Skip to content

The Economics of Writing, part three

March 19, 2007

A brief summary for those just joining this series of posts: writing contests are bad business for both writers and publishers. First, writers who participate in writing contests are contributing to the successes of their competitors. Second, publishers reduced to prestige of literary prizes by offering lottery style contests and further, restrict the literary marketplace by limiting the readership and accessibility of fine literature.

One person responded to the second part of this series by asking; how does a writer attract readers in a congested publishing marketplace (more of that exchange here)? Simple answer: write well and promote your work.

Consider this; Margaret Atwood, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Robert Service, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Walt Whitman paid for the publication of their first books. Herman Melville self-published Moby Dick, Leo Tolstoi paid for the first printing War and Peace, and Mark Twain paid for the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Poet Nikki Giovanni self-published her book, Black Feeling Black Talk. Viggo Mortensen (actor, poet, publisher) has released his work through Perceval Press which he launched five years ago. Henry David Thoreau originally self-published Walden.

If a poet can sell 1000 to 2000 copies of a poetry book, that will attract the attention of a publisher. A prose writer has a higher hurdle, but the sale of 5000-10,000 copies sold will attract the attention of a publisher. In the first installment of this series I asked: If you had $14,000 to invest in your success as a writer how would you spend it? Instead of spending all that money on contests, why not hire a good editor, maybe even a publicist, and then self-publish your first book. If it is well written and well received, a publisher will find you and have a multi-book contract for you (as was the case of Nikki Giovanni).

Again, to understand the economics of writing one needs to study of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. Poets and writers produce literature that is distributed via publishers and booksellers to readers, book buyers, librarians. To be successful as a writer and/or publisher, one needs to understand more than just the craft of writing.

Sometimes a poor writer (referring to the quality of the writing not the writer’s financial situation) only needs a good editor and a publicist. James Frey is a good example of this, but I’ve already covered that topic in this article.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, write well and promote your work.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: