Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Working hard for the money

dollar-signA while back, I went to the independent bookstore in town and asked if they would be interested in selling my chapbook, Glances Back. Sometimes, "local author" can be a nice draw. The manager looked at the book, did a cursory flip through, and said, "No thank you. Poetry doesn't sell well," she told me, "and it's pretty expensive."

I couldn't blame her (though I was annoyed). We've all looked at the length of a volume from time to time and debated whether it was worth the money, as though the written word could be judged the same way as a cheeseburger or a "now 25% more" bottle of shampoo. I'll skip the argument for the value of poetry and go, instead, straight to the numbers.

My chapbook is 30 pages long. It costs $10. I keep $5 of that; the other half goes to the publisher.
My chapbook contains 21 poems. That's less than 50 cents a poem. Heckuva deal ya got dere.
But wait, there's more.

Let's say that it took me an average of 10 hours to write and revise each poem. Let's say that I spent an additional 30 hours assembling the collection (moving poems around, considering themes and titles, writing additional poems that were cut from this collection) and working with the publisher (The book was immediately accepted by the first publisher I sent it to, which is rare and which spoiled my expectations for future publishing. Still, there was a discussion, reformatting, and proofing the galleys.)

21 poems x 10 hours = 210 hours
                                  +  30 hours
                                 = 240 hours

If you divide $10 by 240 hours, you learn that, with each chapbook I sell, I have been retroactively paid four cents an hour. That is not counting time spent doing readings or advertising the book in any way. All this would be fine if I were selling thousands of copies, but chapbooks tend to be in the limited-edition category. As in (very) few hundred. No wonder I got looks of pity from my classmates in my publishing course.

Why did I want to do this math, again?

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