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 Is It a 'Con'? By Editors of Writer's Market

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PostSubject: Is It a 'Con'? By Editors of Writer's Market   Is It a 'Con'? By Editors of Writer's Market EmptyTue Apr 17, 2012 1:39 pm

Is It a 'Con'?
By Editors of Writer's Market

What is a “con?” Con is short for “confidence,” an adjective defined by Webster’s as “of, relating to, or adept at swindling by false promise,” as in “confidence man” or “confidence game.” While the publishing world is full of legitimate opportunities for poets to gain honor and exposure for their work, there are also plenty of “cons.” How can you tell the difference? The following are some of the most common situations that cost poets disappointment, frustration—and cash. Learn to spot them before submitting your work, and don’t let your vanity be your guide.


Has this happened to you? You see an ad in a perfectly respectable publication announcing a poetry contest with big cash prizes. You enter, and later you receive a glowing letter congratulating you on your exceptional poem, which the contest sponsor wants to include in his deluxe hardbound anthology of the best poetry submitted to the contest. The anthology costs only, say, $65. You don’t have to buy it—they’ll still publish your poem— but wouldn’t you be proud to own one? And wouldn’t it be nice to buy additional copies to give to family and friends? And for an extra charge you can include a biographical note. And so on . . .

Of course, when the anthology arrives, the quality of the poetry may not be what you were expecting, with several poems crammed unattractively onto a page. Apparently everyone who entered the contest was invited to be published; you basically paid cash to see your poem appear in a phone book-like volume with no literary merit whatsoever.

Were you conned? Depends on how you look at it. If you bought into the flattery and believed you were being published in an exclusive, high-quality publication, no doubt you feel duped. On the other hand, if all you were after was seeing your poem in print, even knowing you’d have to pay for the privilege, then you got what you wanted. (Unless you’ve deceived yourself into believing you’ve truly won an honor and now have a worthy publishing credit; you don’t.)

If you don’t want to add insult to injury, resist additional spiels, like having your poem printed on coffee mugs and t-shirts (you can do this yourself through print shops or online services like or spending large sums on awards banquets and conferences. And, before you submit a single line of poetry, find out what rights the contest sponsor acquires. You may be relinquishing all rights to your poem simply by mailing it in or submitting it through a Web site. If the poem no longer belongs to you, the publisher can do whatever he wishes with it. Don’t let your vanity propel you into a situation you’ll always regret.

Is It a 'Con'? 57


Suppose you notice a promising market for your poetry, but the editor requires a set fee just to consider your work. Or you see a contest that interests you, but you have to pay the sponsor a fee just to enter. Are you being conned?

In the case of reading fees, keep these points in mind: Is the market so exceptional that you feel it’s worth risking the cost of the reading fee to have your work considered?

What makes it so much better than markets that do not charge fees? Has the market been around awhile, with an established publishing schedule? What are you paid if your work is accepted? Are reasonably priced samples available so you can judge the production values and quality of the writing?

Reading fees don’t necessarily signal a suspicious market. In fact, they’re increasingly popular as editors struggle with the costs of publishing books and magazines, including the man-hours required to read loads of (often bad) submissions. However, fees represent an additional financial burden on poets, who often don’t receive any monetary reward for their poems to begin with. It’s really up to individual poets to decide whether paying a fee is beneficial to their publishing efforts. Think long and hard about fee-charging markets that are new and untried, don’t pay poets for their work (at the very least a print publication should offer a contributor’s copy), charge high prices for sample copies or set fees that seem unreasonable.

Entry fees for contests often fund prizes, judges’ fees, honorariums and expenses of running and promoting the contest (including publishing a “prize” collection or issue of a magazine). Other kinds of contests charge entry fees, from Irish dancing competitions to bake-offs at a county fair. Why not poetry contests?

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be cautious. Watch out for contests that charge higher-than-average fees, especially if the fees are out of proportion to the amount of prize money being given. (Look through the Contests & Awards section beginning on page 367 to get a sense of what most competitions charge; you’ll also find contests in other sections of this book by consulting the Additional Contests & Awards index on page 438.) Find out how long the contest has been around, and verify whether prizes have been awarded each year and to whom. In the case of book and chapbook contests, send for one of the winning publications to confirm that the publisher puts out a quality product. Regard with skepticism any contest that tells you you’ve won something, then demands payment for an anthology, trophy or other item. (It’s okay if a group offers an anthology for a modest price without providing winners with free copies. Most state poetry societies have to do this; but they also present cash awards in each category of the contest, and their entry fees are low.)


Poetry books are a hard sell to the book-buying public. Few of the big publishers handle these books, and those that do feature the “name” poets (i.e., the major prize winners and contemporary masters with breathtaking reputations). Even the small presses publish only so many books per year—far less than the number of poets writing.

No wonder so many poets decide to pay to have their poetry collections published.

While some may self-publish (i.e., take full control of their book, working directly with a printer), others turn to subsidy publishers (also called “vanity publishers”) and print on demand (POD) publishers.

58 Is It a 'Con'?

There are many differences between subsidy publishing and POD publishing, as well as similarities (having to pay to get published is a big one). Whether or not you get conned is entirely up to you. You have to take responsibility for asking questions, doing research on presses, and reading the fine print on the contract to make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for. There are landmines in dealing with subsidy and POD publishers, and you have to investigate thoroughly and intelligently to avoid damage.

Some questions to keep in mind: Are fees inflated compared to the product and services you’ll be receiving? Will you still own the rights to your book? Does the publisher put out a quality product that’s attractive and cleanly printed? (Get a sample copy and fi nd out.) How many copies of the book will you receive? How much will you have to pay for additional copies? How will your book be sold and distributed? (Don’t count on seeing your volume in bookstores.)

Will you receive royalties? How much? Does the publisher offer any kind of promotional assistance or is it all up to you? Will those promotion efforts be realistic and results oriented?

(Sometimes “promotion” means sending out review copies, which is a waste— such volumes are rarely reviewed.) Don’t wait until after you’ve signed a contract (and a check) to raise these issues. Do your homework first.

Obviously, poets who don’t stay on their toes may find themselves preyed upon. And a questionable publishing opportunity doesn’t have to be an out-and-out rip-off for you to feel cheated. In every situation, you have a choice not to participate. Exercise that choice, or at least develop a healthy sense of skepticism before you fling yourself and your poetry at the first smooth talker who compliments your work. Poets get burned because they’re much too impatient to see their work in print. Calm your ego, slow down and devote that time, energy and money toward reading other poets and improving your own writing. You’ll find that getting published will eventually take care of itself.

God Bless, Lora  Nice Ta Meet Ya
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