SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: Our guest today is Manjula Martin. She is a writer. She's, well, I'll give you her bio in a second. But the reason I invited her here-- we invited her here-- is that in our workshops, our writing workshops, we're supposed to be thinking only about art for its own sake I suppose, how to improve our art. And we're not really thinking or talking about trying to sell it.
Well, we may be contemplating what it would be like to try to have a writing career, whether that's something that's even possible to do these days. If we do manage to make a living doing it, what should our relationship to money be? Manjula decided to compile this collection of essays, Scratch, which is for sale outside the door-- and in her hand-- writers writing on money. And I don't know how you managed to get such a great bunch of writers, but they're very big names.
I guess they all wanted to--
MANJULA MARTIN: They were excited.
SPEAKER 2: --talk about it.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: Because no one else has the guts to ask them. Some of you were here when I gave a talk a couple years ago where I passed out my tax returns and told you like every penny I made for my entire writing career. I kind of feel like we ought to maybe do that kind of thing a little bit more and sort of de-taboo by discussing money once we're outside the classroom, for all of our own protection when we try to make it as writers, make money that is.
Anyway, so what we'll do is I am going to introduce Manjula. She's going to read a bit from her essay in the book. I will read my essay in the book, which is super short, and then I'll maybe seed the conversation with a question. And then, we'll turn it over to you guys to ask her questions, anything that you want about this subject.
So without further ado, Manjula Martin is the editor of Scratch, Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. She also created the blog, Who Pays Writers, and from 2013 to 2015 was the founding editor of Scratch magazine, and online journal about writers and money. Manjula has written for the Virginia Quarterly Review, Pacific Standard, The Toast-- or Toast [INAUDIBLE]-- and other publications.
She's worked as a copywriter, editor, in nonprofit performing arts, and also in a variety of low-wage service jobs-- as you all either have or will no doubt. She is now the managing editor of Zoetrope-- All Story, the art and fiction magazine published by Francis Ford Coppola, and she was in San Francisco. Please welcome her to Cornell.
MANJULA MARTIN: It's great to be here. Thanks for having me. It's cold here.
SPEAKER 2: Wait, what?
MANJULA MARTIN: I live in California.
SPEAKER 2: Oh.
MANJULA MARTIN: I'm going to read a little bit from my essay in the book, which I think sort of helps. It goes into a little bit sort of how I got curious about this topic and where that curiosity comes from in my own life. Can you all hear me? The essay is called The Best Work in Literature. And this is the first section. It's called "In the Basement." [INAUDIBLE] getting older.
I began as a stock girl at 11 years old. My job was to run up and down the stairs to the basement of my grandmother's housewares store and fetch customer purchases, sets of wine glasses and unassembled wire drawer units mostly. Every summer weekend of 1987, I carried outgoing boxes up the stairs and newly arrived UPS boxes down.
Between laps, I flattened and bundled cardboard, tallied inventory on a clipboard, and filed purchase orders. I worked hard, but nepotism had its privileges. I was paid five bucks an hour in cash under the table, which was a fortune for a kid, and on par with the grownup clerks were making. At the time, California minimum wage was $3.35 an hour.
Even then, I viewed my summer gig as work I would one day leave behind. When I grew up, I was certain I would be a full time artist of some sort. I cycled through the dream jobs of ballerina, actor, rock star, and finally writer. While I was working in the basement, I visualized my future artist's life.
I would have a postindustrial living space with high ceilings in a large city. I'd share it with a cat and a partner, both of whom would adore me but value my independent spirit and leave me alone to work. My work would be popular, yet retain its authenticity. There would be cocktail parties, of course, and ceiling to floor bookshelves.
Above all, I would never have to flatten cardboard boxes again. My family's store was housed in a grand 1910 sandstone building. It was formerly a bank. The basement was cool and dark. It smelled like damp cement and Styrofoam. But to me it was the shadowy secret headquarters of capital.
My grandparents had repurposed the old bank vault as their office. It's original meter-thick door was permanently propped open, like a steel monument to the place's past as a retailer of money. When I delivered my packing slips to the office, I could see an intricate interior system the old locks and gears in the door's cross-section.
Prior to working in the store, I had been enchanted by the mechanics of the cash register, by it's percussive flashes of bells, sliding parts, and coins. But in the basement I realized sales for operations were a facade. The real work of business was happening downstairs. The basement was both the physical and fiscal seat of power in the store.
This was where the money lived. In the heavy lifting that made those wineglasses shine for the yuppie newlyweds upstairs, and even deeper-- behind a steel door as thick as I was tall-- I wondered then if everything I knew and experienced might have a similar duplicity, another thing, a working and sweating mechanism beneath its surface. In the business of literature, the people who mind the store-- from writers, to editors, to tumblers-- often have other jobs too.
For writers and other creators of culture, the day job, a means of income for an artist that is not the production of her art, leaving the definition of art aside for the moment, is viewed as a temporary step on the ladder to artistic success. Many young writers hold the conviction that a day will come when they don't have to do anything but write. When we speak about our work, we mean our writing.
We treat this work with reverence and hold it up as the work that makes us who we are, artists. But beneath the surface of our art is a life largely spent doing other work-- basements shifts, rent gigs, and adjunct positions whose earnings shore up our literary work. Day jobs are a mechanism beneath the business of literature. As such, they don't just pay our bills. They're what we do with most of our lives.
Moving on up. In high school I scored a legit job at the local used book and record store. There I still have to flatten cardboard, but I also shelved pocket books-- sci-fi, fiction, mysteries, and westerns-- in their delineated sections on the basement level of that store. I got my hands on the work of Flannery O'Connor, Emily Dickinson, Joan Didion, and Ann [? Eichsman. ?] And the fantasy of leaving behind my day job grew.
I could see so many potential iterations of myself as a successful writer. I might be the sensitive introvert composing my work in a window seat while watching the light fall-- the cultural critic, always traveling and observing, a notebook and chic sunglasses my most constant companions-- or the continental sensation, breaking literary hearts with every breathless epistolary I penned. Regardless of the details, I was certain I would soon be illuminating the human condition with impeccable prose, while living a life far removed from the drudgery of regular work.
I was 16 and about to graduate by the time a coworker said to me, so what are you going to do? I'd soon be leaving to attend college Back East, but I already had larger ambitions. And I had recently added Kerouac to my roster of role models for better or worse. I don't know, I said, maybe drop out of college, move to New York, become a famous writer by the age of 21.
