Edgar Allan Poe
As a preface to the main text of this post, I offer a statement fraught with truth (and, perhaps, fear, for some...):
“…most books, both traditionally published and self-published, don’t sell well. Whether your book is intended to inspire, inform or entertain, millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shrinking pie of attention.”
That quote is from Mark Coker, the Founder of Smashwords, “…the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks.”—I also used it in a post I did back 2013, What About All The Authors Whose Books Don’t Sell Very Many Copies?
O.K, preface accomplished…
When I said up there that “Perhaps More Writers Should Aspire to Be Like Edgar Allan Poe…?”, I didn’t necessarily mean more writers should do “spooky” stuff (but, of course, not all Poe’s writing is “spooky”…); nor, did I mean more writers should drink themselves to death…
What if you knew that:
“…Poe earned only about $6,200 in his lifetime, or approximately $191,087 adjusted for inflation.”
What if you also knew that:
“…$191,087 was all you got for 20 years of work and the stuff you wrote happened to be among the most enduring literature ever produced by anyone anywhere?”
Those quotes are from an article in The Millions, entitled, Edgar Allan Poe Was a Broke-Ass Freelancer.
A few more excerpts from the article (the Voice in these quotes is Catherine Baab-Muguira):
“Last October, in the depths of a depression so profound and overwhelming that I had to take mental-health leave from work, I started rereading Poe for the first time since I was a kid… I encountered a writer completely different from the one I thought I knew…He was actually a lot like my writer-friends, with whom I constantly exchange emails bitching about the perversities of our trade—the struggle to break in, the late and sometimes nonexistent payments, the occasional stolen pitch….Poe’s short stories weren’t the adventure-horror tales I remembered, either. They turned out to be exquisitely wrought metaphors for despair.”
“You never enter the same Poe whirlpool twice. Much of his work has a purposeful, built-in double nature; he intended we discover ‘secret codes’ of meaning… “
“This points to the other important, less acknowledged, double nature of Poe’s work. It’s both art and commercial entertainment. Few other American writers so obviously and continually straddle the gap between high and low culture, between art for art’s sake and commercial enterprise.”
“I think if Poe hadn’t had to write for money, he’d probably have faded away long ago.”
And, in a second section of the article (which contains more details about Poe’s literary life), Catherine says:
“Picture this: A tech breakthrough has made mass publishing cheaper than ever before. With the cost of entry down, new publications launch with much high-flown talk about how they’ll revolutionize journalism, only to shut their doors a few years or even months later. Because the industry is so unstable, editors and writers are caught in a revolving door of hirings, firings, and layoffs. A handful of the players become rich and famous, but few of them are freelance writers, for whom rates remain scandalously low. Though some publications pay contributors on a sliding scale according to the popularity of their work, it’s mostly the case that writers don’t earn a penny more than their original fee even when their work goes viral.
“I’m speaking of Poe’s time, not our own. Still, I expect some of this will sound familiar. Pretty much the only piece missing is a pivot to video.”
As always, I urge you to go read the full article; but, as a fitting end to this post:
“When I first cracked back into Poe last October, my therapist begged, ‘Please stop reading him. He’s too depressing.’ But my experience of reading Poe and other writers on Poe the last 11 months has been the opposite of depressing. It helped me climb out of a very deep hole.
“In the end, Poe only pocketed $191,087, but he did get the immortal fame he grew up dreaming of. And I got taken, blessedly, outside myself. If the past is anything to go by, what lies ahead is not destruction. It just might be the stuff of our wildest dreams.”
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