In New Grub Street, English novelist George Gissing depicted the literary life of 19th century London through two contrasting characters: Jasper Milvain, a cynical, ambitious writer of no particular literary talent, and Edwin Reardon, a sensitive artist with no commercial instincts.
Grub Street, London
A writer’s life back then was straightforward, if not easy. Write, write and write some more for the numerous print outlets that existed at the time and you might be able to eke out a living from the miniscule payments you received for each piece you wrote. It was a life that Gissing knew well, caught as he was between the demands of the marketplace and his desire to write fiction.
Gissing: “Maybe if I wrote something about Mariah Carey and . . . Bigfoot!”
Grub Street had been the center of 18th century journalism in London but was gone by Gissing’s day, and his novel thus characterized the frantic existence of the working writers of his time as the “new” Grub Street. The story ends in tragedy for the artistic Reardon. He marries and has a child on the strength of early critical praise, but his wife leaves him when she cannot endure the poverty and social degradation that was the lot of a spouse of a starving artist. Broken by depression and poverty, Reardon dies in misery.
On the whole, it doesn’t sound so bad to me. After all, the internet hadn’t been invented yet.
It’s their fault–they invented the internet.
At least in Gissing’s day, if you wrote constantly you could get paid something for it. In the days since the development and exponential growth of blogging–approximately the middle of the first decade of this century to the present–you can write constantly and get nothing for it. Curiously, there aren’t even any jobs shipped overseas to India to explain this transformative shift. One hundred years of writing has driven wages down from little to nothing. Bloggers live and starve on the New New Grub Street.
Typing class: “Turn back now, before it’s too late!”
In my case, I wrote my first post on foxsports.com–a spoof about extreme curling–in 2005. Until recently, the biggest paycheck for on-line writing I’d ever received was $50, for a post about Jonathan Winters I wrote for a comedy site. I should mention that the site is now defunct, a victim of its own improvidence. Every now and then I get a check from Google Ads in the low four figures, but that’s counting the numerals to the right of the decimal point.
Jonathan Winters: Coined the phrase “Nee-noo-na-na-noo-noo.”
Still, like one of Gissing’s characters, I write and I write and I write–so far, 1,972 posts in seven years, an average of 281 a year. Blogging has become for me a form of mental potato chips–you start, and you just can’t stop! But even a hopeless transfat addict has to consider the image in his mirror after a while; the internet, you tell yourself, has you by the short hairs.
A few years ago I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and actually do something about this sad state of affairs. I’d repackage my deathless on-line prose, and some deathless on-line poetry as well, as e-books on one of the various digital text platforms that have developed.
It wasn’t easy. While other middle-aged guys were out playing golf in official Ryder Cup sportswear, I sat in my den, hunched over my computer, dividing my posts up by the topics that have held my interest over the years: philosophy, ballet, NASCAR, sex, animals, vegetables, minerals, sex, alien abductions, and potpourri for $200, Alex. I packaged them into ebooks of fifty to 100 pages (or more), slapped a stock photo on the cover, and uploaded them to amazon.com.
Sorry, I haven’t written a Jeopardy! e-book. Yet.
“What are you doing?” my wife would ask from time to time.
“You’re witness to a revolution in publishing,” I’d say. “Like Gutenberg, dime novels, penny dreadfuls, paperbacks. I’m packaging my blog posts for sale!”
“I’m going to Starbucks,” she’d reply. I get choked up just thinking about how she’s been there for me, all the way, since the very beginning.
I have to admit, my story wasn’t very convincing; since I hadn’t made any money on the posts when I first wrote them, what made me think selling them in bundles would be any more rewarding? As the old joke goes, what we lose on each sale we make up in volume. Or something like that.
But then came my day to crow. My day to say to all the nay-sayers–”Go ahead and say ‘nay,’ but I’m actually making money writing on the internet!” I got the check for my first fiscal quarter in the blogging-for-bucks business, and even I was stunned at the results.
What’s important is not the top-line, as business dweebs like to say, it’s the trend, the growth in sales, that startles you. In four short months, my revenues increased 650%! That’s not a typo.
Since I’m not a public company, you won’t find the figures at the Securities and Exchange Commission, so here they are: July–seventy cents; August–$1.75; September, $3.50; and October–just in time for Christmas shopping, a whopping $4.55!
Like a lot of guys who hit it big, I could retire to Florida and pursue my dream of making the Senior Miniature Golf Tour, but I’ve decided–it’s time to give back. That’s why for only $49.95 you can own “Your Guide to Internet Writing Riches” to enjoy in the comfort of your home.
Just play the tapes while you’re tapping away at your computer, hit the “publish” button and watch your blogging income grow from nothing to . . . well, something more than nothing.