Author-editor Manjula Martin reminds me of an Olympic diver.
Dives get scored on their excellence, as well as their difficulty levels.
Martin should get a medal for her creative courage. In Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, she goes for the gold in attempting to get authors to reveal how they make a living from the written word.
Does she succeed? That depends on who the interviewee is. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, explains how her seemingly-large book advances seemed smaller when spread out over four years. She reveals that her newfound acclaim was punctuated by credit card debt.
Other authors get sidetracked talking about how it feels to be an author. What does success mean to them? In more than one occasion, Martin wants authors to talk about their social class standing as a working author.
The specifics of money disappear quickly in such cases. Some, like Austin Kleon, flatly refuse to give numerical specifics. In other instances, Martin asks how much an advance was for someone’s best-known book. The occasional figures seem to mean little when tight-lipped subjects won’t offer any other fiscal details of their work.
Martin’s interviews are flanked by numerous essay contributions from authors. Ghostwriter Sari Botton offers an illuminating explanation of how her little-known trade works. Novelist Alexander Chee praises superstar author and teacher Annie Dillard as one of his greatest influences in college. She estimated that nonfiction writers make three to five times the money fiction writers do. Then, Dillard urged students to break into print through essay writing.
In a majority of the essays within Scratch, the writers feel the need to address their pre- and post-emotional states upon finding paying work through writing. These detours make this reader think that Hmmm…How Does It Feel to Be An Author? may have been an alternative title.
Nevertheless, Martin inspires simply through her desire to pull back the curtain upon writing for pay. Once, many authors may have been shamed to admit they took ANY money for their creative endeavors. Keeping pay a secret has aided only publishers, not fellow creatives. Martin is wise in beginning to Scratch the surface upon a once-taboo topic.