Monday, September 01, 2008

Norma Sundbert Tells Poets to Beware

I asked Norma J. Sundberg to share her article on poetry scams with us. Norma is the author of An Odd Fable, for children. Some scams writers get caught in are relatively harmless if a person doesn't spend too much money learning their lesson the hard way. That's what I got out of the poetry scam that Norma describes. Plus, the "success" they offered kept me interested long enough to get me hooked. (-: That doesn't mean we shouldn't all be wary.
Poets Beware (When Entering Contests)by Norma J. Sundberg

Carole Timin, poetry chairperson for The Tallahassee Writer’s Association (TWA), asked me to do an overview of an article that appeared in the Jacksonville (FL) Times-Union in April of 2001, titled “For Some Artists, Success Comes With a Price” by Diana Marrero, who covered the subject very thoroughly and well.

Ms. Marrero tells us that this has to do with poetry contests that charge no entry fee, take everything that is entered, but then offer the poet a chance to be in their publication, offering the volume to them at an exorbitant price, encouraging poets to purchase other products with the poet's name and poem on them (mugs, plaques, trophies, etc.).

This company is now on-line also: and a number of other websites/names.
I’m speaking, specifically, of The National Library of Poetry (NLP), which has many other names and addresses (usually P.O. box numbers) and telephone numbers that ultimately go back to a main address in another state. These contests snare unsuspecting poets, as well as artists, into their “free” contests. One wonders who besides the poets/artists ever sees their poem in the volume?

The article notes that some consider these services a “scam.” However, Lee Raymond, editor of Markings, newsletter of the Tallahassee Writer’s Association, says, “It isn’t technically a ‘scam,’ since they do provide what the winners order and pay for, but they are preying on the na├»ve, and it’s especially heinous when they go after young students.”

The article referred to three people, specifically, who entered these contests: A teacher who wished to have her best students enter; a high school student who sent a poem to Montel Williams (NLP contacted Williams to do a promotional for Multiple Sclerosis) hoping to honor her mother who has cancer; and a gentleman who has entered his poetry and song lyrics in contests, hoping one day for his big break.
Shock and disappointment ensue when the price of the publication hits the fan!
“What they don’t realize,” writes Marrero, “is that entries are accepted from everyone—but winning comes at a price.”

The teacher in the newspaper story now trashes the notices. She receives at least five a year.

In the February 1997 issue of The Writer magazine, Nancy Allen, accomplished poet and writer, wrote a delightful article in the Off the Cuff column titled, “Poetic Justice.” She tells about writing the worst poem she could conjure up, sending it in, getting it accepted, then getting the notice from the publisher that she’d been selected “solely on the basis of merit.” They tell her that the design department is already at work on a distinctive layout for the work.

I have had a poem accepted. They also offered me an audiotape with my poem read on it, along with some others. They wanted $29.95. Who in the world pays that kind of money for an audiotape? Furthermore, you wouldn’t find it anywhere to purchase another copy! I will never know if my poem ever got into the publication.

There are many contests by “little and literary” magazines which charge a small entry fee for poetry (Penumbra, the Tallahassee Writers’ Association’s annual poetry competition, is one of them). The entry fee helps defray the cost of prize money as well as publication costs. These contests offer prize money as well as honorable mentions. Each of the winners and honorable mentions receive a free copy with their work in it. And most often, the volume or chapbook is accessible for purchase of extra copies.

Chances are that if you can’t find an address or legitimate phone number somewhere within the contest rules (P.O. box number), you may want to check it out for yourself.

Nancy Allen, in her article, told of the letter from the contest: “How proud she should be to be selected.” They went on to say, “We receive thousands of poems each year, and we choose only a very few for publication,” to which Ms. Allen states, “Oh, put a sock in it!”

Here is her poem to them:

Dear publisher I wish you’d take
A jump right in the deepest lake
Along with all your books and staff
And do it soon, I need a laugh.
Thanking you in advance . . .

I’m sure these are the sentiments of many who have entered these contests.
Factors to Consider when Evaluating
Legitimacy of Contests

What is the name of the contest?

Who sponsors it?

Who are the judges? (Are they editors or well-published writers?) What are their credentials? (We know Penumbra offers all this information.)

Where did you learn of the contest? Unfortunately, newsletters and other publications don’t know until they’ve run such information that they may not be what the writer wants or needs. They stay just inside the realm of “legitimate.”

How many years has the contest been going on? (NLP has been in business since 1983.)

What sort of print run?

Will there be extra copies that can be ordered?

Will anyone but the poet ever see the publication?

Will it be advertised for sale to others?

The website for the Times-Union article:

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal." Some of her other blogs are and, a blog that helps writers and publishers turn a ho-hum book fair booth into a sizzler.

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