December 4, 2012
A freelance author empty wallet show and tell
by Dustin Kurtz
Who Pays Writers?, a days-old tumblr, is already making waves in literary online circles. The site is simple in design, gentle even — a white field with gray text, no images. The concept should be simple, too. In the words of the site’s creator, writer Manjula Martin, the blog is
A place to list whether, and how much, magazines and websites pay their writers. We’ll post ‘em as you report ‘em. Intended to be informational, not judgmental.
And yet strangely, the site feels revolutionary.
There is no real reason the rates paid by magazines and websites — and the markets being submitted run the gamut from new web-only upstarts like The New Inquiry to your favorite rumor-mills like Gawker to old stalwarts like Granta or The Nation — shouldn’t be public knowledge. They are compiled every year, for instance, in books like The Writer’s Market.
But our strange cultural taboo about talking money and what we earn is, if anything, stronger among authors. In part this is because fortune is so very changeable for freelance authors — most authors have friends equally as talented who make Croesus-shocking amounts more or less than what they do for quite similar work. In part it’s from embarrassment before the eyes of the world that the sentences that cause authors such physical torment are, in the end, apparently worth so very little. In part — and Martin references this when she says that the blog is not meant to pass judgement — 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.
The pay rates submitted to the site range widely depending on the author and the type of piece being written, but nevertheless Who Pays Writers would already seem to be a pretty invaluable tool. It’s chief lesson has to be simply to ask to be paid at all, not to be ashamed about it, and even to be brave enough to ask for more than what is initially offered.
More than one magazine or site listed seem only to pay those that request it. As the old adage goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the laughably small but nevertheless very welcome check.”
Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.