Should MFA Programs Teach the Business of Writing?

From Jane Friedman:

Anyone who knows me even a little can guess my answer to this question. I even wrote a book, The Business of Being a Writer, that’s meant to be used in university writing programs to help students understand the publishing industry and what it means to earn a living from writing. My perspective is informed by my work in the publishing industry, as well as being someone who has a degree in writing. A few background details:

  • I earned a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English. My undergrad education led to some school loans; my graduate degree was funded entirely through an assistantship.
  • I was employed at a mid-size publisher while I earned my master’s. I really had no choice—I needed the money. I decided not to pursue an MFA in creative writing for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I couldn’t afford to take time off work or enroll in a low-residency program. Neither was I eager to step away from my publishing career, which was teaching me far more about writing than I ever learned in school.
  • I was an AWP member for many years and attended AWP’s annual conference first in 1998, then every year between 2004 and 2018. Often I was a panelist or speaker. (More on this later.)
  • I’m a regular speaker at MFA programs around the country, both in person and virtually, and moreover I hear the concerns of early-career writers daily via email and social media.
  • Several years ago, I was hired by Southern New Hampshire University to help develop the curriculum for their online MFA program, which includes a strong professional development and publishing education component. Their goal: to graduate writers who learn the fundamentals of craft while also understanding what it takes to publish professionally and successfully.

Despite the books I’ve written, the keynotes I’ve delivered, and the courses I’ve taught, I’ve never laid out, in a public forum like this, why I think it’s problematic when MFA programs or professors argue that the business of writing lies outside their purview. Why? Well, the type of person often attracted to the MFA likely believes the same and I don’t see my role as persuading the unconvinced or barging in where I’m unwanted. Rather, I am here if people see the need, as I do, for writers to understand the business they’re entering.

However, I think times are changing, for many reasons which I won’t delve into here, but part of it has to do with the gig economy and/or creator economy and the greater variety of writerly business models we now have than we did twenty years ago. More writers are ending up in undergraduate and graduate writing programs who need and want this information. I also believe writers should leave degree-granting programs prepared for the pragmatic and professional issues they will face as a writer. They’re often working alone, with limited or bad business guidance, confused about what’s “normal.” The anxiety and confusion is apparent at every AWP conference I attend. 

Writers should focus on craft first, business later.

It can appear boorish or second rate to suggest that business could or would ever be as important as art, craft, or technique. Because art is everything, right? Without quality work, there is no business—right?

(Let’s put aside the fact “quality” is subjective and MFA programs tend to be concerned with the kind of quality that’s of less interest to publishers than you might think.)

This “craft first” argument has a big assumption behind it: that art and business are antithetical to each other or can’t be in conversation. This belief is so ingrained in the literary writing community that few even question it.

Just look at the stories we tell about great writers, which all generally sound the same: we focus on the development and discovery of their literary genius. Business conditions rarely enter into it, much less business acumen. George Eliot is celebrated as a great moral novelist, but she also left her loyal publisher for another house that offered her a bigger advance. The bestselling work of Mark Twain—a novel that funded his career—was sold door-to-door in a very low fashion instead of properly, in a bookstore. (Today’s equivalent might be selling your ebook through Amazon rather than the print edition through your local independent bookshop.)

Why don’t we share these business stories? Because it is typically taboo to produce for the market or to be too good at business, lest you get pilloried by your peers and accused of selling out. Amy Lowell met this fate: she was criticized by T.S. Eliot for being a “demon saleswoman” of poetry. Even one of the earliest successful authors, Erasmus, was pitied by his peers for taking money from his publisher. (No self-respecting author at the time took money for their work; you were supposed to be above that.)

What a bind: writers get shamed if they’re not successful but also get shamed if they are too successful or overly concerned with success. How to Reform Capitalism wisely notes, “There remain strict social taboos hemming in the idea of what a ‘real’ artist could be allowed to get up to. They can be as experimental and surprising as they like—unless they want to run a food shop or an airline or an energy corporation, at which point they cross a decisive boundary, fall from grace, lose their special status as artists and become the supposed polar opposites: mere business people.”

The prevalent belief, at least in the literary community, is that “real writers” don’t worry themselves with commercial success or with how the sausage gets made. That’s someone else’s job, that’s for the agent or publisher to worry about. In fact, if one is good at art, then good business will follow or take care of itself.(won’t it?). Quality will make it or cream will rise to the top (right?).

. . . .

