The Myopia of Privilege

Jill Abramson and Dean Baquet, the publication's first African-American to hold the post. - peoplewhowrite

Jill Abramson, the New York Times‘ first female Executive Editor, was fired and replaced by Dean Baquet (r), the publication’s first African-American to hold the post.

Two weeks ago, Jill Abramson, former Executive Editor of the New York Times and the first female to hold the post, told a room of young women writers to have “some fucking respect” for Alessandra Stanley. Referring to the social media backlash her onetime Times colleague received for her “tone deaf” write-up of Shonda Rhimes (not to mention Stanley’s agreement that actress Viola Davis is “less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington and Halle Berry), Abramson offered Stanley’s 1990s coverage of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill case as reason to give the writer a pass.

These comments were made at the inaugural BinderCon Symposium–a conference that grew out of the instantly viral Facebook group Binders Full of Women Writers, which itself was inspired by 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion, during a debate, that he had had to go to “a number of women’s groups” for help finding women to employ. “They brought us whole binders full of women,” Romney said.

That Abramson would even bring up Stanley, when the discussion had theretofore centered on her experiences as a woman at different prestigious publications and the circumstances surrounding her ousting from the Times, is evidence of the age old, but ever spry, divide between feminism and racial justice initiatives. It’s also an indication of the myopia of privilege, and the narrow focus privilege politics can take by extension. In the effort to topple the privilege totem, we can construct our own towers, effectively excluding those outside our membership or association circle–insensitive to (or compliant with) our own perpetuation of exclusion.

Throughout her keynote conversation with journalist Emily Bell, Abramson spoke proudly of the nearly 50:50 (women: men) masthead she achieved during her tenure at the Times. She detailed how she aggressively fostered female growth at the Grey Lady, connecting with women staffers outside the office for standing bonding sessions. But when Abramson was subsequently asked about her efforts to racially diversify the New York Times newsroom, she answered much like Romney did. Hiding behind the lack of proportional racial representation across the entire industry, she claimed she had personally attended conferences and visited other venues seeking to recruit (binders full of?) people of color.

Whether we’re talking about writing for an outlet like the New York Times or writing a book, the industry of letters is notoriously exclusive and exclusionary. If you’re not weeded out because you can’t afford to take a low-paying editorial position and hang in there for the years/decades it could take to climb up the food and salary chain, or if you don’t have the luxury of taking advantage of a(n unpaid) month(s)long writers’ residency because you have to report to a job; you could be shut out because literary reviews disproportionately review books by male authors. You could be excluded because you’re self-published, as authors of so-called vanity books are often ineligible for the major prizes and literary awards that come with financial remuneration, greater publicity of your work, and access to a network that can support your future success. You could be ghettoized because of your identity. And then there’s the rolodex nepotism that comes with “who you know”, where you went to college or graduate school, etc..

It’s naive to discount the power of real and perceived connection. Abramson probably had a myriad of personal and professional reasons for demanding the writers in the room cut Stanley some slack and look back to her body of work before calling her a racist. But those reasons are probably very similar to the ones held by the white men that created a climate in which Abramson had to be vigilant about cultivating women’s ascendancy at the Times in the first place.

When it comes to interrogating power and access, we have to ask ourselves: are we against privilege only when it excludes us, or because it excludes at all? Who deserves to be shown some “fucking respect”? Who doesn’t?

"Game of Thrones" Author's TV Writing Break Came After the Failure of His Fourth Book

Game of Thrones Author George RR Martin_peoplewhowriteGeorge R.R. Martin told the Wall Street Journal‘s Christopher John Farley, “The greatest setback I ever faced was the failure of my fourth novel The Armageddon Rag.”

“I was a hot young writer,” explains. “Each novel that I wrote got a bigger advance…and until I wrote  The Armageddon Rag that seemed par for the course. I got the biggest advance I’d gotten to date. It got great reviews. It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. My publishers were certain it would be my first bestseller. And nobody bought it.”

The Game of Thrones creator says the book’s poor sales made it impossible to sell his fifth book, and forced him to consider selling his house, but, “Oddly enough, the very book that ended my career as a novelist opened my career in Hollywood.”

