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>Ten Cents a Dance

>. . . or, in this case a dollar a word. My enterprising friend Mike Ford–we met when I heard a man yelling “Roger! Roger!” in the park, and it turned out to be Mike calling his dog–is writing a pay-as-you-go novel online, where he will add another word for each dollar somebody gives him.

Although he talks a good game–

The point is to get people thinking about what having art in their lives is worth to them. Artists can only keep producing art if they get paid for it. What would happen if all the writers stopped writing because they couldn’t afford to do it anymore? What if writers only wrote the words that people were willing to pay for? That’s what I want people to think about.

–I’m not buying it. We don’t pay writers for writing, we pay them for having written, that is, we pay for the product not the process. And, as readers, we rely on such considerations as recommendations from friends, reviews, cover design and flap copy, etc. in deciding which books we’re going to buy. Mike’s novel could start out well and then fall apart. Or it could be going along swimmingly but end mid-stream if the donations dry up.

Still, it’s better than, a since proven spurious website demanding cash from visitors else a couple would abort their unborn child.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >”…we pay for the product not the process…”

    Huh? Obviously, one could not exist without the other. It would be silly to say that when you go to purchase a car, you are only paying for the vehicle itself, not for the cost of its maunfacture. Certainly, I get your point that you would want to see the finished product before handing over your money, but I also agree with your friend that the product may never exist without funding for its research and development. To extend the metaphor too far.

    I’m not sure what I think of the project, but I do like the notion of calling into question some of our assumptions about the market place, particularly as they relate to art. And, by your argument, our tax dollars– the resources of us comsumers– shouldn’t go to fund grants supporting artists in their creative endeavors… not without first having seen the finished result.

    I don’t think I could live with that kind of economy.


  2. Sam Riddleburger says:

    >Perhaps it would work if you combined the two ideas: a dollar a word and help my child live.

    Something along the lines of: Doctor Bleathertags walked away from Little Curly Grintooth’s sick bed and said:

    “There’s no hope.” > $25

    “She needs to visit the seashore.” $26-$49

    “The fever’s broken!” $50 to $99

    “She’s fine AND this good luck charm she was holding is a priceless antique. Now we can get Mr. Grintooth out of debtor’s prison!” $100+

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >I see your point about grants, etc., Ruth, and hadn’t thought of it in that way. But I don’t think your car analogy holds up very far–obviously the consumer is paying for all the r&d and labor and materials that went into the thing, but the manufacturer would never ask us to pay on the basis that we might like the car when it’s finished.

    What you are speaking to instead is funding via sponsorship (fellowships, etc.) as opposed to funding via investment (there’s a thought for writers!) or sale. I guess I can see that. I am fairly lukewarm on the idea of public monies being distributed to individual artists, not because I have any particular faith in capitalism but because I don’t trust the government’s taste in art.

  4. rindawriter says:

    >This is a truly fascinating question…I was thinking about the Renaissance to give myself some historical perspective on the whole question.

    Artists then had patrons, the church, rulers of this and that domain, wealthy merchants; it was more of a mixed bag then maybe, rather than just ye olde U.S. Government dishing out the bucks, although when push comes to shove, investment dollars come from folks with investment dollars!!! Seems to have been that way through the years.

    I think the greatness of some of those artists was how much many of the truly great ones pushed against the barriers, limits, confines of their patrons and yet still satisfied their patrons but also did their thing, too, expressed what they ultimately wanted to express AND what is so fascinating to think about they CREATED so productively, so magnificently within those confines! The conflict between Michaelangelo and the Pope in the painting of the Sistine chapel is classic.

    Sometimes, I fret when I feel I don’t have time to complete something, especially when I’m quilting, about the limits, lack of equipment, materials there I have compared with my guild members sometimes, and yet, and yet, it is within the very limitations that I again and again find myself expressing myself with the most intense pleasure, getting the best “stuff” out. Would I do better stuff if I were being invested in? Maybe, I would start catering more to others’ wishes and tastes and end up with not so good stuff rather than you know really expressing myself and what I deeply, most ardently want to “say.” And being happy deep down when somethting comes out well.

    And I’m saying this with scraps of expensive materials all in pieces and a lot of it “wasted” in the process..sigh, sigh, sigh… on the floor in the waste bin, so I don’t say this at all lightly. What if I die before I say what I wanted to express in a quilt because I didn’t have enough time to complete it or enough materials?
    Rather haunts me a bit. The unfinished work.

    If Mike’s work was good enough, I don’t see why he couldn’t convince a publisher to invest in his writing a book on spec. It seems to me if his work was selling, publishers would be eating up the prospect of more words…I mean hasn’t some famouns author here and there done that already….

    Okay, now off to the quilting…I really, really have a deep desire to do a Madonna of the Roses somehow…deep blood reds…but soft curves….all sort of violence and sweetness and sensuaousness all together somehow, someway….bye! For a bit….

