November 2nd, 2010 / 3:36 pm

Why Do We Hate Money?

The Kenyon Review announced (today, recently, I’m not sure) that their short story contest would be funded by Amazon. Did you know that Amazon is now offering grants and supporting literary magazines and other nonprofits? I didn’t. People are reacting. There’s a lot of skepticism and concern. The reaction is understandable. has exhibited some questionable business practices. Their ambition is naked and their willingness to dominate the sale of, well, everything, is amply documented. My co-editor and I e-mailed about this and we both expressed some uneasiness about the idea but then I said, “I don’t mind Amazon’s dirty money.” Then I thought, “Why is their money dirty?” Is there any such thing as clean money? Everything associated with money is in some way a little bit corrupt.

In The Daily Rumpus last week (or the week before last, I’m not sure), Stephen Elliott asked about advertising and if that was something The Rumpus should consider and I e-mailed him and essentially said, “Hell yes you should bring advertisers on board.” I couldn’t believe that capitalizing on a revenue opportunity was something worth questioning. Then I felt like a greedy capitalist and I was mostly okay with that. I am offering tattoo space on my forehead to any willing buyers.

Somewhere along the way, I think those of us toiling in the non profit, indie publishing world decided that money is bad or that only some kinds of money are good money while other kinds of money are bad.  Profits from a book by Tyra Banks? Bad. Profits from a book by Alice Munro, also published by a Random House imprint? Good. Sometimes, I wonder if we’re more attached to our ethics and the idea of the right kind of money than achieving success. This is not to suggest that we should abandon our ethical codes for the sake of financial success but I don’t know that patting ourselves on the back for the right ethics or the right politics, while we wallow in poverty, is doing us any good. I like money. I think money is great. The older I get, the less concerned I am with where that money comes from. It’s not like I want to traffic in blood diamonds, or anything, but if some corporate sugar daddy wanted to enable one of my passion projects, I’d be okay with that.

In graduate school, most of us lived on $10-$13 K a year. Our voluntary poverty was so abject that it became almost sexual, how much we enjoyed discussing our brokeness, brokitude, and the creative ways we managed to make ends meet while doing things like not shopping at Walmart. We were (relatively) poor but principled. Once in a while, we would buy ourselves a little bauble like a laptop or a car and some of us would literally hide these new possessions for fear of how such a vulgar display of consumption would contradict our ascetic lifestyle.

Poverty is not awesome. I cannot say I am at all acquainted with poverty but I have certainly seen it (both relatively, in the US, and absolutely, abroad). Graduate school taught me that it’s a pain in the ass to live on an extremely tight budget. There was nothing cool or special about it. Just because we can live on some absurdly low sum of money does not mean we should if it is within our means to do otherwise. Just because we can produce a good literary magazine on, say, $5,000 a year, doesn’t mean we should turn our noses up at producing a magazine for $25,000 a year or even $250,000 a year.

When the VQR story broke, a lot of people, myself included, were simply staggered by the kind of money they had to work with–not thousands or tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars. The death of Kevin Morrissey and the accusations of bullying were troubling and tragic, but really, it was the money we were interested in discussing. Being able to produce a magazine with that kind of capital was (and is) simply flabbergasting. Many of us began composing wish lists of everything we could do with a mere fraction of the VQR money (unicorns! ponies! cupcakes!) and there was an undercurrent of anger in many of the discussions. We weren’t worried about a man’s unfortunate passing or the events leading up to his death. We were outraged, I think, that a magazine dared to spend money, and a lot of it and did so without explanation or apology.

My thoughts here are a bit scattered but I’ve been thinking about money a lot lately. How do we pay the printer? How do we pay an iOS developer? How do we pay contributors? How do we survive? How, how how. There’s not a lot of money in literary magazines and small (tiny) presses. I don’t know that we can afford to worry about where our money is coming from.


  1. Lincoln Michel

      I had no real problem with VQR’s money situation (I think it is great a university was willing to fund good writing), but I think most of the discussion was around the salaries of the VQR employees, not the payment to reporters.

  2. Ryan Call
  3. Roxane

      I was going to talk about that too then I didn’t.

  4. Mike Meginnis

      Personally I love money. I want to do two things as a writer and editor, in this order:

      Make what I want to make, and get as much money as I can for it.

      I can’t stand when people attempt to hold me to their bizarre ethics, often mainly because they don’t think their stuff can make money or they don’t feel like making the necessary effort. (Or, the worst combination, disturbingly common, especially at universities: thinking you’re entitled to money for making your art and needn’t do anything to earn it.) Purity contests make me ill.

  5. Kyle Minor

      Good post.

  6. @MrEastcoasting

      You can still have money and integrity. When the £$€ influence decisions it becomes dangerous. Indies should aim to make money and induce change. That way they will challenge the status quo.

  7. Karl

      the vqr discussion here re. the money was ridiculous. their fees were modest. they were paying for actual reporting, which means flying in writers, paying for hotels, fixers, sat phones, etc. you can’t do that stuff without thousands of dolllars. many literary journals these days are in a rush to publish “creative nonfiction”, which means, too often, memoir, and that stuff can be had for cheaper or free but is no substitute for reported nonfiction. Reporting costs money, there is no way around it. Among lit journals, only VQR, Granta, Mcsweeneys, Paris Review (at least under Gourevitch) will pay what it takes.

  8. Vladmir

      I think a lot of people who write eschew money because they have these romantic dreams of dying poor and unnoticed while achieving fame in death. I’m sure some people will die poor and then get recognized later.

      Money is good. Even in small amounts. It pays for Wendy’s 99cent nuggets. It pays for Top Ramen. It pays rent.

      A lot of people think they have more to write about when they’re poor. Yes maybe, but you still must write well.

      Blah blah blah blah GO GO CAPITALISM!

  9. Owen Kaelin

      Whatever the motivations of Amazon — and, let’s face it: they’re a business, their interest is to make money, not to make people happier — one should never, ever overlook what Amazon’s clever quest for profit has done for both for writers and musicians. How many authors and how many musicians were discovered by people browsing Amazon and by being led to that artist by a “I think you might like this”-type link, or by a user-made list . . . artists whom they wouldn’t have found out about otherwise? Think about how many records you used to buy, 15 years ago, without having heard the music, and then realized you hated the record?

      Honestly, I love Amazon. No, they’re not actually interested in improving society, but their approach has improved society.

      Another thing: In embracing the long-tail approach to retail: they not only discovered that they can make more money this way, they also created an outlet where people can find very low-radar small-press outputs without any difficulty. It doesn’t cost them any extra money to offer these titles, because they don’t have to make space available to store it, they simply place the order with whoever’s holding the book.

      The only downside is when small presses have trouble paying for having their book advertised from Amazon. SPD: same problem. Honestly, I never buy from SPD.

      For music I go to Tonevendor first and then Amazon. But if I want to hear what a record sounds like and don’t have the band/artist’s website immediately on hand: I go straight to Amazon first thing.

      Now… one literary-oriented website whose naked greed does bother me is Duotrope. I mean… they offer a great service, they’re extraordinarily valuable . . . but I wonder how much money they really are scamming off their subscribers?

      “Please!!!! We need money!!!!!!! Orange Alert ! Orange Alert!!!!!”


      (And… yeah, I agree with Roxane on the subject of ‘dirty money’, as it were… I mean… who gives you your weekly paychecks? One of my many past jobs was with an insurance company. Did it make me feel dirty? No, I was earning a living. All the people I was working with — my coworkers — were all just earning a living.)

  10. goner

      I know a freelance writer who writes for some very prominent websites who I doubt many people know also happens to work for Goldman Sachs. So basically, there’s little doubt that she makes at the very least $150k a year. Which makes pursuing a writing career not so scary I would imagine. Goldman Sachs is thought to be a devil company these days–“a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”–but I would take their money in a heartbeat.

      I tend to find that the anti-money crowd often times tend to be younger. People having their college paid for them. People who aren’t yet in college. People who don’t know how much easier life is when you have a nice salary, nice benefits or just generally have money. It’s like when people criticize bands for selling music for commercials or jumping to major labels. Or older bands who are cashing in on nostalgia and reuniting for tours that are paying them more than they ever got when they were younger. Money is important and if someone is willing to pay you for your work, why would you protest it? I love that I’m at the point in my life where I am making pretty good money and don’t have to sweat going to the doctor. The pursuit of money beyond anything else in life is empty, but having money is not empty. Advertising isn’t evil at all if it makes your life easier and allows you the freedom to make whatever it is you’re selling better.

  11. letters journal

      How can money not influence decisions. It influences every decision. I want to print my journal hardcover, 40,000 copies, and give them away for free. But wait, lack of money for that influences my decision to print 1000 of them paperback and charge $10.

  12. mark leidner

      corrupting influences are good to write against because they give something for poetry to do

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  14. jereme_dean

      “ascetic lifestyle”


  15. Lincoln Michel

      I had no real problem with VQR’s money situation (I think it is great a university was willing to fund good writing), but I think most of the discussion was around the salaries of the VQR employees, not the payment to reporters.

  16. mjm

      You need money to operate in a capitalistic society, yes. Is your question why do we hate money in our current economic structure? Because on the low levels, which would be our levels, we’re trying to do something good with it. On the low levels, our levels, it causes people to kill themselves and others or strive to get to the higher levels where they (they meaning those who have exorbitant amounts of money) kind of develop an apathetic mindset to the pain that the system causes. But why I seriously hate money? Because I’m tired of rap videos always talking about money — and I am tired of what that says about the African-American mindset, why our music (and I think it is safe to call it this/began as this, if not, prove me wrong I do not mind) specifically has such monetary greed ingrained in it. Why do I hate money? Because it is possible to have a bartering system but it seems crazy due to how we have inherited the system we live in. Because if I apply for a job and my credit sucks, they might not give me the job, even though getting a job and working to pay off debt will give me a better credit score. Because I hate the word ‘credit score’. Because people have to worry about “funding” so they can do really cool things like start a publishing company, or build a place for people to come to and learn stuff. Because money is a piece of paper with abstract value place on it. It is semiotics, and we’ll take one dick in the ass, one in the pussy for it. We’ll kill our parents with Uzis, then drive their convertibles and buy lofts and live happily ever after because of it. Because at the higher levels a lot of craziness is going on and we are made to feel paradoxically okay as we have enough of this wealth and terribly inadequate because we do not have enough.

      Now… I haven’t answered your question correctly, I just answered issues and feelings around it. There is no reason to hate money if you’re an indie press or a literary journal. You need it. In some form. Let me ask that question again: Why do we hate money in terms of just living life? Well, I guess we shouldn’t, right? I guess it isn’t that hard to save money, spend wisely, strive for greatness and do it properly along the way. Damn, if this is true, why all the hate?

  17. mjm

      Shit, I didn’t mean to like that. I’m sorry. It isn’t a personal attack against your character.

      “I love that I’m at the point in my life where I am making pretty good money and don’t have to sweat going to the doctor.”

      This is the exact reason why we should kind of dislike money my friend. What about the billions of others who have to sweat going to the doctor?

  18. Marco

      The no-money society is one reason Gene Roddenberry was a genius.

  19. Karl

      i don’t recall the salaries being that out of line. i think only genoways was six figures, the rest upper mid twos.

  20. Karl

      i write for a living. no teaching. no pr work. i write books and magazine articles. i support a family—wife, two kids, two cats. i write my ass off. every few weeks or months I get to write a short story—as a reward for having completed a few assignments, paid our health insurance, rent, car insurance, kids’ dental bills, etc. do I wish my short stories paid me more money so I didn’t have to write magazine articles?
      Yes I do.

  21. Flemingcolin

      Trust me–write for a living as a freelancer, and you’ll happily take the assignment that pays $2 a word if you don’t have to meet seven other deadlines that week. No one pays you for the thousands and thousands of words of pitches that go out every month. I really don’t get the affection for crying poor mouth as some kind of indication of an ethos or aesthetic. I suspect that the people who do so are typically striking a pose; or else rationalizing why something they want to be happening in their careers simply isn’t happening.

  22. deadgod

      It’s not money that some of “us” hate; it’s not even accumulation. It’s injustice – the fact that, for reasons of political-economic structure, many people who actually do the work don’t:

      a) get wealth generated by, or
      b) make the decisions connected to

      the work they do and the world they make by working, respectively.

      Sure, every person is “in some way a little bit corrupt” with respect to money – and not just money: everybody’s “a little bit” of a hypocrite in every way; every person constantly lets herself or himself off the hooks of conscience. But that’s not only no reason, but rather, is a terrible reason to scruple to distinguish between more and less “corrupt”.

      I think ethical superiority to ethical judgment is bullshit.

  23. Richard Thomas

      Really enjoyed this post, Roxane, and the tattoo of Coca-Cola on your forehead. Smart. It’s a big debate in my MFA program too, the idea (gasp) of writing commercial fiction so you could, oh, i don’t know, make some money, and survive. God forbid we write a western or SF novel or graphic novels, horror, romance, hell…porn. Whatever it takes. It’s nearly impossible to make a living as a short story writer, there are so few places that even pay professional rates (which at .05 a word is a whopping $200 for a 4,000 word story. You can’t even get IN to places that really pay, like Esquire or Playboy. You need an agent, or they come to you. So, I say, whatever we need to do to make a living, if making a “blockbuster” allows us to work on our “indie” book, then so be it. I like money. It’s a shame that there aren’t more ways for us to make money writing fiction.

  24. Joseph Young

      i’d like enough money to live well enough. but a suspicion of the sources, uses, and aims of money is necessary as a thinking and compassionate person.

  25. MM

      Rox, aha. here is the other side to that comment some moments ago: you apologizing for being a “greedy capitalist” and I: “i don’t know you so well”.

      I still say “i like” to anything anyone can offer for free, yet I still say “you’re not”. it’s not black or white, we’re not playing Yahtzee. Everyone would agree, the weight of pesetas can cause problems. But I don’t understand your worry. All of your points are cogent, suggesting money’s an engine. It doesn’t make you a capitalist, and it doesn’t (yet!) make you greedy. I especially appreciate your pointing out poverty. We have to champion this as much as possible.

      This is the thing that moves me (to jot thoughts in this commentbox, actually): to always be aware of the impecunious, to stop plundering petrol from Iraqis.

      Last year I left the Frank-Oak-Berk circus, having hung out with anarchists and poets and scholars and painters and even the remnants of the SF Diggers (the aforementioned Free Print Shop), leaving them behind, sadly, along with with my own pre-doctoral penury, similar to what you’d described eloquently). Now I bide in a boring high-desert, just for a job, and for the first time am paid well.

      It’s a strange juxtaposition, to have money suddenly. What I am wary of (and hope this never drops) is how I totter at my boundaries; my new money might amend who I am. I haven’t gone buying things unreservedly, not dining out any more frequently. I occasionally sigh that I don’t have to cut corners any more, don’t have to count quarters.

      But here is the heinousness I felt about the Quarterly: isn’t it awful how the “old guard” gets to claim that excessive comfort is built into their salary?

      I love a fancy office’s historic mahogany, but cry… can’t others enjoy it? I love a lovely coat, but why not adorn that old no-name with a brooch?

      One of my scant indulgences, thus far this year, included a trip to check that dusty epic, “Burning Man”. (Don’t snort, you all authors would delight at the literary riches of such a living fantasy!!) (however fluorescent) There it was quite obvious: I saw rich tourists in purchased plush costumes, and then the poor dreamers who had curated theirs. (And then there were the naked people! hah!) I used to scorn all the artists who spend such hundreds of money just to sequester their transcendental ephemeral society. But now, I see it as sacrifice for the sake of passion. It actually isn’t that private, the glamour there is a charity, affecting nearly everyone, it’s excellent, I’m glad they go and it isn’t all insipid.

      Earlier I said, any press can afford fancy paper, it isn’t easy, but see Roxane’s described survivalism, apply it to business. I only care this: is what you are doing earnest?

      To accept money from Amazon, fine. (My apologies in light of Owen’s opus to its isn’t-icky anus.) But why emblazon it on your banner?

      I still say about printing: pay what is necessary, cut corners to make things as accessible as possible. Allow poorer people the opportunity to also imbibe (“no one turned away”, or barter, or create “lit-stamps”). Champion this, I challenge you, please! Don’t leave your pals, or former selves, out cold in the rain, no matter how far you progress along the path of success and/or fame.

  26. MM

      shit sorry that got long, i always swear i’ll never do that, but please take my message: ALWAYS CHAMPION THE STRUGGLES OF THE POOR, in every endeavor you do. Then after that, don’t worry so much about the rest.

  27. Dawn.

      I love money. I want money. It provides opportunities, comfort, better health, comparatively more safety, and the list goes on. I completely agree that a literary magazine/press is entitled to pursue it. If someone ever refers to a band/author/artist/press/whatever as a “sellout,” I start liking them less.

