In past posts on this subject, I discussed various reasons a serious living as a writer is a pipe dream: the SASE, simultaneous submissions, and there are many more to come. But today I’m going to discuss the real reason, outside all the others, that making a living as a writer is impossible. Because publications don’t pay.

Seriously. People get their start in writing by stuffing envelopes and stocking up on rejection letters. But the places you send your work don’t pay artists. Your compensation is your name in print. Or HTML. Some publications claim they pay their authors in copies (i.e. you get 2 free copies of the publication your piece of work will appear in).

While it may seem generous, copies of single issues usually run under $20, which amounts to about a $40 value you can’t put in the bank. And if it’s an acceptance by a publisher that does not accept simultaneous submissions, it’s $40 worth of goods in one year. While I’d welcome paying taxes on a $40 annual income, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even survive if I were living in my parents’ basement.

Here are some of the disclaimers about nonpayment from some literary magazines:

  • “We are unable to pay for work.”
  • Payment is in contributor’s copies.”
  • We pay in copies, plus $5 a page.”
  • “Contributors receive a print copy of the issue in which they appear.”

There’s never been any debate that writing is a labor of love, but with writer payments like these, this just proves it.