My coworker, who was a bookseller with two kids, a man who has read and understood all of Proust, Finnegan's Wake, and John Fahey's liner notes-- and an agreeable clerk who was kind and sincere with even the most hostile of customers-- rolled his eyes at me. He handed me a stack of paperbacks and said, yeah right. Don't quit your day job kid. Did I really believe that I would be a bestselling author with a sweet Soho loft by age 21? No.
But I didn't believe I wouldn't be. Any artist who produces work for public consumption must navigate a tenuous balance of ambition and pragmatism. Ambition requires dreaming. Sometimes dreams veer into fantasy. Fantasies, once they take root, are difficult to remove. Weed like, they devour the productive environment around them. They are fertile and robust. But sometimes they flower.
The writing life is one such fantasy. Another is quitting your day job. Both scenarios imply that there is something else, something more for artists around the bend. Freedom, unfettered expression, fame, legend. Take my high school era hero, Emily Dickinson-- hard at work at her little table, free from the bothers of having to earn a living, and an unseen maid hard at work cleaning up after her no doubt. I know it's not real for me, but also, even now I believe in it a little bit.
Recently, I was living the writing life by clicking on a link to 10 writing rules from some canonical author dude on one of the literary websites I frequent when I came across and item about a newly discovered letter by Oscar Wilde. Among a reported 13 pages of advice to a younger writer was Wilde's admonition, secure a steady income. "The best work in literature," he said, "is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread." In other words, don't quit your day job kid.
SPEAKER 2: I feel like the most outlandish of your writerly fantasies is the part where you have a cat that adores you.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. Definitely.
SPEAKER 2: I forgot to mention, by the way--
MANJULA MARTIN: I'm also allergic to cats.
SPEAKER 2: Oh, are you? Yeah.
MANJULA MARTIN: Extra fantastic.
SPEAKER 2: I forgot to mention, even though we put this event together a little late to get it on the banner downstairs, is part of the David and Barbara Zalaznick Reading Series. So these are two alumns who have bankrolled this whole series and are responsible for all the writers that we bring here-- and have endowed the reading from time immemorial.
So you can thank them as well as Manjula. OK, can I borrow that?
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE] open.
SPEAKER 2: Oh, thank you. My contribution is a little different in tone but I think covers a little-- some of the same ground actually, especially the writer fantasies. It's called, Write to Suffer, Publish to Starve.
"I write for my pleasure," Vladimir Nabakov wrote to his publisher-- actually, he probably did it right down the hall-- Maurice Girodias, I think you pronounce it that way, in 1955 in an effort to extract from him the delayed second half of the advance for Lolita. "But," he said, "I publish for money." This beloved quotation serves as a succinct abstract for an aspirational philosophy most writers at least sort of embrace.
We create out art without regard for its extrinsic value. Deep inside our bat cave of rectitude, and only once the work has met our approval as a fully realized expression of our aesthetic ideals, do we issue it into the world in the hope, shruggily expressed through professional intermediaries, that someone might be willing to pay us for it. On the face of it, this philosophy seems unambiguously useful, fiscally pragmatic, and mojo positive.
The work's worth in dollars to publishers and readers is immaterial in this conception of the writer's purpose. Whether we've given a six-figure advance-- industry parlance for $95,000-- for our blue crystal meth art object, or a virtual stack of mildly insulting rejection emails matters not at all. There's writing and there's commerce. And between them stands an impenetrable wall of inestimably thick bulletproof glass.
The writer can make out the agents, and editors, and publicists over there on the other side if she presses her nose to the wall's scratch-less, ungouged, greasy, and slightly bloodstained surface. The wall, its integrity preserving inviolability, bending and scattering light, diffuses and warps their horrifying corporeal forms as they intermingle like eels in a tank, their mouths opening and closing, their chest convulsing with silent laughter, their meaty pink hands coming into direct contact with actual money.
But don't peek. It's not healthy. Indeed, the writer should stand as far from the wall as he can, facing away into the black void of creation where all that can be made out in cigarette-y gloom are the slightly crooked contours of a battered desk, the squat platypussian outline of a mangled typewriter, a minor alp of scribbled upon and balled up paper, and a secondhand pine bookshelf sagging from the weight of every word every other writer has managed to publish since 1439 when your Johannes Gutenberg brought to Europe from the Holy Roman Empire the device that would eventually be employed to transform our profoundest thoughts, emotions, and desires into a form that insects can comfortably nest in, and that doubles in size if you drop it in the tub.
Here's the problem though with the Nabokovian dictum. For most of us, writing is not particularly pleasurable. And publishing does not make us much money. Most writers I know work in a state of perpetual anxiety and self disgust, and regard the products of their labor as profoundly disappointing. I don't wish to embrace the cliche, as pernicious as the one I've so far spent this essay mocking, of the tortured artist, in the self-mythologizing and eye-rollingly hackneyed words of Paul Auster, "bleeding words onto a page."
Writing is not coal mining. It's really a pain in the ass, albeit one that tends to invite psychic distress, especially given the bewilderment with which it is greeted by a writer's loved ones once they realize that one actually does all day while writing, i.e. not much. Maybe a more appropriate rallying cry would be write to suffer, publish to starve. In all honesty, I've quoted that Nabokov line to graduate students hundreds of times. In the hothouse environment of the writing workshop, it's a handy reminder that despite our career ambitions we should focus on the work when we're at work-- and worry about publishing later.
But I'm wary of discouraging students, or any writer really, from developing a relationship with the idea of commerce. The separation of art and commerce, while a noble aim, is in reality an endeavor akin, in the rarefied and impoverished professional universe where writers actually reside, to the separation of smoking and drinking. A nice thought, but yeah, good luck with that.
Besides, commerce is more than money. It was fine for Nabokov to tell his publisher that he published for money. For it was money Nabokov was trying to secure. But money isn't the only reason he published, or that anyone publishes. We publish because we are exhibitionists. We publish to be admired. We published to be part of something that excites us. We publish to feel special, to feel real, to feel brave, to feel afraid.
We publish to evoke emotion in others, to prove Mom wrong. We publish because other people publish, and that's what is done. We publish [INAUDIBLE] talk about publishing to other people who publish. We publish so that we can get contributors' copies, so that we can get a job, so that we can get laid.
We publish for an excuse to go to New York, to have something to flaunt a conferences, to have something to brag about on airplanes. This is all commerce. Our cocktail party banter with other writers is commerce. Our blog posts about books we like or loathe are commerce. Our barroom readings and sub tweets are converse. We parlay our genetic predisposition to language and our hard work developing it into companionship, attention, admiration, criticism.
This is normal, and we all do it. It is the rare serious writer who does not wish to publish. There's only one in recent memory, J.D. Salinger. Certainly, it's possible to regard Salinger as a paragon of literary integrity. He wrote precisely what he wanted for decades and showed it to no one. But the posthumous masterworks we had hoped for have so far failed to materialize.
Perhaps they're forthcoming. Or perhaps they fall farther along the axis of disconnection from reality established by Salinger's last published story, Hapworth 16, 1924, an epistolary novella that appeared in The New Yorker in June 1965, and which, aside from its inalienable lastness, is noteworthy mostly for its tiresome digressions, obscure stylistic flourishes, and twee self-absorption. It's pretty bad. It reads like the work of a man who hates to be read.
Our commerce with the world is not corollary to our art. It is, rather, a vital component of our art, perhaps our art's reason for being. If we regard writing as an act of empathy that presupposes and celebrates the existence of other people, then its commerce with humanity must represent its consummation. The money is just so that we can eat, or keep a roof over our heads. Or, in the pitiful amounts that are typically involved in an exchange between writer and publisher of literary product, a mildly apologetic acknowledgement of labor.
But money isn't the real currency here. The real currency of literary commerce is love. Now, I'm not singing kumbaya to lit biz, saying that we all have to be besties, plump for each on Facebook, and get drunk together at AWP-- though I hope some of you got to do that this weekend. I'm not advocating short stories with happy endings-- although, seriously, try one some time-- or schlock poems about adorable animals.
I'm saying that every writer needs to conceive, develop, and maintain a literary relationship to her family, her country, her community, her peers. A writer ought to be thinking about this, yes, when he sends his work out to be published-- but also when he's writing it, and when he's contemplating writing it. A literary work unconcerned with the desires of its audience is like a thoughtless gift, a crass experiment in social engineering, like the statue of Jesus your pious brought for your atheist front garden and expects a thank you note for.
What the theoretical separation of art and commerce is meant to prevent, of course, is pandering. Good art is not supposed to service the lazy reader. It's supposed to challenge, surprise. It's supposed to change the world. But you aren't going to change the world without loving it first, even if you love it in the most resentful, confused, exasperated imaginable way. Respect the world, even as it pisses you off. Otherwise, you'll produce nothing but [INAUDIBLE] manifestos, bursts of static from your own private yado.
Art and commerce are not separate. They're not even different. Write to suffer, publish to starve, and have the courage to give your work a purpose, to want a future for it, however painful it may be to hope.
So I'll just start by asking you a question about the book itself. As you persuaded people to write essays for it and essays began to come in, did you see thematic and stylistic categories starting to happen? Were you surprised at what people said? Did you expect particular things out of particular writers whose fiction, or poetry, or other nonfiction you know and get something unexpected? And if so, what were some of those surprises?
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. That's a good question. So as I was saying earlier, mostly I found people's email addresses and just sort of cold called them and asked them. Some of the writers I already knew, and some I didn't. And so some people I approached with a specific topic in mind. And some other folks I was just like, whatever you want to write. Let's talk about it.
I should also say, there are interviews in the book as well. There are probably a handful of interviews that I conducted with some of the more prominent authors. Who was surprising? A couple of things I thought were really interesting. So Jennifer Weiner who's a commercial author, she writes commercial women's fiction, and she's very commercially successful. Her essay really surprised me with how sort of like deep, and personal, and dark she got about her childhood issues with money.
And that, I think, really struck a chord because I think at the heart of the weirdness of this conversation about writers and money is just the weirdness of having a conversation about money period. One thing that I really noticed with all these essays is that everybody comes from a different place when it comes to their attitudes, and their issues, and their needs or resources about money. It's really interesting.
There's a journalist in Sarah Smarsh who's in the book. She writes mostly about-- she come from a working class background. She grew up on a farm in Kansas. And she mostly-- most of her work is about class in America. And she basically went into a huge amount of debt to go to Columbia Journalism School and get an MFA. It's an MFA [INAUDIBLE]?
SPEAKER 2: I don't know.
MANJULA MARTIN: Grad school for writing. And I sort of grew up with this idea that like try not to go into debt. If you're going to get an MFA, of any-- just try not to get student loans. And I grew up pretty middle class. And she's saying in her essay that for her going into that kind of crazy that actually was an investment because that was sort of the only way she was going to get out.
And for her taking that financial risk was actually not really that big of a risk compared to the risk of staying, basically, on her farm. So that really surprised me and really sort of changed the way I think about debt. I made really question my own class assumptions and my own privilege and how that could be different for people [INAUDIBLE] different situations.
SPEAKER 2: I feel like what we all-- the fantasy we all have, and I enjoyed hearing about your fantasies of becoming a writer before you were one. There's a couple things about this. One is this idea that we have that success as a writer means financial success. It's usually people who have nothing to do with the writing world who I meet out in the real world who find out that I'm a fairly prolific novelist, and are shocked to realize books that I don't make a living off of it-- just how little money is involved.
And some of you guys I have warned that even if you get a really good book deal-- let's say you make a $100,000 on your first novel, which is a spectacular advance for a first book. Let's assume you can write another book within three years, and then you can sell it for the same amount of money. That's 33 grand a year. You're getting 15% to your agent-- another 15% to taxes because you're not only paying the same tax as everyone else pays-- you paying self-employment tax.
You are basically left with not even a living wage. So even a really successful novelist has to-- let alone genres of writing that naturally make less money than fiction does, you're still going to have to hustle.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah, and I had an interview with Cheryl Strayed in the book, who wrote the book Wild among other things. And she breaks down numbers where she's like--
SPEAKER 2: Oh that's good.
MANJULA MARTIN: --I got-- she got a $400,000 advance for Wild, and a $100,000 of it went to her credit card. She was that deep in credit card debt by the time she sold the book. And then, the rest, she said is was kind of like getting a nice grant every year for four years. Because-- and I don't know if you guys know this. Do you know the way that book advance break down in different installments? Should we talk about that?
SPEAKER 2: Sure. Go ahead.
MANJULA MARTIN: Usually when you get a book deal, you are offered an advance, which is one lump sum, say a $100,000. And then, you don't get it all at once. You usually get a chunk when you sign the contract, which can be either half or a third, depending on what your agent negotiates. And then you get a chunk when you turn in the book. But it's not just when you turn in the book. It's when the book is done.
