Is it true that authors used to be payed by word back then?

I have come across this statement quite often when I was trying to figure out why older prose is so verbose. Is that true? What are the authors that were payed like that?


BTW, I really don't care about spelling, so don't bother correcting me. As my English teacher used to say: "Spell as well as you can but make sure that the word is readable"

Update 2:

Seriously, what is up with this sub-forum? Have you never come across bad spelling before? I am considering making a compilation of all the times somebody bothered to correct me on spelling or word usage, because it is getting ridiculous. The only other time anyone did so was on "Higher education" sub-forum when I spelt it "hire education". 

12 Answers

  • 1 month ago

    No where is this truer , than in Victor Hugo's  Les Miserables. 

    Not paid "by the word"  per se,  but paid for the sheer quantity of pages,  causing authors of the day to write rather lengthy novels. 

    While his story is loved the world over......there are few who would disagree that his 40 page rant,  on what a Paris Gamin is,  was clearly an ABUSE of "being paid by the word",  (or for quantity of pages) . 

    It's 40 entire pages of sheer ridiculous redundancy, that at best, he could have gotten the idea across in 3 pages or less.   10 was too much,  20 would have been boring...and well,   40......was just rather insane. 

    But in a book of 1500 pages or so,  what's 40 more or less? 

    But an editor these days,  would have slashed that passage down to 2 pages..........tops. 

    I have actually read the book several times, for enjoyment, and just completely skip that part.   

    Paris Gamin------a street wise urchin.   Got it. 

  • 1 month ago

    We still are, to a large extent. Often, the editor of a periodical has a certain space to fill and will require a certain word count. Over that, the article will be rejected or cut. Under that, the staff artist gets called in or the editor dips into his stack of fillers. Sometimes the New Yorker fillers were more interesting than the articles.

    In re your atrocious spelling, are you sure that "hire education" was not a Freudian slip? All to many people go to college only because many jobs require a degree; they never learn anything useful.

    Bad spelling from time to time is understandable. Continual bad spelling indicates that you are either ignorant or too lazy to proofread. Or, worse, that you don't care about your readers' opinion. Bad habit to get into if you ever want a job that requires written communication.

  • 1 month ago

    Sigh, another ill-informed juvenile rant.

  • 1 month ago

    I like golf, F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page about what it felt like to play the first round of golf in a Minnesota spring. I like boats, F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page about crossing a lake in a Chris-Craft. I like booze, F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page about mixing a Martini. I sometimes regret drinking booze,  F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page about having a hangover. 

    Now and then, I like a smoke.  F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page about having a smoke. I like women,  F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page about how smoking hot Daisy was. I like cars,  F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page on just turning the key on a V-12 Supercharged Cord. I liked going to uni, F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page about stepping on campus for the first time. I like to fish,  F. Scott Fitzgerald could write an entire page about casting a fly you have tied yourself. He needed lots of words, because he loved life in his own way and loved words. He had a river of life, and a river of words for it.  It was one very choppy river, but the words remain. 

    I hope he got paid by the word because I love every single one of those words. I hope you can finally understand non-economical writers. If you want to stay indoors with your wizards and warlocks yada yada, I guess I can appreciate that you will not jamming up my tee time. 

    Source(s): I think you should read F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories. Start with Winter Dreams if you like golf. "In the fall when the days became crisp and gray, and the long Minnesota winter shut down like the white lid of a box, Dexter's skis moved over the snow that hid the fairways of the golf course. At these times the country gave him a feeling of profound melancholy--it offended him that the links should lie in enforced fallowness, haunted by ragged sparrows for the long season. It was dreary, too, that on the tees where the gay colors fluttered in summer there were now only the desolate sand-boxes knee-deep in crusted ice. When he crossed the hills the wind blew cold as misery, and if the sun was out he tramped with his eyes squinted up against the hard dimensionless glare." Yeah, Dexter loved his golf course even when he XC skied on it and thought about spring-good writing!! I suppose you would prefer "Dexter went for ski and wished he could play golf instead".
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  • Huh?
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    Yes. Many magazines, especially the pulps and SF magazines, paid their authors by the word, so there was a clear incentive for them to be quite verbose. It's still quite common for magazines and newspapers to specify a column or feature article has to be, let's say, 3000 words and they will pay a flat fee for it, so they are still effectively paying by wordcount. 