Business and art are often portrayed as antithetical because we think of business in terms of cartoon caricatures. But business is just as a complex and creative as any “pure” art form. Just ask a book publisher.

. . . .

This brings us to the next argument often trotted out by MFA programs: that it’s a time and place to focus on one’s writing and not be distracted by the outside world/real world or commercial concerns.

. . . .

It’s true that writers can potentially get distracted by submissions protocol and agent etiquette and all the secret handshake stuff they think exists, but that’s another reason the business needs to be taught. There is no secret handshake and a lot of what the business of writing is—well, frankly, it’s boring. The more quickly that writers can start seeing agents and editors not as mystical beings who anoint them and make their careers, but as average and flawed business people, the better.

Also, we’re not talking about MFA programs switching over to half-craft, half-business curriculum. (Or I’m certainly not.) The basics could be covered in a single required course. There might be a series of optional business-related courses for those who are interested.

I don’t think there is a downside to teaching business if we assume (and we must) that MFA students can be treated as mature adults. Safeguarding them from business talk is infantilizing them and making them vulnerable to bad actors and bad deals if they don’t know what standard business practices are.

And might I suggest that the only students who can afford to not consider the business side of the writing life are those who already have money or a safety net.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG notes that Jane has produced an epic discussion of the huge number of people who claim to teach students about writing, but don’t really deliver on their promises.

If graduate programs were required to abide by the same truth-in-advertising that applies to people who make and sell laundry detergent, there would be a vast change in how they’re presented and pitched.

In the United States, we have a seemingly endless number of federal and state agencies devoted to protecting consumers from being defrauded by unscrupulous businesses.

We have The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to name just two federal agencies. We have a large U.S. Department of Education, presided over by a cabinet secretary, with an Office of the Inspector General tasked with investigating violations of Federal laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to ED programs and funding, including complaints involving ED employees, recipients of ED funds, schools, school officials, other educational institutions, contractors, lending institutions, collections agencies, or public officials.

Absent a very large trust fund, it is almost certain that students pursuing an MFA will borrow substantial amounts of money in the form of government-insured student loans.

MFA and similar graduate programs have a very poor record of graduating students who are able to find jobs that allow them to repay their student loans (and PG guarantees one and all that MFA programs, particularly at “elite” institutions, pile on the student loans).

From Inside Higher Ed:

[T]he A.R.T. (American Repertory Theater) Institute at Harvard was placed on the Department of Education’s naughty list for running afoul of the department’s gainful employment metrics for its “debt to earnings” ratio.

As compiled by Kevin Carey at The New York Times, those ratios are indeed grim. 

  • Two year tuition is $63,000
  • Average borrowing is “over $78,0000
  • Average graduates earn $36,000/year

As Carey says, “After accounting for basic living expenses, the average Harvard A.R.T. Institute graduate has to pay 44 percent of discretionary income just to make the minimum loan payment.”


The news is particularly embarrassing given that Harvard’s endowment is over $35 billion, and the American Repertory Theater is a nonprofit with a board that includes a Who’s Who of American music and theater music mixed with some really rich folks.

. . . .

Some desire a career in academia with the MFA as a terminal degree. Some are already planning for a PhD. Some want to make connections to help get a book deal. Some are just looking for time and space to pursue their passion with little care or concern about future publication or employment. Some just want the opportunity to work closely with a particular mentor or even live in a particular place.

Some feel like they’re not sure about their prospects as a writer, but they’re definitely writing-curious, and graduate school sure beats your soul-killing job.

. . . .

There are approximately 3,000 newly minted MFA holders each year. It is a good thing that many are not interested in academic positions because the Academic Jobs Wiki for creative writing this year listed a sum total of 102 tenure-track jobs across fiction, poetry, non-fiction, open, and mixed categories. Even presuming equal chances (which would be silly), the odds of landing a tenure track job are vanishingly small. The vast majority of those positions will go to people who are many years post-MFA with significant publications.

. . . .

At a place like Columbia, which boasts a faculty that includes Paul Beatty, Richard Ford, Leslie Jamison, Hedi Julavits, and Ben Marcus, among many other luminaries, the full-cost tuition for the two-year program is $120,000. Those students are also living in New York City.


When it comes to tuition and funding and student outcomes and what all that means, I think it’s worth programs asking some questions and seeing what kind of answers emerge:

Can we charge tuition?

Should we charge tuition?

Must we charge tuition?