So it's like after you've turned in the book, and you've edited it with your editor maybe a few times, it's about to go into production. Then you get the check. And then, you get, usually, another installment when it's published. And then sometimes if it's like a novel that comes out in hardcover and then paperback, there's also like a hardcover paperback installments.
And so even if you get a $400,000 advance, you are actually just getting a $100,000 probably about once a year for four years, which is OK. But then, you're paying all these taxes and stuff, so even when you hear like half a million dollar advance, which sounds insane to me-- it's actually what, like a pretty normal marketing manager would make in a major city.
SPEAKER 2: And if you're a marketing manager, you just keep on being a marketing manager, and the keep giving you money. If--
MANJULA MARTIN: Every two weeks--
SPEAKER 2: --you're a writer--
MANJULA MARTIN: --they give you money.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. So yeah, so I think that was something that kind of was amazing that Cheryl was willing to share that stuff. And other people share some of their advance in the book. Like Roxane Gay got a comparatively really low advance for her first couple books. I can't remember the number now, but it was like I think $15,000 or something for her novel. And then, it did really well.
And her next book, she got a little more. But I think, yeah, the fantasy is the sort of regular checks coming in-- is indeed a fantasy, which can be scary. But it's also, I think, really important to understand. And part of what this project is all about is just laying it all out there so that we actually understand how these things work. So that then we know what we're getting into.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah it's like the opposite of death by a thousand cuts. It's life by a thousand drops of medicine maybe. I feel like I'm always waiting for a check. I'm always going to the mailbox thinking, please let the freaking check be here.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.
SPEAKER 2: So that I can go out to dinner this week.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: And there's one check I've been waiting for a year. Someone's owed me $400 for a year. And every day I go to the mailbox thinking, wonder what's in there.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. You know, that said, there are a couple people in the book who are really against the idea of having day jobs. And I think that's really interesting too. They tend to be journalists I should say.
SPEAKER 2: Well, there's a great tradition of writer day job [INAUDIBLE]. Well, we were not just talking about Walt Stevens? We you reading Walt Stevens [INAUDIBLE]. He was an insurance executive.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yes.
SPEAKER 2: You can go to Hartford, Connecticut and take the walk where he used to walk and make up poems on his lunch hour.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: Anyway, we should probably open up the floor to all of your questions. Anything on the subject you want to talk about, feel free to ask.
MANJULA MARTIN: What do you guys want to know?
SPEAKER 3: What do you think of self-publishing? Do you read self-published books?
MANJULA MARTIN: I personally don't read self-published books, mostly because I don't read electronically. And most self-published books are published on Amazon or other electronic outlets. I think self-publishing is great if you are up for it. It's a tremendous amount of work. And so, I know people who are good at self-publishing because they are really good at and also very much enjoy the work of sort of building your own marketing. And doing-- when you self-publish, you have to figure out how to design the book cover yourself.
And you basically do everything. Or you farm everything out. And so, I think that it can be a really successful venture. It seems to work mostly with genre and commercial work right now. And so I'll genre work, but I don't know that that's necessarily-- I don't know that that's necessary. I think it can probably work with anything. But I think you need fan base to self-publish and make money from it.
And you need some initial resources because you need to be able to lay out the money for your basic costs, but it doesn't really cost that much
SPEAKER 2: No. Especially if you sell your soul to Amazon and let them exclusively distribute it. It's fairly straightforward to set up.
MANJULA MARTIN: I mean, that's my other main doubt about self-publishing is sort of like being contained within the Amazon environment seems scary to me.
SPEAKER 2: And the problem is they have the best distribution system out there for both print books and ebooks. So.
MANJULA MARTIN: It is what it is. But I used to run an online magazine also called Scratch. And the woman who I ran it with, her name is Jane Friedman. And she has a really great blog, and it's mostly focused on self-publishing-- really sort of gets into how to do all the different things you need to do to self-publish. I definitely recommend checking that out.
SPEAKER 3: What's the blog called?
MANJULA MARTIN: It's just jfriedman.com.
SPEAKER 4: I was speaking to a young writer. It think she writes self-help books, but she had said she had her manuscript. And she brought to a publisher, and she thought it was good, whatever that means. And the publisher said, how many Twitter followers do you have? She responded, I don't have a Twitter. And they didn't respond back to her.
So my question is, how integral is social media in terms of purveying your work? And then, additionally, if I am publicizing myself, what is the book purveyor doing?
MANJULA MARTIN: Well.
SPEAKER 2: Want me to get that?
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah, you want to go for that?
SPEAKER 2: I have some [INAUDIBLE] about this.
MANJULA MARTIN: I have thought's too, but I think you do.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah. OK. So if a publisher really loves your book, they will acquire it, and they will promote it. And you'll be assigned a publicist, and the publicist will say, are you on social media? What kind of people follow you or are you friends with. Do you know people who write for newspapers? Do you know other writers?
They will send you a questionnaire so they can say, OK, because you know these people you would do well to talk more with other writers on Twitter or Facebook or something. There was a period where publishers kind of wanted you to self-promote a lot on social media. But I think that tends to backfire. You just become insufferable, and people don't want to read your tweets anymore.
I look at Twitter as sort of a separate content stream of-- I mean I'm on it because I like talking all day long. But as it turns out, as a result of that, I've gathered enough followers so when I do post about my career-- like, I have reading coming up in the city-- people will show up and say, oh I so and so from Twitter. It's nice to meet you. Which is great. But it's because I've been publishing for 20 years.
I'm wary of using social media just to promote yourself because I think it starts not only to not do good, it may even start to do ill. What do you think?
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. I agree with that general rule. Well first of all, I think it's slightly different for non-fiction and fiction. [INAUDIBLE] do you want to show more number about your followers and stuff for non-fiction. Because you're supposed to be an expert in that particular topic, so that's one way that they can quantify it.
But I also think that I have gotten a lot of really great career action from Twitter. I also sort of hate it sometimes. And I think it is both things. I think you can't join Twitter just to be like, I'm going to Twitters followed to promote my book, as you said. You can join Twitter to try and have conversations with people and meet other people who are doing similar things to what you're doing, and then sort of create and online community.
I think it can be particularly useful for people who don't live in urban centers, or who maybe are stuck at a desk job all they and want to talk with other artists. It could be really great for-- well, I was going to say, up until fairly recently it has been a really great place for women and people of color, and queer and trans folk. But that has changed dramatically since the election cycle.
