How to Avoid Phony Poetry Contest Scams

Don't Pay to See Your Work in Print

Image of a person crumpling up their writing.
Don't Let Your Drive to Be Published Get You Scammed. Image (c) Dina Belenko Photography / Moment / Getty Images

If you are an aspiring writer, hearing that you have won a poetry contest is pretty heady. Someone actually loves your writing! But before you start celebrating, take a moment to make sure you haven't fallen for a phony poetry contest scam.

How Poetry Contest Scams Work:

One of the common scams you might come across works like this: entrants are invited to submit a piece of original poetry for the chance to win large amounts of cash or other attractive prizes.

If you submit a piece of poetry - no matter how bad - you'll receive a congratulatory message that you've been chosen as a semi-finalist in the poetry writing contest.

Sounds great, right? However, that's when the trouble begins.

From that poing on, you'll be deluged with offers to spend money on the site. These include:

  • An offer to purchase a book with your poem in it (which will cost you $60 - $75).
  • The chance to have your poem framed or printed on a coffee mug (for sky-high costs).
  • Invitations to join various organizations, for sky-high membership fees.
  • Offers to get an agent. A very expensive agent. Who won't help your writing go any further.
  • The opportunity to attend a seminar, and even to be a poetry "judge" for just the cost of registration (often $595 or more).

These offers will come with high praise of your writing talents and plenty of ego stroking to make you think that you truly have been chosen on the basis of your talents.

However, your talent really has nothing to do with it. Everyone who enters receives the same offers. Entrants have reported being deluged by these phony offers for years.

Plus, you usually sign over the rights to your writing, so that you don't even have the possibility of publishing in a legitimate venue at a later time. A Long-Standing Phony Contest Site Is No More (aka International Society of Poets and other names) was a site that disguised itself as a legitimate contest, but was actually nothing but a vanity publisher. In 2009, another company purchased the website, and the scam came to a close, at least at that website. now offers free peer review for aspiring poets.

How to Avoid Phone Poetry Contests:

There are plenty of legitimate poetry contests available, don't fall for scams that are only trying to get you to spend money with no benefit to yourself.

Here are some things to do to help you win prizes with your writing, without falling for scams:

  • Read the fine print. With any contest, reading the rules is very important. In a case like this, the rules can help you determine whether the poetry contest is a legitimate competition, or just a scam.
  • Learn more about the sponsor. A quick internet search can help you find out whether the sponsor is a legitimate company or publishing agency.
  • Remember the rule about winning and paying money. You shouldn't have to pay money to receive any legitimate prizes. Read more warning signs of scams that also apply hear.
  • The prize should match what's offered in the rules. If the rules state that the winner will receive $50,000, but your confirmation letter says you've won the opportunity to appear in an anthology, be very skeptical.
  • Make sure the sponsor has high standards. If anything and everything submitted gets selected, it's not a real poetry contest.

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