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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Writing Contests: Legitimate or Scams?
by Kimberly Ripley

They are advertised in magazines and on the Internet frequently. Some charge entry fees and others do not. Writing contests are a vital means by which many writers and authors make an initial mark in the writing world—yet others believe they have done just that, and sadly learn they’ve been scammed.

How is a writer to know whether or not a writing contest is legitimate? The answer is a difficult one. Some upstanding and completely legitimate contests charge entry fees. So the writer can’t make a decision on a contest’s legitimacy based on a fee. Reputable magazines like Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Journal charge fees for most of their contests. However, so do others touting supposed legitimate credentials.

You’ve undoubtedly seen their ads. And if you’ve made any noise at all within the field of writing, you may have received an offer. These companies love your work. And they’d love to see your work in print. The funny thing is, unless you order their books, you may never see it. They aren’t likely to be found in bookstores, or advertised for sale on the Internet.

It is typically the novice writer who falls for such a scam. Ecstatic that someone—anyone—has recognized their natural talent for written words, they eagerly shell out a considerable sum of money to purchase a copy of the book in which their poem or story will be published. And then they wait. They wait and wait—and they wait some more. And finally after many months, or perhaps even more than a year has gone by, they receive their book. And the letdown is enormous.

There alongside what they believed to be their quality and publishable work, is foolish teenage drivel, or a cute poem written by a five year old. Yes, that’s right. They will publish anyone and almost anything. They have little to no editorial process whatsoever, and being selected to be published in their books means nothing to a writer, and does nothing to promote their career.

How can this be? Simple. They are technically publishing your work, and they are technically selling you the book in which it’s being published. They are doing absolutely nothing that is illegal, yet in terms of deeming themselves “publishers," they are going out on a limb to justify their claims.

Many people have voiced dismay over sharing a page with other poems and /or stories. For the amount paid for the book, wouldn’t it seem that they might at least give your work the entire page on which to display a writer’s talent? That’s how they make their money. They wait until enough people have submitted work to create a book. They wait until enough paid orders are submitted for these books. Yes, they wait until they’ve reeled them all in.

The old adage, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” can apply here. If you’ve never been published before, what do you suppose your chances are of landing your sixty-five word poem in a legitimate hard-bound anthology? There are a few key names in the writing field that shout “Scam!” Ask some seasoned writers. They know the names, and will be all too glad to share them.

The Internet is a prime spot for writing contest scams. If you’re just starting out as a writer, and you’re not certain who to ask for writing contest advice, join a writer’s group online. They’re free. They’re interesting. And you’ll establish a good rapport with experienced people within the field. In addition to cautioning against writing contest scams, they may also provide networking options that may further your career.

I don’t mean in any way to rain on the parade of someone longing to have a poem or short story published. In fact, if that is all you long for—these so-called publishers will indeed make your dream a reality. If you have no desire to make a mark in the field of freelance writing, or as a published novelist, poet, etc., then by all means, send your work to them. My own daughter fell prey to their shady business practice, and I felt horrible when I had to tell her the truth.

“Mom, I got published!” the e-mail began. It came from my 18-year old daughter, a college freshman away at school.

I knew the minute I saw the next few words. They contained a Web address that looked all too familiar. I hated to, but I rained on her parade. As a college student gifted in the fields of English and languages, I know she’d love to follow in her mother’s footsteps and possibly pursue some form of writing. This would merely suffice to elevate her sense of writing ability in a completely illogical way. Rather than editing and fine-tuning her poem—which really was good—she was misled into believing it was perfect—and come on, as writers, can we really expect an editor to tell us that on the first try? No.

My daughter got over her disappointment quickly, although not without a small scar. Now she contacts Mom before she considers submitting a piece elsewhere. And that’s not a bad thing. Contact me, if you’re concerned. Contact the editors of upstanding publications like Write From Home The Writing Parent, Writer’s Weekly, or Writer Online. These folks have been around the writing world and back a few times, and they can typically smell a rat a mile away. And sadly, there are a few rats out there. 

So be cautious. Be smart. Ask questions. And before you take to heart a piece of worthy poetry, prose or nonfiction, do your homework.

You won’t regret the time spent doing this research. 

Reprinted from “Freelancing Later in Life” by Kimberly Ripley. Visit Kim’s Web site at http://www.freelancing1.homestead.com.









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