  • Marli
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    Make the list of your misspelled words. You might learn to spell them correctly too. You are typing to people who work with the English language, not to people who are too lazy to be intelligent.

    Unless you want a job pushing a broom or serving burgers, you better spell well or you will fail.

    Magazine writers were paid by the word. Novelists were not - unless they wrote serial stories for the magazines, like Arthur Conan Doyle did with the Sherlock Holmes  stories for The Strand Magazine and Collier's. He was paid the same sum for each of a contracted number of short stories, 12 or 24, that would be published in the magazines, and then receive royalties from the sales of the books. I forget what the arrangement was for "The Hound of the Baskervilles", was he paid so much by line, word,  chapter or the entire novel in serial form? He could play hardball because so many fans wanted more Holmes stories. He said he wanted "twice his usual rate" and he got it, so it may have been payment by chapter. The way it sounded from the biographies,  Doyle sent the entire manuscript as one lot, and he and his editor made chapter revisions. He was paid £25 outright for the publication and copyright of "A Study in Scarlet", the first Holmes novel (in "Beeton's Christmas Annual" S O. Beeton & Co.)  That was one novel in one issue.

    Jane Austen and the Brontes were paid a percentage from the number of books sold. Austen sold the copyright of her first book for £10 - the one that was not published that she had to buy back to rewrite as "Northanger Abbey" and one ("Mansfield Park" or "Persuasion") was published on subscription (readers ordered copies of the book before it was completed. The author received a percentage of the money subscribed.) I doubt anyone was paid by the word to write a novel, a book of poetry, a political or "criminal's confession" pamphlet or a nonfiction book in the past - just for what was written for a magazine. 

  • 1 month ago

    We still get paid by the word from many publishers such as magazines.  Pay rates run from a fraction of a cent per word to over ten cents per word in some of the fancier publications.

  • 1 month ago

    Not for novels, no.

    Magazine articles and newspaper stories are paid by the word, in the past and currently. 

  • Andrew
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    In the past, many authors were indeed paid by the word, though whether or not a particular author you'd like to know about was ever paid that way would obviously depend on where that author lived, when he or she was writing, and what sort of arrangement the person had with his or her publishing house. 

    The fact that you were compelled to ask this question is a clear indication that you are not particularly clued in about the history of the written word. And your bizarre and tiresome obsession with the perceived flaws of older pieces of writing doesn't seem to afford you the possibility to move on to be able to discuss anything of substance. You have stated your position clearly numerous times, yet never added anything informative or insightful. 

    I don't know what Wikipedia articles or YouTube videos you've treated yourself to of late, but it might benefit you to learn that many things were done differently in the past. The fact that writers were paid differently wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of history. People in many professions were paid differently years ago. There are a great many professions that have simply ceased to exist altogether and many more that have come into existence that no one could have possibly foreseen decades, never mind centuries ago. 

    We get it - you like short, simple books that don't hurt your brain. You cannot grasp why anyone would enjoy or appreciate the type of writing that you despise. What no one understands is why you are compelled to harp on these facts over and over and over again when you have already received answers to your questions. These issues ought to have been resolved to your satisfaction by now, and if they haven't been, then it's got to be because you are not willing to find something else to obsess over. 

    Exactly what sort of replies are you looking for that might resolve any lingering misunderstandings? The long and the short of it is that all of this has been covered rather extensively back to front and there's nothing left to add. Are you ready to put this nonsense to bed yet? 

    You return day after day to spam this rot, but your posts are always riddled with errors. You don't know that "paid" is the simple past tense form of "pay" or that we use "who" or "whom" to refer to people, not "what", and "which" to specify one or some from the whole. 

    Regarding the silly updates: "I don't really care about spelling." What a shocker. You come here to whinge about writing styles and you can't construct a simple sentence. Then you have the audacity to claim that your English teacher told you not to worry about it. And you wonder why you're met with such derision. 

  • Elaine
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    During the 19th century many authors were paid by the word.  As an example "Le Comte de Monte Cristo" owes its length due to the author being paid by the word. 

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