Conditions Under Which I Will Happily Work For Free – an Exhaustive List

If you want to book a poet to perform at your night, you need to pay them from £50 for a newer, local poet, up to several hundred for an established name.  There comes a point where poetry isn’t just a quirky hobby, it’s a job, and jobs need payment.

You know this, though. Of course you do. There have been millions of blog posts and memes and town criers hired to shout in the street about how artists deserve payment for their work and would you fix my car for free and we can’t live on just air and tesco value noodles and it’s pretty culturally dodgy to only let people with independent wealth create art, no?

But also, we all know there are exceptions. We all call in favours from time to time, or we’re running something just a bit special, or we just can’t make it work for some reason. Surely there are exceptions?

Of course there are! I wrote you a list –

You are a close personal friend of mine      

Would you call me in tears if your cat died? Yes? Then you’re a close friend, and I will compere your steampunk cabaret for gratis, my good man. Following each other on twitter doesn’t count though.

You are offering a free ticket to something really amazing

By which I mean, like, Glastonbury – not your Nan’s birthday.

You want to do something really really cool, and there’s a reason you can’t pay

Maybe this gig in question is the first of a monthly night you want to start up, that’s explicitly aimed at empowering teenage girls through spoken word, and there’s no budget but you really want a feature poet to launch it. I’ll do that. Also, if you’re raising money for a charity that I would donate to, I’m probably there.

You have done me a massive professional favour at some point

If you’ve mentored me, or shown me how to do my taxes, or beta read my novel, or produced my Edinburgh show for the fee of “one pint per day”, I owe you a shitload and I know it and yes I will go to Basingstoke and perform at your boutique festival.

For networking/exposure reasons

Ah, that old chestnut. Yes, sometimes this is okay! If expenses are covered/manageable and it looks like a fun night anyway, it can be worth doing a gig for the people you might meet there. But it has to be really good, and career stage appropriate. Compare and contrast –

“Lucy, have you met the Queen? Charming lady. She’s getting bored of that whole Christmas Speech thing, and was thinking it would be more fun to commission a sweary feminist poem instead. Maybe you can help?”


“Lucy, this is my mate Neville. He read a poem once, didn’t you Neville?”

“No, it was a graphic novel.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. It was a graphic novel.”

You are proposing a genuine barter type arrangement

If you really WILL fix my car for free, or rather, in exchange for a nicely turned sonnet for your girlfriend’s birthday, then come on down! Because late stage capitalism is a total ass pain for everyone, isn’t it? I’d love to tender you poems as payment for other goods or services. Let us work together to build a world where the only currency is kindness and love!

Until then, I have gin bills to pay. If you do not meet the above criteria, you need to pony up two bottles of Tanqueray or cash equivalent, bare minimum. Cheers.

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