Book Review: Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living – Edited by Manjula Martin

Let’s get one thing clear from the outset: this book is not about what the title says it’s about, what the back blurb says it’s about, or what I thought it was going to be about.  Finally, I thought: A book about how to make a living as a writer.  Only it’s not.

The essays in it are about writing – at least most of them, but they are not about how to survive financially as a writer.  To the opposite.  Most of them are about how impossible it is to make it as a writer.  They are stories of traumas and failures, not triumphs, with few exceptions. The book is filled with horror stories of despair and inexplicable behavior.  The prize, in my opinion, goes to the author who went $50,000 in credit card debt while writing her first book, and $85,000 in credit card debt writing her second book.  That’s inspirational?  That’s supposed to provide guidance to struggling writers?  That’s any sort of example for anyone to follow?

The book is readable and even entertaining, for the most part, although there was one essay I just couldn’t get through and had to skip over.  However, its vision is very narrow.  Its premise is that if you want to create, whether it be through writing or any other form of art, unless you are one of a few notable exceptions, you can’t make a living at it.  This is not what I need to hear, and also it’s not true.  I personally know a number of people who make a living at it, and I have read about many, many more in books, magazines, and online forums.  It can be done.  This book was like almost three dozen voices whispering or sometimes screaming in my head how hard it is and why I shouldn’t even try.  And it’s fine if the editor meant to collect essays on the angst and disappointment and discouragement inherent in the writing experience – if that was the intent then it succeeded admirably.  In that case, though, the problem is with the title, cover copy, and marketing.  It just doesn’t deliver what it implies that it will.

There are some good essays in this book, and the best ones are those in which the writers do not attempt to be ostentatious and literary, but instead simply and honestly tell their stories.  Even if a story is grim, I appreciate it if it is written from the heart without accompanying bells and whistles and other adornment.

One major problem, and perhaps the reason the book is full of gloom and doom instead of hope, is that it focuses almost entirely on the traditional publishing scene and ignores the modern phenomenon of self-publishing.  Many of the full-time writers I know or have heard of make comfortable livings through self-publishing, not through major New York publishing houses.  Some of the writers in this book decry the lack of diversity in publishing – and that is true of traditional publishing.  But self-publishing is a whole new game, and anyone can play it.  The field is open for writers to upload their books into online literary marketplaces where they are on display along with those of traditional publishing houses.

Yes, this book has numerous flaws and gaps, and I’m not sure I can recommend it as a result.  I don’t mind so much that it deals mostly with traditional publishing.  My biggest objection is the overall negative tone and the lack of hope it offers idealistic would-be writers.

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One Response to Book Review: Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living – Edited by Manjula Martin

  1. Liz says:

    I wouldn’t recommend it either. There’s a new world out there in publishing and some writers just need to open their eyes and wake up to the changes. And put the credit card away.

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