The Writer’s Life…
January 9, 2004|Posted in: Uncategorized
…is never done. Want to be a writer? First, find something to write about. Then write it. Get published. Get famous. Voila! Oops. I forgot the part about getting rich.
I recently went to see a financial consultant, a local guy who was pleasant to chat with and very easy on the eyes. It was kind of funny because I am the word gal, or word nerd, as I sometimes call it, and he was the numbers guy. And I could not get the numbers straight, no matter what. The idea is that I get some money (I’m selling my old house — yeah, to live off the proceeds) and Smart Guy helps me decide what to do with it. I kept making mathematical errors, like when he said I could save $25 a month in a retirement fund, and I enthusiastically agreed, saying, “Yeah, and after a year I’d have $500.” He chuckled and said, “Well, actually you’d have $300.” And so on. I even wrote the wrong date on the forms.
But the funny part was when he asked me about retirement. “When do you think you’ll retire?” he says. “What do you mean by retire?” I say. “Stop working and live off your savings,” he says. “Well, I’m a writer. I’ll always write, as long as I can hold a pencil,” I say. “And as for living off my savings, well, I’m doing that now!” He looks completely aghast. “Hey,” I say. “I must be retired!”
Needless to say, he was only slightly amused.
So here’s the thing. About money, I mean. I am the editor of a weekly newspaper, circulation 19,600 per week (www.alamedasun.com). I am also the author of a novel, published by a very small press, same company as the paper (check out the novel at www.amazon.com). I have also published myriad other freelance feature stories, short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, newsletters, PR, advertorial, menus, not to mention academic work. My work has been reviewed in the press and online and I have been featured as a writer in several articles. I have read my academic work at a university conference on literature in England, read my poetry in a pub in Glasgow, done a small book tour, taught writing classes for adults, taught poetry to children from kindergarten through high school, and am getting ready to start a literary zine.
Is this the writer’s life or what? And there is so much more to come. I am more excited about it every day. Would you, O Fledgling Writer, consider that a writing success? But the grisly fact is that little to none of this has garnered me the filthy lucre that I need to survive.
Poetry: my life earnings on this, from free verse to haiku to anthologies, is about $10, plus a stack of contributor’s copies.
Academic work: zero, but I did get to travel, and part of that was picked up by Cal State Hayward. Can’t complain there.
Freelance: Never got a lot for this. Usually in the range of $25 to $75 for stories. As a stay-at-home mom this made for some great Christmas money or mad money, and it even made enough to take that trip to Scotland. But enough to live on? Nope. At the top of my freelancing (albeit with three kids at home) I was making about $6,000 per year.
Reviews/Essays: Ah-ha. This is where the big bux is. Reviews start in the $100 range and go up (or down, depending on the publication). And essays can make the really big dough: $500 per at some sites. But writing essays is not like writing a grocery list. A well-written essay can take some time to do, and if at the end you’ve made even $100 an hour, you still can’t just crank them out. They cost the soul something, too. One needs time to recuperate, I think, after gut-spilling in an essay. Still, the money is out there.
The novel? Well, I did not get an advance, and so far have earned about $200 in royalties over six months. I have also made about that much in out-of-my-trunk book sales. On the other hand, several places where I placed the book on consignment actually lost me money (I got the books at a 45% discount and only earned 30% back, so it cost me a buck or two per book sold — nice, huh?). Then there is the cost of printing the publicity postcards, buying the mailing labels and materials for press kits (I am my own publicist), postage (ouch), and travel expenses for publicity. Those expenses have run into the $2,500 range so far. So you can see how far ahead financially becoming an author has taken me.
Editor of the newspaper? Hey, this year we earned an average of $1,000 per month, an improvement over the $8K I earned at it last year. So for the plush job of Editrix, I have just broken $20K over two years. How’s that for dream job? How did I afford it? Part-time jobs, including teaching at the adult school at night, freelancing a newsletter, becoming a human guinea pig for a research project at a local hospital, cashing in life insurance policies, a retirement account, some stock that I’d bought a while back, and child support. The teaching and workshops earned me maybe another thousand over the past year. The research project wasn’t bad — that was a good $1,800 to have needles stuck into me, having to sleep overnight while being monitored and videotaped, and taking nasty horse pills for three months. I recently passed on the same option again because I couldn’t bear it. No more needles, please.
So in other words, it doesn’t exactly pay to be a writer.
But give up all this for some slag job in some mindless corporation? Been there, done that, and sorry, but the endless meetings run by illiterate morons and the lackeys, flunkies and monkeys who ran the rest of the show were just not enough to tempt me — not even for health benefits and a 401k plan.
Note to Aspiring Writers: Are you sure this is what you want to do?
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.