Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Writers' Income: A New Paradigm

The New York Times Magazine recently published an article, "What's An Hour of Your Time Worth."
Writer getting paid by the hour

It seems billing by the hour took off in the 1950s when the ranks of lawyers swelled with returning GIs and their income fell relative to doctors and dentists.So they switched to billable hours and the rest is history.
Lawyers deciding to bill by the hour

Blue-collar workers and most middle class jobs are already paid by the hour.
Writers have never in history been able to make a living at writing. Poe tried it and was not successful.
Poe trying to make a living

Others who have tried it met the same fate.
Many writers who later became financially successful (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, and many modern stars) were supported early on by a significant other's or family's money.
Hemingway writing, trying to afford clothes and a desk

I myself am supported by my wife's employment, although last month's writing income ($10 from Amazon) was more than the previous month ($0 from Amazon). (I am a retired physician and even I have a hard time mustering up sympathy for my "struggling" writing career.)
Me as a struggling writer if I wore a tie and fedora while writing--and wrote on a typewriter--and chewed pencils. Not me at all.

But while sitting in my favorite Sunday morning seat (hint: It's not the couch or a pew, and we don't talk about it in polite society.) with the NYT Mag I flashed on a brilliant new financial paradigm for writers: take a lesson from the lawyers and bill by the hour.
New York Times Magazine. I haven't published there either.

Writers should keep a log of their billable hours spent writing. You can bill for the hours spent pondering plot, rough-drafting, and definitely during revising and editing. You should not bill for the time you waste going to the refrigerator, walking around the block to "clear you head," or sitting on a bar stool praying for plot inspiration.
Me praying for plot if I were African-American and had a beard

In this way each writer will have an established hierarchy of value—just like New York lawyers are more expensive than New Jersey lawyers, who are more expensive than Cleveland lawyers. Stephen King (who also had a bio in the same week's NYT Magazine) will receive perhaps $1000 per hour. J.K.R. likewise will be a top biller. Dan Brown and E.L.J. might be asked to give money back. Mystery and Science Fiction writers might bill $500. Humor writers could try to get $300. Romance writers will undoubtedly bill as much as $12 per hour (okay, Romance writers, let me have it) and I will inflate my billing to 7 cents per hour.
Me calculating wage increase if I had less hair and horn-rimmed glasses

In this manner when a writer puts his/her book on sale with Amazon, Amazon will pay the writer the full value of the book based on hours billed. If Amazon balks at the up-front payments, I have a new scheme. We writers put our book on Amazon at the fully billed cost to reader. If you billed 175 hours at $100 per hour, the first buyer will pay you $17,500 plus shipping minus Amazon’s share. We will, of course, provide a 90 day money back guarantee, just like refrigerator manufacturers. The second person to purchase the book will pay the first purchaser half, or $8,750. Now there are two motivated readers who will want to make sure other readers buy the book. Each time someone does, they will pay the previous purchaser half of his/her equity in the book, bringing the investment cost down for each generation of reader, each individual now highly motivated to promote our books until the cost of reading it is negligible.
I don't know what this has to do with my scheme, but it's a pretty picture.

I see this as a win-win, everybody's happy as a dog with a new bone plan. The writer gets his/her $17,500 (minus Amazon’s cut) and each reader, if hard working, will have read a book for perhaps a dollar at the end of the book's life. The book then returns to the author who can put it up for sale again and start all over.
I'm running this business plan by the SEC and Justice Department now.
It could be a divided vote.

I'm asking inmates at the Lunatic Assylum to vet the details also.
TLA vetting my proposal

Personally, I see no conflicts with current law, and expect to be watching the old bank account burgeon. My wife will be happy that she doesn't have to share her paycheck once I become a successful writer. We may get an apartment with 50 more square feet and move out of the 400 square feet we have now.
My wife in our apartment, if I were married to a different woman and we lived in a cardboard box

Please tell all your friends about my plan. If they want to read my book, Shortstack, after that, tell them it's a free country—but not a free book.
Not priced at $17,500

Thanks for reading. See you again?

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