With so many writers trying to make a living writing, why aren’t more writers talking about money?
Manjula Martin seeks to break the silence with her new anthology, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, which was published by Simon & Schuster in January. The book features writers such as Cheryl Strayed, Jennifer Weiner, Nick Hornby and Jonathan Franzen reflecting on money and writing.
Martin also writes a newsletter, and she edited and published a digital magazine about writing and money — also called Scratch — from 2013-2015.
We asked her a few questions about her new book, writing, money, and of course, how much she made writing Scratch.
The Write Life (TWL): Could you tell us a little about how you selected the authors for the book and put the book together?
Manjula Martin: I had so much fun asking these amazing writers to work with me on the book.
Mostly, I asked people whose work I admired — some people who I knew and some who I didn’t. I did some reporting, tracking down authors’ addresses and asking acquaintances for contact info, and cold-asking people to be in the book. With people like Jennifer Weiner and Susan Orlean, I’d never met them before but they were very generous with their time and talent.
With some folks, I assigned them a topic — Colin Dickey was the perfect person to write on the history of writers being paid, and I asked him to do so. Other folks, like Sarah Smarsh and Jennifer Weiner, came to it with a very clear sense of what they wanted to talk about within this larger topic.
It helped to have done Scratch magazine, which a few of the contributors had followed.
TWL: Why did you divide the book into the three sections you did? Do you find those three phases define a writer’s life?
MM: The sections in the book—“Early Days,” “The Daily Grind,” and “Someday”—came about after a lengthy process of looking at all the different essays and interviews and deciding what connected them thematically.
It wasn’t something I set out to do from the start; I prefer, when editing, to let the content dictate the form.
TWL: We’re fascinated by this line from the book’s description: “You should never quit your day job, but your ultimate goal should be to quit your day job.” Can you elaborate on what this means and why there is so much confusion and controversy around making a career as a writer?
MM: There’s a lot of mixed messaging out there for writers. The “day job” binary is one such message; another is the “MFA or not” argument.
Scratch is about telling all types of truths, and so I encouraged writers in this book to get away from platitudes and get to the real, complicated heart of their relationships with money and the publishing business.
There’s a lot of confusion because creative work is not work that fits easily into the types of pay scales other careers have. It’s not work that’s necessarily valued in the same way by our culture or our economy. And writers come to this work from vastly different economic situations. We’re not all the same, so why should the answers to our questions be the same?
TWL: Why do you think money is rarely discussed by writers?
MM: We actually do discuss it, a lot, but in whispered tones, as though it’s a mystery or a secret.
What Scratch is interested in is opening that discussion and making it louder and clearer.
TWL: Why do you think it’s important for writers to discuss money?
MM: Any person who does a job should understand how that job works—what it pays, what it costs, and what the benefits are. Writers are no different.
It can also be an incredible way to build a sense of collectivity. This is a job that is often lonely and writers are often in different places and situations—there’s no common “workplace.” So, by talking to each other about money, we can get a better sense of what’s going on in our field and what we should be asking for or fighting for.
Information is power, as the saying goes.
TWL: Could you tell us a little about the digital Scratch Magazine? Why did it close?
MM: Scratch was an online journal about writers and money offering practical information as well as personal stories from writers of all genres. It was a subscription-based publication, which meant that people paid an annual fee to access to website.
The book is a way of continuing that work, and also making available a few of the best pieces from the magazine, now that it’s out of “print”.
TWL: What take-away message do you want writers to get from Scratch?
MM: I hope writers can find a sense of community and solidarity in the book. I hope they can understand a bit more about how the profession works.
And I hope they understand a bit more about how commerce affects not just the bottom line, but our work and our attitudes and our lives. I think it would be rad if writers were able to be more active in demanding better options for making a living.
Curious about exactly how much Manjula made writing her book?
Manjula shares all the financial details of Scratch on her website.
While a $30,000 advance seems like a lot of money, Manjula describes where all that money went, from agent fees to taxes, subcontractors and financing her own book tour. At the end, she was left with a lot less than you might imagine.
Do you plan to read Scratch? Let us know in the comments below.
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