      What I think what most people hate is the staggering injustice of our system. It is so fucked up and we all know it, whether we choose to care or not; and we all have to be active participants, whether we agree with it or not. In that sense we’re all a “little bit corrupt,” I agree. But I do think that questioning the sources of what you buy is the thoughtful and responsible thing to do.

  28. jesusangelgarcia

      We’re hoping to get badbadbad sponsorships or tour support from Jim Beam and Good Vibrations, and while we’re at it, we’d be happy if Ford throws in a free lease on an F150 for the crosscountry freak show. It’s good to dream big, I think.

  29. Guest

      “Somewhere along the way, I think those of us toiling in the non profit, indie publishing world decided that money is bad or that only some kinds of money are good money while other kinds of money are bad. . . . I like money. I think money is great. The older I get, the less concerned I am with where that money comes from. It’s not like I want to traffic in blood diamonds, or anything, but if some corporate sugar daddy wanted to enable one of my passion projects, I’d be okay with that.”

      Roxane, I think ‘indie’ generally means stuff that is produced with a focus on self-determination due to a lack of resources, subsidies, sponsorships, etc. What makes the work indie is not only this lack, but the tensions and urgencies that bleed through the work because of this lack. Throw some kind of monetary sponsorship into the mix and the worries and tensions associated with working independently w/ limited resources are greatly assuaged. The work produced now no longer resonates as ‘indie’ – or it maybe still does, but to a much lesser degree. Which is to say I don’t think that a dislike for money is necessarily the main issue here. Rather it’s the desire to latch on to the term ‘indie’ as a self-descriptor (for the sake of CVs or something, or because the word is sexy and romantic and produces an aura of coolness) in situations where it no longer really applies. I guess it’s the problem of ‘selling out’ and simultaneously wanting to identify as indie. Wanting to remain ‘indie’ despite no longer being in the situation of literal have-not ingenuity and resourcefulness that defines it. I think it’s less that people dislike money in and of itself and more that they dislike the way monetary handouts obscure and bastardize the meaning of indie, maybe. I dunno. Somethin’ like that.

  30. Guest

      “I really don’t get the affection for crying poor mouth as some kind of indication of an ethos or aesthetic.” – Flemingcolin

      It’s definitely an aesthetic… but as I tried to convey above, I think its based less out of any love for ‘crying poor mouth’ and more out of the straight up need and urgency that comes along with have-not subjectivities, the *unavoidable circumstance* of being without money, the lack of luxuries and handouts involved in indie production. The ‘affection for crying poor mouth’ part probably becomes more present when its preserved as a bullshit air after some kind of subsidy has been achieved and the work is no longer really ‘indie.’ The myth of trustfunded yuppie hipsters pretending to be poor so as to appear fashionably indie and so on.

  31. Brian Spears

      When I think of “good money” in this sort of discussion, I think of money that comes without some overt ulterior motive, which is why I would probably refuse money from Amazon. Their history suggests that they’re going to try to co-opt you by making you dependent on their money, much like Wal-Mart does with its suppliers. Wal-Mart promises a company access to the largest retail outlet in the world, and then once you’ve become dependent on their sales numbers, forces you to slash your costs (especially worker salaries) or pull out of that market. Either way you’ve screwed your company and the people who work for you. I have no reason to believe Amazon won’t do something similar, so I’d be opposed to working with them. It’s not a moral judgment so much as it’s a matter of preferring to stay independent.

  32. Michael

      If you ever want to be super depressed, take a look at this list of who’s funded by Amazon:

      Copper Canyon, Milkweed, Open Letter, SPD.

      Let me say that again: SPD is funded by Amazon.

      There is no outside.

  33. Friday’s Links « WriteByNight's Blog

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  38. GM
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  40. Daniel Paris Starling

      Does it cost money?

  41. Daniel Paris Starling


  42. Daniel Paris Starling

      It’s a shame that there aren’t more ways for us to make money writing fiction.Dont you mean without it…

  43. Daniel Paris Starling

      Greed is a Emotion, Money is a Notion

  44. Daniel Paris Starling

      Good & Bad what is this Yin/yan 1 first grade petty crap?

  45. Daniel Paris Starling

      Money is a game, You have to beat it to live.