Presidential Candidates’ Charities

Before I give to a charity, I check it out with either the Better Business Bureau or the Charity Navigator website. Since the two  major presidential candidates have charities, the Donald J. Trump Foundation in Woodbury NY and the Clinton Foundation in New York City, I thought I’d see how these websites evaluate them.

Charity Navigator

Donald J. Trump Foundation

Not listed because it’s a private charity.

Clinton Foundation

Four Stars, 94.74/100 Rating

Better Business Bureau

Donald J. Trump Foundation

Not listed

Clinton Foundation

BBB standards for board compensation, effectiveness policy, and effectiveness reporting not met.

Two Other Interesting People I Met at Naropa

Novelist Frank Chin is one of the early activists for Asian-American civil rights.  He also knows a lot about Chinese folklore. We went to lunch and had a great discussion.  For some reason he had a literary feud with Maxine Hong Kingston. Anyway, I saw a documentary about Frank Chin a decade later at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and introduced myself to the director.

I also had lunch with Danish actress Trine Dyrholm. The film “The Celebration” had just come out and she had a role in it. I remember her telling me that actors could get unemployment benefits in Denmark when they were between gigs. Sadly, I knew nothing about the Dogme 95 movement at the time. If I would have asked her about it, maybe I could have had a walk-on role in Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.” Oh well!

Jackson Mac Low

Thinking of a computer program to write Zen poems reminded me of a meeting with an eccentric poet at the Naropa Institute almost 20 years ago.  An older man joined me at breakfast, asked if I was a poet, and then asked how I wrote poems. I described how I developed ideas to which he responded, “I do something different. I wrote a computer program that takes words and phrases from Ezra Pound’s Cantos and combines them into new text. I have a book called Words nd Ends with Ez.”

Of course, that poet was Jackson Mac Low. Even though I didn’t buy his book, I’m glad someone could devote his life to making such goofiness real.


Great Reading in Santa Monica

I finally got meet my favorite living short story writer, Aimee Bender.Aimee Bender

I got on her good side by saying, “Anton Chekhov is not fit to clean your boots and Raymond Carver should carry your coat.”

Brendan Constantine was there too.Brendan Constantine

As was Brian Doyle, author of the hilarious “Bin Laden’s Bald Spot.”

The Economics of Writing Novels

Two statistics explain the economics of writing novels. The first is that it typically takes 2,000 hours to write a novel and the second is that only 1% of novels get published. Let’s examine these. First, 2,000 hours is how much someone works at a fulltime job in a year (40 hours per week times 50 weeks). This seems a little high to me. I can come up with a reasonable draft of a novel, if I spend 2 hours writing per day for a year. That makes 700 hours. Add editing and I can come up with 1,000 hours. Because 1,000 hours seems more realistic than 2,000, I’m going to say an author puts in the same amount of effort writing a novel as someone working a fulltime job for 6 months.

Anne Lamott said only 1% of novels get published in a talk she gave 15 years ago. Admittedly, this was before the boom in self-publishing so she must have been talking about novels accepted by big publishing houses. I’ll assume that most authors who make money still have to go through big publishers so I will use this statistic in my discussion. But is this number reasonable?

The first step in getting a deal with a big publisher is finding a literary agent. I asked an agent what portion of submitted manuscripts she agreed to represent. She told me 1 in 5,000. In the past I’ve typically queried roughly 100 literary agents for each of my books. If this is common, the chance of having their book accepted by an agent would be 1 in 50. Add a factor of 2 for whether an agent can sell the book and you get Anne Lamott’s 1%.

Here’s what being an unknown novelist is like. Imagine you get a job at Burger Planet. You go to work each day but don’t take home a paycheck. At the end of 6 months, your boss gives you a pair of dice. If you roll 9 boxcars in a row, your boss will pay you sometime in the next decade. But it’s worse than that. Novelists often have to hire editors to polish their manuscripts. The fee is usually 2 cents per word so for a 50,000-word novel (which is pretty short), this would cost $1,000. So our imaginary burger worker is not only unlikely to get paid but he has to buy his own grill. I’ve read a publisher’s advance on a novel is typically $5,000 (if they even give advances any more). So minus the $1,000 for editing, a novelist has a 1% chance of making $4,000 for 1,000 hours of effort. That is, he earns $4 per hour, less than minimum wage. What about the money our author earns on book sales? Sadly, most books never make back their advance. But it’s worse than that. Several articles advise authors to spend their advance on marketing. Now our fictional food worker has to spend his salary buying ads for the burger shack, too. Welcome to the glamorous world of writing!

What should we do about this? I don’t know. But if we care about books, shouldn’t we pay the people who create them for their effort?