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Low-Pay Writing

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Moliere said: "Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it. Then you do it for a few friends. And finally you do it for money."

Unfortunately, many of today's writers can't attain the level of a self-supporting hooker, because markets and communications have evolved into strange new territory.

A colossal Niagara of writing occurs in this astounding new Cyber Age. The internet now has almost two billion websites, and 600 million of them are blogs written on every conceivable topic. Each day, millions of words flow.

But few of the authors earn a livable sum for their work. Most do it just for the joy of offering their ideas to the world, while relying on other income.

As a retired newspaper editor, I'm a blogger on four sites. The Good Men Project, OpEdNews, and Canadian Atheist pay me nothing for reprinting my previously published essays. Daylight Atheism at Patheos pays me two dollars per thousand readers of new or recycled skeptic tirades.

At D.A., I average near two thousand readers per posting. So far, I've gotten two checks, one for $158, the other for $98. I'm delighted with my hooker pay.

Right now, around 600 of my essays are in cyberspace at OpEdNews, CounterPunch, Free Inquiry, Church & State, Secular Web, PeaceVoice, etc. After I'm gone (I'm 88 now), I hope they remain online, giving me a bit of immortality.

The Canadian website loosed a blitz that reposted 100 of my columns in 100 days. OpEdNews is on track to do likewise. Readers may suffer shellshock.

Bottom line: I'm quite happy to write seven days a week for almost no pay, just for kicks. I can afford to do it, because I live on a fat newspaper pension and fat Social Security.

However, for younger writers trying to earn a living, the story is much bleaker. An Authors Guild survey of 5,000 full-time and part-time writers found that their average 2017 earnings fell to a pathetic $6,080, far below the poverty line down more than half from $12,850 a decade earlier.

Apparently there are so many write-for-nothing authors like me that the market doesn't need to shell out big money to get quality prose.

Looking back through history, there were plenty of writers who went hungry. Edgar Allan Poe reportedly earned only a few hundred dollars from his immortal work. But others cashed in.

When I was young, plenty of paying markets existed. In its heyday, Penthouse paid me $4,000 and $3,000 for a couple of pieces. But paper publications barely survive today, wrecked mostly because readers switched to cyberland, where nobody needs to pay for subscriptions and advertising followed the readers.

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)

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