Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Literary Scams—and how to avoid them

by Marsha Ward

All serious writers spend a lot of time looking for places to submit our work, running after the ultimate vindication of our lonely hobby or vocation: publication.

We even follow advice to submit to contests, to see how our work stacks up with that of others. The problem comes when unscrupulous “contest” operators try to scam earnest poets who just want to be published.

A typical scam begins with an expensive advertisement in a Sunday newspaper supplement such as Parade. The headline screams “Free Poetry Contest,” and maybe “$50,000 in prizes,” or “250 poets will receive top prizes,” or something similar.

Two questions come to my mind. Why are they advertising in a general consumer magazine and not a writers’ magazine? Why are there no entry fees? Where do they get all the money for the prizes?

Actually that’s three questions, but you get the picture.

You might ask, “So what is wrong with a free poetry contest that pays nice prizes to a limited number of winners?”

What is wrong is that every single poem that is submitted is accepted for publication! Every poet receives a letter of congratulations for his or her “unique vision” and outstanding quality of work. Each poet is named a semi-finalist in the contest. Then comes the fun part.

Every single poet is promised publication in the company’s latest “anthology.” Every single poet is invited to come to a convention in Washington, D.C. to receive his prize, maybe even a trophy. Every single poet is offered a CD with his poem read by a “famous” voice. Every single poet can have her poem placed on a handsome hardwood plaque.

There’s just one catch: every single poet pays through the nose for each honor afforded her.

To buy the anthology is fifty bucks before it’s printed, more afterward. A biographical note will cost an extra $20. The convention is $600 to attend, not including such necessities as travel expenses, housing, and food (since they only provide two scanty meals for the convention fee). The CD and plaque also cost money.

Fortunately, while the notorious “contest” company—that uses many names—is now using the Internet to further its reach, savvy poets can use it too—to protect themselves against such nefarious ripoffs.

Typing a keyword or two into a search engine such as is the second step. Type “poetry scam” or “literary scam” and you’ll be referred to such sites as and

These sites tell it like it is, and some contain lists of “contests” to avoid, companies to shun, and places to run from. Horror stories abound to warn the unwary poet. Some victimized poets report that they even had to pay for their own trophies.

If you’ve become a victim of such “contests,” you have my sincere sympathy. Please don’t give up. You really do have merit, and your poetry does, as well. You’ve just been “taken” by wicked men, and you aren’t the only one.

If you haven’t fallen prey to the “contest” operators, you might enjoy the hilarious attempts of poet Wergle Flomp, also known as David Taub, to get a poem rejected by such contests. Visit this site to read some of his tries:

I mentioned the second step in self-protection above. The first step is to develop a healthy skepticism to the notion of getting something for nothing. Remember the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” But also remember, if you’ve been victimized by one of those infamous “contests,” to get back up and write again. You can succeed. Just be wary of ripoffs.


Tristi Pinkston said...

That poetry article you linked to was seriously hysterical!

Marcia Mickelson said...

Thanks for the information. It is something to be careful with.

Marsha Ward said...

Tristi, the man truly has written masterpieces of drivel in his quest to be rejected.

Marcia, writers need to remember that in traditional publishing, 'money flows to the writer.' That's the bottom line.

Thanks for visiting, ladies!

Tamra Norton said...

Oh my goodness--those were sum krazee pomes! :)

Janette Rallison said...

Thanks for telling it like it is Marsha. I've known people to fall for these scams.

Marsha Ward said...

Aren't they just, Tami?

Janette, I know dear friends who were so excited that they'd been accepted. It was so sad for me to watch them getting ripped off if they wanted to see their poems "published" in those dreadful anthologies. One friend paid $75 to buy one!

Katie Parker said...

Gee, maybe I can get a poem published there, too!