My First Thousand Dollars As A Writer by Crad Kilodney
I’m laying down a rule for writers, which will henceforth be known as Kilodney’s Rule: you are not allowed to call yourself a writer until you have made a thousand dollars from your writing. We will interpret this rule strictly. Jobs that involve writing don’t count. Grants don’t count. Reading fees don’t count. Compensation in other forms doesn’t count. All that counts is money received for something you have written. Hobbyists who call themselves writers can take a hike.
Since I have kept a record of all the money I’ve ever made in this thankless profession, I thought I would open my ledger and show you how I made my first thousand dollars. (There were many unpaid publications along the way, but I won’t even bother to list them.)
1967 — I wrote a story for my college humor magazine in Ann Arbor, for which I received $10. The story was about a guy in my dorm, and afterwards he refused to speak to me.
Year’s total: $10 Career Total: $10
1968 — I had decided that I wanted to be a writer, although I was completing a degree in science. My personality would be torn for years to come. I was sending my first awful story to major magazines and collecting my first rejections. I moved to Houston right after graduation in August.
Year’s Total: $0 Career Total: $10
1969 — My nine months in Houston were so lonely and depressing, I have never written about that period in my life. I was unemployed as of New Year’s and was pursuing my vague ambition to be a writer. I discovered the world of small literary magazines. I continued to send out my early efforts without knowing what I was doing. I managed to sell two funny articles to the Sunday supplement of the Houston Post — one for $50 and the other for $75 — after which I wore out my welcome. I was in a cab one day and the colored cab driver asked what I did for a living. When I said that I was a free-lance writer, he said, “What’s that?” In May I moved back “home” to Long Island. I got myself disqualified from the draft, which may be the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.
Year’s Total: $125 Career Total: $135
1970 — An exceedingly miserable year in my life. Went to Boston to live and returned after one week. First vague notions of moving to Canada. I was unemployed most of the year and sat in my room guiltily trying to write and submitting my work indiscriminately. I sold a story to the National Lampoon, which appeared in their “Paranoia” issue. It was the first unsolicited story they ever accepted and my first appearance as Crad Kilodney. I was paid $300. I now considered myself “professional,” and a lady who taught a creative writing course in my area referred me to her agent. This was to prove a major self-delusion. I wasn’t ready for an agent and after a year, I asked for all my manuscripts back. By my own efforts I sold a filler item to Changing Times for $5, two jokes to Current Comedy for $4, and a filler item to Fate Magazine for $2.50.
Year’s Total: $311.50 Career Total: $446.50
1971 — I want to say something about rejection slips. A lot of wannabe writers think that rejection slips confirm their talent. That is, the putative writer is such a genius and so far ahead of his time that it’s inevitable that he will be rejected. The truth is that rejection slips don’t mean anything one way or the other. There is no reason to save them or paper your wall with them. I sold a story to the Carolina Qtly. for $40, and two fillers to Fate Magazine for a dollar apiece. I was now working at Exposition Press, the second-biggest vanity press in the U.S. The job was to have an enormous impact on me as a writer.
Year’s Total: $42 Career Total: $488.50
1972 — Continuing to evolve slowly as a writer. I was clever but inconsistent. Many submissions, many rejections. I was very unhappy under my parents’ roof but didn’t have the courage to move out. I saved every dollar I could from my job, which was to prove very advantageous later. The National Lampoon had rejected several of my follow-up submissions, but they adopted my idea for “UFO Magazine” and used some of my text. I got a co-credit and $200. I also sold a story to a small literary magazine called Fiction for $25. It was my first front cover credit.
Year’s Total: $225 Career Total: $713.50
1973 — This was the year I moved to Canada — partly for political reasons and partly for family reasons. The period of adjustment reduced my writing a lot, but I had one sale for the year — a story in Prism International for $20. It was my first Canadian publication. (I will count U.S. and Canadian dollars equal, since they were approximately at par during these years.)
Year’s Total: $20 Career Total: $733.50
1974 — I was living in a dreamy apartment in an old house on Nina St., near Toronto’s famous Casa Loma. When I moved in, it looked like the perfect apartment for a writer — atmospheric and with a nice view. However, I was to do very little good writing in that perfect apartment. In fact, I stagnated. I was unemployed after my first short-lived job and still wondering if I would ever make it as a writer. I made $10 for a story in Canadian Fiction Magazine, $25 for an article in Four Quarters, $5 for a humorous filler item in the New Yorker, $3 for a joke in Current Comedy, and a $200 reprint fee for my National Lampoon story in their anthology The Paperback Conspiracy.
Year’s Total: $243 Career Total: $976.50
1975 — I went to work for a book distributor called McLeod, which no longer exists. I was officially a sales rep but spent most of my time in the warehouse with the blue collars. I was better-accepted by them than by the other salesmen and the office people. I was very unhappy, wrote very little, and even neglected my diary, which is why my future biographers will find very little material about this period. I sold nothing.
Year’s Total: $0 Career Total: $976.50
1976 — I was on unemployment again but writing more, thanks to a visiting editor from Winnipeg who lit a fire under my ass. Each acceptance, paid or unpaid, was a thrill, and I was becoming more hopeful about my prospects. I had by this time written about seven stories that were good enough to put into my own little books in the not-too-distant future. That brilliant idea (self-publication) had not yet crystallized in my mind, but I think some higher power was preparing me for it at the right time. I sold two stories for two anthologies being edited by a friend of the Winnipeg editor who had previously published me. In the event, the publisher pulled the plug on the anthologies, but I still received partial payments of $35 and $25. I also sold a story for $5 to a magazine called Cosmic Circus, which turned out to be a gay magazine. I had no idea, as I was simply picking magazines I’d never heard of before out of a small press directory. Well, never mind. Five dollars is five dollars. And I sold a story to a Canadian magazine called Descant for $60. The cheque was tucked invisibly into my free copy and fell out when I was showing my story to two friends, surprising us all. In those days, $60 was a very handsome payment for a short story.
Year’s Total: $125 Career Total: $1,101.50
So now you know how long it took me to make my first thousand dollars as a writer. When you meet someone who calls himself a writer, apply Kilodney’s Rule. Ask him how much money he has actually received for what he has written. Ask him how long he is willing to toil in obscurity to make his first thousand dollars.
by Crad Kilodney
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Crad Kilodney, P.O. Box 72577, 345 Bloor St. East, Unit 7, Toronto, ON, M4W 3S9
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