• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Thought Love Was Only True in Fairy Tales

Sitting on another late train home opening my mail. All the usual stuff, droves of fan mail, scores of query letters, and then a letter from The Writer Magazine. They want to excerpt five pages from my opus The Forest for the Trees and they will pay $200 clams.

My friends, you may think that this means little to a power agent such as myself. But you would be wrong. Every dime a writer makes from writing is a direct hit to the ego. It’s the ca-ching Samuel Johnson was talking about.Getting paid for writing is like having sex in a bathroom stall at Phoebe’s Bar on the Bowery.

What’s the least amount of money you ever got paid for writing and what was it for?

53 Responses

  1. I got $25–but it was for a poem!

  2. $5 for a short story in an online magazine. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to cash the check — I just wanted to hold it in my hands.

  3. –$25 gift certificate to the cheesecake factory for a maid of honor speech

    –wag of beed for a college research paper on pornography and the Internet. this one almost cost me my job at the time. a friend asked me to write the paper years ago–way before the Internet was something you had in the comfort of your living room. i had a desk job and did a search on the word “pornography” at work. little did i know that work was keeping tabs on what their employees were looking at online and i got called into the HR office the next day. i had to explain myself and sign a note that went into my personal file (“this will go down on your permanent record”) admitting that i looked up pornography online. fortunately, they didn’t do drug testing there.

    –in high school, i wrote my boyfriend’s college essay exam so he would be my boyfriend–the most degrading pay of all

    • Didn’t you even get credit for typing out the entire word??? You coulda been lazy and searched for “porn” instead. I’d have given you a raise.

      • i know, right? who uses the word pornography when preparing to rub one out? it’s like using the word “music” when you’re searching for Leonard Cohen songs to download.

        i was so young and naive that i brought a copy of the paper back to the HR lady after the fact and asked her to put it in my file along with the note i signed.

        the best part is that i was completely tortured by the whole event when it happened more than ten years ago; but, now, it’s just a funny short story i’m leaving on a blog.

      • Amy, you crack me up. (And do you ever feel like we’re doing a blog dosado? Round and round we go …)

  4. My last royalty check from my previous agent, for a book that came out in 2005, was $.01.
    I am not lying.
    One cent.
    I didn’t cash it – dur – but I’m going to have it framed to keep myself humble when I’m rich and famous.

    However, this isn’t a fair answer to the question because I did receive an advance for that book, as well as subsequent royalties after it earned out.

    • Psst: Add zeroes in both directions–one way is funny, the other impressive.

      You finished and sold a book, that’s already impressive.

  5. Unless I’m forgetting something, it would be the $90 I was paid for my very first short story sale when I was all of 16 years old.

    Since then, of course, I’ve published many things for free and have spent hours and hours and hours doing all this work on stories, novels, etc. mostly for zero dollars and zero cents.

    I also had a freelance gig way back at the beginning of my freelance days that paid $150 an article. For the amount of work and length of the articles I wrote, that was pennies.

  6. $100 for a short story, “Guarding the Punch–and Alice.” It was included in

  7. $100 for my short story, “Guarding the Punch–and Alice.” It was included in NOT THE ONLY ONE: Lesbian & Gay Fiction for Teens published by Alyson Books in 2004.

  8. Bet$y, you are so money.

  9. I like your train entries–they’re funny.

    So FREE doesn’t count? Maybe $30, then, for a mangled essay called “Confessions of a Breck Girl” that ran in a lousy Bay Area magazine 16 years ago.

  10. Oh and congratulations on the clams!

  11. No wait, it was probably more like $10 or $15 for a silly hit-and-run type thing about dogs and lightning that ran on a website.

    Serial poster over ‘n’ out.

  12. So far, I pay to play. I think that works out to debt. But being the rock star I am, I’m gonna keep shoving my horns into that mountain, with gusto. The way I see it, eventually, something will start trickling in. Please, don’t tell my girlfriend I wrote this, please.

  13. Money? For writing? People get paid money for writing? You’re shitting me! No? You’re not? Wow!

    How do you get it? Do you ask? If you ask, will they give it to you?

    They will? Sometimes? Holy hand-grenade! I had no idea. I gotta get in on this! Beats being fucked with a dry stick, which is what I usually get for my writing. I thought that’s what everybody got. Well, I’ll be pickled in brine and sealed in a Mason jar, will wonders never cease.

    • Will things never cease to be prickly pickled? I ask you. Should I open that jar? From your tasty rhyming missive, I would say it’s worth a taste. Chances are, you’ll only hurt your fingers. And not to be too over the top, as a novice, what pays money might blow your mind. So easy. And if that made sense to you, god help you.

    • Mid-90s through 2000 you’d be surprised what you could make. Would have to check back but I believe I got $500 a piece for 1,000 word essays and 600-word book reviews.

  14. Thirty years ago, Organic Gardening Magazine paid me $100 for a short piece about making your own soap, but they never ran the article.

  15. $20, for an article on what to do if you have a flooded basement.

  16. you had sex in a bathroom stall at Phoebe’s Bar on the Bowery?

  17. A. She loooved Phoebe’s on the Bowery. This I remember well.

    B. You should negotiate bubela. Because it’s what you do and because these schlock mags are desperate for copy that good. Tell them you want $400 and settle for $300. In fact insist on $500 and settle for $350.

    • But it’s free (- $200) advertising to a targeted market. I don’t know Writers reader numbers off the top of my head but it’s a big thing to take into consideration. Five pages is hard to ignore. Plus there are all the emails they send out to anyone who ever had a subscription highlighting the months features so there’s a possibility of a larger audience and Writers does all the work. Congratulations Betsy!

  18. How about the most I ever got paid for one piece? It’s an amusing story. i was chatting by phone with an editor at Elle magazine one evening — a long shoot the shit about the state of many things — and we were both keeping ourselves late from leaving work and both with wives and small children at home and at one point I said, of course, we would have to lie about why we were late. He agreed. A long relaxed pointless conversation was not going to cut it. This became a discussion about why we would have to lie; in the end he got excited and invited me to write a piece about it. I did. It was called “Why Men Lie.” He was the only male editor on staff there at the time. Everyone else there hated it. I got the kill fee which was nothing to sneeze at, like $1250.. A year or so later I was tsolicited for a piece in an anthology called Bastard on the Couch. I pulled this out of the drawer and gave it another going over and sent it to the editor; he liked it and took it. My agent on the strength of that sold it to GQ. Then it sold to the Times of London Sunday Magazine. Then in Korea, South Africa, and Australia and perhaps another few places. I made from this admittedly light piece about what is considered a reasonable first novel advance these days. Like $15,000. It was unreal. Of course the poor editor got bupkis. He’s probably divorced now too……

  19. 25$ for a poem.

  20. $200??? I would lose my mind if someone offered me that for anything I had written!!

    So far I write every day, entertain lots of people on the net, but not one has sent me a dime. I’m thinking about job action, not one more word until the money flows.

    Who am I kidding? I’m nothing more than a blog whore, addicted to myself…


  21. Ha. Once got $5 for a short story in, I think it was Cricket magazine for kids. I thought it was terrific as it was the first time I’d been paid for something other than work related. Of course, $5 back then was, considering inflation, like a thousand dollars or so in today’s dollars…okay…okay…maybe not quite that much.

  22. I wrote a chapter of a non-fiction book for a gift basket. It was high end brand but not very big. It was still cool to get the book. I did it for goodwill purposes. I’m quite sure the foreign rights for one country are locked once I get the novel published here. If that sounds cocky? It is. I am in the freaking zone this week.

  23. Zero for everything so far. That about covers it.

  24. Paid in copies and not that many. A piece about the strangeness of a anti-nuclear power rally, the planted instigators, a woman having a serious meltdown that others tried to treat with good vibes; the songs the music and the drug dealers hoping to make a quick buck off of people trying to make it all better. It was in New Hampshire, but the piece was published in the dearly departed Ohio Valley Environmentalist

  25. A universal question, if by “universal” you mean it could also be answered by actors, musicians, artists, and sex workers.

    I could make up a story and call it the higher truth. However, this morning I’m fixated on the lower truth, i.e., actual facts (memoir work does that to me), and the actual fact is that I don’t remember, but it was probably about $25 for some piece of journalism back in the 70s.

  26. One of my first sales was $10 for a short article on how to have a stress-less vacation. It only took me a few minutes to write it, so I felt well paid.