And there's a lot of really scary trolling going on right now on Twitter. So I guess what I would say is, in terms of social media, only do the thing that you also like to do. I hate Facebook, so I'm not on it. And I think it has hurt my career not at all.
SPEAKER 2: Same [INAUDIBLE]. I feel exactly the same way about Facebook.
MANJULA MARTIN: And honestly, I think I might quite Twitter after this book tour is done because I'm writing a novel and I need to not be online.
SPEAKER 2: You don't want to think about Donald Trump first thing every single morning?
MANJULA MARTIN: I already do man. It's like there's 30 seconds of not thinking about it, and then you think about it. But I would say generally, choose the things that you are good at and like to do. Don't do Something just because you think you have to do it for your book, or you just because you think you have to do it to sell a book. Because that is not going to work.
I also think there's great value in owning your own domain. People don't really have blogs anymore. But you all should go by yourname.com if you don't already own it. And I think that one thing that makes me nervous about places like Twitter is that it can go away and it can change. And we are not in control of that, even though we are the people who are providing the content for this website.
Twitter is also free labor. Social media is free labor. And for writers, I think that's a really interesting question. We are writing free content, which is our product that we create in the world for these large companies that don't really care about us and aren't really invested in our careers in the same way.
I'm on social media most of the day. I'm not saying I'm going to boycott it because I don't want to do free labor for Jack Dorsey. But it is something to think about in terms of where you're spending your resources, and where you're putting your work, and what the return is for that.
SPEAKER 2: I feel like that a little spur off of that notion we have this probably false sense that there is such a thing as artistic purity and we can achieve it.
MANJULA MARTIN: Oh yeah.
SPEAKER 2: And I feel like everything-- but really, everything is compromised. Everything you do is compromised in some way.
MANJULA MARTIN: It's forever. There's a cool essay in the book actually. Colin Dickey is a non fiction author who writes this essay where he goes back and talks about the ancient Greeks, and the first Greek poet to ask to be paid by the word for his poetry. And everyone thought he was a greedy bastard. And that sort of like-- everyone was like, oh Simonides, he's greedy. I don't know about his poetry. It's not pure.
And so, I think that essay is great because it's just kind of a history lesson. And he talks about notions of the gift economy, and the patronage economy, and that sort of thing-- which you can talk about more if you want. But the idea that's it's actually not that new of a conversation is something that I find to be very comforting because it means that there's no one answer. And so, it means that it's something that writers are always going to be sort of in negotiations about.
You're always going to be sort of figuring out how to toe that line between making a living and doing your work, or being an artist, or being a sell-out, or whatever it is. And that's the nature of the beast.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah, I think that's true. And that's why my essay is sort of written in a goofy over-the-top tone. But it's kind of my point is that-- get out in front of it and have a relationship to that idea. To the idea that all of your art-- that your art does not exist in a vacuum. It is going into a community of people, and the community of people involves at some point as well.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah, and I think that that is ultimately better for the art. I mean I think that the sense that we are writers, and we live in the real world. And I the more that we understand the real world, and engage with the real world, and have empathy about people that we encounter in the real world can only be good for our work.
That said, I do you think there's value in closing yourself in a creative bubble at certain time. Workshops would be one of those times. But just don't get stuck in there.
SPEAKER 2: More questions?
SPEAKER 5: After, say someone gets published, and you had mentioned even published authors have to hustle. Aside from going on the teaching track, what are other ways that published writers make money [INAUDIBLE]?
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE] friend.
MANJULA MARTIN: Just curious. Well, I can speak to my own experience to start with. I have definitely worked crappy service jobs. But I actually have worked as a writer in other capacities. So I have been a copywriter. I've been an editor. I've worked at non-profit companies writing their communications stuff-- their little brochures, and their websites, things like that.
I have done some journalism. I now work as an editor, which is, I guess, somewhat related. And then, I mean there are people, obviously, like the [INAUDIBLE] example. A lot of people have ways of making a living that have nothing to do with their work, their writing work. But I actually think that the idea that a writing degree doesn't actually prepare you for a career is somewhat misleading.
Any sort of good industry needs-- they need the words. So I think a lot of the writers that I speak with are finding ways to use those skills in other contexts. I'm trying to think of who else is in the book.
SPEAKER 2: I feel like I've talked to, especially undergraduates, about this a lot because I know a lot of you guys are English majors. You enjoy being an English major and not thinking so much about graduating. And then when you're getting there, some of your friends who are business majors are going to job fairs, and their getting out of college and they have jobs waiting for them.
The process might be a little slower or looser for English majors. But I think there's always room for people who can clearly communicate in writing. And it's actually, even if it's something that you feel comes naturally to you and it's almost, if you're a major, is almost avocational to you-- you have a skill. And you have been developing it as you've been working on your English major.
And it is valuable. Just if you can kind of think out-- you might be off the-- there's not as much of a well-paved track for you. But the jobs are out there. And you know, if anyone wants to come talk to me, I've had former students I've kept in touch with who are doing all manner of worthwhile things, in which their English major has actually come in handy.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. I also ghost [INAUDIBLE] a memoir for a porn star. So you can do that, which is far less exciting than it sounds. There's a woman in the book named Nina McGlothlin who lives in Boston. And she was a journalist for, I think Phoenix, for and out weekly that closed. But shortly before it closed she got really work out on journalism and was like, screw this. I got to do something else.
And she apprenticed herself to a carpenter, and became a carpenter and wood worker, and then wrote a memoir about it. And so, she had this interesting life going into the trades and then coming back to the literary trades actually through that experience, improving her writing.
SPEAKER 2: I think that's one of the greatest things about being a writer, actually, is that there's nothing you can't pour into it to inform it and improve it.
MANJULA MARTIN: Totally.
SPEAKER 2: All manner of life experiences can come into writing. I also feel, and we've talked about this a little bit, but after your book comes out, your publisher will probably try to get you to write newspaper editorials, or book reviews, or essays, or maybe large [INAUDIBLE] will want a playlist from you. Little bits of nonfiction that are not going to make a lot of money at first. But suddenly you start to have a clip-- what would you call it in journalism terms?
MANJULA MARTIN: Clips.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah, you have a portfolio. You have clips.
MANJULA MARTIN: You used actually cut them out of the magazines. That's why they're called clips.
SPEAKER 2: You see, newspapers-- [INTERPOSING VOICES] newspapers-- Yeah.
