How to Avoid Phony Poetry Contest Scams

Don't Pay to See Your Work in Print

Image of a person crumpling up their writing.
••• 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 to celebrate, take a moment to make sure you haven't fallen for a poetry contest scam.

How Poetry Contest Scams Work

A common poetry contest scam 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 point 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 expensive membership fees.
  • Offers to get an agent (who won't advance your writing career, but who will happily take your money).
  • The opportunity to attend a seminar, or even to be a poetry "judge," for 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 poetry skills are actually irrelevant; everyone who enters receives the same offers. Entrants have reported being deluged by these phony offers for years after the originally entered.

Many of these scammers also make you sign over the rights to your writing when you enter, so that they can use it as they please and you don't even have the possibility of publishing in a legitimate publication later.

Poetry.com: A Long-Standing Poetry Contest Scam Is No More

Poetry.com (which also went by the "International Society of Poets" and other names) was a site that disguised itself as a legitimate contest sponsor but was actually nothing but a vanity publisher. A vanity publisher is a company that prints books that are paid for by their authors. In true publishing, money flows toward the author, not away from them.

While Poetry.com was running their scam, they would advertise a competition and then make everyone who entered a "winner" who could pay (a lot of) money to see their work in print. However, the scam company went out of business. In 2009, another company purchased the website, and the Poetry.com scam came to a close.

How to Find Legitimate Poetry Contests to Enter

While it's important to know how to avoid scams, there are also plenty of legitimate poetry contests that you can enter to win. 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 here.
  • 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.
  • Check out this list of shady writing contests to avoid from WinningWriters.com before you enter.

To find legitimate poetry contests that are running right now, check out these sites:

Remember that poetry contests, unlike randomly-drawn sweepstakes, can charge a fee to enter. Make sure whether the fee is worth it to you before you decide to participate in the competition.