Updated April 2023
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.
QUESTION: 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?