In the case of, “Can we charge tuition?” the answer for the vast majority is “yes.” Even with so many programs, the demand for slots exceeds supply. According to AWP, the average number of applicants to full-residency programs is 56 while acceptances are 18.5.

But just because you can charge tuition doesn’t mean you should, at least if we’re looking at doing right by students.

The A.R.T. Institute at Harvard is a great example of where we may draw this distinction. The gateway to success that its students are trying to squeeze through is so narrow, I’m betting they could charge even more in tuition and still find plenty of qualified and willing applicants. When it comes to people pursuing a career on Broadway, the heart wants what it wants.

. . . .

The questions are more complicated for creative writing fine arts programs, however, as they are not strictly pre-professional. Using a heavy bureaucratic hand to police programs would likely do far more harm than good.

. . . .

What’s happening to those students post graduation? Here’s some of the questions I think programs could answer:

  • % of students in stable, full-time academic positions
  • % of students who have published with commercial, independent, or university press
  • % of students who work in writing or publishing-related field
  • Debt at graduation/Debt at 5 years/Debt at 10 years/Debt at 20 years/Average time to debt free

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

What would a clear warning statement concerning an MFA program in creative writing look like?

  1. Do you understand that this course of study will not prepare you to become a professional writer? Y/N
  2. Do you understand that none of your professors or instructors are or ever have supported themselves exclusively from their earnings as professional writers? Y/N
  3. Do you understand that, for the last three years, the average graduate of the MFA creative writing program has graduated with a total student loan debt of $200,000?Y/N
  4. Do you understand that the MFA student loan debt described is in addition to any student loan debts you incurred prior to applying to enter the program? Y/N
  5. Do you understand that the average salary of an MFA graduate from our school is $44,000 per year, provided that the graduate lives in New York City? Y/N
  6. Do you understand that the cost of living in Manhattan is over 250% of the average cost of living in the United States? And that the median price of a home is $1.2 million? Y/N

Just so visitors don’t think PG is piling onto MFA students, he will reveal that virtually every law student of his generation (and quite possibly, subsequent generations) had a professor/dean, etc., tell her/him that law school was going to teach him/her to “think like a lawyer.”

This lazy/hazy description made lawyers seem like some sort of leisure class who sat around and focused on thinking about various and sundry legal theories.

PG would have suggested, “Work like a lawyer” or “become a successful lawyer.”

25 thoughts on “Should MFA Programs Teach the Business of Writing?”

  1. This:
    There are approximately 3,000 newly minted MFA holders each year. It is a good thing that many are not interested in academic positions because the Academic Jobs Wiki for creative writing this year listed a sum total of 102 tenure-track jobs across fiction, poetry, non-fiction, open, and mixed categories. Even presuming equal chances (which would be silly), the odds of landing a tenure track job are vanishingly small. The vast majority of those positions will go to people who are many years post-MFA with significant publications.

    should be required of ANY graduate program.

    The numbers may be a little better in the hard sciences, but not much. I didn’t figure it out until MANY years past a PhD – and I was lucky to have worked in my field at the Princeton U. Plasma Physics Lab for ten years. Very lucky.

    MOST of the graduates with PhDs will not find posts in academia. The top students get internships, and assistant professorships, and move on to the tenure track positions – and I’d guess over 90% of the total number of PhDs end up in industry or government somewhere – or teaching high school.

    Looking back, the clear winners were selected by the professors early, and then encouraged and mentored and supported and counseled to make them the top students. The rest of us did grunt work – some in TA positions, and some fortunate ones in RA positions. But they needed us to get grant money, they needed us to keep the professors they already had employed, and our needs were not part of that assessment.

    It should be a required disclosure – maybe some of us would have chosen to do something else if we’d been aware how small our chances were of replacing our professors or becoming colleagues. I know it might have made the grad school process a lot less stressful.

    The majority – the excess STEM PhDs – were trained, usually had good computer skills, and were generally useful, but had had no chance from the very beginning of earning what they thought: the plum assignment of joining the close-knit group of ‘real’ scientists.

    • MFA programs aren’t the only ones that ignore the real world applicability of their “services”. It is in fact, a common feature of many programs, even among the STEM disciplines. For good reason: they can’t afford too close a look at the marketplace of skills.

