Jan 9, 2017
The writer and managing editor of Francis Ford Coppola’s award-winning magazine Zoetrope: All-Story, Manjula Martin, paid a visit to the show this week to talk about her new book and “…the realities of making a living in the writing world.”
Manjula is the founder of the website Who Pays Writers?, an invaluable service dedicated to helping freelance writers anonymously share current publication rates and their experiences getting paid.
As managing editor of Zoetrope: All-Story magazine, a title that has won every major story award including the National Magazine Award for Fiction, Ms. Martin sees to the quarterly publication of a stable of prominent contemporary writers and artists.
In her first book, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, the editor has collected interviews and “…essays from today’s most acclaimed authors–from Cheryl Strayed to Roxane Gay to Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, Nick Hornby, and Jonathan Franzen…” on the intersection of writing and commerce.
The New Republic said of the writer, “Manjula Martin has done more than perhaps anyone else to shed light on the financial nitty-gritty of the writing profession.”
Her writing has also appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Pacific Standard, Aeon Magazine, Hazlitt Magazine, The Awl, SF Weekly, The Rumpus, and many others.
If you’re a fan of The Writer Files, please click subscribe to automatically see new interviews.
In Part One of this file Manjula Martin and I discuss:
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Kelton Reid: Welcome back to The Writer Files. I am your host, Kelton Reid, here to take you on yet another tour of the habits, habitats, and brains of renowned writers to learn their secrets. The writer and managing editor of Francis Ford Coppola’s award winning magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, Manjula Martin, paid a visit to the show this week to talk about her new book and the realities of making a living in the writing world. Manjula is the founder of the website, Who Pays Writers, an invaluable service dedicated to helping freelance writers anonymously share current publication rates and their experiences getting paid.
As managing editor of Zoetrope: All-Story Magazine, a title that has won every major story award including the National Magazine Award for Fiction, Miss Martin sees to the quarterly publication of a stable of prominent contemporary writers and artists. In her first book, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, the editor has collected interviews and essays from today’s most acclaimed authors from Cheryl Strayed to Roxane Gay, Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, Nick Hornby, Jonathan Franzen, and many others on the intersection of writing and commerce. The New Republic said of the writer, “Manjula Martin has done more than perhaps anyone else to shed light on the financial nitty-gritty of the writing profession.”
Her writing has also appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Pacific Standard, Aeon Magazine, Hazlitt, The Awl, SF Weekly, The Rumpus, and many others. In part one of this file, Manjula and I discuss why the school of real life is so valuable to writers, how an unpaid internship led to her dream job, the revenge of analog and print magazines, and how a Tumblr became an inspiring collection of stories on the writing life.
If you’re a fan of The Writer Files, please click subscribe to automatically see new interviews as soon as they’re published. A quick note to subscribers that the show will be moving to Tuesdays for 2017 so look for part 2 of this file January 17th. Thanks for listening.
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We are back on The Writer Files with a special guest. Manjula Martin is joining us today. Writer, editor, managing editor of Zoetrope magazine, a fantastic magazine that I’m a big fan of, and also the editor of a brand new book, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, a fantastic new edition. Thanks for joining us.
Manjula Martin: Thanks, it’s great to be here.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah, so I’d love to talk about the book itself, which I think is an important one, at least an inspiring one for writers of every level out there in the world. But, let’s talk a little bit about kind of your origins as a writer. You contribute to the book itself and it’s a fantastic, inspiring story about your own journey, but let’s talk a little bit about that kind of, maybe for listeners who don’t know you or are familiar with your journey, kind of where you’ve been and a little bit of that story of where you’re going, maybe, too.
Manjula Martin: Do you have any tips? Yeah, my journey is somewhat meandering, but also rather direct in its way. I’ve always been into writing in some way or another. I wrote poetry and letters and a zine when I was young. From there I worked in journalism. I was a receptionist at a magazine. Then I was a reporter at a magazine. I also worked outside of journalism a lot. I’ve worked a lot of service jobs. I’ve worked a lot of day jobs where I’m a writer in addition to doing creative writing on my own. I’ve done copywriting. I’ve been a marketing editor at nonprofits and art organizations. I’ve been a full-time freelancer for many, many years. I write fiction and nonfiction and I edit.
About a year ago I got the job as managing editor of Zoetrope: All-Story, so that’s, at the moment, a proper day job that I have. I think, I guess, I would say my path has been somewhat meandering but a cool part of that is that I have gotten to do all kinds of stuff and I’ve gotten to experience what it’s like to be a writer in many different situations. As your job, not as your job, different types of writing, different environments, different goals, and so I tend to describe myself as sort of a generalist, I guess, in that way.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah, but it’s a fascinating path and you write about it. You’ve written about it quite extensively. It seems like it’s led you to this, some great epiphanies, and you have some amazing advice for writers. The book obviously is an extension of that, and it’s this beautiful collection of essays and interviews that you yourself have done and some others have done. Congrats on the book.
