10,000 a year. I'm guessing though that the average Australian writer doesn't receive $10,000 a year. I expect (having done university standard statistics!) that there are a few writers at the top making some money and it's averaged across the rest of us. In reality, I would be stoked if I made $10,000 this year from writing, but its unlikely?

To date this year I've been paid $45.00 - from the sale of 'Demon Lover'! Don't spend it all at once, my mother would have said once upon a time, in jest. The cheque is still pinned to my noticeboard ... I really must remember to put it in the bank. Obviously I'm not spending it all at once! I have numerous articles either published or about to be in a variety of newsletters and magazines, but like so many of us - its for the love of it, no money will exchange hands for these. It's all about getting published, getting the exposure - we've all told that to ourselves and to those close to us.

For me I find it hard to value myself as a writer, to value the time that's put into writing (and thus make time for it), when there is no monetary return. Don't get me wrong, I'm not interested in making lots of money, I'm not in it purely for the money - it's simply that I'm finally learning that everything has a price, everything has a monetary value and at the moment my writing has very little. We equate something with little value as being worthless - and that's the irony. I don't believe that my writing is worthless. I know that I have the ability to move people, push them in places that they may not want to go ... make them laugh, cry, applaude, hate! I believe my work is most definitley worthy - though my bank balance makes a liar out of me. I'm certain that I am not the only one who feels this way.

Recently I was asked to do some editorial consulting - and I had no idea what to charge. The three years I was at the helm of Down to Birth, it was as a volunteer, it was for the love of it. My friend Catherine, who I was having lunch with, told me that once I began to feel uncomfortable with the dollar amount in my head, I was getting close to my true worth.

But there is very little chance for us as writers to set our price, to feel the discomfort of getting close to our monetary worth. We feel grateful for whatever money gets tossed our way - it's like feeding scraps to stray dogs. Our currency is the glowing comments that we receive ... but it's not dollars in the bank at the end of the day - a collection of wonderful comments wont allow you to give up your day job.

Even if you do strike a big publishing deal - it will be the publishing house that makes all the money - and again, they'll just throw you the scraps ... I don't think as writers we should feel thankful about 10% and 15%s ... after all WE WERE THE ONES THE CREATED IT, in the first place. It is our blood, sweat and tears, the time we've spent away from family and friends. Is that really all we're worth? And like my cheque for Demon Lover - I was ecstatic about $45.00 because it meant something. But is my story only worth $45.00 fee (the standard fee for the short stories they publish.) It's like letting off fire works only to discover they're pissweak, made in China, firelights that go bang really loudly but that's it.

In doing some internet research, I discovered that of the short fiction that is available on the internet - it is no surprise that 99.9% of it is FREE! On blogs, on dedicated fiction sites, as adjuncts to other websites ... I guess that I should feel rather priviledged that Getting Hitched, the site that published my Demon Lover, actually offered to pay for it and followed throug with a cheque!

Occassionally I would like an easy and simple avenue for my work to be published - somewhere my value as a writer is honoured. It's one of those double bind situations, most editors want to see that you've already been published, want some type of guarantee as to your saleability before they take you on board. What if you're still unpublished? What if you haven't manage to find that niche for your writing? And there's the time factor. When you're already hard pressed to find the time to write ... there's editing and then the whole process of submitting work and waiting.

I'm a full time Mum and in days gone by, I would have called myself lazy for the fact that I dont go after the publishing opportunities that may exist out there. The fact is, that after I have written something, I simply file it away. I am busy, not lazy ... all these steps in writing take time and now perhaps I'm overtly focused on the creation side. There is a sizeable back catalogue of work accumulating there, waiting for me to remember that it's there and to do something with it. Perhaps finally I've worked out what to do with it.

There is a saying 'When the going get's tough, the tough getting going' ... but I'm pretty sure it should actually read 'When the going get's touch, the tough get creative'. Watch this space for more ... but until then, what are your thoughts on being paid for your writing?

  • Do you believe that short fiction should be available free on the internet or do you believe this undermines the true value of it?
  • How would you feel about being PAID to have your writing on the internet rather than offering it up for free?
  • Who pays to publish short fiction online?
  • Does the mere suggestion of being paid for your writing amp up the cringe factor in your mind? Or is being paid the first milestone to feeling like you are a 'real' writer?


b said...

Thank you for the answer. Writing fiction is what I do best, or at least i think so. But being published anywhere or even having someone give me an HONEST opinion would help. The answer I think is out there. I do know that if I want to get paid, I need to submit it to someone that pays and not publish those things online for free.

Oh, by the way, I don't have a "cringe" least not yet.:)


Rebecca said...

I want to write. I realize that I have to do it for myself first. I've never been good at fiction, so I have a lot to learn. I think fiction is free on the internet because people want to share their writing. We write to share it. And there isn't a market for everyone's writing. If someone wants to pay me for my writing, then I'd think I've come some where: others have assigned value as well. I would feel being paid for my writing would make me a "real" writer. That means someone else values my writing too.

