Many people assume that because a handful of writers make a spectacular living off their best-selling books, any writer makes money. So far, if I count what I have invested in my writing and what I have gained, I am awfully, appallingly in the red. I have the experience of earning nothing whatsoever from a book that cost me plenty of money to write (yep, I never got royalties for the book Expediente X: En honor a la verdad, 2006, as the publisher, dear Alberto Santos, claims to be ruined…). Yet, here’s a new experience for me: paying for a copy of a volume to which I have contributed an essay.

The book is called A Comparison of Popular TV in English and Spanish Speaking Societies: Soaps, Sci-Fi, Sitcoms, Adult Cartoons, and Cult Series and has been edited by my colleagues at UIB Marta Fernández Morales and José Igor Prieto-Arranz. I only have words of praise for them and for the hard work they’ve put into editing this very interesting volume, which is, precisely, the reason why I want to read it complete and keep it. Yet, the Edwin Mellen Press, which has published it, is not in the habit of giving copies to contributors. We, authors, are offered a discount, a strange practice imitated by other publishers (such as Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

For the benefit of the poor souls reading me who ignore it all about academic publishing, let me explain that we get no money from sales as chapter contributors do not really sign a contract but a waver of their copyright. I doubt that editors, who do sign a contract, get money, anyway. We, authors, sign contracts for books but, for instance, my colleague Isabel Santaulària has got so far for her great book El monstruo humano: Una introducción a la ficción de los asesinos en serie (2009) around 250 euros. Yes, it pays more to teach a seminar any afternoon (but then, you need to publish books for anyone to call you).

It could be worse: I should have to pay to have my work published, as many academics do all over the world for articles in academic books or for books, collective or otherwise. What truly puzzles me is that is selling at 5.95$ an essay on Stephen King that I published in the journal Atlantis years ago and which can be downloaded from the internet for free (and for which, as usual, I wasn’t paid). I have simply no idea who is the middleman distributing this to and I very much doubt the editor of Atlantis knows about this odd situation. Or maybe I’m the one who had no idea.

I understand that writing is part of my job and that, somehow, as Spanish society subsidises my time to write I am not really entitled to making even more money out of it. Or am I? I’m confused. I also assume that many academic presses make very little money out of publishing their books but I still don’t get it: what kind of business is this? Can really the 9 copies for the contributors make such a big difference to the publishers?

I’m taking a deep breath here… and counting my savings to buy the book.