All Competitions aren't the same
A legitimate competition will never ask you for any money beyond a modest entry fee. Neither will they charge you for any anthology of winners’ work subsequently produced or attempt to pressure you into buying multiple copies of any anthology for family and friends – they’ll provide you with a copy for free and that’s on top of your prize. They will absolutely never make your winning dependent on any additional sums of money changing hands. You have won and nothing more will be expected of you (save for perhaps posing for an official photograph and providing a few quotes expressing your delight for the press release).
But as with many things in life that involve aspiration and the possibility of significant amounts of money to be had, writing competitions offer financial opportunities for tricksters and scammers who seek only to manipulate and exploit the uninitiated. Be aware: not all poetry or short story competitions are good, reputable or in any sense meaningful. A not insignificant number are, in reality, sophisticated cons. They may well seem entirely plausible when you enthusiastically answer their advertisement calling for entries. But things quickly turn sinister. Expect a letter telling you that you have been highly commended (along with everyone else who entered) but that you must first agree to purchase multiple copies of the competition anthology for your entry to be included. The amounts of money involved are always hugely inflated and sometimes they can be positively astronomical. But, understandably pleased with your success, you’ll want to be included – to be able to show off your achievement to family and friends. Delight will turn to disappointment when you open the resulting anthology and discover its lamentably poor quality production values, and that you’re crammed in with sometimes many hundreds of abysmal entries. Scams can be more elaborate and costly again. You may be encouraged to book into a hotel for a prize-giving weekend, where you’ll receive your ‘certificate of merit’ or ‘honorary medal’. This will be at your own expense – and guess who’s making money? One thing’s for sure: it’s not you. No entrant ever does. Or, if they do, it’s peanuts. The competition has no career enhancing value whatsoever and zero credibility in the writing community.
These scams are as sickening as they are cynical. They show no respect for how young or old participants are, or for their financial circumstances. Worst of all, the scammers most often get away with it – some people simply don’t realize they’ve been conned and, even if they do, just as soon the competition has packed up shop and been reanimated under a different name to trick others all over again.
When entering competitions, you would therefore be advised to stick to those sponsored by well known organisations or magazines or, especially in the case of smaller competitions, to look at current listings on the websites of reputable organisations such as Academi, Story or the Poetry Library who remain very alert to scams and keep the con artists from advertising with them. Steer clear of unknown quantities. And maintain a healthy suspicion of free entry for competitions, unless they are sponsored by well-known organisations, societies or magazines. And - it should go without saying - do look for named judges, people of standing in their field. Aside from anything else, much of the prestige of a prize depends upon those who are judging it, not simply the amounts involved. A distinguished judge can be a good indicator of the authenticity and credibility of a competition.
Thankfully, the growth of the internet has helped spread the word about scams and cons and continues to make life much more difficult for the unscrupulous tricksters. Good websites are out there to help protect writers from being duped. Winning Writers carries up to the minute listings of current competition and publishing scams good websites which uncover scams and cons currently doing the rounds, and Wind Publications’ Literary Contest Caution still remains one of the best sites around for helping new writers avoid the pitfalls.
If you’re in any doubt as to the integrity of a competition, the Academi will endeavor to advise you. If you have encountered an organization that you believe may be scamming others or if you think you’ve been scammed yourself, Academi wants to hear about it.
For further information on Scams and Cons in writing and publishing click here.