A verb is a nation. That’s what I’d tell you over coffee. I’d also tell you that writing has its own economy. Supply and demand. Competitive advantage. Tariffs. Barriers to entry. Liens. All that. I’d make myself more comfortable. A tall painting of Umbria in lubricious oils of ochre—umbrella pines, olives, cypresses, green oaks and aloes—would dart my left eye, reminding me of first love, and I’d love it. 

I’d pour a little cream, lean over, ask: “So, what’s your gross domestic product?” 

The look you’d give would rival only that of Irish Tequila. You’d smile, and then squint, and then smile. I’d repeat the question, stirring, waiting. After a few sips, I’d reword the question and explain: “Every writer has a product. And that writer must decide whether to sell it, give it away, or keep it under lock and key—each of these carrying a slew of economic principles with them.” 

“Economic principles?” you’d say. 

“Rules of the house, yes.” I’d dab my mouth. “Or in your case, rules of the manuscript.” 


“Well, you can say custom, if you’d like. Custom is a much kinder word, isn’t it?” 

“I guess. But can words actually have a real economy?” 

“Give me your answer first. Sell, give, or lock?” 

“Sell, of course.” 

“Got a target number in mind?” 

“In my dreams, I see a million.” 

“Interesting. Let’s say you sell your book for a hot $15 a copy, that’s 15 million dollars—gross.” 


“Yes, the figure before you take out taxes and expenses.” 

“I knew that,” you’d say, “just testing you.” 

We’d laugh. Spot a Monarch by the window. Congregate our coffees. The waitress would come and clear away our empty plates, the lemon cream cakes we’d have enjoyed earlier, bit of mousse still stuck to your fork. I’d think of how I so love lemon, how it’s that time of year again, and continue. 

“Economics teaches us that 20% of any sample targeted will respond. So if you target 1,000 folks on Twitter, only 200 of them will respond.” 

“Only 200?” 

“That’s right, only 200. So, you’re gonna need an economic plan.” 

“I hate plans. So what’s a writer to do—hire a New York statistician?” 

“Certainly not. All you need to do is think through it. Observe. Act.” 

“Act like a business tycoon?” 

I’d smile and shake my head. “Act like a person who understands the buyer—the consumer.” 

You’d cough. “I’m not a student of marketing, I did an MFA.” 

“Fine.” I’d counter-cough. “But what you really need as a writer is a MCB — a Master of Consumer Behavior.” 

“That a real degree?” 

“Not on your—”

“Wait.” You’d pull out your manuscript and plop it on the table. “What you’re telling me is that this thing has to target five million people in order to gain one million in sales?” 

“You got it.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” 

“Think of your book as a nation, as America itself. America thinks very deeply about her domestic products, about products that she can sell on a global scale. She sells corn and wheat and soy to China, Mexico, France, Ghana, England, Canada—and that’s just the tip of the blade. But before she sells abroad, she dominates markets here at home so that every American is consuming her products, one way or another. A lot of thought goes into where she places her products. Nothing is left to chance because competition and barriers and tariffs in foreign nations must be considered and dealt with. Get where I’m going?” 


“Excellent. So, when America decides she needs to earn $20 trillion dollars from her gross domestic product, she’s not kidding around. She does everything under the sun, lawfully, to achieve that aim. And so must you.” 

“But how much is all this going to cost me? Marketing my book to five million people is one serious bag of lemons.” 

I’d snigger. “Lemons aside, you’re right. Let’s say you assign just 10 cents per head, that’ll run you a whopping $500,000. And apart from major publishing houses, who’s got that kind of money?” 

“Mio Dio!” 

“Exactly. An economic problem requires an economic strategy, my friend.” 

“Strategy?” you’d say, easing your manuscript back into your briefcase. “Makes me sound like some sort of chess player.” 

“More like a verb,” I’d say. “The trick is knowing this: you’ll need money to sell a million books.” 

You’d pout and google Economics for Dummies. “Gross.” I’d smile and google ‘the migration patterns of butterflies’. “I know.”


Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

CategoriesFlash Fiction
Linette Marie Allen

Linette Marie Allen is earning an MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore. She is the recipient of a 2018 Betty Tarpley Turner Research and Travel Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Notre Dame Review, Free State Review, and other journals.