A Study of Writing Habits

h/t to Philip Larkin

So once upon a time, Americans apparently were capable of finding things vulgar, including discussions of how much money one made.

These days I’m not sure it would qualify as vulgar to tweet a pic with my income information shaved into various patches of my nether hairs. Depressing for all parties, assuredly, but quite possibly not vulgar.  But in case I do need to defend myself on that score, I offer two arguments.

First, as you’ll see, I’m not actually making any money off The New Men and am unlikely ever to do so. It’s debut literary fiction with nary a trace of fangs in the dark or clubbing women with sex. I’ve made my peace with that, and I consider myself profoundly lucky to have a skilled editor and a sympathetic publisher. I’m just excited that it exists and that people other than my relatives are reading it. So this is a post not about how much money I do make but rather about how much money I would have to make in order to hit certain wage benchmarks.

Second, The New Men focuses on a famous wage increase tied both to massive technological and industrial transformations and to the questions of values and valuation implicated in all that. So it’s almost impossible for me not to look at the rise of new publishing models and entertainment options and, against that background, muse about similar questions. This post captures a few of those musings.

(Also, doing this gave me a chance to enter easy formulas into Excel, which I find inexplicably soothing.)

Anyway, I found myself wondering: if I wanted to think of The New Men as a labor for wage rather than a labor of love, how many copies would I have to sell in order to make as much per hour as the kind of employees whom Tony Grams investigates? My rough estimate is that I spent 1,750 hours on the novel, a figure that includes everything from initial research and brainstorming through discussing the aesthetics of chapter headings with my editor. So how many copies of the novel would I need to sell to make as much as Ford employees did just before and after the Five Dollar Day started, either adjusted for inflation or not? How does that compare to Michigan’s current minimum wage?

Two weeks in, I’m making notably less per hour than the pre-Five Dollar Day laborer made in unadjusted 1914 dollars. So the upshot is: if you have a choice between getting stewed and fantasizing about getting rich selling debut lit fic, go with getting stewed. If you can afford it.

TNM-Author's Math

(Author’s share corrected upward from previous version of post.)

2 thoughts on “A Study of Writing Habits

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