Manjula Martin: Thank you.
Kelton Reid: By the way. Once this is published the book will have just come out so writers and readers can find it.
Manjula Martin: At Readscratch.com.
Kelton Reid: Yes, yes, Readscratch.com. That is the official website for the book. Where else can we find your writing? You’ve written for quite a few kind of high profile magazines and literary
Manjula Martin: Yeah, yeah, what I’ve mostly published up to this point is I’ve done a lot of like essay writing, personal essay and mix of reported and personal essay. Yeah, I’ve done stuff. The essay that is in the book was first assigned by the VQR, the Virginia Quarterly Review. I’ve written for Pacific Standard and Aeon, which is a really cool British publication online, a bunch of The Awl family websites. I used to write for The Toast (R.I.P), so those are some of the places where my work lives online still. If folks want to actually read stories I’ve written, you can just go to my personal website and I have clips there. You can click on all the links you want. Then I’m also working on a novel, which you cannot yet read but will at some point.
Kelton Reid: Cool.
Manjula Martin: Hopefully. Then I’m also, you know, I’ve been working on this project with Scratch for several years now. It started out of Who Pays Writers, the website, and then it sort of became it’s own online magazine, and then that became a book. But I’m actually, right now, just starting to work on my next project, which is a bit of a pivot. I am co-authoring a gardening book with my father.
Kelton Reid: That’s cool.
Manjula Martin: Who is a somewhat acclaimed organic gardening instructor.
Kelton Reid: That’s fantastic.
Manjula Martin: We’re writing a book for Ten Speed Press about how to grow fruit trees.
Kelton Reid: Amazing.
Manjula Martin: But that will be a different kind of project, yeah.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah, well it’s kind of hard to keep track of all the stuff you’re getting into, but it’s
Manjula Martin: I thought, as you were listing it out, I sound like a crazy person.
Kelton Reid: No, but it’s inspiring. As I’m looking at your bio, there’s like the short version in there and then you start to dig into it a little bit and it’s like, wow, you’ve done so many cool things, so kudos.
Manjula Martin: Part of that is that I’ve had about 4,000 jobs.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Manjula Martin: Because I didn’t graduate from college around the time that most people graduate from college. I dropped out of college after a year and just went to work.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Manjula Martin: A lot of that experience comes from school of real life.
Kelton Reid: Right.
Manjula Martin: I did eventually go back and get my Bachelor’s Degree just a few years ago, which was a really interesting experience being a grown-up and going back to school in that way. That’s part of, I think, what is an important sort of approach that I took to the book too, is like I think there’s a perception that there’s some sort of divide behind like schmancy literary world and more commercial or other types of writing or journalism. That has not been the case in my life. I have done everything and continue to do everything. I love everything and I’m interested in everything.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Manjula Martin: I can totally read a chick-lit book and I can totally read a fancy literary novel. Each of those have value in their own way to me in my life. I’ve really experienced that, I think, through my winding career path. Part of what I did with the book, with Scratch, was try to bring together writers who you might not normally find in the same place under the umbrella of the book.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah, well, the book has so much wisdom. There are heartbreaking pieces and there are truly inspiring pieces.
Manjula Martin: It’s so good to hear that because my great fear with the book is that it will be depressing.
Kelton Reid: No, I didn’t take it that way at all. In fact, there’s just so much. There’s so much to unpack that it’s, I think, it is one of those that you’re just going to want to keep around and keep getting nuggets from. It’ll be one that people will keep on their desks as just kind of inspiration; open it up, read a section. But you know, as you kind of are talking about your own journey, it’s like, I think it’s obviously given you kind of the vision that everybody’s financial situation is different, right? Everyone has different goals. You talk about their different backgrounds and emotional hangups. It’s really cool that you’ve done work to help writers to kind of at least bring some transparency to these age-old questions of, you know
Manjula Martin: Yeah.
Kelton Reid: Should you quit your day job? Which you talk about extensively. How do creators make money and why aren’t we talking more about how everybody’s journey is different and everybody’s needs are different? Anyway, I think it’s all really great.
Manjula Martin: Thank you.
Kelton Reid: Writers especially will love this one, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. Kudos on that. It’s exciting to see.
Manjula Martin: Thank you so much.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah, and now you are a managing editor at Zoetrope, which has been around for what, almost 20 years now, this magazine.
Manjula Martin: Next year is our 20th birthday.
Kelton Reid: It’s a kind of a storied institution. I have been reading it since probably around the turn of the millennium.
Manjula Martin: Cool.
Kelton Reid: There’s just been some great authors, David Mamet for instance, Don DeLillo, Margaret Atwood, Murakami and then some art editors including David Bowie, is that right?
