Johns Hopkins Magazine -- June 1999
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JUNE 1999



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Ringside Chronicles
Author's Notebook
By Dale Keiger

If you're a writer, a lot of what you observe while hanging out with Phil Berger will make you smile. There are the framed dust jackets on the wall from each book he's published, a reminder of what he's accomplished. There's the modest, somewhat nicked-up apartment that lets you know being a published author is no gold mine. The phone rings and Berger hops up to answer it because he's got a magazine piece in the works, another in a long succession of articles that are a freelancer's stock in trade. Berger talks about his movie deal and you hear how he hopes that now, after 30-plus years of work, he might be in line for a decent paycheck.

All quite familiar to another writer.

The public tends to overestimate how much money the average writer brings home. Years ago I listened with mounting incredulity to a radio report about a change in the tax laws pertaining to freelance writers. Some congressional aide was explaining that writers were getting away with evading all sorts of taxes, and it was really quite unfair because the average freelance writer in America averaged $40,000 per year in income. I nearly choked. In 10 years of publishing more than 50 freelance pieces a year, I never approached $20,000 a year. And in my Ohio city, I was one of the hot-shots.

So I find myself rooting for Phil. He's a good reporter and a nice guy. I hope he becomes a Hollywood big-shot and makes a ton of money. I hope he wins an Academy Award. And the next time I dine with him in the pizza joint on the ground floor of his apartment building in Greenwich Village, he's buying -- and I'm going to have the deluxe slice.