In America, poets are held in such low esteem that even the most honorable Representative of Nigeria will not bother to rip us off. Society tells us what Dermot Mulroney tells Julia Roberts in “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” that we are “The pus that infects the mucus that wrinkles the fungus that feeds on the scum of the pond.”
Even being misled by the Honorable Minister, however, is preferable to the poetry scams that have proliferated. The Wind Publications Literary Scam Guide has this to say:
Hidden among the many legitimate literary contest sponsors that advertise on the Internet, lurk those who care little about literature, its audience, or its authors. These organizations and individuals exist solely for profit through their so-called writing or poetry contests. These “free” poetry contests are often advertised profusely in the local newspaper.
There is a cottage industry of writing scams perpetuated by poetry pimps, chief among them being the International Poetry Library, also known as Noble House Press, also known as Poetry.com. They advertise on USA Weekend and Penny Saver, well, not on Penny Saver, but they might as well, because that sums up their take on poets. If you’ve seen the ads or received a letter that says, “Congratulations, your poem has been selected for our next anthology,” congratulations, you are being scammed.
Like so-called modeling agencies or “talent agents” that prey on the dreams of nubile girls who want to be the next Lindsay Lohan, pyramid schemes of poetry exploit writers’ number one hope: publishing and, most importantly, recognition. Many excellent Web sites like Preditors and Editors and PoetryNotCom detail the outrageous mechanics of poetry “anthology” scams, and WinningWriters.com’s infamous Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest gleefully runs through vain poetry contests and the sub-organisms that perpetuate them.
How do you spot a poetry scam? Look for …
1. Crazy cake in the sky prize amounts.
I conducted the DeAnn Lubell Professional Writers Contest. Most poetry contests with reading fees pay a maximum of $ 1,000, and that’s for a book-size manuscript of poetry. For a single poem, the top prize is usually a whopping $ 100, $ 150 tops. A $ 20 million prize, as displayed by Noble House, is a large crimson flag. Oh, and no one offers poets a chance to win a world cruise. It is generally assumed that we sail around the world on a Mark Twain raft, sampan, or Hemingway skiff.
2. No contest fees.
Wergle Flomp is the only “F * r * e * e” poetry contest. Now, people on the Internet and hard-working poets naturally jump at the word “F * r * e * e.” But, just like the victims of those model scams, you will end up paying for your bargain hunting moment. Model scams want you to work with a particular photographer (usually fake European). Similarly, poetry scams won’t even allow you to see your poem in print unless you pay for the anthology. When you pay for the anthology, you might be wondering if you just bought a copy of the Penny Saver, because your poem seems to be cluttered on the page to make room for the “Find the Difference” puzzle and adult conversation lines. Then there are those awards banquets …
3. Bogus prize banquets.
Ten years ago, no kidding, I received an email from the Society of Famous Poets prompting me to fork out the cash to attend an awards banquet and convention. If I paid my money, I could join the elite company of poets like … Ted Lange of “Love Boat” fame. Who knew Isaac the bartender was a closet Langston Hughes? Plus, you could win $ 6,000 in entry prizes. Now, if you’ve ever attended a poetry reading, especially in cafes, you know that poets wear their vow of poverty with the same pride as a Che Guevara T-shirt. The very thought of winning $ 25 in a poetry slam made my fellow poets and I cry more cathartically than the “Deal or No Deal” contestants. And Ted Lange doesn’t usually attend.
4. Questionable reputation or none at all.
In poetry, if you don’t have Nikki Giovanni, Czeslaw Milosz, or Donald Hall front and center of your magazine, plus various anguished poets from Eastern Europe, aspiring poets drop you like Oprah dropped James Frey. Look for magazines, publishers, and poetry contests that publish and are judged by literary lions. It’s Bukowski or bust. And when Poetry.com can’t figure out that Dave Barry and 20/20 are cheating on them, the joke is on Poetry.com. Similarly, if a vain press charges you between $ 3,000 and $ 8,000 to publish your collection of poems, and the lead author promoted by Façade Press is an eighteen-year-old who writes poems from the point of view of her liver, save your money for the hard work of submitting your poems to the Threepenny Review, or literary or editorial magazines you read about in Writer’s Market or Poets and Writers.
5. Advertising in newspapers and fashion magazines.
Actual poetry contests are not advertised on USA Weekend. Sure, USA Weekend can sponsor an essay contest for teens, but poetry publicists? Forget it. People don’t choose USA Weekend as a literary publication, even though USA Weekend features books and authors. If you see a massive call for poets in a mass market magazine, don’t miss it. Royal poetry contests are flooded with submissions as is. They don’t need to fish anymore.
6. Send you an acceptance letter for a contest you don’t remember participating in or a publisher you don’t remember submitting to.
I admit, as a writer, I have a hard time keeping track of what I sent to whom and when; we write to avoid paperwork, we don’t, although when we’re not in the mood, rearranging files suddenly becomes as tempting as a day in Cancun. Fortunately, Writer’s Market has a Shipping Tracker, and some enterprising bloggers post their shipping calendar to make us sigh with disorganized envy. If you can’t find the electronic inquiry / cover letter in your filing cabinet, on your computer, on your Zip drive (you make a backup, right?), Or in your Sent folder, chances are you’ll never send it to the Library National. of Poetry or Wordscum.com (sorry if there is a website called Wordscum.com). Yes, after 300 rejections, receiving an acceptance letter can be a boost, but to misquote Groucho Marx, think twice before accepting any club that has him as a member. Aim higher. Imagine if JK Rowling had said, “Okay, I’ll pay a million pounds to have a few hundred copies of Harry Potter for my friends and relatives to buy.”
7. Promising to put your book or a beautiful anthology on the best-seller shelf in bookstores.
Number one, PoetryNotCom is one of many sites that report this claim to be false. Number two, most people who go to a bookstore to read poetry are likely to find the poetry section blindfolded and spend three hours debating the symbolism at Whitman over a decaf latte at Borders Café. Number two, although getting your book in bookstores is still the gold standard, Amazon.com and online retailing make it easy for even the smallest press to get noticed. Number three, bookstores are so overloaded with inventory that they can’t even stock POD books, much less anything from ScamPoet Publishing or Poetry.com, and bookstores won’t accept vanity press books. In fact, no poet other than Ludacris or Jimmy Carter will end up on a bookstore bestseller list. We do not enter poetry to be rich. We indulge in poetry to sound our barbarian bark … and a camaraderie or two is nice too.
Many beginning poets are ripped off, but you don’t have to. If you are smart and ambitious, you will be a successful poet with tons of fake magazines and ezines with your signature. Poetry.com and its kind will always be “The pus that infects the mucus that wrinkles the fungus that feeds on the scum of the pond.”