How Do Writers Make Their Living?

AFTER a long period in which authors and other scribes shied away from going public with their finances — perhaps not wanting to seem like they were “in it for the money” — the economics of the literary life have become more transparent lately. This is partly, I suspect, because of the greater concern for economics that arrived with the Great Recession (including the emphasis on income inequality) as well as increasing difficulties for novelists, journalists, and other members of the creative class.

A new story — part of the New York Times’s Op-Talk series — considers the issue from a number of angles. “This spate of talk about writing and money,” Anna North writes, “has opened up broader conversations about who can afford to enter the profession today, and who gets shut out.” From her piece:

Manjula Martin, the cofounder of Scratch, told Op-Talk that “there has always been this tension for writers around how to make a living and how to make art.” However, she said, growing job insecurity in writing professions and beyond may have led to a new wave of anxiety: “As the economy is changing and as things just feel more precarious in our culture, that bleeds through to the literary culture. And I think a big part of that too is a question of, ‘is literature and are the arts going to continue to be valued in ways tha220px-1920s_Underwood_SE_layoutt we have perhaps always just assumed they would be?’”

The television writer and journalist Cord Jefferson told North that he sees the issue as broader than just writers, broader even than the creative class. “Everyone’s talking a lot more about money. The financial crisis really rocked a lot of people to their core, and I think people considering these kinds of issues is a broad societal thing more so than it is just a writerly thing.”

He’s right. And it didn’t have to be this way. There are no shortage of culprits, but when you turn the economy (or the real-estate market) into a casino, allow corporations and tech firms to do whatever they want, and allow book publishing and print journalism to get crushed, someone’s gotta pay the price.

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