Seduction of Fake Poetry Contests

You’ve seen the ads in the Sunday newspaper magazines—a mass-market appeal to submit your poem, get published, and win a huge prize. “American Poetry Association Contest! Win up to $50,000!”

There’s no shortage of poetry contests out there. And in most cases, the goals of these contests are legitimate: recognizing and honoring quality poetry and beefing up membership or subscription bases. Unfortunately, there’s no dearth of con artists in this world, and bogus poetry competitions are everywhere, luring would-be as well as established poets with seductive prizes and flattering appraisal of their poems.

Journalists have had some fun with these contests, entering intentionally awful poems, which are then accepted by the contest’s publisher and met with high praise, accolades, and, of course, invitations to purchase an anthology containing their work (only $49.95!) or invitations to attend conventions to accept their prizes (registration fee: $425.00). Writers beware!

Be on the lookout for these warning signs of a disreputable poetry contest:

Unusually large cash prizes. Especially when there’s no entry fee. Where in the world do they find such financial backing?

No prize money but a promise of “agent representation”—at a high price. Or an invitation to join “The International League of Poets”—for a pricey sum, of course.

Anthologies. Your poem was accepted, and the publisher is oozing high praise. Your stunning and highly acclaimed poem will be published in an anthology—and would you like to purchase said anthology for $49.95? How about your proud friends and family? For several hundred dollars, you and yours can each have a copy of your poem in published form…

Conventions. Again, your poem has been “accepted” and is lavishly praised. You’ve even won a prize! But you have to attend a convention to accept this prize, and naturally, the registration fee is a few hundred dollars.

Unknown contest sponsor. The name may seem familiar, but it’s a word or two away from the name of a legitimate poetry organization. Check the Web site. Is the organization associated with anything else? Other publications, societies, anything at all unrelated to this contest? If not, back away quickly. Legitimate poetry organizations focus on the writing community, and the contest is but a sideline.

Contest sponsor is difficult to contact. Is there a phone number? A contact name? Are your questions answered quickly, or is the response slow to come or evasive?

Advertisements in daily newspapers or magazines unrelated to the writing field. Legitimate organizations advertise contests in publications targeted for the writing community and do not spend gobs of money on mass-market publications.

Low standards. Each and every poem—from quality to awful—is accepted and lavishly praised.

Past winners are nowhere to be found… If it’s next to impossible to find the work of past winners, then, well . . . you get the picture. However, if you are able to find the previous winners and their work is mediocre, then obviously the standards of the contest are lukewarm as well.

Short poems preferred (or required). The better to fit into an anthology, which is what the sponsor is trying to sell anyway.

If the warning bells clanging in your head aren’t enough, do some research of your own. A Google search for “poetry scams” on the Internet will give you lists of the worst contests. And legitimate contests are out there if you’re willing to do a bit of research. Try About.com for a list of reputable contests, check the reputable market listings such as those found in Poets & Writers Magazine, Poet’s Market, Writer’s Digest, or consult with your local poetry society.

Questions for WritersQUESTION: Some writers love having their work in poetry anthologies, even when the criteria for publication is very low or they’re required to buy copies. They enjoy sharing their work regardless of the reputations of the contests in question. What do you think?

11 Responses to Seduction of Fake Poetry Contests

  1. All I can say is to get this information out to as many people as possible! When I was younger, I entered a poem into a contest and it was just as you explained. Nothing but a scam. Not only is it wasteful to be sucked into buying something to do with the contest it is also heartbreaking to think that you have accomplished something just to find out that it was complete crap that someone made up to make money off of you.

  2. Thanks ever so much for this article and for the good advice I’m ashamed to admit I did get scammed and now I see why and how. Thank God for you for this help and support is what I’ve been looking for. Keep up the good work. I appreciate you more than you know.

  3. Once I had a guy telling me all about the poems that he got published in a particular anthology. He was really proud of being a published poet. Even if the anthology wasn’t really known for being high quality or anything in the literary world, he really just felt happy to be published.

    So I didn’t tell him that the whole thing was pretty much a con. Just about anybody could have been published in the anthology (9 point font, multiple poems per page, you know the drill)–as long as people had money to pay to buy X number of copies for friends and family they could get published there.

    I just said “good for you” and left it at that. He really did seem happy and I’m glad for him about that. He’s not a serious poet or anything–just a guy who wrote a poem one time.

  4. I wrote poems several times. My poems were excepted and said to be exceptional. They a were put into anthologys. I thought I really accomplish something. Everyone that I talked to thought it was legitimate. I was disappointed knowing this was just a scam.

  5. I have brother who truly believes these things are real sends his poems in regularly. He has even spent the money on the trip to the conventions a couple of times. I can’t even say for sure how many books, plaques and greeting cards he has paid for from these places. He usually gives them as gifts to family But he had a severe head injury as a child and is not quite right since then & none of has the heart to tell him it’s just a rip off…besides that I don’t think he would believe us. He would say we are just jealous of his accomplishements.
    On the upside he did really enjoy those trips & he probably never would have gotten to go to DC or Vegas otherwise.

  6. What are your views of contests that are not scams, but do charge entry fees? Is it worth the while to pay $15 or $20 to enter a contest at a reputable literary magazine? Or, is it better to simply build publishing credits by submitting to many different journals, bypassing their contests?

  7. Dear JC, Great question!

    You can find a list of writing contests (always fresh and up-to-date) here: http://www.writersrelief.com/classifieds/browse-categories/15/Contests/

    Publication credits are fundamental, but entering and winning reputable contests can be a great bio builder. Often, a contest win will be accompanied by (prominent) publication as well as prize money. So it’s a win-win situation.

    Plus, some contests have cool incentives (“enter the contest, get a year’s subscription free”). And entering contests is a great way to support reputable lit mags and writers’ organizations.

    That said, some contests are more reputable than others. There are many contests out there that are great for newer writers (they’re often hosted by individual people, not lit mags or organizations), and a writer who has strong publication credits probably wouldn’t stand to gain much by entering little-known contests hosted by unknown writers. But a writer who has little experience might enjoy a “small” contest win as a confidence booster as he/she moves on to bigger and better things.

    We’re going to write an article in the future to help writers decide which contests are right for them. Thanks for your question!

  8. Note to prose writers who stumble upon this post – there are similar scams out there trawling for fiction and non-fiction writers. The staff’s advice on this issue is timely and rookie writers should be warned.

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