Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

A Q&A with Manjula Martin

By Marcela Landres
Published on LatinoLA: March 29, 2017

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

Whether you're the kind of person who neatly organizes cash by denomination or habitually carries crumpled up bills in unzipped pockets or handbags reveals volumes about your relationship with money. Writers in particular tend to have complicated beliefs about compensation. This is especially the case with Latinos who are often taught that the poor are virtuous, the rich corrupt.

Do you consider money a resource available to anyone willing to roll up their sleeves and earn it? Or is it a gift for the lucky few? Consciously or unconsciously, how writers feel about money affects how they do--and don't--manage their writing careers.

To learn more, read the Q&A below with Manjula Martin, editor of Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, a collection of essays from today's most acclaimed authors, including Roxane Gay, Cheryl Strayed, and Jonathan Franzen.


Manjula Martin is the editor of Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. Her writing has appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Pacific Standard, Aeon Magazine, Hazlitt Magazine, Nieman Storyboard, The Awl, The Billfold, Modern Farmer, SF Weekly, and The Rumpus. She wrote "The Dough," a column about creative work, for The Toast (R.I.P.).

Manjula is the managing editor of Zoetrope: All-Story. She has previously worked in different editorial and writing capacities with book and magazine publishers, nonprofit organizations, and arts organizations. Manjula was born in the Santa Cruz mountains and has lived in New York City, Portland, and Paris. She's in San Francisco now. For more information, visit https://manjulamartin.com.

Q: Scratch is a great read--every writer, aspiring or established, should buy it. Part of what makes Scratch invaluable is this sort of information is very hard to come by. What inspired you to create first the online magazine Scratch and now the book version of Scratch?

A: This all started because I was hungry for information, too. I had sort of fallen into freelancing full-time after the economic crash in 2009, and I had no idea what I was doing. I started asking friends, and they had questions, too, and so I started Who Pays Writers? (http://whopayswriters.com) as a way to ask the main question. From there, Scratch magazine developed to lend a bit wider context, and that led to the book Scratch.

Q: It sometimes seems that people tend to be more open about their sex lives than their financial lives, yet you managed to convince a slew of great writers to candidly speak about money. Was it a challenge to solicit the interviews and essays for the book Scratch? Were there any dream writers you wanted to include who declined the opportunity?

A: I did a lot of cold-calling (well, cold-emailing) and I was surprised to find that most authors were really enthusiastic about the topic. Even very successful writers have questions about money and commerce, too, and amazingly they all wanted to talk to me about it! I was lucky. But I think that speaks to the importance and urgency of the topic--everyone feels a need to bring this conversation more into the open. Sometimes the process after that initial ask was sticky or tricky, but it was all done in an environment of trust and mutual curiosity.

Q: Between creating Scratch the online magazine and the book, you have a unique overview of the relationships writers have with money. In your experience, what are three of the most common financial mistakes writers make?

A: Oh, I hate lists! But I will say that it shocks me to hear of writers who aren't reading their contracts (or are working without contracts), who don't even ask about money when agreeing to write for a publication, or who don't know even the basics of taxes and what it's going to cost you when you get paid as an independent contractor (1099). If you want writing to be your job, treat it accordingly.

Q: Alternatively, what are three of the smartest financial decisions you've seen writers make?

A: Read and understand contracts. Pay quarterly taxes. Always ask for more money, even if it's just a little bit. No one is going to give you more money unless you ask for it.

Q: How has the work you've done with both the online magazine and the book Scratch affected your relationship with money? Do you make different financial choices now than you did in the past?

A: I'm working on it! I do think I'm better about asking for more money in my own work, and more comfortable talking about it. People often tell me things about their own financial situations, and I respect the trust they put in me and take it very seriously. In terms of my own relationship to money . . . I wouldn't say I make better choices, but I have learned not to be so hard on myself for poor choices I have made in the past. I lack a lot of knowledge about finances, the way many people who grew up without a lot of money do, and it's not really all my fault. That doesn't mean I should run around bouncing checks, like I did in my early 20s, but it does mean I'm more aware of my own weaknesses and knowledge gaps, and rather than blaming myself for them I'm either trying to eliminate them, or at least work around them. I'm doin' all right.

Q: Who is your agent and how did you meet him/her? If you don't have an agent, how did you come to be published by Simon & Schuster?

A: Kate McKean, aka "Kate the Great." We met because of Scratch; a mutual professional acquaintance connected us because he knew she was passionate about this topic (writers and money).

Q: Aside from your invaluable book Scratch, what resources would you recommend to writers who want to learn more about making a living through writing?

A: Each other! Talk. To. Your. Peers. That's all Who Pays Writers? (http://whopayswriters.com) is, after all. It's sharing resources among community. Other writers aren't competition, they're comrades. Help 'em out.

Q: Do you have upcoming projects that my readers should have on their radar?

A: I'm working on a novel, so it might be a while before readers see that. But if people want to keep up with me, they can subscribe to my free monthly newsletter, "three cents"--tinyletter.com/3cents.

Excerpted from Latinidad® © 2003 by Marcela Landres

About Marcela Landres:
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster
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