I'm not sure what the "cringe factor" is you're referring to.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Rebecca - you are so right. We have to firstly write for ourselves or else we're charlatans. If I didn't enjoy it (all the other things aside) I'd stop doing it. The moments are rare when I sit down to write, that I don't feel a rush of adrenalin. Then the world closes in around me ...and I'm transported wherever my story is taking me.

I think if I were only writing for the money then the inspiration and the creativity would dry up - Julia Cameron talks about that in The Artist Way.

I guess what I'm talking about is taking it to the next level ... when you've been writing for a while and you want the recognition that comes with being published and with being paid. I was saying to my partner today ... that because the opportunities seem so limited writers (and other artists too) are grateful for any money that comes their way. It's just a shame that more money doesn't come their way - regularly and of a decent amount.

The cringe factor I was talking about, is the feeling that happens when you get used to doing something for free and then the moment arises when someone asks you 'how much'? I've been doing volunteer work for so long that when I was asked 'how much' I was almost embarrassed at the idea of taking money for my editing skills. Or maybe that's just me and certain aspects of my skill base/personality.

There was no shyness I have to admit about getting my first cheque.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Barb -if you dont have a cringe factor - I dont think you'll get it - though as I said above, I think that if you give stuff away for too long, you forget that there should be value attached to everything.

Honest opinnions always help ... honesty is often in short supply. I'm getting to now enough writers now through Write Stuff that I feel I can speak up if I see something that's awry - and hope that others would do the same.

I always have this terrible anticipation of 'pjd' visiting to read my work - because he's always honest ... and you've got to tkae the good with the 'bad'. It's a double edged sword that you just have to have!

Paul said...

I like getting comments from pjd! Because I know that when he says I've done well he's right, and if I haven't he isn't going to sugar coat it for me - which is why he's on the list of people I want to cast an eye over my first draft, because I know he won't let me get away with anything substandard!

Jodi Cleghorn said...

I'm writing in my little green book now - 'blog about honesty and criticism in writing' ... that was what I had in mind to write until I got to the computer and completely and utterly forgot about it.

And you summed it up nicely about pjd .. he doesn't sugar coat it. I'm trying to exercise my honesty a little more. I was terrible as an editor because I NEVER rejected anything - not that I had a plethora of writing at my disposal - but I am learning quickly to be a rather discerning eye for writing and know where my strengths lie (see the same type of comments and suggestions coming up in my writing circle!)

Now Paul - to answer the other bigger questions on here??

Paul said...

And in answer to the questions...

* Do you believe that short fiction should be available free on the internet or do you believe this undermines the true value of it?

I believe there is a place for free short fiction on the internet, as a means of self-promotion (just as there is a place for free music). However, if fiction is to improve, then those writing the fiction have to feel there is a value to what they are doing, and remuneration needs to come into it. Not all fiction should be free, otherwise the best voices will eventually stop doing it.

* How would you feel about being PAID to have your writing on the internet rather than offering it up for free?

I would be absolutely delighted - just because you do something that you love, doesn't mean you would turn down the chance to be paid for your efforts. The image of the "pure artist" who spurns commercialisation is a fiction. Van Gogh is often seen as an embodiment of this, yet we forget he was desperate to sell any of his paintings. The Impressionists wanted to sell just as much as they wanted to change the art world. I would continue to do what I do, but if I could also be paid to do it, then that would be wonderful.

* Who pays to publish short fiction online?

No-one I can think of. Some of the bigger bookstores have begune selling e-books of their paper stock, but none as far as I'm aware sell short fiction.

* Does the mere suggestion of being paid for your writing amp up the cringe factor in your mind? Or is being paid the first milestone to feeling like you are a 'real' writer?

The prospect of being paid doesn't make me cringe, but trying to set the amount would ramp up the cringe factor! The prospect of getting paid would also make me fret more about the quality. I would see it as a milestone however. The fact that someone not only wants to read what I have to say, but is willing to lay down money in order to do so makes the writing have more value than simply the intrinsic self-value of being the fruits of your imagination.

Hope that answers your questions!

Tricksy Pixie said...

I'm quite a neophyte in the literary world- I'm not published, I don't try to be published, and I keep my writing more or less to myself. But I still have a secret wish that one day I'll be able to share what I write with the world. I've always reserved for myself the reality that I won't make much money off what I write; and that's fine. Starving artist suits me :) "Cringe factor" means something to me that I think is a little different than my meaning... for me it's the fear of taking something I LOVE and turning it into an obligation with deadlines. Writing is an emotional and mental release to me, and if I suddenly stamped it with contracts or the idea of editors changing what I wrote... I'd feel like I sold out. I've written a couple short fiction pieces that teachers and peers have urged me to send to magazines. I never did because it feels like cutting out a piece of my heart and giving it to a stranger. I wonder if that part gets easier? ((Or maybe I am far too emotional about my writing, which is very possible!!!))

d sinclair said...

nice post Jodi - some important issues here..

I made money out of writing press releases and web pages and the occasional article and loved gettting paid for writing - but I didn't love the writing so much as I loved being a writer who got paid.

Now I love my writing and don't get paid, but I figure that this is a development stage.

There are lots of grants available to writers, through various Arts Councils. Worth googling and having a look.

Especially if, say, you have a first draft of a book and need resources to see you through to the next stage... JODI.

:) d