Nick Ripatrazone writes “On Getting Paid: Literary Magazines and Remuneration” over at The Millions. He doesn’t say very many new things about making a living as a writer, or about the struggles of a literary magazines and a larger system that is not financially sustainable, but there were a few choice quotes, especially in the comments. Allow me to be your summarizer and highlight what was awesome, in case you didn’t get a chance to read:
- David Lynn (of The Kenyon Review): “Many authors today hold academic positions… promotion in the academy often depends on generating vitae with lists of publications that otherwise have earned them little beyond the price of a meal or two…”
- From “John” in the comments: “Only on rare occasions do my individual poems ‘make’ money, and when they do, it’s usually $30-$60 that I receive 3-6 months after publication. In other words, it has little impact on my lifestyle, but a huge one on my confidence…One payment of $30 could help offset costs of printing paper, envelopes, and stamps. An additional $30 would buy me a printer ink cartridge. It sounds frivolous but these expenses add up. If 2-5 poems published a year brought in on the average of $50 a piece, I would probably use that money to fund book contest fees (which are high), thus the money would be recirculated within the industry…”
- Comment from Roxane Gay (awesome contributor to HTMLGIANT, among other things): “Part of the problem is saturation. There are 2,800 literary magazines because there are too many people who want to be an editor instead of a member of an editorial team. There are too many people who think, ‘I have a literary vision that must be shared with the world,’ and not enough people who find ways to get involved with existing magazines…Magazines, even small ones, receive 8,000-15,000 or more submissions a year because writers would rather be published than subscribe to those same magazines. We have somehow spawned an environment where we equate publication rather than subscription with participation in literary culture because there are so many magazines and it is so easy to get published.
- Nick Mamatas: “The comments about editorial imagination are spot on. People can huff all they like that editors do try—but clearly the overwhelming majority of them don’t. That’s why there are endless identical-looking print journals out there, often named _____ Review. The few exceptions: McSweeney’s, Black Clock, etc. look different, feel different, and have a different quality of reading experience. And they likely are more financially stable.
I started a fiction magazine when I was in undergrad getting a creative writing degree. Now that same magazine supports me financially and I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard of it. It’s called eFiction and it is strictly a non-literary magazine.
When the reading masses hear literary, they think school. And for them, school was boring. Which is, for the most part, true. The realism of literature cannot compare to the majesty of Harry Potter or the excitement a slick spy novel–it just can’t.
The problem with moving literary magazines to digital is that their readership is not in the digital space. The people who read literary magazines are older and less tech savvy. It makes no sense to produce beautiful digital literature for such a tiny audience.
As much as it hurts to say, we live in a time of Twilight and The Hunger Games right now. That’s what people want.
I run a business, first and foremost. To that end, I do market research. I see what is selling and what people are reading and I give them more of that. I don’t have a literary agenda. I don’t care about the literary merit of my stories. I care about my subscriber numbers increasing month to month. The artistry and intellectualism comes second.
Go ahead and call my magazine genre or ill-refined. At the end of the day, I’m a 22 year old kid and I’m outselling 90% of other magazines by myself. Other magazines that have been around for decades (I started mine two years ago) have been trying to sell the same style stories to the same people. They don’t want it. And they wonder why lit mags are struggling…
Soon, I will be offering my writers a royalty payment, rather than a flat fee that everyone else is doing. And it is so obvious that this is the correct route to go, yet no one else does it. I will split royalties evenly between contributors for sales of the back issues for the first year that it is available (any longer and I might have a aneurysm from doing accounting work). It is fair for the magazine, and it is fair for the writers. Everybody wins and everybody gets paid.
Give the people what they want.