  27. In 1995 I wrote for a glossy antiques magazine about an unknown Faberge designer who did some major work for the Romanovs and the Nobel brothers, correcting seven decades of previously sloppy attributions for various jewels and eggs, and I got all the photographs and supporting documents for reproduction and I had to foot note the whole thing and then it was peer-reviewed. It took weeks of work and then I had to wait six months to get paid — all of $200.00. It wasn’t the $200 that bothered me, it was the waiting, insult to injury and all. If you’re going to pay writers 1/3 cent per word, at least be prompt about it, right?

    • Actually, you’ve mentioned it on your blog, Vivian and I’d like to read it. Is there a link you could email me? I have a love affair with the history of St. Petersburg.

  28. 0…Need I say more?

  29. For story about and drawing of the sister who died after grifting and ingesting too many emergency room meds I received a check for $70.00

    quid pro quo?

    I don’t know.

  30. $10 for a piece I wrote in school about our next-door neighbor…my mom submitted it to the local library magazine without telling me. I found out when my grandma called and said congratulations.

  31. $100 for a first person article in the San Francisco Sunday paper about how Woodstock may have failed the next generation. The $100 was enough encouragement to get me writing my seriously so yes, money helps sometimes!

  32. If I’m not mistaken I think I got $25 for a poetry reading (yes, I used to write poetry) if that counts. It was part of the Ascension poetry reading series organized by poet, Howard Univ. professor, cool dude, E. Ethelbert Miller and I believe it was sometime in the late 1970s in Wash. D.C.

  33. I wrote features for 7 cents a word for years. And then got paid months after publication. The editor was shocked when I moved on.

    My friend Monica Drake and I did a little road trip a few years back and read our stories in a bookstore. Five people showed up and two bought the books we had for sale, but we were given all the bottled water we could drink. We had this great idea for an anthology called “Will Write for Water”…featuring the trials and tribulations of writers on the road huxtering their wares in front of three-person audiences. Maybe we’ll work on that…

  34. Fifteen cents per inch of published copy for freelance book and film reviews.
    Just finished your book. Delighted WD wants to run an excerpt. Every writer should have a copy.

  35. I wrote a weekly column for my hometown newspaper in the early 70’s, about life at our high school and got paid in compliments from my mother’s friends. Never even got me laid. In the late 1970’s I got roughly $10 an article from a small feminist magazine. It felt like a million bucks to a poor starving student.

    The best writing gig I’ve had was in the 90’s when I was paid about $55K a year for four years to essentially write a book or two for the corporation I worked for. They thought they were paying me to do a lot of other stuff — and sometimes I did — but for the most part, I just wrote. They own the copyright and it’s still in print and I haven’t seen a royalty in over 12 years. I keep wondering if I should ask about getting the rights back. But since I did it as an employee, I think I’m screwed. But not in a bathroom stall at Phoebe’s.

    My best story is recent, getting paid $300 for a blog post that I’d already written, reprinted in a magazine. Gotta love that! “Hell, yeah, you can use it and pay me for what I’d already done for nothing.” I kept a photocopy of that paystub since I may have to use it to keep myself out of Phoebe’s someday.

  36. Decided to try my luck at submitting news stories to an online outfit this year. They have a complex payment schedule that I couldn’t figure out so thought I would just test drive it.
    After half a dozen stories, my gross earnings are 37 cents. They won’t cut a check for less than $25. So they actually will pay zip, zero.
    Does the 37 cents count for tax purposes? I have a printout of my earnings.

  37. A year’s supply of chocolate for a one hundred fifty words about how chocolate bridges the generation gap. Pretty sweet, actually.

  38. I got a rosary for being the founding editor of my grade school newsletter, “St. Philip’s Chit-Chat.”

  39. I write anonymous entries in blog contests to win Betsy’s book, which I wouldn’t claim even if I won–but I lose.

    That’s gotta be worse than a boyfriend’s college essay, or writing for cheesecake and rosaries.

  40. 150 Qatari Riyals for a travel article about a holiday i took at my own expense. I was a bored Middle Eastern housewife though so at least it got me out of the house.

  41. Ten bucks for a short story in an anthology. After two years, I’ve earned out six dollars of that advance.

  42. Please. I’ve got you all beat. My college newspaper, The Pitt News (Univ of Pittsburgh) paid a half-cent per word when I was there! Seriously — a HALF-cent! They would tack the pay for various CD reviews and A&E type features I wrote onto the check I received from my work-study job in the medical library.

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