Manjula Martin: Yes.
Kelton Reid: Who worked on the magazine. I remember the David Burn issue.
Manjula Martin: That was a good one, yeah.
Kelton Reid: Yeah. That must be a challenging job. Then you’re also kind of rubbing elbows with all these newer, exciting authors and older, established authors.
Manjula Martin: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I won’t lie. All-Story is a magazine that I have also been a huge fan of for many, many years. I will be very honest and tell you that the path that led me to getting this job was that I did an unpaid internship there about 10 years ago.
Kelton Reid: Wow, wow.
Manjula Martin: I’m generally not pro unpaid internships but I am also pro transparency, so that’s how that works.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah.
Manjula Martin: I was an adult. I was going back to college and I was like, “Ooh, I could do an internship. This is like my chance to do an internship,” because normally I am working all the time and could never do that. I actually took out extra loans so that I would be able to not work as much because I was working the whole time I was in school. I was like, If there was one magazine where I would want to be an intern, what would it be? It’s All-Story and it’s here in San Francisco where I live. I miraculously was able to do that for a short period of time. Then I just stayed in touch with the editor. We have coffee every once in awhile. He’s a wonderful, brilliant editor named Michael Ray and he’s been at the magazine for probably about 15 years I think, a very long time.
Kelton Reid: Wow.
Manjula Martin: Most of the amazing, amazing short fiction you see in the magazine has had his touch in some way on it.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah.
Manjula Martin: It’s really cool. It’s also really cool to see sort of it is a very, you know, we’ve won some awards. We have a pretty nice reputation. We get to publish amazing authors. As the managing editor, I am deeply involved in the process with the guest designers. We have a different artist guest design each issue of the magazine and they contribute all the imagery for the magazine as well as dictate the look and feel of it, so every issue looks entirely different, like different mastheads. Sometimes it’s a different shape, different paper, you know
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Manjula Martin: That sort of thing. That’s sort of an extra amazing part of it is sort of being able to make the connections between like visual storytelling and storytelling through fiction. Then, obviously, the magazine is owned by Francis Ford Coppola and he’s very interested in the connections between different kinds of storytelling.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Manjula Martin: Every issue we also reprint a story that has been made into a film. It’s along the lines of some of the other work I’ve done, like it is somewhat interdisciplinary. I’ve only been there for a short period of time, so I don’t really have any good stories from the trenches yet, but Michael and I often joke that we have an impossible … a job that basically shouldn’t exist now and is maybe a job from the 1960s where we work in an office in an old building and put out a print magazine.
Kelton Reid: It’s cool to see. It’s great to see, as David Sax, my previous guest called it, the revenge of paper and a new return to analog.
Manjula Martin: Yeah, I’m a fan.
Kelton Reid: Yeah and especially print magazines and the resurgence of people’s love for those.
Manjula Martin: Well and that I think is not necessarily unrelated to the economics of it, you know? It has been difficult for publications, whether they be fiction magazines or the New York Times, to find sustainable profit models online. While print advertising is not exactly a perfect beast, we all know how it works, you know? It’s somewhat clear as far as, as clear as advertising could ever be in terms of metrics. I experienced that putting out Scratch as a digital publication. It was wonderful and we had a pretty great subscriber base who were paying money to read this magazine on the internet, and it just wasn’t enough.
Kelton Reid: That was the one you collaborated with Jane Friedman on, is that correct?
Manjula Martin: Yeah, yeah.
Kelton Reid: Cool.
Manjula Martin: Jane Friedman, who is an awesome blogger and educator about the business of publishing, and I launched that magazine together.
Kelton Reid: She was on this show also so I’ll link to that episode.
Manjula Martin: I want to listen to that one, yeah.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, and then the Who Pays Writers is a fantastic tool also, which I will link to, which seemed like it was a kind of an offshoot or connected with Scratch.
Manjula Martin: Who Pays Writers actually came first.
Kelton Reid: Okay.
Manjula Martin: Then Scratch followed because there was a need for more context, basically.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Manjula Martin: Who Pays Writers is just a list of rates that people have been paid to do freelance writing.
Kelton Reid: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Manjula Martin: People submit their rates anonymously and then I post them. It started as a Tumblr, actually, in 2012 and then I sort of turned it into its own site. Through that people were sort of asking for more context around the numbers and that was sort of one of the ideas behind Scratch, was to sort of tell the stories behind the numbers.
Kelton Reid: Thanks so much for joining me for this half of a tour through the writer’s process. If you enjoy The Writer’s File podcast, please subscribe to the show and leave us a rating or a review on iTunes to help other writers find us. For more episodes or to just leave a comment or a question, you can drop by WriterFiles.FM and you can always chat with me on Twitter @KeltonReid. Cheers. Talk to you next week.