Friday, February 09, 2007

From “Poetry Economics: A Moronic Oxymoron”

I just did my Poet's Income Statement for my 2006 tax return. By “Poet”, I include all my literary roles, so that it’s not just fees I earn as a writer (e.g. for my deliberately fewer and fewer readings or for publication fees), but also what I earn (or lose) as a publisher through Meritage Press. Now, I have never made a profit as a poet, so my goal has been to manage my losses. That I don’t make money as a poet shows (1) why poets need day-jobs or other sources of earnings, and (2) why many poetry publishers rely on grants to subsidize their publishing activities. As Meritage Press is a private press, I am not eligible for nonprofit type of grants but choose to subsidize my publishing activities from other sources (“Wine, anyone?” asks Missy Winepoetics). Here are the summaries for the last three years:

TOTAL 2004 EXPENSES: $21,516.59
PROFIT/(LOSS): ($14,321.97)

TOTAL EXPENSES: $12,932.82
PROFIT/(LOSS): ($6,162.79)

TOTAL EXPENSES: $10,068.83
PROFIT/(LOSS): ($6,461.36)

2004 was a big loss, reflecting how I hadn’t yet switched to print-on-demand technology (POD) at Meritage Press. 2005’s expenses were significantly less, reflecting my incorporation of POD. The reduction in expenses, due to POD, continues in 2006.

Now, my loss would seem to be higher in 2006 rather than 2005. Certainly, that’s because I didn’t sell as much books, and chose to do less paying gigs, in 2006 versus 2005.

But the loss figure is deceptive when comparing 2006 with 2005. 2006 is the first year where I incorporate expenses related to Galatea Resurrects. I’d estimate that doing Galatea Resurrects cost me about $500-700 in 2006 -- such costs relate to postage and books “paid” to reviewers. If we adjust for the low-end estimate of $500, my 2006 Loss is actually $5,961.36 -- which means that overall, I did succeed in reducing my Annual Loss.

The willingness to subsidize Galatea Resurrects relates to how, as many of us poets know, three infrastructure weaknesses for poetry are (1) limited book publishing opportunities, (2) paucity of reviews, and (3) distribution systems for poetry publications. Knowing that my switch to POD would lower my costs, I decided to use some of the anticipated savings (viz cost reduction) to address one of these weaknesses: paucity of reviews.

For an extra $500-700, in 2006, I was able to help facilitate 176 new poetry reviews and 31 internet debuts of previously print-based reviews. I don’t know that, for the same amount of money, I could have done more to contribute to increased book publishing opportunities or facilitate a new distribution system.

Also, while it may be worth noting that I applied my M.B.A. and financial analytical skills to my involvement in poetry, this Poet’s Income Statement really can’t help but reflect what I believe to be true about Poetry: that it ultimately is a Gift Economy.

Which is all to say, too, that the Losses I’ve incurred financially (even though they've become more than double my initial goal to lose no more than $3,000 per year) have been more than made up by the rewards given by Poetry. For me, there has been no such thing as a Loss in an activity where the returns you receive are mostly based on what you give.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my annual tale of my poetry wallet’s transparency -- sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service. Sip. Tonight: a glass of the brilliantly luscious 1993 St. Hallett Old Block shiraz. Yum! Whatta Gift!