Saturday, February 25, 2012

reflecting on writing and money


A few weeks ago I stopped by a local bookstore where I leave some of my zines on consignment. I hadn't been there in almost six months, and they'd sold out all the stock that I'd left at that time. They paid me for those copies, and they paid me wholesale for another 15 copies, and I walked out of there with about $50 in cash. (I've got three issues of my zine printed up now, and because of that I'm collecting slightly more money than I did when I only had one or two issues on the shelves, but $50 was still a pretty large amount to get paid all at once--especially seeing as how each zine that sells earns me about a dollar.) When I got home I started looking through my disorganized but fairly comprehensive records of "money received for zines" since I first printed Map of Fog 1 back in November of 2008. I added together all of those little five and ten dollar collections, I even added in all the two or three dollar purchases I'd got through the mail. The total money earned was about $960. And since I'm expecting a payment of $50 from Microcosm for zines I mailed them a while back, that puts me up to more than $1000.

A thousand bucks is a pretty good amount of money. A thousand bucks is almost enough for two months of my rent. And it only took me three and a half years to earn it!

I was thinking about that money, which I'd earned from sales on a self-published project, and then I started thinking about the money I'd made from writing I'd had published in other people's journals and magazines, which is about $600--$300 for four articles I wrote for an online magazine called Neighborhood Life, and $300 as a prize for writing what was considered "the Best Word Entry of 2010" for an online literary journal (which appears to be defunct now) called Autumn Letters. I've also had a poem accepted for Word Riot's new anthology--the profits of which are supposedly going to be split between all of the contributing authors--but in almost a year since having my poem accepted, I haven't heard anything about that anthology ever being released. So, I'm not holding my breath waiting for any sort of remuneration from that.

A thousand dollars for self-publishing, or $600 from having other people publish my work. In neither case is it a lot of money. And yet I've been at this--and by "at this" I mean writing with the hope of having other people read it--for more than 10 years.

And none of this accounts for all the expenses that my writing has incurred. For my self-published project Map of Fog, which has earned me a little over a thousand dollars, I've paid close to $1800 in printing costs, $360 for 3+ years of P.O. Box rental fees, $60 for tabling fees at two years of the SF Zine Fest, and uncounted amounts relating to city bus tickets (for getting around to check up on my zines at consignment shops) and postage (for mailing the zines out to buyers, reviewers, and distributors). For the stuff I've had published in other peoples zines, I can't even begin to start totaling up all the postage costs (since I don't have those records) and other related expenses (like printing paper, envelopes, ink, etc.--I took a workshop with a poet which cost a few hundred dollars, too, and if you consider the money spent on my University degree--BA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis--you're talking about money in the tens of thousands of dollars). The most conservative way of looking at it still has me paying two dollars for every dollar I got paid.

Of course, it's not like I got into writing because I thought there'd be a pot of gold at the end of the path. And I've been aware of the costs all along--it didn't hit me all at once while I started writing this blog post. But even so, considering the above, it's hard not to look at my writing as a pretty expensive hobby.

And even knowing all that, I'm hoping on putting out Map of Fog 4 this fall, and I'm planning (though not yet fully committed) to printing up a collection of my poetry titled "SUCK NECTAR VOMIT HONEY." I know, now better than ever, that it's going to cost me, but I'm still moving in that direction.

So what can I say? The only thing that makes sense to me right now, while I'm writing this post, is saying this: help a brother out, dear reader, and buy a copy of my zine.

UPDATE 3/6/12: Microcosm sent me a check, so I'm officially above $1K.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

JUNG, by Deirdre Bair

Jung: A Biography
It's gotta be hard to capture a person's life in a book. Books want a sense of cohesiveness and story, a sort of consistency of theme, and most lives aren't so simply reduced. The temptation must be great to focus on particular incidents, to bend events toward some semblance of plot. Or, resisting that, to cram more and more incidents into a tome, and leave it to the reader to develop a sense of who the subject was, and what their life meant. That seems to be the approach Bair has taken with this autobiography. She omits interpretation or personal commentary, and instead offers what amounts to a sort of chronological summary of materials describing Jung's experiences. It's not exactly riveting material, and she could stand to be more selective in what she chooses to include--the copy I've got is almost 900 pages long. I'm only on page 75, and I've already waded through thousands of words detailing the lives of Jung's forefathers. Now Bair is introducing Jung's wife, by way of detailing the lives of her ancestors. I doubt very much that I'll last much longer with this book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

GIMME SOMETHING BETTER, by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor

Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day

Another great book. An oral history of punk in the Bay Area, created from what must have been thousands of hours of interviews. Each chapter covers a specific topic, and builds a picture of that topic by assembling brief quotes from a broad group of involved people. Impressively comprehensive, covering not just bands but other punk phenomena, like gangs (both skinhead and non, with separate chapters for different crews), squats and punk houses, venues (a chapter each for Mabuhay Gardens and the Deaf Club, 8 chapters for Gilman), labels (Lookout!, Outpunk, and others), and influential figures who weren't musicians (lots of coverage of Tim Yo and his various projects). Chronicles more than two decades, starting with the first regular-playing acts like The Nuns and Crime in SF in the late 70s, including the nihilistic/violent/drugged-out early scene that developed at that time, and carrying on to the East Bay pop-punk stuff that took over mainstream music in the mid 90s. Interesting, informative, and entertaining the whole way through. The only hesitations I have are minor, and intrinsic to oral histories: namely, it would be nice to have some objective journalism to keep things in perspective, because a lot of these old punks are probably pretty big bullshitters. Also, I think they could have condensed the coverage of Gilman a bit (didn't need to be 8 separate chapters).