Watch the video to hear how it went down.

Simon and Schuster Cuts Multi-Year Deal With Amazon

Simon and Schuster Agreement with Amazon_peoplewhowrite

What does Simon and Schuster’s deal with Amazon mean for the e-tailer’s dispute over ebook pricing with Hachette?

The New York Times says: “Amazon told Hachette it wanted e-books to be cheaper while also reportedly seeking a greater share of the revenue from each sale. The negotiations were widely viewed by traditional publishers as an attempt to establish a new benchmark that would increasingly diminish their roles.

Perhaps Hachette’s refusal to commit helped inspire Amazon to make an agreement with Simon & Schuster. If so, a deal might inspire a settlement with Hachette. A Hachette spokeswoman declined to comment.”

Hugh Howey asserts: “There’s another advantage to this deal for Simon & Schuster. Pressure for higher ebook prices comes from print retailers, who don’t want to be undercut. Publishers aren’t stupid; they know they can sell more ebooks at a lower price and make money doing so, but they worry about harming existing partnerships. S&S can now price some ebooks high, knowing that Amazon has room to discount, and they can go to the buyers at their major accounts with the digital list price to show their support. That is, the blame for the eventual lower sale price will fall on Amazon, which brick and mortar outlets already loathe, and S&S gets to look like a champion. Meanwhile, they are giving up a percentage of margin to help Amazon discount. Everyone wins. Especially the customer.”

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Douglas Preston, a Hachette author who heads Authors United, a group of more than 1,500 writers that has publicly pressured Amazon to reach a deal with Hachette, said he wants to know whether Amazon has offered Hachette the same terms as Simon & Schuster.” probes: “Could both sides have really come away feeling good about the result? Maybe so — it could be a compromise in the best sense of the word. But it won’t quiet the complaints about Amazon’s behavior, most recently from The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in a Monday op-ed.

‘By putting the squeeze on publishers, Amazon is ultimately hurting authors and readers,’ Krugman wrote. He concluded that ‘what matters is whether it has too much power, and is abusing that power. Well, it does, and it is.'”

Ursula K. Le Guin Earns Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Ursula K. Le Guin - peoplewhowrite

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin has joined an esteemed list of writers including Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, and Philip Roth to receive the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director said of the writer whose career has spanned four decades, “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated – and never really valid – line between popular and literary art.”

Most recently, Le Guin has been in the news for her involvement with Authors United, a group of bestselling and high-profile authors pressuring Amazon to back down in its dispute with publisher Hachette and stop “refusing orders” of books published by Hachette. The New York Times‘ David Streitfeld wrote: “Referring to how Amazon is making Hachette books harder to buy on its site, [Le Guin] said, ‘We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author.'”

Richard Flanagan Has Won the 2014 Man Booker Prize

Richard Flanagan has won the 2015 Man Booker Prize - peoplewhowrite

Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North beat out To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua FerrisWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy FowlerJ by Howard JacobsonThe Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee, and How to be Both by Ali Smith to win the 2014 Man Booker Prize, worth £50,000. According to, the chair of judges AC Grayling said he and his fellow jurors debated for three hours before reaching a majority decision. “The two great themes from the origin of literature are love and war: this is a magnificent novel of love and war,” Grayling said.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Flanagan’s sixth novel, is inspired by Flanagan’s father. A Japanese prisoner of war in the 1940s, the elder Flanagan was forced to help build the Death Railway between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma in 1943 to support Japanese forces. Over 100,000 people died in construction of the railway.

“He trusted me, he never asked me what the story was,” Flanagan told the BBC. The book took him 12 years to finish. “But I did talk to him often about very small things. What the mud was like, what the smell of a rotting tropical ulcer that had eaten through to the shin bone exactly was. What a tiny ball of sour rice would taste like when you’re starving, what starvation felt like in your belly and your brain.”

The day he finished the novel, Flanagan’s father, 98, died.

This was the first year the Man Booker Prize was open to English Language writers outside the Commonwealth. The Tasmania-born author remarked “In Australia the Man Booker is sometimes seen as something of a chicken raffle. I just didn’t expect to end up the chicken.”

