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How to Tell if a Poetry Contest Is Legit or a Scam

I teach creative writing and love helping my students improve their technique.

Having a poem published is a dream come true for many poets.

Having a poem published is a dream come true for many poets.

Poetry Scams: Don't Pay to See Your Work in Print

There are no hard and fast ways to tell if a contest is fake. Some competition organizers are very clever at promoting their lie. Make sure you fully understand a competition’s terms and conditions before entering. Some of the more common indicators that the contest is a scam are as follows.

  1. You lose ownership of your work by entering. Some contests claim all future publishing rights even if your entry is not a winner.
  2. There's no prize other than a free copy of a “special” anthology. Being published in an unrecognized book will not give you prestige in the eyes of genuine publishers.
  3. The competition judges are anonymous. The winners could be chosen at random. Genuine contests will name their judges.
  4. You are pressurized to buy multiple copies of the anthology containing your published “prize-winning” poem. These books are a form of vanity publishing. It could be cheaper for you to self-publish your work.

How to Find Genuine Literary Contests

New poetry contests and writing competitions may be advertised in traditional ways or via social media. Before parting with any money, read the tips given in this article on how to spot a scam, and check them out using a reliable source like The Big Book of Small Presses and Independent Publishers. This book lists small publishers that run poetry competitions, and also offers helpful advice on how to find a genuine market for your poems.

Winning a Poetry Competition Is Easier Than You Think

One of the most common scams is a poetry competition where the fee is either zero or just a couple of dollars. The prize may not be huge (say US$100) but if it has free (or almost free) entry, so why not enter? You have nothing to lose (or so you think), so you send in your entry and wait with bated breath until the result is announced.

Exciting news! Although you've not won the US$100 prize, your poem is good enough to be included in an anthology of the best entries. The price of this quality volume is just US$20 and if you buy multiple copies (for your friends and family to share in your success) there's a 10% discount. The bad news is that everyone who enters the competition is told their poem is included in the anthology. You're not so exceptional after all. Most people are gullible enough to fork out for at least one copy of the book. The real winner of the competition is the con-artiste who organized the fake contest.

The typical goal of a bad literary contest is to extract money from authors rather than honor excellence. Other questionable contests seem to be an attempt to hoover up a large amount of content on the cheap. Bad contests typically show several of these warning signs. When in doubt, check with your local poetry society.

— "Warning Signs of a Bad Literary Contest" on Winning Writers website

How to Win a Scam Poetry Contest

To prove my point about these being fake contests I entered a pretend poem in one of them. Sure enough, my effort was selected for publication in the anthology. I took a paragraph from The Highway Code, a booklet studied by every UK learner driver. I copied the section word-for-word, but broke the prose into uneven lines so it looked like a poem. Here it is.

"Rule 117"

The safest way to brake
is to do so early
and lightly.

Brake more firmly
as you begin
to stop.

Ease the pressure off
just before the
vehicle comes to rest

to avoid
a jerky

Bogus Contests: When Winners Are Losers

I entered the fake poetry contest with my eyes wide open. I had guessed my poem would be a “winning entry” and included in the “special anthology” and so I was able to resist buying a copy. My wallet stayed firmly shut, but most entrants are not so strong willed. Your poem may be a winner, but you are the loser. The only real winner in these competitions is the promoter. At US$20 a copy, even if only half of that is profit, sales of just 100 poetry anthologies will result in a net profit of at least US$1,000.

Are These Contests Legal?

I am not a lawyer, and the opinions expressed here are my own. They do not replace qualified legal advice. If you require clarification on the law you should consult an attorney. In my view, these fake contests are just about on the right side of legality, but they are on the wrong side of being ethical. Like any good hustle, these scams rely on people’s naïveté and their hunger for success. When the con is exposed people are too embarrassed to admit their gullibility. Their dreams have been crushed and they feel stupid at having been duped. The wily promoters can just sit back and wait for their next mark.

Famous Poets Dot Com Scam Exposed

Is the Prize Worth Winning?

Before you start writing your potentially prize-winning poem, consider this. Why do you want to enter a writing competition? Is the prize really something you want to win? I want either a monetary prize or else the opportunity to gain public recognition of my work. The only exception to this is that I sometimes support a charity’s writing contest because my entry fee is the equivalent to donating to their cause.

If you're interested in a cash prize, is there anything in the small print that limits the payout? Hidden in the small print there may be a clause that says ,prizes are only awarded if x thousand entries are received (where x is a large number). This indicates the contest is more about making a profit for the organizers than to recognize genuine talent.

How about your desire to be recognized as a writing genius? If this is your goal you need to review the judging panel. Are there well-known authors, poets and celebrities in the team? Are they writers you recognize and want to emulate? It's easy to check out their professional standing by doing a search on the internet. Some writing competitions don't name their judges. Be suspicious. Maybe there are no famous names on the list. Instead the judge may be an inexperienced intern who has been told to sort through the slush-pile of entries. Win that kind of contest and you could damage instead of enhance your writing reputation.

Is It Smart to Enter a Writing Contest?

Poetry Contest Scams and Fraud

I wanted to post a list of poetry and writing competitions that are a con. However, I have no wish to be sued for libel, so I suggest you do an online search for terms such as vanity publishers and fake poetry contests. N.B. Vanity in this context means that you pay for the privilege of seeing your work in print. This type of contest is a scam in my view. The Mumsnet website frequently has discussions about fake writing contests in schools. Do some research online and talk to other writers before getting your kids hopes up. Make sure a competition is legit before allowing them to enter their poems. If you are in the US, Better Business Bureau (BBB) have details of companies involved in scam competitions. However, the list may not be completely up-to-date, so do your own research too before deciding to enter any literary contest.

Why Aren't There More Free-to-Enter Poetry Competitions?

There are very few genuine free entry competitions, because they take a lot of effort to run. Free-to-enter contests are either run by local groups just for the love of it, or they are run by scammers who get money later by selling you the anthology of the entries. A well-run writing competition needs publicity to attract lots of entries. The right judges may require a fee for their time. Then there are the overheads such as phone and internet costs. And the prize money, of course. All of these are reasons why almost all good poetry writing contests decide to charge an upfront entry fee.

How to Avoid Vanity Presses and Author Cons

Is the Frontier Poetry Contest a Scam?

Frontier Poetry is an American online publisher than focuses on new and emerging poets. It holds regular poetry competitions and accepts unsolicited submissions too. However, for both of these there is an entry or reading fee. So, is it a scam? If your work has never been published anywhere at all, you can submit your poem free to the New Voices category. However, if you'd like feedback on your submission, Frontier Poetry charges an upfront reading fee of US $59. This is more than you would receive in payment if your poem was good enough to be accepted for publication ($50.)

Is Palette Poetry Legit?

Palette Poetry is a trading name of The Microlending Fund LLC. Its stated aim is to "uplift and engage emerging and established poets." It does this by providing editorial services, and by running annual poetry contests. It's a commercial business, not a charity, and therefore charges fees to cover costs and make a profit. The 2020 contest entry fee is US $20, with a top prize of $3,000. The poetry competition judges are named on Palette Poetry's website, and their achievements in the world of poetry are clearly described. The website has a comprehensive list of terms and conditions, and a useful FAQ section. It looks legit, but I recommend you take time to read all the relevant sections of the website before parting with any money.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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