      At the day job we would get the odd summer intern who were totally illiterate in FORTRAN (the goto legacy programing language of Engineering codes) who sneered at anything other than the flavor of the week programming language promoted by the Ivory Tower Computer Science PhDs. They would quickly learn the reality of thd job. Mind you, we were an R&D operation; if those types encountered actual production or (horrors) industrial maintenance work their brains would explode. Until they saw the paychecks. Good industrial maintenance engineers are worth their weight in…silver. They do get to *earn* those checks but it’s a good life. (My brother did, anyway.)

      In engineering it is generally understood that advanced degrees *reduce* employability and tbat with few exceptions, for a PhD without a resume showing meaningful real world employment the only career path left is teaching.

      Now, a lot of employers who do R&D will encourage and pay for their staff to get advanced degrees, often hosting classes on-site for MS courses but it is intended to expand the capabilities of the employee and for staff retention.

      The field thus has “features” other disciplines find odd:
      – the majority of Engineering PhDs at American universities go to foreign students and many (most?) stay as teachers
      – the vast majority of native engineering graduates leave for employment at the BS level, often before (with coop work-study programs)
      – it has been said (with good reason) that Engineering schools teach the profession and employers teach the trade; day to day work is very industry specific and you rarely see veterans switch industry.
      – Professional Engineer certification has more real world value (and is harder to get in many stares) than advanced degrees.
      – the need for Engineers is big enough that lack of PE certificate is no barrier to employment
      – companies find it more practical to hire staff from direct competitors (5 years experience in very specific areas) than recent graduates but graduates are highly sought after because of the shortage. Pretty much every fresh graduate can find a good paying job.
      – Prestige Universities tend to look down at Engineering programs, even tbeir own, for being “too vocational” which is fine because Employers don’t overvalue degrees from big universities. State school graduates are as sought after as Purdue or Carnegie-Mellon graduates, and often over Yale, for example.
      – Graduates are judged on their individual merits and often have a choice of landing site, be it location or industry.

      Typically students don’t go into Engineering to get rich (that would be business, corporate law, medicine) but you won’t find many engineers bemoaning the cost of tbeir education or lugging big debt for long.,nearly%20140%2C000%20new%20jobs%20over%20the%20next%20decade.

      On tbe other hand, many do get the chance to quietly change the world for the better.
      And yes, the better Engineering Programs do teach the business side of the field.

      • PE is pretty basically irrelevant for the majority of engineers, outside of civil engineers or expert witnesses in court.

        From what I’ve heard (might be out of date), having a PE allows you to testify in court. And the PE exam is heavily weighted towards civil engineering, maybe a little mechanical. So maybe useful for civil engineers or others involved in construction, but of no value to the vast majority of engineers.

        Back in the stone age when I was in college, the split for physics bachelor’s after graduation was something like:
        1/3 advanced study
        1/3 industry (probably doing something besides physics)
        1/3 military (think ROTC)
        For astronomy at the time, only about 100 colleges had astronomy degrees, and the number of graduates was around 200/year – which still probably exceeded demand.

    • I believe that it is generally accepted that far more PhDs are granted in high energy physics than can possibly have academic careers. However, as they spend the next 10+ years moving from one short term post-doc position to another – with never a sniff of a tenure track job – they provide very useful and cheap labour for their university and their tenured bosses. After all, someone has to do a lot of the teaching and the long and laborious “calculations” that form such a large part of the work on theoretical high energy physics.

      A lot used to (still do?) drop out for Wall Street jobs where their first year bonus would pay off their student loans, though being blamed as a group for the 2008 crash probably took some of the shine off this.

  2. The general arguments presented by the author, plus the questions suggested by PG could be applied to any college program from geology to gender studies. It actually would be better in high school.

    I’ve demonstrated to a few college kids what debt actually means. Things like principal, interest, payments, payment duration, penalties… They are abysmally ignorant, borrowing thousands today with no idea what it means for tomorrow.

    Back when men were men, and women were women, and we all walked up hill to school both way in the snows, we learned this stuff with pencil and paper. Now anyone can use a loan calculator on the internet.

    More than once, I have heard the following. “Well, if it’s that bad, how come everyone I know is doing it?”

    • Because guidance conselors are clueless?
      Too much “follow your dream” and not enough “learn to earn a living at something you like or learn to like something you can earn a living doing”.
      Unless you’re independently wealthy your ability to survive will depend on the valye your skills deliver to others.

      • Not even “follow your dream”–if your dream doesn’t involve going to a traditional four-year college, chances are good that your guidance counselor will discourage you from following it.

