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Why Muse/A Pays Its Writers

Why Muse/A Pays Its Writers

Muse/A, we pay.

It’s not that we suddenly have the money to do so. We actually don’t. We sold eight journals at AWP this year. EIGHHHHHHT.

That’s after printing 300 copies. Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa has NEW WORK in this issue, bruh. We worked really hard on it. It looks gorgeous. At the bookfair, our exact ideal perfect target audience was in the thousands, literally shaking hands with us face to face. And we sold eight copies.

Do the math. The table was $650. The print run was $1,300. We sold eight journals at $12 for $96. We lost our ass. I mean, it was fun and we hugged our amazing contributors, and we woke up dehydrated like everybody else and laughed about last night and cetera and cetera… but we lost our ass.

We aren’t the only ones. So, so many worthy presses and journals are dealing with the same problem. A few of them have already moved to Whale Prom, which is exactly what we plan to do next year in Portland. Adam Robinson of Publishing Genius, for instance, said money was moving at Whale Prom. Um, maybe because the tables didn’t cost so much.

from “Christ Cleansing the Temple”, El Greco, ca. 1570. Oil.

But I’m just going to set this modest opinion here. I think more money should be changing hands at the fair.

It’s not true that there is no money. I mean, what’s everybody doing in Tampa if no one’s got any money? I saw writers buying ten-dollar drinks. Bars and restaurants sell brand liquor and craft beer at around a 400% hike. Likewise, publishing wisdom says that a book should be priced at 400% of the per issue cost. That means a copy of Muse/A should cost $20. We already couldn’t sell them at $12. $20 is totally out of the question.

As priced we would have needed to sell 93 issues to offset the cost of the table. At $20 we would have needed to sell 43. As an independent journal situated near a goddam under-construction bathroom and a cowboy self-publishing a goddam romance novel called Nowhere Man and the Orange Lady, that just ain’t happening.

But this ain’t about that dude, and I wish him all the best. It’s about the myth that there’s no money for writers. There is. We’ve got to buy books by writers. And editors have to pay writers. That’s the way it has to work.

I saw a fair full of damaged individuals, writers walking around with the devastating knowledge that their writing is less than worthless. They saw small press editors with their hands in the air, either giving away their product or broken-heartedly selling it at cost.

I bought this book at the fair for $10. It’s really good, and it’s signed by the author.

Writers were dragging their manuscripts behind them at this fair. They worked hard, and they want to sell their manuscripts. When their manuscript is truly excellent and deserving of publication, we have to pay them. When the book gets published, we have to buy it.

Editors were lugging their journals out the trunks of Chevy Novas and stacking them in duct-taped suitcases, journals that feature writing from hard-working writers who are often working without any payment whatsoever. We have to buy those journals. It matters.

Same with small presses. Buy the damn books.

This year I met some truly outstanding writers and bought some truly outstanding books. This year I also bought Hillbilly Elegy–not to lean too hard on pathos, but DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S IT’S LIKE TO BUY A BOOK LIKE THAT? My god, that leaves a mark.

But to buy a book from an indy press or somebody doing a letterpress cover or a color newspaper? I’ve never once regretted that.

Here’s a quick story, and I hope the author will not be embarrassed. I saw a friend of mine, Michael Seidlinger, at Hotel Bar hanging out with Janice Lee and Chiwan Choi. I met and shook hands with Michael’s friends and that was that. I wasn’t feeling up to that venue anyway, so I ubered to my hotel room to get some rest.

This place is alright, but the author just wasn’t feelin it.

Later though, I saw Chiwan at the book fair. I liked his wolf shirt–I have one too–so I went and said hello. He was selling his book and I bought it. But something happened in that exchange. When you’re buying somebody’s book, you’re telling them that you value what they do. You’re making it obvious that you care. And then that person sees you too.

Maybe the universe is telling me something, but when I was finally able to read some of Chiwan’s book it really blew me away. By the first page it was already worth what I paid for it. I paid twice that for Hillbilly Elegy, which, as noted above, was a scroll of sticky poops.

Muse/A is a fledgling journal without any sponsors, but we’re going to pay writers what we can. I think it sends the right message to our artists. We love you and value you.

Gregg Murray
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