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Contributor fees for poetry book reviews

After a discussion on Twitter, I recently asked for responses to a survey on what writers had been paid, if anything, for reviewing poetry books in magazines. At time of writing, I’ve received two dozen responses. Some results:

  • The average fee for a review from a UK-based magazine (of those that pay) is ¬£80, with the highest reported fees coming from The Guardian and Poetry Review and the lowest from PN Review. (It wasn’t possible to get comparable per-word rates, so this may be unfair; perhaps the piece for PN Review was very short, for instance.)
  • More commonly, there was no fee paid at all.
  • Reported as suspicions in the comments, and, it seems, shown in the survey responses, is the fact that different reviewers for the same magazine have been paid different amounts.
  • Frequently, the comments speak of frustration over a lack of openness about payment (or lack thereof), either due to this not being clear up front or the feeling that they were being wheedled.
  • One dynamic of this relationship, also shown by the editors of magazines who’ve kindly responded to the survey, is that, whilst editors do see the need to pay their reviewers if possible, they are almost always running the magazine on love alone themselves.

In terms of recommendations, an obvious step is more transparency from magazines over their contributor fees. At the least, in discussing a commission or pitch, editors should state the fee as early as possible, even if this means announcing that there isn’t one.

Beyond that, the situation seems more difficult. On the one hand, remuneration for reviews is so dependent on limited budgets, in an environment where so much is done for free, that it seems that, in most cases, any actual fee is regarded as a nice extra rather than any sort of motivation or recompense for work. On the other, as far as writing about poetry books goes, a review in a newspaper or magazine is the only work one will aspire to, short of a book. It seems to speak poorly of the whole business of writing about poetry if it’s difficult to guarantee being fairly paid for doing so.