Journalism Tips from Wall Street Journal Columnist Teri Agins

Teri Agins, author of "Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers" - peoplewhowrite

Teri Agins got some great intel from Teri Agins, author of the new book Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers, for aspiring journalists. Leveraging her 25 years reporting on the fashion business, Agins shares the stories behind some of her biggest pieces to drop some serious gems. Take note of the main points below, and check out the full piece on Fashionista:
“…if you want to be a good journalist, you need to know how to use a courthouse, know how to read a docket sheet, know how to talk to judges and read through a lawsuit and see what you need to see.”

“The first big story I did was in 1990 about this designer named Gordon Henderson, who was fighting with his financial backer, this guy named Ricky Sasaki. …I won an award for this story, because I found out his salary, I got some really inside stuff on them, and that story kind of put me on the map. It wasn’t like he was a big time designer, but it was a nice kind of inside look. So I always tell young journalists, when you’re trying to do a story, go for a story that’s doable. Yeah, it would have been nice to do that story on Karl Lagerfeld, or Oscar [de la Renta], or Calvin Klein and Barry Schwartz. But you know that story’s unbeatable.”

“I always try to establish with a source that I am not here to sell your clothes, I am here to tell a story. …I also feel like, in the course of reporting sometimes, you’ll find something incendiary about somebody. At the Journal we had something called the no surprise rule. A subject or a source is not supposed to read a story and be surprised by it. If they wouldn’t come to the phone, we would fax them questions, if they wouldn’t take questions, we’d send them to their attorney. We would give them a chance. A lot of times, they’re going to be mad at it, and it’s just too bad.”

“Go to a lot of B and C events. The A events, you might not get invited anyways. But the B and C events, there might be more time to stand around and talk to people. …You want to get the story that everybody else doesn’t have. If you’re staring at the same fashion show at the same time, you’ll have the same story that everybody else has. You want to find the counterintuitive story that is going to resonate with people.”

Publishers Weekly: In 2013, Industry Salaries a Little Higher, Diversity Sorely Lacking

Last month, Publishers Weekly published results of their annual survey of publishing industry salaries. The survey included questions related to job security, and, for the first time, questions about racial diversity. A few of the findings below: Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 11.33.22 PM Editors' salaries in 2013 via Publishers Weekly - peoplewhowrite Racial Diversity in the Publishing Industry_peoplewhowrite More survey results here.

Young People Say They'll Pay More For Print than E-Books

Millennials prefer print books to digital reads_peoplewhowrite

Part of the results Adweek yielded from a straw poll of 18-34 year olds in New York City.

Last week, posted results from a millennial-on-the-street poll that contradict the cliché of the “smartphone-addicted twentysomething who spends her free time posting selfies on Instagram, sharing BuzzFeed lists on Facebook and creating socially conscious hashtags on Twitter”. Nearly two weeks earlier, The Bookseller announced findings from their own poll. Both showed that young people (in the US and the UK) prefer reading print books to digital. Perhaps more telling for the future economics of book writing and publishing though, is that the millennials surveyed said they are not willing to pay print book prices for e-books.

“In our research,” explained Luke Mitchell, Director of Voxburner, the company that conducted the survey for The Bookseller, “70% said that £6.99 was a reasonable price to pay for a paperback but only 10% were prepared to pay the same for an e-book.” Mitchell added, “Online retailer Amazon was the most popular sales channel, used by 75% of respondents, but high street bookshops were also in favour, with 73% of young people choosing to buy their books through this channel. Some 37% purchase titles at supermarkets, 37% go to charity shops, 34% use independent bookshops, and 13% use online retailers other than Amazon.”

In their ongoing dispute with publisher Hachette over e-book prices, Amazon has said selling e-books to readers at lower prices than print books could actually be a boon to writers and publishers.

In an open letter to the industry via their website, the Amazon Books Team explains:

For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

Knowing Our Worth

Laura Shine - peoplewhowrite

Laura Shin

The opening day of the Bindercon Symposium featured a thorough and thoughtfully put together presentation by writer Laura Shin. Speaking to a room spilling over with freelance writers, Shin shared proposed formulas for calculating an hourly rate as well as practical advice for efficient time-management, asking for a raise, and knowing when to say no to an assignment. So many of us writers/artists struggle with the financials of creating, and the turnout reflected a desire to not only sustain ourselves using our gifts, but assert our worth.

During the post-talk Q&A, one woman asked about how best to ask for more money. Her question brought to mind the recent piece on about Nobel Laureate Sir VS Naipaul. Reportedly, he dropped out of a literary festival appearance because his proposed fees were too low. The article suggests Naipaul had been booked to appear at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, but bowed out after his request for a $20,000 fee was refused.

Naipaul’s agent Andrew Wylie has a different story:

“VS Naipaul agreed to attend the Ubud Writers and Readers festival without honorarium, but regretfully withdrew when he discovered a conflict in his diary which could not be resolved. We have since been surprised to learn that the festival was selling tickets to any event, since the specifics of Sir Vidia’s involvement had not been agreed, and the contract had not been signed.”

Festival founder Janet DeNeefe says, “Sir VS Naipaul made an 11th-hour request for a $20,000 appearance fee that would have jeopardised the longevity of the UWRF and all of those involved”.

The actual story is their business, but what stood out in the The Guardian‘s post was this quote from Val McDermid:

“writers understandably get very angry when all the professionals–the people who do the programmes, the people who put up the marquee–get paid except the people who do the performance.’”

In other words, as Laura Shin repeated throughout her talk, knowing what to charge, negotiating a higher rate, and earning a sustainable living as a writer starts with knowing our worth ie the value of the work we are selling, and the time and skill it takes to create it.

The notes I furiously scribbled at Shin’s talk are below:


  • You are good at what you do AND people in a position to hire you know you’re good. i.e. you have clips or a portfolio and relationships with editors and hiring manager who get (and like) what you do.


  • Your business plan should include your professional goals e.g. I want to write for X number of new publications; I want to break into my dream publications; and it should include your financial goals. (How much do I currently make? How much did I make last year? Can I be more efficient? Can I raise my rates?)


  • Your budget should break down roughly as follows: no more than 50% toward essentials; at least 20% toward your financial priorities e.g. savings and retirement fund; and no more than 30% for discretionary items (e.g. socializing and entertainment).
  • Automate contributions to a retirement plan like a Solo 401(k), Roth, or IRA. (If you put $458/month away from age 25 to 60, you’ll have a little over $1 million to retire on.)
  • Save an emergency fund of 3-6 months’ worth of essential living expenses.
  • In addition to health insurance, you should have disability, renters’, and umbrella insurance.
  • Consider a “paycheck” account to manage irregular paychecks (when assignments are few and far between or checks don’t come when expected).
  • Your budget should factor in kill fees in case your editor decides to scrap the story you’ve worked on, as well as administrative and bookkeeping costs.
  • To earn $150,000 a year, for example, you need to earn $111.60/hour.
  • Set quarterly, monthly, and weekly goals to determine if you are on track to meet your annual goal; break the days of the month down and determine how much you will make that month based on assignments versus your monthly goal.


  • Build regular clients and dependable clients–they will be your bread and butter.
  • Be careful of regular clients though, they can keep your rates down. Letting go of regular clients can be scary, but can also open up your time to write for clients that pay more.


  • Don’t be afraid to ask for more money or negotiate more favorable terms, if the first offer (based on your budget) doesn’t make financial sense for you.
  • If your contract allows it, consider re-selling work that has run elsewhere.


  • Calculate the amount of time you spend on your work including bookkeeping, administration, phone calls with your editor, webinars, twitter chats, giving interviews, etc. Efficiency is key to maximizing your income.
  • Track how much time you’re spending on a story versus how much you’re being paid. (Don’t think about word rates. Focus on how much time a piece will take you, then decide if it’s worth your time.)
  • Don’t let someone else’s emergency be your own. If your editor/manager requires you to rewrite a piece on an impossible deadline, instead of scrambling, let them know when you can reasonably meet the deadline.


  • Find a specialty. Look for high-demand, low-supply areas.