MANJULA MARTIN: I have a binder of my clips that I found from the nineties.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah but after a while, if you do it long-- and I think the key is not stopping doing it. If you do it long enough, people will eventually notice. And I write lots of book reviews now, not for a ton of money. But it's a non-negligible amount of money. And it's because, in part, I think because I started for no money in a literary podcast. And then I had a blog with my ex, which we would just write every day, just some random stuff about writing.
And I started writing reviews for a local book newspaper that used published in Ithaca. It's defunct now, but I cut my teeth doing these informal things. And pretty soon people were asking me to write reviews. And then once I published a couple of those, like The Guardian people read the New York Times. And then the London Review of Books people read The Guardian. And now I can kind of get a bunch of that work after 20 years of just being around.
MANJULA MARTIN: Is that writing for exposure.
SPEAKER 2: Is it? Is it?
MANJULA MARTIN: I think that [INAUDIBLE]. I don't know. I'd love to talk about writing for exposure.
SPEAKER 2: There's a great Twitter feed called for exposure actually, which is quotes from jerks to be mad at artists because they asked for money. And this is kind of controversial. I do artists who will not submit to a magazine that won't pay them. My feeling is, sometimes there's a magazine that won't pay me that I really like, and I believe in what they're doing, and I just want to be a part of it.
MANJULA MARTIN: And you have time--
SPEAKER 2: Yes, and I have time.
MANJULA MARTIN: --to be a part of it, if you have time.
SPEAKER 2: If you have time. So yeah, it is true that this, what I've been saying, is so freighted with asterisks and footnotes.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah, I feel not dissimilarly. For me, the line is I like to be paid for my work. So if I feel like something is a job, I would like to be paid for it. And that's a very squishy line, and I can sort of justify anything under that rubric. But for me, that's where that goes. Whereas, if I'm like, oh, I have to do that book review. Oh my god, why did I take that assignment?
That's work, and I want to be paid for it. But if it's something that I'm really excited about doing, maybe it's something that I don't consider to be labor in that way. So that my own personal line. But I also have a salaried job.
And I think that I do meet some young writers who are spending most of their time writing for exposure and can't pay their rent. And I think that it's important to sort figure out your own-- what is your own line for that type of work. And that's the an evolving process, not like you're going to create a rule and then that's it. Things change at different times in your life, in your career.
But I do think that the idea of writing for free can be difficult because some people can't afford to write for free. Some people have limited time and limited resources. And I think that gets into sticky issues around who has access to a writing career.
SPEAKER 2: Sure
MANJULA MARTIN: And so, that's why I generally encourage publications to pay. And that's why I think it's just important to sort of know how publications work and how the money flows in the business, so that we all sort of know what we're looking at and can look at it and say, look, is this working? Is this working for everyone? Who is this working for?
SPEAKER 2: Yeah, never pay a submission fee to a magazine that doesn't pay. I feel that's just that they're ripping you off.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah, that's silly. Don't do that. Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: I will also say one other thing too. Some I know a fair number of people in the writing business who just are rich and have family money.
MANJULA MARTIN: A lot.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah. Because it gives you the time to pursue your creative interest. And if you happen to be one of those people, I do feel like that's a taboo, right? People don't-- sometimes I people where their money comes from. They don't want to say, because it's a rude thing to ask. But some of the people I know who have money, and who come from money, doors just fly open for them.
But they hold them open for other people. They start literary publications and use their resources to give work to other writers. And some writers flourish in the environments they create. So lucky you if you're in that situation. But lend your peers a hand I'd say.
MANJULA MARTIN: Totally. I think that's a great point. Yeah.
SPEAKER 6: So you mentioned a little bit that you worked a lot of covering-- other kind of writing jobs as your day jobs while you were still writing I think. I was working an intern in publishing in the summer. And I found that is was really hard to come home from a day of books to go and write more. So how do you keep up your energy? Or how do you keep going when that's your entire day and it is your night too.
MANJULA MARTIN: It's very hard. And even just physically, your eyes are tired, right, when you're reading all day. But yeah, I've had varied success with that in my career. I've had 400 jobs I think. Some of them all at the same time while freelancing and then others one at a time. For me, I found that when I was trying to really just get started in a writing practice, I actually enjoyed copy writing because it was practice.
I just wrote all day long. And I think that at a certain basic level, just writing all day long is going to make you better at writing. It's practice like you would go play chords on your guitar if you want to get better at playing chords on your guitar. That said, I had a pretty sweet copy writing gig in which I was writing descriptions of plays. So it was very literary, and also very contained, and there was a real format to it.
I worked for a theater company, so it wrote all their brochures and stuff. That's why I enjoy having jobs that are sort of tangentially related to publishing but aren't actually substantive editing or writing. Right now I work for a literary magazine, but I'm the managing editor. So I actually do everything but the editing, which is kind of great. And I'm reading stories that I consider [INAUDIBLE] along with my coworker.
He's the one who's in charge of actually doing the line editing. And I love it because I'm involved, and I'm reading, and I'm doing all those things, but at the end of the day I haven't wasted that part of my brain, not wasted, but I haven't expended that energy. So I think that it can be cool to work in publishing for those reasons. But I also think there's a real truth to if you have a job scooping ice cream in the ice cream shop, you get sick of ice cream.
So I think it's important to just try and find those position where you can sort of keep yourself involved in that world that you want to be in, but not actually be doing the thing that makes you too tired to write at the end of the day.
SPEAKER 2: And trial and error is what--
MANJULA MARTIN: Or teach. What about teaching?
SPEAKER 2: Yeah, well I mean on the one hand teaching is-- I have the best teaching job possible. But it's still-- I don't write much during the semester. It's time consuming. I like that, and it suits me well though and informs my work because the conversations I end up having with you guys in workshop are really interesting to me. Every day it's something new.
The problem isn't the news story. When I was up for tenure I had to give all my syllabi to my fellow faculty. And the scholars were like this is one page. Where is your-- this is your syllabus? And I was like, well, it's just the students giving me the stuff that we talk about. And that's fascinating because it's as much a study of each other's personalities as it is a study of writing itself.
And so, I find that sustaining. And it's good work if you can get it. But you can't get it, unless you have an academic degree, which some of you-- many of you are getting right now-- and you publish a book. And then, you start to be qualified for a job. And so, you've got to write the book
MANJULA MARTIN: [INAUDIBLE] to job.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah You got to make a living while you're writing the book. And for some of you, it might take you 10 years to write a book that you want to write. Which is another thing. Some of us are actually more prolific than others. And that is not a value judgment. It's not correlated with how good the stuff is. It's just the quirks of what you do and how you do it.