      • Agreed, Felix.

        There are a lot of jobs that are interesting and challenging that nobody ever talks about. After law school, I held a couple of jobs that hadn’t even existed when I was in college.

        • For that matter, just look at tbe list of formal Engineering disciplines, above: a century ago there were but two, Civil and Mechanical. Fifty years later, four, as Chemical and Electric were formalized. Today, fifteen. And there’s probably five more ready to calve.
          Ditto for medicine and law.

          As society gets more technologically sophisticated, the productive jobs get more specialized. The less productive ones stay the same or, worse, wither away.

          Times change, things change, but not the establishment. That only changes when Taps plays. 😉

          • One of the problems with law is that it is not acknowledging specialization. There are only two universally accepted “specialties”: Patent and bankruptcy. Indeed, it’s an ethics violation to use the word “specialize” or any cognate (that word is specifically prohibited!) for anything except patent, which has a separate bar exam in addition to the general bar exam!

            But pass the general bar exam and you can practice any kind of law you want… notwithstanding the reality that lawyers are far more specialized than even doctors (ever heard of an ENT doctor who insists on working only on the left side of the body?). The profession’s structure, and the ethics rules, and law school, however, all pine for the days of the small-town lawyer who does it all… and the last of those left the profession by the early 1970s.

            Oh, well: Half a century. Probably about time for the profession to take notice of a problem, debate it for another decade, and adopt ineffective self-serving provisions that just raise the price of legal representation. (Just like it did after Watergate with “ethics,” and just like it’s in the midst of regarding “multijurisdictional practice.”)

            (Just remember that there are only three lawyer jokes; the rest are all true. I get to say that, sneeringly, because I was already a professional long before law school, managing state-sponsored violence on a salary less than that of a public-school teacher of equal experience.)

            • Three? Hmm…
              There’s “professional courtesy” and “a good start”. “Heaven v Hell” is number three? That one I first heard as a baseball joke.

              • Admiralty was never recognized separately in the US, has no separate bar or educational requirements… and is intertwined with federal law generally. Admiralty is a specialty in the UK, but the UK has a wide variety of recognized and regulated specialties for solicitors (but not for barristers, and that distinction is itself a specialization!).

                This can get really interesting when one is a US-licensed lawyer practicing in a US-based office of a major UK-based-and-owned law firm, and not just for the recognized-and-regulated specialties.

        • Most of the jobs I’ve ever had didn’t exist when I was in school. Most of the jobs I’ve ever had don’t exist anymore.

          By the way, it’s the tech jobs that have come and gone the fastest. People who think you should learn to code because plumbers are going to become obsolete are in for a rude awakening.

  3. Astronomy too, I vaguely remember.
    And not all go all the way to a PhD, a lot of them stay at BS or MS, once they realize the limits of the degree.
    There is a massive shortage of STEMers as a whole but it isn’t across all disciplines and levels and while many can cross-train, the best use for the “surplus” STEMers is the one thing that is almost impossible: K-12 education.

    Much like the MBA mantra is “management is management” much of the education establishment believes “teaching is teaching” and actual subject expertise is irrelevant. So we see PhysEd graduates teaching high school math, physics, chemistry, and biology. Meanwhile graduates of tbe discipline with the temperament and desire to teach are blocked and teacher shortages are addressed by brain-draining other countries.

    And that is without counting all the kids sent into the wrong fields who switch majors or drop out without a degree. And what is the IdiotPoliticians™ prescription? Free tuition for all instead of actual, effective, student counseling.

  4. One wonders what minimum education should be required for a literary agent who, as parts of his/her/their/its role in performing even the minimum required by the historical role of an agent:

    Must understand and negotiate contract language, and understand legalisms and choice of law issues that aren’t covered in any “business” curriculum — all understandings that have to be based on applicable current law, not leftovers from half a century ago; and

    Understand the difference between “artistic process” and “artistic product” well enough to evaluate manuscripts that are not complete, especially from less-experienced writers; and

    Understand enough about accounting to, on the input end, spot when a publisher or other licensee is doing something questionable and, on the output end, properly account to and pay the author (including all of the appropriate tax documents); and

    Effectively communicate with both corporate types (editors, secondary-use representatives like those in the film industry, etc.) and the all-too-frequently-ill-socialized authors; and

    Understand subject-matter-based pitfalls well enough, and develop appropriate contacts for, dealing with things like “libel” and “hazardous advice” and “alleged violation of nondisclosure agreements” and all of those other things seldom taught even in law school; and

    Understand and meet minimum ethical standards, and actually and effectively exclude those who don’t.

