Writing and Money: An Interview With Scratch Author Manjula Martin

Writing and Money: An Interview With Scratch Author Manjula Martin

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.

I’ve spoken about its closure here and here; long story short, it didn’t make enough money to sustain itself!

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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Filed Under: Freelancing


  • 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.. this is great!

  • Tom Bentley says:

    I found the range of conversations and money topics in Scratch fascinating—it goes both deep and peculiar in the breadth and oddities of making a living writing. I make money editing, writing business copy, travel articles and a piddling amount from fiction, and Scratch touches on the vagaries of those kinds of incomes and so much more. Great book!

  • Lisa K says:

    I do plan to read the book and just requested it from my local library. I am in the final stages of a non-fiction book (I am writing the memoir of someone else) and I really feel out in the woods regarding the publishing/agent process. I feel Ms Martin will hit on what I need to learn.

  • It’s is very usefull! Thanks

  • Marcie says:

    Sounds like a great book! I’ve put it on my list! Thanks.

  • I definitely plan to read it. I agree that writers are far too shy around the topic of pay. Even with close friends I feel like no one wants to talk about it. I hear the phrase “a respectable amount” and I’m just dying to ask, but I figure if they wanted to tell me they wouldn’t go through the trouble of masking it. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  • I have a plan for supporting myself while I write. Whether it will “work” remains to be seen.

    Instead of writing for businesses, nonprofits, or news periodicals I plan on testing websites for money. Because a LOT of people try this the competition is keen. My plan is to sign up with 4 or 5 agencies and keep checking these sites for jobs between working on fiction/other books and marketing these works.

    The pay is good. 30$ an hour. So if I’m able to work 10 hours a week on websites I will consider myself solvent. (I live alone, am childless, my student loans are paid, and I owe no mortgage or debt.)

    Since I write 1,000-1,500 words a day–not counting marketing efforts–I hope website testing will provide a change of pace I couldn’t get from journalism or copy writing.

  • Excellent post!

    The thing is that nowadays people want to get something valuable and for free. Nobody appreciates that someone should have put a lot of effort to find and synthesize huge amounts of information and provide in an easy-to-digest form.

    “Scratch” gives deep insights about the world of writing. The interviews with notable authors contribute a lot to making this a worthwhile source of information, because it gives away advice gained from first-hand experience. Also readers are introduced to different options for professional improvement in the writing field.
    I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but when I do, I will definitely re-read it later.

    Thanks, again. Keep up the great work!

  • I do plan to read Scratch, with seasoned hopes to learn something new.
    One of my rules is that time is money. Most of the advice about establishing a “platform” will not bring in money — good writing will, and that takes a lot of time.

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