  5. Anonymous says:

    >there are already adventuruous editors who will give an advance to a promising writer even is he does not yet have a manuscript

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think your definition of “adventurous” is pretty generous, Anon.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >On the topic of money and art:

    I can’t help noticing that a certain percentage of my peers in books [I am an author] don’t need to support themselves. Not to get all Class War about it, but the labor intensive and mostly low paying field of children’s books favors people with strong monetary support from sources such as family or partners.

    Nothing new about this, I know, and it is certainly not unique to children’s books. Though I can’t help but wonder about how insidiously the advantages play out in terms of allowing some people a continual edge throughout their careers, and also how it impacts who will be able to stay in the business in the first place. What I mean by an edge are things like time, resources, materials, workspace, overall environment, and so on.

    I was thinking about this the other morning when I got woken up by a neighbor screaming “he stole my paycheck to buy crack!”


  8. Anonymous says:

    >well, “adventurous” but also with a good track record and the trust of their employers

  9. Roger Sutton says:

    >Okay, everybody, R has been a valuable contributor to this blog and I think we all need to chip in and give her a fellowship to move to a better neighborhood!

  10. Anonymous says:


    Well, on the bright side, at least it wasn’t me screaming that someone stole my royalty check for crack!

    Seriously though, I think I’ll be able to get out of here soon.


  11. Anonymous says:

    >in the children’s book field, it is the artists who support themselves with their work – the writers have private incomes

  12. Anonymous says:

    >and the artists’ materials are much more expensive than the writers’

  13. Elizabeth says:

    >Oh God, where to begin?

    I’m intrigued with the idea of these adventurous editors who will give contracts to unknown authors who haven’t written a word. Assuming the author isn’t someone in the national news, on what is the editor basing the contract? Charm of the sales pitch? (Ask me to tell you my Paul Michael Glaser story.) Cuteness of the author? Having gone too long without getting laid?

    And even more intriguing, who are the generous bosses of these editors? And how did the editor get a good a good track record and trust of his boss while buying unwritten manuscripts from unpublished authors?

    I think the bosses must be those relics of a bygone publishing era: the trust fund publisher. I’ve never noticed the children’s authors who don’t need money that anonymous refers to, but I’ve always heard rumors about the gentleman’s profession that publishing used to be. Though I never saw it, even at Viking in the mid 80s when I started. In those days we were all going across the street on the Wednesday before payday to get the $1 slice of pizza.

    But back to the idea of children’s writers not needing to earn money the way children’s illustrators do. All I can say is, after 22 years in the business I don’t see any evidence of that. Off the top of my head I can think of 20 children’s authors who were able to give up their day jobs once they started earning enough from their writing (Bruce Coville has a great story about that). But I believe we’ve all seen the opposite problem from time to time. A favorite writer becomes very successful, perhaps gets a big movie made or wins a cash prize, and their output slows to a trickle. Every house has a few bestselling or award-winning authors with long overdue contracts, and I suggest that in some cases, its because the author no longer has the motivation of needing to make the mortgage payment.

  14. Anonymous says:

    >re “adventurous editors”: Their credibility is based on numbers of previously acquired successful complete mss. (Bosses say, “well, he was right about X and we only paid xx dollars for that, so let’s take a chance …”) Sales pitch does of course include the new writer’s physical appearance and TV viability and maybe smart agent. And, as you say, the bosses are saving a lot of $$ on editorial salaries ( that of this particular editor AND all his fellow workers) Remember what Freddy Warburg’s mother asked!

  15. Roger Sutton says:

    >Can I get a clarification here? Are there actually editors who will sign up an unpublished writer without even a partial manuscript in hand?

  16. Elizabeth says:

    >TV viability? He must not be a children’s author then.

  17. Anonymous says:

    >didn’t this whole discussion begin with the plan of a novelist to find subsidy. why has it ended up with the assumption that only JUVENILE writers are involved. or perhaps RS is being sarcastic? George Tenet? Paris Hilton? etc etc. actually it was Mrs. Warburg’s friend who uttered the immortal query: “Is publishing an occupation for gentlemen, or is it TRADE?”

  18. Roger Sutton says:

    >Children’s books or not, I wouldn’t call George Tenet or Paris Hilton “promising writers” not their acquiring editors “adventurous.” Unwritten celebrity books–whether for children or adults–don’t get signed because the editor thinks she has a hold of something “promising”; it’s because they are meant to sell on the basis of the celebrity’s notoriety or insider knowledge. That can be profitable publishing, to be sure, but I would hardly call it adventurous.

  19. Anonymous says:

    >Ummm… What’s up with your “it’s better than this” link? I mean, I would have to say, what isn’t? Gruesome pictures of dead fetuses meant to shock and though I have to say it stirs some anti-choice feelings that I don’t usually have it is so obnoxious that they are immediately overcome. Surely there is a better example of something where the process is less valuable that the product.

  20. Roger Sutton says:

    >Sorry, Anne, that link changed since I posted this last June. Before it was a (spurious) web page from a couple asking site vistors to give them money so they wouldn’t have to abort. No pics of dead foetuses. I’m going to de-link.

  21. Anonymous says:

    >Thanks Roger!

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