So everything is lopsided. It's lopsided according to time spent, your background, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation. There are different roadblocks in place for different kinds of people. I feel like recognizing that, respecting that in other writers, and trying to help your peers navigate it is a big part of being in the community of writers and trying to make money at it.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah, and figuring out what your thing is. I think what you said about that, like you don't write that much during the semester. Is that what you're saying?
SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
MANJULA MARTIN: I think that was really useful to me as I was trying to figure out how to do both things, job and writing, was actually sort of giving up that decade that I spent beating myself up for not writing every single day at 5:00 in the morning or whatever. Some people are really good at 5:00 in the morning writing. I am not one of them.
And so for the magazine that I work for is a quarterly. So there is one month of every three months that is absolutely insane where I'm basically working 80 hours a week. And then there are two months where things are kind of chill. So figuring out the ebb and flow of my own particular job and my own particular needs as a writer has been really important to me where I figured out, oh, I'm not an every day writer.
I'm and all day writer. So I need it one weekend day that's empty. But I can't have that weekend day during that month or whatever. So just negotiating, and it's just-- it's scheduling essentially. But figuring out how you work and then scheduling to that.
SPEAKER 2: I think some of you have heard me rant about writers, usually very successful writers, whose number one bit of advice is, well you just got to put your ass in the chair. It's like, do you think my ass is not already in the chair? Really? Is that your advice? And I think that's a trap that people fall into who naturally are efficient and can get things done.
And they think of that as a virtue instead of-- they think of that as something-- not as-- they think of it as a virtue, something they've worked for, rather than a way that they are. But I think that finding a rhythm where you can do the work, and feel satisfied with it, and not beat yourself up when it's not going well. Because that ends up creating shock waves that when you do have time to do it you start to panic.
You're like not it has to be really good. It's got to be really good because I've got three hours. So.
MANJULA MARTIN: And I also think that extends to behaviors around money and finances as a writer, like figuring out where your strengths and your weaknesses are, and if not overcoming your weaknesses then learning to work around them. I hate Excel and am terrible at it. It's my brain doesn't work that way.
SPEAKER 2: Like Microsoft Excel?
MANJULA MARTIN: Microsoft Excel. I hate charts, and spreadsheets, and anything like that. I guess, I'm a typical liberal arts person in that way. But and I was a freelancer for seven years and had to do my own taxes, which involves tracking your expenses, usually in an Excel document or a Google doc. Some sort of chart form. And I finally, after many years was like, oh, you know what? I'm never going to do this.
I'm not going to get better and do it next quarter. I'm just never going to do it. And I figured out a way to take $200 and pay a friend of mine who is an accountant, a discounted artist rate that she gave me to sit down with my receipts and my bank account once a quarter and just enter it into the Excel sheet, and put it in Quickbooks or whatever magic she does so that I can then use it to do my taxes.
Because that is a weakness of mine. And I finally, at the age of 35, figured out that I was never going to overcome that weakness. And so, I outsourced it. And obviously, to have 200 bucks to do that, which I didn't for many, many years-- but once I did, it was money well spent.
SPEAKER 2: I think that works for creative things too that we have this idea, and it's an American idea too, that if you work hard enough you will succeed. It's the American dream. You pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But there's some things, like you're saying, we're never going to be able to do. And there are other things that we maybe don't realize we could do if we tried to do it.
So I think the process of growing older as an artist, and as a person in the world of writing and publishing, you, by trial and error, learn which things you can excel at. And you try to excel at them.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. Some people are good at the hustle, some are not. They should have regular day jobs. People who are good at the hustle, you could freelance et cetera.
SPEAKER 2: I wish I could say that it all came out in the wash and that in the end we all end up with the same opportunities as everybody else. But it is not so.
MANJULA MARTIN: No, it's not so. It is not a level playing field. But even just acknowledging that I think makes if slightly more level.
SPEAKER 2: Sure.
MANJULA MARTIN: That helps. You guys want to know how anthologies work?
SPEAKER 2: Yeah, sure.
MANJULA MARTIN: You want to talk about the money stuff, or--
SPEAKER 2: No. I'm interested in the subject [INAUDIBLE] anthologies.
MANJULA MARTIN: So anthologies are really interesting because they don't make any money. But I think, as writers, sometimes people are asked to participate in anthologies. So I can speak to how this anthology worked if that something that's interesting to you guys. With nonfiction books, you don't write the book before you get the publishing deal.
You write a proposal for the book. So I wrote a 50-page proposal for this book that include a complete table of contents, including all the people that I wanted to be in the book, many of whom had already tentatively agreed to be in the book-- and a couple sample chapters, and a document that had my marketing-- whatever-- platform they call it on it, including how many Twitters followers I had.
And the way it worked is that my agent sold it to a publisher. And the contract that I have is me and the publisher. So I am the author of Scratch according to Simon & Schuster who is my publisher. And they gave me-- me-- only me-- an advance for this. And in this case they gave me $30,000 which was chunked out into-- which is good I think for an anthology. I don't know.
But I've been told that's good for a first book anthology.
SPEAKER 2: I got paid more for my contribution than I have for almost any other anthology I've ever been in. So I suspect it's pretty good.
MANJULA MARTIN: That's good. I'm glad I wanted that to be the case, obviously, because the topic is-- [INAUDIBLE] really be like, hey, do you want to be in my book about money? I'm not paying you.
SPEAKER 2: I'm paying [INAUDIBLE] copies.
MANJULA MARTIN: Nor did I want to be like that. But I really couldn't. So then, basically, I subcontract with all the authors of the book. So I actually have a contract with you that we signed. And so, I exclusively am responsible to the publisher. And hence, it's my responsibility to pay the contributors. So I got the advance, I parceled it out. I paid people-- it was a range. It was between $1.00 and $400 per essay.
And that depended on whether or not they had written something new just for the book, or it was a reprint of something that they had already published somewhere else, where there are a few reprints in the book. Or it was a reprint that then they ended up extensively rewriting for me-- like Lesley Jameson's piece started out as a book review. And she expanded it substantially into a basically different essay.
And so, it was my responsibility to pay all of those people, which I could write off on my taxes. And then, the other interesting thing about that is that you all don't get royalties. I don't know if you noted that in your contract.
SPEAKER 2: I did not.
MANJULA MARTIN: So read your contracts.
SPEAKER 2: Having been in about a dozen anthologies and never having dreamed of getting a royalty from one, that's fine.
MANJULA MARTIN: Anthologies rarely earn out their advances. Do you guys know about earning out advances? So remember when we were talking about how the publisher gives you a check of money up front? That check of money is essentially just a loan. And it's an advance against future earnings.
SPEAKER 2: You never have to pay it back though.
MANJULA MARTIN: You don't have to pay it back. Yeah. Usually, unless they're really mad at you for something unrelated. It's happened like three times ever. And it usually involves lawyers. But yeah, so they gave me $30,000. And then, I have a royalty rate for this book, right? I forget what it is actually. It's about a buck a book I would earn.
But I don't actually start earning cash money royalties until I have earned $30,000 worth of royalties. And that's $30,000 worth of my share. That's not the book makes $30,000 or sells $30,000 worth. That's the book sells essentially 30,000 books if I make a buck a book. Then I start getting royalty checks. And so, it's very common for books to not earn out their advances. It's actually--
SPEAKER 2: So just giving you context, I've published nine books. I have earned out my advance on two.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: And they are two books I was paid the least for. One is a story collection I think I was paid about $4,000 for, and a novel I was paid $10,000 for. They're both from Grey Wolf, my current publisher. And every six months I get a check for 300 bucks from them.
MANJULA MARTIN: That's great.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah, it is great. Believe me. It sounds pathetic, but it's awesome. [INTERPOSING VOICES] Because it's money that you never expect. You get the advance, and you're like, well, I'm never going to earn that out. But please go on.
MANJULA MARTIN: I heard tell of someone who was offered a very large advance for a first book deal. And he actually negotiated his advance to be lower because he wanted to earn out sooner. And he wanted them, and he got them to commit to putting some chunk of that money toward marketing.
SPEAKER 2: Wow. Did it work out for him?
MANJULA MARTIN: No, the book did not do well.
SPEAKER 2: Take the money and run.
MANJULA MARTIN: So take the money [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, I mean although, as you said, the lower your advance is, the higher your chance of earning out I guess. But anyway, yeah, there is some number as to how many books-- it's like maybe 20% of books earn out. It's not that many.
SPEAKER 2: And it's not that these books don't make a profit for the publisher. Some do not, but a lot of them the publisher does make a little bit of money. If you don't earn out your advance, but say my first book did-- did my first book earn out? I can't remember. But if they pay you $50,000, and you sell 15,000 copies of the book that's good. The publisher will have made a little bit of money. You have proven that you can sell books, and they are likely to keep publishing you if you write another book that they like.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah, because for every buck I make off a book sold, publisher is making four or five bucks. They have a sheet called a P&L that they actually do this hypothetical math on before they offer you the book deal. So they figure out a way to make a profit off of it. Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: And you should know, if this sounds sketchy, it's like one of the fairest systems for paying artists for their work ever devised by human beings. It's not like the--
MANJULA MARTIN: Still kind of sketchy though.
SPEAKER 2: It's still kind of-- frankly, everything we do is kind of sketchy. But it's not like the blues musicians in the first half of the 20th century getting royally screwed by record companies.
MANJULA MARTIN: And unlike with record companies, you own your masters. You own the work.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah, agreed. So where was I? Yeah, theoretically if the book does earn out, I get all the money and you get none. If the book does earn out and for some reason makes a jazillion dollars, I like my writers, so I'm going to send you guys a check for a little bonus. But I'm not legally required to do that, or contractually required to do that.
The other thing that's interesting about anthologies is that Simon & Schuster had bought, in addition to the right to publish these essays in a book, they have bought the first serial rights to the book, or to the essays. Which means that they can place these essays in other publications.
SPEAKER 2: Ooh, [INAUDIBLE] that.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: I would've if I'd read my contract.
MANJULA MARTIN: Yeah. And so, recently there was a situation in which the publisher excerpted one of the essays from this book. And the person was surprised by that and upset. And we talked about it, and it was fine because she understood, oh, that was in the contract. But S&S isn't required to ask for payment for that excerpt, or for that publication. If S&S Is like, oh, they want to run your essay in where-- salon.com or whatever-- salon.com might kick them like a 100 bucks for the piece.
That 100 bucks goes into my royalty account.
SPEAKER 2: Oh.
MANJULA MARTIN: I know. Sorry. But also, salon.com-- usually Simon & Schuster is not going to be like, hey, salon.com pay me for this piece, because Simon & Schuster has no motive for doing so. So usually when you see excerpts from books published in other places, there's no money being exchanged usually. It's a promotional activity. [INAUDIBLE] promotional activity. So it's a weird mix.
For serial and excerpts are kind of like a weird thing. But anyway, learn your contracts.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah, a lot of these days, actually, are rights grabs too. Like they will try to get all kinds of future-- and this was not the case even 10 years ago. So it think it's more important than it used to be to make sure-- this is one of the reasons we always encourage you to find literary agents if you're trying to sell a book because they know the conventions. They know what's fair and appropriate.
And they have lawyers who are going to vet all this stuff for you. And that's why you pay them 50% because they have this infrastructure that will actually protect you and help you. Not only help you find a publisher, but also protect you against nefarious business practices that may arise.
MANJULA MARTIN: Agents are great also because they deal with money. So if you're a person who may be uncomfortable negotiating, that is your agent's job. They also manage your money. They check your royalty statements, theoretically. So agents get a bad rap I think in the common perception of them. Agents can be great. That said, some agents are jerks, and you'll know.
SPEAKER 2: I just think that their 15% is a bargain.
MANJULA MARTIN: It is.
SPEAKER 2: It's great.
MANJULA MARTIN: I think it is. I don't know how they make a living. They just have a lot of clients.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: Ones more famous than me is how--
MANJULA MARTIN: Yes.
SPEAKER 2: --they do it.
MANJULA MARTIN: They have some famous clients, and then the rest of us.
SPEAKER 2: I think we have time for one more before we bust it up?
MANJULA MARTIN: Too much math?
SPEAKER 2: Well, listen, stick around, have some snacks. We'll hang around and chat for a little while. And we're delighted to have you all here. Thank you for coming Manjula. This was great.
MANJULA MARTIN: I had a nice [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University on the web at cornell.edu.
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Manjula Martin, writer and editor of Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, discusses her career and answers questions about writing, editing, and publishing, on Monday, February 13th, 2017, as part of the Spring 2017 Barbara and David Zalaznick Reading Series at Cornell University.