I suspect these icons were part of my initial attraction when pursuing my career: I like shoes and pretty dresses, and I like people that like them, too. Fashion and writing, though distinct and separate industries, often find themselves intertwined, even married. Many writers begin their careers writing for magazines, which feature glossy advertisements for designer fragrances and spreads of ready-to-wear collections. Others model, such as Arthur Miller in khakis for Gap and Joan Didion pouting in oversized sunglasses for Phoebe Philo’s Celine. Because workers are historically identified by their uniforms, it makes sense that those outside of the Alabama crimson tide blue collar basketball shirt besides I will buy this industry would assume that, because famous writers once dressed well, the industry pays rates that are able to sustain that. Suffice it to say: It definitely does not anymore, though at one point it did. Occasionally I hear hushed whispers, as if in a state of disbelief, of fairytales long ago when writers were flown off to islands to work on their manuscripts, given company charge cards with unlimited budgets, and asked to return only when they had developed something polished and ready for print. Even in fiction 20 years ago, long after the ‘50s and ‘60s (the publishing industry’s earlier heyday), the job was still characterized as outrageously lucrative: Carrie Bradshaw freelanced for Vogue at a now-unheard-of rate of $4 a word.
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Yet the Alabama crimson tide blue collar basketball shirt besides I will buy this industry I write for today is remarkably different than the one that existed before: per-word rates for writers fluctuate wildly; I have been offered a range between ten cents and a dollar a word. Adjusted for inflation, this is merely a fraction of what writers were making a century ago, while other standards in the industry have continued to decline and costs of living compound and increase. As new media infiltrates popular culture, traditional publishing withers, and writers’ livelihoods become more and more precarious as a result. When publications shutter, staffers are laid off en masse, while freelancers work for lower and lower rates without benefits. Battling a client for payment is not an uncommon rite of passage for early-career writers, nor is being coerced into signing away future rights to one’s work under threat of not publishing it at all.
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