Fame, Success And Money, Money, Money!

jessica chastain by ellen von unwerth

No one loves the I.R.S. (though I could warm up to them considerably if they’d cut loose with a certain someone’s tax returns), but they do provide sensible parameters to the potentially blurry grey zone between a profession and a hobby. If I understand things correctly, current tax regulations require ‘hobby’ income to be taxed like any other income, though for now, the expenses incurred in the course of pursuing that hobby can’t be deducted unless they exceed 2% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Example: If you earn money as a writer or artist, you have to claim that income. But you can’t deduct expenses for supplies, fees, etc. unless those add up to at least 2% of your total income. If your day job paid $75K that year, then you’d need at least $1,500 in expenses. I believe that rule will change in 2026 and expenses (under certain limitations, of course) will be deductible, presuming the income is reported.

Compared to artists, photographers or musicians, writers actually get off pretty easy when it comes to out-of-pocket costs. It’s not as if we didn’t all own computers already. But how much income might writers actually be earning, and from what sources?

Writing at The Guardian, Lynn Steger Strong, author of the novel Strong due out in July references a 2018 Author’s Guild study which noted that the participating published authors’ median income for all writing activity was just over $6,000 in 2017, down from $10,500 only eight years earlier. More sobering: median income for all published authors based solely on book-related activity was a mere $3,100…and an approx. 25% of those participants earned no income at all that year. Steger Strong’s article “A Dirty Secret: You Can Only Be A Writer If You Can Afford It” looked at the reality of pursuing a career as a writer, which for all but a select few individuals must be supplemented not only by teaching, grants and fellowships, but quite possibly by generous relatives or – most likely – an employed spouse/significant other as well.

Only a few days ago, Alison Stine, author of Road Out Of Winter, due out this September, wrote at Literary Hub about the “haves and have-nots at America’s biggest writer’s conference” in “The Problem Of Money And Access At AWP”. The Association Of Writing Programs annual event (AWP) is billed as North America’s largest literary conference, with panels on writing, publishing, academic jobs and more. Registration is $250…plus travel, lodging, meals, etc., of course. Stine rightly assumes that a good portion of the 13,000 attendees were there on their MFA/PhD program’s dime. Bottom line: Unless you coincidentally lived down the street from the hotel or convention center, attending a writing/publishing conference or workshop is likely to cost a grand at least, and that still might involve discount travel, doubling up with a roomie and packing some sandwiches (or at least stuffing your backpack at the free buffet…if there is one).

writers digest march 2020

The current March 2020 Writer’s Digest features “The Frugal Writer’s Guide To Everything” by Elizabeth Simms, author of the Lillian Byrd Crime Series. Byrd lists suggestions for getting writing supplies, memberships, software and more without letting go of too much cash. A cynic might argue that the first place to start would be reading writer’s magazines at the library instead of subscribing, but I, for one, would sorely miss WD in my mailbox.

Writing’s never been a meaningful part of my income. My own writing vocation (which is a nice word for a glorified hobby) is divided into two phases, interrupted a while ago by intrusive real-life issues and only recently reignited. During ‘phase one’ I made some money, but a tally of every nickel earned from multiple sources might only be enough to pay cash for a decent new car. A decent new car…not a fancy fully-loaded supercar. I rely on doing a good job at the day job to keep the heat turned on and groceries in the pantry.

In the small press and ‘micro-press’ arenas, compensation may be anemic advances or royalty-only arrangements, per-word rates that would’ve been turned down by the hard-working pulp fiction scribes seventy and eighty years ago, payment-in-copies or even unpaid online publication. Back in the game, I recognize that publishers will pay what their business model allows, but my interest in publication ‘opportunities’ for little or no money has dissipated. For the undergrads, creative writing MFA’s and exponentially growing legions of writer wannabe’s with fewer options, it’s a genuine puzzler and bound to get more vexing as time goes on. The evolving publishing and bookselling marketplaces point to declining earning levels for the creators and ‘content generators’…i.e. the writers. Financial democratization via self/hybrid publishing remains elusive for most in a shockingly overcrowded arena.

Mind you, there’s no whining or “Woe is me” here, and shame on the creatives who wallow in that sort of self-pity. Griping about the hardships artistic types endure may be a time-honored Boho pastime, but no one forced me – or any other writer – to pursue endeavors offering worse odds than winning Lotto. Hopefully, we do it because we want to (or if feeling heroic, because we’re driven to).

Fame, success and money, money, money? As always, they’re available for a select few, with smaller portions parceled out for still a few more, but little left over for the rest. Sucks? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean that I – and most artists, musicians, actors, dancers…and writers – won’t keep at it anyway.

Photo: Jessica Chastain by Ellen non Unwerth

A Saturday Surprise.

Mystery Scene

‘Real life’ stuff demanded to be reckoned with this past weekend, resulting in a couple of grim days. So, nothing could’ve pleased me more than popping my mailbox open Saturday evening, where I found both the March 2020 Writer’s Digest and Spring 2020 Mystery Scene inside. I don’t think I’ve had a same-day delivery of those two magazines before, and was eager for something to take my mind off of things, if only for a while. Quick skims of both over a very late dinner (and digging in to one article, at least) sure did the trick.

The new Mystery Scene issue includes all the usual reviews and columns, along with an amusing article from Michael Mallory: “Ready For A Close-Up – Crime Authors Caught On Camera” about Earle Stanley Gardner, P.D. James and numerous other mystery/crime fiction writers who’ve done cameos in films and TV shows. I suppose the whole world already knew that Raymond Chandler (who co-wrote the screenplay of James Cain’s novel) can be seen in Billy Wilder’s 1944 Double Indemnity, but I didn’t! Duh.

Stumptown 1

But my favorite article and the one I dove into over the weekend (the rest of the mag and the Writer’s Digest saved for more careful reading through the week) was “Dex Parios – Will She Or Won’t She? Only Her Stumptown Producers Know For Sure” by Kevin Burton Smith.

Stumptown 2

Television has been awash in private eyes since its beginnings. Richard Diamond and Peter Gunn to Cannon, Mannix, Baretta and many, many more, some you might recall or have seen on oddball rerun channels and just as many that you may have never heard of. But let’s be clear: It’s been a P.I. boys club, just like the pulps and retro PBO marketplace of each corresponding era. As for the ‘stiletto gumshoes’? Not so many. Hardly any at all, in fact. Honey West, Charlie’s Angels, Remington Steele, Moonlighting…I’m already running out. The BBC and Australian markets have been more productive by comparison. But in recent years, you might argue that the best private eye, cop and mystery/crime shows have been led by women characters. And, quite a few of them at that. Based on its excellent source material, ABC’s Stumptown promised something special.

Stumptown 3

Confession time: As a fan of Greg Rucka’s comics, I couldn’t wait for Stumptown’s debut.Worried? Naturally. After all, could Hollywood (a broadcast network, no less) be trusted to do justice to Rucka’s creation? But when the first episode aired, I was thrilled, and thought that series star Cobie Smulders as Dexedrine ‘Dex’ Callisto Parios and all involved did a terrific job. Some differences from the source material? Well, that’s to be expected.

But, you’ve heard nothing from me here about the show since. The fact is, I grew disenchanted with the series, and by the holidays had stopped watching altogether.

Stumptown 4

So, I was kind of relieved to read Kevin Burton Smith’s article, discovering that I wasn’t alone. Oh, Smith’s a fan, too. But he rightly questions some creative decisions, including an increasing number of side trips into Dex’s complex personal life that ate up a lot of storytelling time. Interesting? Sure, but a bit intrusive nonetheless.  Like he points out while wondering why the studio tinkerers had to tinker at all, “The thing is, the source material is so great, it’s a shame that the showrunners seem to be paying it lip service.” If someone like the founder and editor of the Thrilling Detective site (www.thrillingdetective.com) started to feel a little hinky about some aspects of the show, then I knew I was in safe company. But like Smith points out in his Mystery Scene article, the show seemed to be getting back on track in the New Year, and that’s good news. I’ve returned as a viewer and will stick with it now, while catching up on missed episodes. Further, and to Kevin Burton Smith’s credit, nearly half of his Mystery Scene article is devoted to Greg Rucka himself. Hollywood (and too many viewers) may think it’s all about the stars, or maybe the directors. But let’s keep in mind that every character, every scene, every @#%$&! word spoken originates with the writer. And in Stumptown’s case, the whole idea began with Greg Rucka’s excellent series.

It’s not that I need a genre authority’s endorsement to make me stick with a show (or film, book, whatever). But sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not alone. And now, as time allows, I’ll get back to reading the rest of my new Mystery Scene magazine

 

The Annuals.

2020 Writers Market

I actually haven’t bought Writer’s Digest’s annual Writer’s Market in a couple years. Not that it isn’t an indispensable writer’s book, but only because I don’t write much short fiction, submit to magazines or enter contests. Well, not much (not saying never). But my 2020 agenda includes paying more attention to short stories, so I’ve added it to my to-buy list. Which is a long list, as you can surmise.

I do normally buy Writer’s Digest’s annual Guide To Literary Agents, even though I assemble most of my to-be-queried agent list from Publishers Weekly reviews. Just seems sensible to monitor which agents are actually selling books, not just accepting submissions.

I was actually relieved to see the release of the 99thAnnual Edition of the Writer’s Market 2020, because it confirmed that Writer’s Digest’s books hadn’t vanished in the aftermath of the magazine parent company’s (F+W Media) bankruptcy. Writer’s Digest the magazine was acquired by Active Interest Media and continues publication. The Writer’s Digest book brand was acquired by Penguin Random House LLC. No news on which book titles will still be available or if new titles will be forthcoming, but it would’ve been tragic to see so many invaluable writers’ how-to and special interest books disappear, to say nothing of their comprehensive annual directories. Whew!

Guide TO Literary Agents

Writer’s Digest’s Good News

wd - nov-dec

While it’s always a treat to discover a new issue of Writer’s Digest magazine in my mailbox, I was doubly pleased to find the November/December 2019 issue after a particularly unpleasant day-job grind this Thursday. I’ll still revisit the magazine over the weekend to read a couple articles more carefully, but the issue got a cover-to-cover browse-through over a very late dinner (Two hot dogs, in case in matters…it was gourmet night. And I put ketchup on one, but don’t tell anyone. They hang you ‘round these parts for putting ketchup on a dog.)

Right upfront editor-in-chief Ericka McIntyre’s column announced WD’s June 2019 acquisition by California-based Active Interest Media, a multi-division lifestyle, outdoors and special interest magazine group. So readers can rest easy after some worrisome silence following the bankruptcy of WD’s former parent company, F+W Media. AIM is promoting Writer’s Digest magazine and writersdigest.com on its site, so let’s assume the venerable publication will be around to celebrate its upcoming 100th anniversary. Unclear if AIM also acquired Writer’s Digest Books, publishers of numerous writers’ how-to titles and annual directories. Ads for WD books were noticeably absent from this November/December 2019 issue.

“The Truth Issue” is solid throughout, and while it may just be my imagination, I detected a more serious editorial tone, right down to the Amy Jones interview with author Amor Towles (Rules of Civility and A Gentleman In Moscow). Well, real or only perceived, evolving tone or not, I was just pleased to hear all will be well for Writer’s Digest, it being hard to imagine a writer’s world without it.

Dorothy Gets The Last Word.

Dorothy Parker Quotes - Writers Digest

Pleased as always to see a new Writer’s Digest magazine tumble out of my mail box, this one the Annual Agent Roundup issue with multiple articles and interesting dialog with literary agents about their wants, pet peeves, and more. If you’re a writer currently ‘enjoying’ the humbling querying process or about to be, I suppose it’s kind of a must-read. If you’re not, then Ericka McIntyre’s Alice Hoffman interview alone makes this WD issue worth looking for.

Writers Digest

Though I follow Writer’s Digest’s e-newsletter and blog posts via an aggregator, I confess that I don’t read every single one. Poetry? Screenwriting? Memoir? Not every thing is my thing. Blogs and e-newsletters like theirs have to please a diverse audience, after all. But you don’t even have to be a writer to get a kick out of “10 Dorothy Parker Quotes For Writers And About Writing” in the 8.20.19 edition. Not everyone’s a Parker fan, and there are still some Parker detractors out there. But count me on the fan side. Sharing a Dorothy Parker bon mot or two may not make any friends at your next writers’ coffeehouse whine-fest or score points at a university writing program’s after-class soiree, but you’ll feel a kinship with one of the writing profession’s most acerbic wits. Check it out (link below).

writersdigest dot com

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/10-dorothy-parker-quotes-for-writers-and-about-writing

Writer’s Digest: Villains & Violence

 

Happy to see the July/August 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine in my mailbox this past weekend. I’ve heard no further news about WD parent company F+W Media’s financial woes or the bankruptcy announced back in March, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that management will find a way to reorganize and pay all creditors while keeping this vital writers’ resource going. I think 2020 is Writer’s Digest’s 100th anniversary, so it’d be tragic for the publication to vanish now.

July/August is billed as “The Villains Issue” and like many theme issues, it’s stretching things a bit to make some articles’ fit the theme. But that’s okay, since I found nearly everything in this issue interesting or useful. But my favorite was “Packing The Punch” by Carla Hoch, author of Fight Write: How To Write Believable Fight Scenes from WD Books.

Writers Digest July-August 2019

Many writers insist that sex scenes are the most difficult to write, and they may be right. Finding a comfort zone between steamy and merely icky can be challenging, particularly since every writer knows that readers will identify the roles and activities with the writer and the writer’s own ‘proclivities’. Maybe you don’t care, but you might if you’re a grammar school teacher or town council member writing lurid kink-filled scenes in your downtime.

But I’ll suggest that fight scenes – like any action scenes – can be every bit as difficult to craft as the squirmiest sex scene, if not more so. Both types of scenes have multiple participants (well, usually), there’s a lot of movement and action that must be choreographed, and then accurately attributed so the reader won’t be hopelessly lost. Who’s punching who? Who pulled the trigger, and who got hit? A sense of place has to be defined, pain has to be described and so much more, but unlike a sex scene, this has to be accomplished with an economy of words. Perhaps it’s fine to indulge in flowery prose and a languid pace for lovemaking. Fight scenes demand a finger-snapping staccato rhythm, moving fast but with pinpoint accuracy to keep the reader speeding through the words while still comprehending precisely what’s what. That’s a mighty tall order for pro’s and budding talents alike. As Carla Hoch says, “Sometimes, there’s nothing better than a good long sentence, pulsating with verbs and sutured with commas to grab your reader by the collar and drag them to the scene, because you will give them no other choice and there’s no leaving until you throw in the towel.”

By Bert Hardy

Some suggest that a writer should try to hear an imaginary musical soundtrack behind their words in order to guide their pace. (You know, that might even work well with reading?) Sex scenes? If all soft-focused slow-mo stuff, the soundtrack might be a romantic Debussy piece or a soft pop ballad. More rambunctious romps might demand club tunes with a relentless pulsing beat you can feel right in your belly (or lower). Depends on what kind of frolicking the fun-lovers are up to. What kind of soundtrack sets the pace for a fight scene? Well, it’s unlikely to be a waltz. A thrash metal song, maybe. Some bust-loose jazz jam or an AOR guitar-god head banger. Hell, it could be a pompous Wagnerian thing if the fight involved axes and chain mail. In my work, it’s most likely bare knuckles on skin, slugs flying from a .45 automatic, or when the Stiletto Gumshoe’s caught unarmed, there’s still a spike heel rammed down doubly hard on a thug’s wingtips.

Thanks to Writer’s Digest magazine once again for helpful how-to’s like Carla Hoch’s terrific piece. I’ll be watching my mailbox with my fingers crossed that the issues keep coming.

(No credits available for the found art illustrations above, but the photos are by Bert Hardy above and Richard Avedon below.) 

By Richard Avedon

 

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