Text: N. P. Willis, “The Pay for Periodical Writing” (A), from  The Evening Mirror   (New York), October 12, 1844, vol. 1, no. 6, p. 2, col. 1


[page 2, column 1, continued:]


What a butcher would think of veal, as a marketable article, if everybody had an ambition to raise calves to give away, is very near the conclusion that a merely business man would arrive at, on inquiring into the saleableness of fugitive literature. It is as pleasant for people not hackneyed in authorship to see their thoughts transferred to print, as it is for beauties to see their faces transferred to canvass; and, if customary, most contributors to periodicals would pay the portrait-painter. Another thing: — Females are naturally facile writers, and the attention paid to the mental culture of women in our day has set their thoughts a-flow upon paper, as the letting in of sunshine upon the dark floor of the forest draws to the surface new springs of water. These facts to begin with, the reader will easily understand the pourquoi of the unpromising literary market we have to “open up” to him.

There are several of the magazines that pay for articles, but no one of them, we believe, pays for all its contents. Graham and Godey, (two men of noble liberality to authors, pay prices to some of their contributors that would far out-bid the highest rates of magazine payment in England. Their prose-writers receive from two to twelve dollars a page, and their poets from five to fifty dollars an article. The Columbian and the Ladies’ Magazines also pay well. The North American Review used to think it liberal enough to pay Edward Everett a dollar a page. All the paying magazines and reviews, however, reject fifty articles to one that they accept, and they pay nobody whose “name” would not enrich their table of contents. In point of fact, but for the necessity of a brag, and the misfortune that a writer, once made famous, esteems pay a desirable manner of compliment, (whether he wants the money or not,) the literary periodicals in this country might do well, relying only on the editor’s pen and the epidemic “cacoethes.” The Mirror did so — and was as cleverly contributed to, we think, as any periodical in the country. The rejected articles, (offered to us, of course, as a gratuity,) would have filled, at least, a barrel a month!

Newspapers pay for reporting and editing, but seldom or never for “articles.” The favor, on the contrary, of giving room and circulation to another man’s ideas, is growing into a saleable commodity, — the editor, (on the ground that he risks the popularity of his paper by relinquishing the chance of a better article,) charging rent for his columns instead of hiring a tenant. To every scheme of public interest — to every society — to everything which newspapers can hinder or further — there is attached some person who is both desirous and able to present the subject forcibly on paper; and, quite as readily and zealously, if there be an objectionable side to it, springs up a pen and ink caviller in opposition. Between them, and with the desire to figure in print which besets very many able men, newspaper editors need pay for little aid except eye-water and scissors, and they get credit for a world of zeal in good causes by articles they neither write nor pay for. We have got to the foot-board of our Procrustes bed.




This article has been erroneously attributed to Poe, but, as with the article of October 12, 1844, the entire item should clearly be given to Nathaniel P. Willis. This item is attributed to Poe, without discussion, by Heartman and Canny (1943). It is not specifically mentioned by Hull. Arthur Hobson Quinn thought that both of the October articles on “The Pay for Periodical-Writing” were by Poe (Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 1941, p. 436). Of particular concern here are the final two sentences of the second paragraph, where the writer refers to articles submitted to and rejected by The Mirror. Although Poe clearly worked for The Mirror at some point, he was never a full editor, and seems not to have had any responsibility for the selection of submissions. Such a comment would be quite reasonable coming from the pen of Willis, who is almost certainly the author. This article is clearly connected to the October 12, 1844 item, which promises, “in another paper we shall say a word of the pay for the writers in the periodicals.” The probability that Willis is the author of that article also seals the fate of this one.

Reprinted in The Prose Works of N. P. Willis, Philadelphia: Henry C. Baird, 1852, p. 723.


[S:0 - NYEM, 1844] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - Authors Pay in America (N. P. Willis, 1844)