Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Money talks

I was a little stumped for a blog topic today since I'm not among the 52% of Americans with "high expectations" (ABC World News) nor the two-thirds who are "optimistic" (NBC Nightly News).

So instead of waxing on about those numbers, I took a poll and asked a few people an entirely different question: when you have the opportunity to talk to an author, what's the one question you'd like answered?

The results of this unscientific, small sample survey: "How much do you make?"

Huh? Curiosity about money is above interest in the development of characters, and the choice of leit motifs? Above issues of good and evil in mysteries? And even above what time we start our writing day?

Yes, it's about money.

It got me wondering why most of us are so secretive about our money—how much we earn, how much things cost, how much we have in the bank. For example, maybe it's just my little corner of the publishing world, but we don't readily share the amounts of our contracts.

Occasionally an audience member at a reading will ask about money, and I have heard and given many variations of hand-waving. "Well, we're not on welfare," is one; "I'm not wearing Prada," another. "It varies," is still another non-response.

I work at a formerly government-run laboratory where everyone's salary was in the public domain. Once a year, you could go to the company store and buy a thick printout with the salaries of all approximately 8000 employees—for one dollar! Need I say that the lines were long, that the rest of the day was spent with a ruler and highlighter, and that grunts and groans were heard throughout the plant.

"How much do you make" is considered a rude dinner table question, possibly even more so than "how often do you have sex?"

Why do you think this is? Is it because we feel our worth is tied up in the dollars we receive and if we give a low amount people will think less of us? Or are we reluctant to give a high number, lest everyone hit us up for a loan?

What's your experience? And how much do you make? (kidding!)


Sheila Connolly said...

This is probably connected to everyone's first assumption: that writers make a lot of money. This fascinates me, since I can name, oh, maybe five to ten writers who makes lots, a bigger group who make a low five-figure amount, and a whole lot who are hanging on to their day jobs.

It's flattering that the general public puts such a high assumed value on writing--but is that why they don't buy our books but borrow them from friends or the library?

Camille Minichino said...

I never thought of that, Sheila.
It always amazes me that people expect free books. I'm not talking about those who participate in promotional drawings, but "friends" who assume we have cartons and cartons of books that we didn't pay for and that we're just looking for a way to get rid of them.

Anonymous said...

From childhood: "Don't tell anyone your business" had stuck with me, even though I didn't know what our business ever was. Now, with the wisdom of age and some good education-by-chance along the way, I can easily tell someone I lost $60,000 in the stock market. I realize your comments re authoring, since I personally know wonderful writers and their works and how hard they work around promoting their works and how much that costs, not only in cash, but in valuable time. xoxoxoxo

Kathryn Lilley said...

Everyone's so disappointed when they learn I have a day job. I'm not rich or apparently all that glamorous. I did, however, just order some some new Prada reading glasses. Here's hoping for great expectations!

Camille Minichino said...

I'll bet you look smashing in those glasses, Kathryn!

Ann Parker said...

Camille, since I worked at the same place you did, I well remember those printouts, the groans, and the grumblings! :-)
Actually, one-on-one, I have no problem telling folks my advance and my royalties (in round numbers), if they ask nicely. The way I see it, if the only data points people have are the gi-huge-ic advances we all hear about, well, can't blame them for thinking this is a glamorous profession whereby you can buy a mansion and pay for a health plan with what you've got left over.
After all, it's only money. Only a number. I guess I never understood the big secret around "what do you make?"
But, that's just me. I also don't mind telling my age when asked. :-)