I've been a writer by trade for years, and this means that I have seen a million and one publishing scams through my time. The reason why publishing scams are so common is because being a writer is one of the hardest things to break into on a legitimate level.
Of all the genres of writing I've seen, poetry seems to attract the worst scammers and the most egregious grabs for innocent peoples' cash out there. It's criminal, and frankly, it's enough to make me want to take a stand against it.
So, to help others avoid losing money needlessly, I decided to unveil the worst poetry publishing scams currently going on right now.
Online Poetry Contest Scams
Poetry contests are a dime a dozen—and some really are legit. However, the vast majority of heavily advertised poetry contests aren't. Most are very thinly veiled poetry publishing scams.
Real poetry contests will often allow poets to submit their poems for free or for a SMALL fee. If your poem makes the cut, they will publish it and give you a financial prize if it ranks high enough.
Most fake online poetry contests are really just poetry publishing scams. They don't actually have any judges, and you'll end up "winning" no matter what you submit. Then, once they announce that you've won, they'll ask you to pay a larger sum of money so that they can publish your poetry.
If a contest was really legit, they wouldn't ask the people they declare winners to pay so that they can receive the prize. Could you imagine that happening at the carnival, or at an arcade? It'd cause an uproar—and it'd get people to call that business a scam.
One of the biggest online poetry scams to ever take hold was Poetry.com. However, since 2009, that scam has shut down and the site was purchased by someone who has worked to take the domain into a different direction. That being said, even though Poetry.com has been taken down, there are still plenty of other poetry publishing scams out there that work by the same methods.
More insidious than the online poetry contest scams are the fake "poetry agents" that peruse the net looking for people who want their poetry to reach new people. These individuals will tell you everything that you want to hear, then ask for a huge fee to promote your work.
A lot of people are even told that they need poetry agents in order to see their work published—and that's not true in the least bit. Once the person "signs" with the agent, the agent disappears, never to be seen again.
Of all the poetry publishing scams I've personally seen, this one is the most costly. I've personally seen people get thousands of dollars taken from them because of these kinds of individuals.
Faux Academic Poetry Contests
A lot of poetry publishing scams out there take the online poetry contest shill, but use a veneer of an educational background to get people to put more trust in them. In many ways, faux academic publishing scams work identically to online contest scams.
You enter, and regardless of what you write, you "win." Then, they tell you that you will need a donation in order to get a copy of the book and a certificate that shows that you actually won an academic contest.
They may talk about how you're going to be an "esteemed laureate" or even ask you if you'd be willing to donate to the group's scholarship fund. Should you donate, you'll probably find up later that there isn't actually a scholarship fund at all.
At times, these scammers will upsell poetry meetups close to colleges as a way to promote their academic veneer and make extra money off of their contestants. The only problem? They aren't associated with the colleges, and if they are associated with a college, that college isn't actually real.
No matter how you cut it, this is a scam and you're being sold a fake accomplishment.
Faux Publishing Companies
Yes, faux publishing companies do exist—and they're often fronts for poetry contest scams. The way these work are relatively simple. A so-called "publishing company" is currently having an open call for poems.
Victims, seeing the open call, send in a poem of theirs. They receive a letter saying that they're going to be semi-finalists in a national poetry competition... and the rest is history.
Or, in other cases, the publishing companies will accept the poetry books and tell you that they're willing to publish it. However, you will need to foot 100 percent of the bill and you also will have to do all the promotions yourself.
The difference between real publishers and faux publishers is that faux publishers will print the books, and possibly get you an ISBN number. However, they will not promote the books nor will they help you get to booksellers. All they will do is sell you stacks of the books, and more often than not, they'll have minimums.
They won't talk royalties because really, there are no royalties here unless you sell them all yourself. Real publishing companies will discuss royalties and will also have tons of paperwork. It's in their interest to pick winning, easy to promote books because they will do the selling for you.
If you are really serious about publishing and can't get a legit publishing company, then self-publish. It'll be cheaper, you'll avoid poetry publishing scams, and you will be able to have total control of your work.
The Stealth Claims Scam
This one is actually quite brilliant and brutal as far as poetry publishing scams go. This poetry contest scam will have people entering contests for free with a book-length entry, then sign a contract so that they can finalize the entry.
The problem is that the contract lays huge, extreme claims to your poems and intellectual property. Since it's a book-length entry, entering one of these means you can't send that entry to any other contest or publisher. If you do that, the company ends up suing you.
These poetry publishing scams make most of their money through lawsuits, and that can wreck most poets' faith in the writing world as a whole.
Book Promotion Services
I want to point out that not all book promotion services are scams, and some of them actually are very necessary if you self-publish. You do need to market your books and you will need to know how to promote your books if you're publishing a poetry book of your own.
The problem is that there are a lot of scammers out there who offer low-quality marketing work at extremely high prices. They often will say that you'll need your own website, photoshoots, and that they will also need to get into contact with television personalities and magazines for you.
This kind of promotion is great, even for a publisher. However, paying $7,000 for this kind of promo isn't great. What makes it worse is that these kinds of scams also tend to have very low standards on who they accept—which in turn can mar your reputation in the poetry world.
If you want to get your books sold, marketed, and published, do your research first.
One of the newer poetry publishing scams I've seen is the mentorship scam. These scams have people pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the "privilege" of being assigned a poetry mentor, all the while not actually doing anything that will teach you how to get published.
It is easy to find a mentor. All you really have to do is go onto LinkedIn and reach out to people who you want to learn from. But, with the way mentorship scams work in the poetry world, you'd think that getting a mentor in the poetry publishing world would be nearly impossible.
The Poetry Contest Judge Scam
Technically, this isn't really so much a poetry publishing scam as it is a poetry PR scam. Basically, the way that this works is that a "contest agent" finds your poems online. They tell you that you're a genius, that you're great, and that you have a lot of intelligent things to say about poetry.
Then, they tell you that you could market yourself better and get more poetry published if you were a poetry contest judge for them, or if you were to attend a special convention for poets they're hosting. It sounds great, right?
Well, until they ask you to pay a fee for judging that contest!
Obviously, real poetry contests would never ask someone to pay for the opportunity of being a judge. Moreover, real poetry conventions don't advertise by checking out your site or throwing a "contest." Agreeing to enter in these shenanigans will wreck your reputation... and your bank account.
The Big Name Consideration Scam
Perhaps one of the most disheartening poetry publishing scams is one that has started to happen with major publishing houses. As many publishing houses have started up their own self-publishing routes, they have begun to give people the option to self-publish using their platform.
Their marketing ploy, the part that makes them a scam, is that they claim that bigger names will consider publishing them if you pony up huge sums of cash to self-publish through their platform. There's no written guarantee that these publishers will notice, but the implication is there.
The only problem? Well, those people never will get the call they think they'll get in most cases... and they're also now several thousand dollars in the red because these poetry publishing firms are so pricey.
Slam Poetry Showcases
If this sounds a lot like the sketchy "rap showcases" you hear about on Craigslist, that's because they are. The basic gist is very similar to the rap showcase scams that were very popular online for a while.
The way this works is simple: slam poets apply to showcases. They're accepted, but have to pay a fee to perform. If they don't want to pay, the showcasers will often tell them about the "poetry publishing bigwigs" that will be coming there and how they may be missing out on a special opportunity.
It's not like other poetry publishing scams since it's based on a performance—but it's still scummy enough to make this list for a reason. It's just plain unethical.