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The economics of writing

February 26, 2007

This is a bit controversial, but writing contests and their corresponding prizes are bad business for both the writer and the publisher. Allow me to briefly define the terms: economics being the social study of production, distributions and consumption of goods and services and writing or literature being the commodity (i.e. the goods and services).

A guest editorial published last summer in the Small Press Review elucidates this premise. A writer revealed to have spent more than $14,000 in a seven-year period on contest entry/reading fees, related postage, sample journals, literary memberships and writing conferences/workshops. The result, the best that I can discern, is winning a $500 cash prize during that period. It doesn’t take a banker to realize that this is not a positive investment opportunity.

There is a deeper sobriety to this equation. In business, one does not invest heavily in one’s competition, if at all, and expect to succeed. One starts a business to succeed at meeting a market’s need or desire (or both). A writer has similar goals. What if The Coca-Cola Company spent all its money funding Pepsi-Co’s market and product research than taking care of its own interest? The American iconic cola would fade into the last century with its entire memorabilia. You follow? Why would a writer fund the literary success of his/her competition? You want to be a successful writer? You need to beat the competition. I recall Hemingway said something along the same line.

If you had $14,000 to invest in your success as a writer how would you spend it? I will discuss more about this next week and how it applies to bad business for publishers.

3 Comments
  1. February 26, 2007 11:30 am

    WOW! What an eye opener! I hadn’t thought about writing being a commodity before but it makes perfect sense. I’m looking forward to reading more next week.

  2. February 27, 2007 2:35 pm

    I began writing this as a way to re-examine my writing/publishing goals and strategies. Hopefully it will help others as well.

  3. March 26, 2007 1:09 pm

    I’ve just been reading the fourth post in this series (which led me here) and do not think your reference to economics in a literary discussion is meddlesome or obtuse.

    But it is true to say that not all of us would invest $14,000 in competitions.

    Perhaps, rather than choosing not to enter competitions (i.e. swearing off this choice of investment entirely), one might choose the competitions more carefully or choose entries to any particular competition more carefully or just choose to budget more carefully and enter less competitions.

    Nevertheless, a very thought-provoking post, thanks for it and its follow-ups.

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