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The Other Side Speaks

Lit people have taken on the pay rate flap in this piece by Roxane Gay on The Big Other.

Gay considers the difficulty of offering payment:

There are three primary means of raising the money to pay writers that don’t make me uncomfortable–via advertising sales and subscriptions, via grant funding or donations, or by subsidizing expenses with your own money. As a print magazine, advertising sales (theoretically) and subscriptions account for a significant portion of the money we use to print each annual issue. It would not be sustainable for us to direct those funds toward paying writers who currently receive a copy of the issue in which their work appears as an honorarium. Grant funding, particularly for very small magazines, is very hard to get. We write grants and try our best but grant money is always soft money and as such it is also not a sustainable option. We have never received a donation but we do believe in fairy tales. Subsidizing the magazine with personal funds, which is what most independent publishers do, is as realistic as a given publisher can afford but if you are not independently wealthy, this option, lest I sound like a broken record, is not sustainable.


And also how payment is not part of her outlook as a writer:

As a writer I must confess I am always shocked when a literary magazine pays me for my writing. It makes me feel uncomfortable, so accustomed have I become to writing for free and sometimes not even for contributor copies. What does it say about the state of literary creation that compensation has become entirely foreign and as elusive as a mythical creature?


Gay's post is thoughtful, although I disagree with parts of it -- an awful lot of genre magazines with small circulations face the same barriers toward paying authors, and yet manage to produce token or per-word rates. I'd rather see her frame the post in terms of choices rather than possibilities. Her enterprise opts for different emphases, which is a legitimate decision, but not a statement of what's possible.

Some of the comments, however, are naive to the point of being amusing. Old canards raise their heads. Business is the opposite of art, and we should be Real Artists! Writers not only don't get paid, but shouldn't get paid! Or maybe they should, but only in a mythical reality where the public values literature more -- though there's no discussion that perhaps this can be achieved through writers agitating or even being vocal about pay rates.

As a lit writer friend of mine, Tim Jones-Yelvington, said in response to the thread:

I mean -- I'm all for decoupling the meeting of my material needs from creative labor (same for activist labor) if it is what seems necessary to create my strongest work (and in the case of activism, what seems best for social movements I support, as there is a trap in organizing for your job instead of for social change), but let's please not romanticize poverty or the devaluation of artistic labor.


I've written before that the lit community has different attitudes toward payment and prestige and that writers should account for those when they're thinking about the value of a sale and whether or not they are being exploited by a magazine. A "for the love" sale has different meaning in the lit community than it does in the speculative one. But that doesn't mean that these attitudes should remain unquestioned, let alone be romanticized.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
unrealfred
Jan. 18th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
Money shouldn't be a writer's prime concern, I'll agree -- not least because there are a lot of better, more consistent ways of making it -- but it's hard work, and it should be paid for.

By the by, the link doesn't work. There's an "a herf" instead of "a href" that's messing it up.

http://bigother.com/2010/01/17/what-is-your-writing-worth
rachel_swirsky
Jan. 18th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Fred. I've fixed the HTML.

The conversation got sillier after I posted this.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 20th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
Hi Rachel,

Thanks for all of your contributions to the discussion.

You write:
"I've written before that the lit community has different attitudes toward payment and prestige and that writers should account for those when they're thinking about the value of a sale and whether or not they are being exploited by a magazine. A "for the love" sale has different meaning in the lit community than it does in the speculative one. But that doesn't mean that these attitudes should remain unquestioned, let alone be romanticized."

Agreed.

I think the notion of "sides" also always should be interrogated. It seems that by titling this post "The Other Side Speaks" that you'd rather see those "sides" reinscribed. But, then again, your tongue is firmly pressed in your cheek.

And why did you think the conversation became "sillier" after you posted your post here?

Thanks,

John
www.johnmadera.com
www.bigother.com
(Anonymous)
Jan. 20th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
"But, then again, your tongue is firmly pressed in your cheek." should read:
But, then again, your tongue might be firmly pressed in your cheek.

Also, why do you call Tim your "lit writer friend of mine"? Does he identify himself as such?
maltesephallcon
Jan. 21st, 2010 05:16 am (UTC)
I think for the purposes of this conversation, calling me a lit writer is fine... I've only submitted to and published in venues I'd identify as publishers of literary fiction.
rachel_swirsky
Jan. 20th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
I was (and am) strongly put off by Cole's comments in that thread.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 20th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
But surely Cole's position wasn't representative of all the comments. And while there were some people saying/implying that a writer who expects remuneration is opportunistic there were still others who expressed that they didn't concern themselves about remuneration while also not faulting others for seeking same. And there were others who saw no contradiction or conflict at all from whatever "camp," self-imposed or otherwise, they came from. I thought the conversation spiraled into all kinds of directions. And it also inspired follow-up posts, like yours and Greg's, and I expect more to come.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 20th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
Hey Rachel,

Sorry for posting anonymously; I'm having trouble with the OpenID option here.

John
rachel_swirsky
Jan. 20th, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
No worries about the open ID problems.

I posted the sillier note between the point where there were about, like, 15 comments, and the point when there were like 30. I think things got more interesting after that, and now there are like a 130 comments, so.
rachel_swirsky
Jan. 20th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
i hear what you're saying about the notion of sides, and yeah, it's probably not helpful. i didnt mean it entirely sincerely, but i wasnt being clearly ironic either. it was the first thing that came to mind; i could have interrogated that.

at the same time, i'm talking as part of a large and complicated alternative conversation (of which those links are only one incomplete thread), which creates a different context, i think.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )