There’s been quite a discussion lately on a mystery list serv about good and bad writing — sparked by a discussion about Dan Brown, the mega-selling author who no one has ever called a good writer and some have said a lot worse about. Everyone seem to agree that bad writing is easy to define:
- writing that calls attention to itself
- awkward phrasing Read more →
In the New York Times Sunday book review, Paul Greenburg wrote (humorously) about bailing out writers. His introduction refers to writers as losers, who, instead of selling books, are selling their home furnishings to stay afloat.
What is interesting is that the concept he proposed is not a bailout at all. Greenburg believes that the problem with the writing industry is that there are too many writers now and not enough money to support them all. He mentions the 185,000 listed by the National Endowment for the Arts who support themselves through artistic endeavors. This, of course, does not include the thousands and thousands who write in their spare time and support themselves by some other endeavor.
His hypothetical proposal: “About 275,000 new titles and editions are published in the United States each year. Let’s say we want to eliminate half of them. Assuming it takes about two years to write your average book, we would offer book writers two years of salary at the writers’ average annual income of $38,000 a year.”
The catch? Those who take the money would have to stop writing. This is a buyout, not a bailout. When companies have more workers than they need, they offer cash incentives to employees leave their job voluntarily… forever.
It’s an interesting premise. If someone offered you $76,000 to never write again, would you take the money? If not, what is your price? What if you only had to stop writing for two years, would you do it for that price?
This question is like the “Would you sleep with an ugly stranger for a million dollars?” scenario—only with a lot less money and a much harder decision. If nothing else, it will make you think about how important writing is to you and what you would sacrifice for it.
I had been thinking about unions lately and wondering if they have become counterproductive. Then yesterday I heard that autoworkers at General Motors make around $71 an hour when you include benefits. Holy shit! No wonder the company is going broke. This is clearly not a sustainable business model.
And then there are the teachers’ unions, which many people believe keep bad teachers in their jobs and contribute to the decline in education. Before you get all riled up, I support teachers and think they should be better paid. (I wouldn’t teach middle school for any amount of money.) But I also think teachers should be held accountable for the job they do, and those that don’t cut it should be fired—like anyone else.
So what does this have to do with writers or books? Not much. But independent writers have no market protections and no real benefits (which is the case with most low-wage workers). Of course, there is a Writers’ Guild, but it’s mostly for scriptwriters who are already making good money and can afford the $2500 joining fee. Some writers are represented by agents, but an agent can’t guarantee anything. Health benefits? Hah! Paid holidays? Dream on. Livable hourly wage? If I ever did the math on my novels, it would make me cry.
I don’t begrudge anyone else these benefits just because I currently don’t have them. But as a taxpayer (who pays teachers’ and government workers’ salaries), I expect my money to be invested wisely. So if we the people bail out GM, its employees should have to live in the real world with the rest of us where there are no unions, no guarantees, and no one is fighting for you—but you. That’s life.