I Googled myself recently. This was in Canada, where it's not a crime to look up yourself. Articles I wrote 15 years ago float out there in the ether, waiting for someone to come along and dial them up. Every time a person reads my words online, I receive the princely sum of zero. It's not a great business model, but what I lose on fees, I'm hoping to make up in volume.
Sometimes, I sign away the rights to earn anything from subsequent publications of my work. I do so gladly, because that's the deal I'm offered. No deal, no job, no pay, no love. My very favorite copyright agreement gave away my republication rights "across space and time" -- i.e. forever and throughout the omniverse. I held up the process briefly by pointing out that I had hoped to republish the piece on Mars about 1,000 years from now, but the humor was not appreciated. If you know people on Pluto who want to read what I wrote about insurance sidecars in 2006, tell them to forget it.
At other times, people just steal the words I write and consume them, and that's that. Information, they say, yearns to be free; my information yearns to get paid.
Such is life. And enough about me. I have a few stories to share with you that, between them, say more about commercial writing, and say it better and more concisely, than I ever could.
In the mid-19th century, Baron Thomas MacAuley was asked by a potential client how long it would take him to write an article of 500 words, and how much he would charge for it. The answers were "an afternoon" and "200 guineas" (about $10,000, I'm guessing, in today's money). The client was shocked: "Two hundred guineas for an afternoon's work!" he said.
"Not for an afternoon's work, Sir," MacAuley replied, "but for a lifetime's experience."
A woman once approached sportswriter Woody Paige at a hotel bar, offering seductively to do "anything he wanted" for $100. "Great," Paige replied. "Here's the key to Room 125. Go upstairs and write me a column and two sidebars."
Julia Roberts was asked if she could possibly be worth $8 million for acting in her latest film. "The acting I do for free," she replied. "The $8 million is for all the **** I have to put up with."
Canadian author and post-feminist Margaret Atwood met a surgeon at a party. "What do you do, little lady?" the doctor asked. "I write books," she replied.
"Really!" the surgeon said. "When I retire from surgery, I think I'll write books."
"What a coincidence," Atwood said. "When I retire from writing books, I think I'll take up surgery."
David Letterman asked Sir Anthony Hopkins how he prepares for a role. "Easy. I call my agent and ask if the check has arrived. If it has, I'm ready."
ROGER CROMBIE is a London-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
November 1, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications