Ask The Editor

August 5, 2009

Why writers shouldn’t bet their careers on magazine writing, part II

Article fees are stagnating at best. Numerous magazines have lowered their per-word rates. I hear reports all the time from  writers that magazines assign an article at, say, 1,000 words but demand extra reporting that can require the writer to up the submitted word count by 50 percent or more, with no extra pay.

Writers, brace yourselves. This is your future if you continue to bank on magazines. Magazines were hurting before the economic downturn and you can’t assume that the situation will reverse once the economy stabilizes. See this article from Min on the prospects for consumer magazines — or simply read the following sobering excerpt:

Magazines did not come into the recession from a position of strength, with a [Compound Annual Growth Rate] at a meager 1.1% from 2003 to 2008.

Virtually all of the main revenue drivers for this industry are being depressed by a shifting media economy and digitization, such that magazine advertising will decline 15.6% in 2009 to $10.53 billion and a [Compound Annual Growth Rate] of -6.6% for the 2008-2013 period. This will leave the ad spend on magazines at $8.87 billion in 2013, the lowest level since 1995.

Ever-shrinking ad revenues mean that articles fees must also continue to shrink.

And for those who say, “no problem, I’ll write for the web,” I have to ask: haven’t you noticed that most websites pay less than even the struggling magazines? While some web publications pay at least something, too many are paying so little, the fee offered is an insult. And you can’t pay your bills with the proceeds  of insultingly low fees no matter how quickly you write.

So, what’s left?

My guess is that the writers who continue to make a living from writing will be writing books. Some will get traditional publishers. Some will publish their own books as book publishers also tighten their budgets.

The Espresso Book Machine, or something like it, if it catches on, will make any bookstore that has one a print-on-demand center. That will make it possible for good writers to become publishers without the overhead of warehousing and shipping, and with a lower per-book printing cost than current POD options. But only those who master marketing and publicity will earn enough to make a living.

I know this isn’t a cheery post but I read too many cheery proclamations from writers who keep doing what they’ve been doing while their incomes shrink. We all need to think ahead, not just to the end of the year but to five years from now. Where will publishing be? And where will you be in publishing?

– Anita Bartholomew

June 25, 2009

Do we need celebrity authors?

My post about Elisabeth Hasselbeck being accused of plagiarism generated a comment that struck me as odd and, I felt, deserved a bit of commentary of its own:

I am very happy that Elisabeth is using her celebrity status to bring awareness to gluten sensitivities.

It reminded me that another celebrity, Chris Anderson, is being accused of borrowing passages from the web and from others’ books in his new book, FreeWaldo Jaquith of the Virginia Quarterly originally discovered that Anderson had “re-purposed” some material from Wikipedia and blogger Edward Champion, following up, found hints of the unattributed work of several more writers between the book’s pages.

Anderson doesn’t deny that not all the words are original to him although he’s not admitting to intentional copying. Like Hasselbeck, he also has his defenders.

But it made me wonder: why do we even give these people the opportunity to “author” books if they have nothing new to say? Is it just because they’re famous? Is that sufficient reason to make space available on the bookshelves?

(Before you post your answers to the “comments” section, the above is a rhetorical question.)

Celebrity authors are sort of the Burger Kings of the publishing world. They’re everywhere, filling the shelves, and providing about as much intellectual nourishment.

Let me suggest that you give yourself a treat this weekend and read a book by an author with original ideas instead.

– Anita Bartholomew

March 2, 2009

The easiest way to get a book deal these days?

It seems that if you want a publisher to make an offer, the quickest route is to make a fool of yourself in an atrociously public way. Examples include Joe the unlicensed, untruthful plumber who isn’t even named Joe; Ann Coulter, the insultaholic female (although some dispute this) Limbaugh wannabe; and now, to add to that list, we have the disgraced ex-governor of Illinois:

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich announced a “six figure” book deal with Phoenix Books this afternoon. It will be published in October.

Words fail me.

January 16, 2009

Should you write for free II? (HuffPo edition)

An article about a political writer who blogs for the Huffington Post without pay has almost every writer I know weighing in. Arianna’s business model, for those who are unfamiliar, is to pay not a cent to contributors  (presumably, she does pay staffers). To say that this makes Ms. Huffington unpopular among some professional non-fiction writers I know is like saying that Bernie Madoff has somewhat miffed his investors.

Despite the antipathy toward her among some authors, Huffington has no trouble getting people to contribute to her success by contributing free text. Even several established writers who make decent rates elsewhere agree to write for HuffPo for the “exposure.” One writer friend suggested I write something here about the issue. So, here’s my take, for anyone who might be weighing whether the exposure is worth it.

For a celebrity, say Bill Maher or Michael Moore, who simply wants to exploit Arianna’s ability to attract huge numbers of political junkies in one place, a guest appearance on the Huffington Post is like free advertising.  While there, they can pitch their next project. And it will pay because people reading HuffPo really want to buy whatever Maher and Moore are selling.

Contributing a post to HuffPo would also make sense for an established but lesser known author of a book about a political topic.  Excerpt your book on the site or paraphrase something to tempt members of this huge audience to buy the whole thing.

It’s similar to appearing on TV or radio without pay to plug your project.

But, if you’re hoping to establish yourself by working for free for Arianna, and you have nothing to pitch to her audiences other than your free copy, you are probably doing little or no good for your own career. You may even damage your brand by establishing your price for the world to see: Zero. Also, you’re lending a hand to exploitation by contributing to its success.

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