    Compare this bare minimum to the minimum educational attainment required to join the Association of Authors’ Representatives (which is a voluntary, not regulatory, organization… because there isn’t a regulatory organization).

    And all of that is before considering whether what agents do crosses the line to the “practice of law” or “provision of professional accounting services” (or, all too often, “provision of mental health services”).

    The short version: Agent community, heal thyself first before telling authors how to do things differently.

    My own modest proposal? The agent community isn’t going to like this…
    * Approximately twelve credits of legal material taught at the law-school level, including contracts, reputational torts, civil procedure (including basic choice of law), trademark and unfair competition, and copyright (probably the full three-credit basic copyright course); and
    * Three credits of accounting; and
    * Three credits of upper-level undergraduate/beginning graduate literary analytic methods — a survey course that covers a variety of approaches and includes substantial practice evaluating literary works of varying merit; and
    * Three credits of organizational and business context and communication
    which is almost enough to qualify as the “classroom component” of a master’s degree.

    Not. Gonna. Happen.

    • Nope.
      You have a show stopper in there: “Understand and meet minimum ethical standards, and actually and effectively exclude those who don’t.”

    • If they were interested in and capable of doing the legal and accounting classes they wouldn’t be going after the MFA. They’d be in business, law or STEM.

      • Not the agents… who, as a group, can’t do any of those. (There are individual exceptions. They’re rarer than they should be.)

    • C – You forgot to mention an Agents Exam covering at least two full days and including both multiple-choice and essay questions.

      And an occasional two-hour re-certification exam to make certain the agent’s skills hadn’t atrophied over time and she/he was current in understanding the business and the law.

  5. ” The bestselling work of Mark Twain—a novel that funded his career—was sold door-to-door in a very low fashion instead of properly, in a bookstore. ”

    Now there’s an interesting gem that you won’t often hear in public.

    This anecdote is why I’m forever grateful that I stumbled my way into the world of sales by direct mail (and now by internet too).

    On that side of the looking glass, even a modestly-funded operation with a book to sell, a list of names, and a stack of envelopes can sell more books with a single mailing than most traditionally published books sell in their whole existence.

    Granted the examples I’m most familiar with aren’t fiction books. The big profits come from selling “information products” to market niches in search of the next thing to buy.

    But Twain’s example isn’t the only case of a fiction author working this way, not by far. E. Haldeman-Julius made a fortune selling “blue books” back in the pulp days. Melvin Powers may have sold some fiction in his time.

    The myths and mindsets percolating through “the writing community” have calibrated the expectations of writers/authors within certain thresholds… everything from how much an author “ought to” earn, to how books “should” be sold, to the belief that anything to do with business or economics or marketing is hostile to the *serious artiste*.

    Lots of “ought and should”, very little in the way of self-examination or real data from the marketplace of buyers.

    Most all of it is mental blockage, little to do with the realities.

    Most of the audience for the MFA would learn more from a year working in face to face sales than getting the degree, and they wouldn’t even have to rack up a 6-figure non-dischargeable debt to do it.

    • About Mark Twain:

      In fact, subscription publishing was the preferred method of distribution for nearly all prestige books in the U.S. in the later nineteenth century. It was more profitable to the author, easier for the reading public (most of whom, in those days, had no access to anything describable as a retail bookshop), and virtually eliminated risk for any publisher savvy enough to know which books were suited to subscription sales. (It also allowed books to be released in fancier bindings at higher prices to those who requested it.) There was nothing ‘low’ or ‘improper’ about it.

      In financial terms, the high point of Samuel Clemens’s career was not represented by any of his own books, but by his undertaking to publish (by subscription) the memoirs of U. S. Grant. Grant had all but decided to throw his lot in with a trade publisher for a standard 10-percent royalty deal. Clemens intervened, showed Grant by facts and figures that his memoirs were perfect material for subscription publishing, and predicted a sale of 300,000 two-volume sets. Clemens offered to pay Grant 75 percent of the proceeds net of printing costs, and pay all running expenses out of his own 25 percent.

      In the event, Grant died just as the books were coming off the presses, but Clemens’s predictions came true exactly and the Grant family received half a million dollars from the subscription sale.

      No, Sir, no, Ma’am: it was trade publishing that was ‘low’ by comparison with this.

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