Is The Movie M.O.M Based On A True Story Seven Deadly Signs of Poetry Scams

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Seven Deadly Signs of Poetry Scams

In America, poets are given so little respect that even the most respected representative of Nigeria would not bother with our scandal. What Dermot Mulroney tells Julia Roberts in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” is what society tells us that we “feed on pond scum infecting the fungus that infects the mucus.”

Even being cheated by the Hon’ble Minister, is preferable to a poetry scandal. Wind Publications’ Literary Scam Guide has this to say:

Many of the legitimate literary contests advertised on the Internet are hidden among sponsors who care little about the literature, its audience, or the authors. These organizations and individuals exist solely for profit through their so-called writing or poetry contests. Often you’ll find these “free” poetry contests advertised in your local newspaper.

There is a cottage industry of perpetual scam writing by puss poetry pimps, chief among them the International Library of Poetry, aka Noble House Press, aka poetry.com. They advertise in USA Weekend and Penny Saver – well, not Penny Saver, but they might as well, because it features their opinion of poets. If you’ve seen ads or received a letter that says, “Congratulations, your poem has been selected for our next anthology,” congratulations, you’re being scammed.

Like so-called modeling agencies or “talent agents” who prey on nubile girls’ dreams of becoming the next Lindsay Lohan, poetry pyramid schemes exploit writers’ number one hope: publication, and more importantly, recognition. Many excellent Web sites such as Predator and Editor and Poetrinotcom detail the outrageous mechanics of poetry “anthology” scams and the infamous Wergle Flomp poetry contest of WinningWriters.com, cheerfully vanity poetry contests and the microorganism that perpetuate them.

How do you spot a poetry scam? Searching for…

1. Insane Pie Prize Amount in the Sky.

I participated in the DN Lubell Professional Writers Contest. Most poetry contests pay a maximum of $1,000, including reading fees, and are for book-length manuscripts of poetry. For a single poem, the first prize pot is usually $100, $150 top. A $20 million prize, dangled by Nobel House, is a big red flag. Oh, and no one ever gives poets a chance to win a world cruise. It is commonly assumed that we sail around the world in a Mark Twain raft, a sampan or a Hemingway skiff.

2. No contest fee.

Wergle Flomp is the only “F*r*e*e” poetry contest. Now, internet folks and die-hard poets naturally jump on the word “F*r*e*e.” But, like the victims of those modeling scams, you’ll pay for your bargain hunting moments. Modeling scams ask you to work with a specific photographer (usually a fake European). Likewise, poetry scams won’t even let you see your poem in print unless you pay for the compilation. When you pay for the anthology, you might think you’ve just bought a copy of Penny Saver, because your poem looks like it’s been crammed onto the page to make room for “spot the difference” puzzles and grown-up talk lines. Then there’s that awards banquet…

3. Counterfeit reward banquet.

Ten years ago, no joke, I received a mailing from the Society of Famous Poets wooing me with cash to attend an awards banquet and conference. If I paid my dues, I could join the elite company of poets like… Ted Lange of “Love Boat” fame. Who knew Isaac Bartender had a closet Langston Hughes? Plus, I could win $6,000 in door prizes. Now, if you’ve ever attended a poetry reading, especially in a coffeehouse, you know that poets wear their vow of poverty as proudly as a Che Guevara t-shirt. Just the thought of winning $25 in a poetry slam makes my fellow poets and I cry more than the contestants on “Deal or No Deal.” And Ted Lange usually doesn’t participate.

4. Doubtful reputation or nothing at all.

In poetry, if you don’t have Nikki Giovanni, Cesla Milos or Donald Hall front and center in your magazine, along with several angry Eastern European poets, the poets will drop you like Oprah dropped James Frey. Find magazines, publishers and poetry competitions that publish and are judged by Literary Lions. It’s Bukowski or bust. And when Poetry.com doesn’t realize that Dave Barry and 20/20 are deceiving them, the joke’s on Poetry.com. Likewise, if a vanity press charges you $3,000 to $8,000 to publish your poetry collection, and the top writer promoted by Façade Press is an eighteen-year-old writing poetry from her liver’s perspective, save your money by actually publishing your poetry in the Threepenny Review, or literary magazine. Or submit work to publishers that you read about at writers’ markets or about poets and writers.

5. Advertisements in newspapers and glossy magazines.

USA Weekend doesn’t advertise real poetry contests–sure, USA Weekend might sponsor a teen essay contest, but poetry advertisers? Forget it. People don’t choose USA Weekend as a literary publication, even though USA Weekend has books and authors. If you see a mass call for poets in a mass market paper, miss it. There is such a thing as being tempted by submitting to real poetry contests. They don’t need to fish much.

6. Being sent an acceptance letter for a contest you can’t remember or the publisher you submitted to.

I admit, as a writer I have trouble keeping track of what I’ve sent to whom and when–we write to avoid paperwork, don’t, though when we’re not in the mood, reorganizing files suddenly becomes tempting A day in Cancun. Fortunately, Writer’s Market has a submission tracker, and some enterprising bloggers actually post their submission schedules to make the rest of us sigh in disorganized envy. If you can’t find the cover letter/e-query in your file cabinet, on your computer, on your zip drive (you back it up, right?) or in your sent folder, you will never be able to submit it to the National Library. Poetry or Wordscum.com (sorry if there really is a website called Wordscum.com). Yes, after 300 rejections, getting an acceptance letter can be a boost, but to misquote Groucho Marx, think twice before accepting any club as a member. Aim upwards. Imagine if JK Rowling had just said, “Okay, I’ll pay a million pounds to have a few hundred copies of Harry Potter for my friends and relatives to buy.”

7. The promise of getting your book or handsome copy on the bestseller rack at the bookstore.

Number one, PoetryNotCom is one of many sites reporting this claim as false Number two, most people who go to a bookstore to read poetry are likely to find the poetry section blindfolded and spend three hours debating Whitman’s symbolism over a decaf skinny latte at Borders Cafe. Number two, while getting your book in bookstores is still the gold standard, Amazon.com and online retailers make it easy for even the smallest presses to get books noticed. Number three, bookstores are so overwhelmed with inventory that they can’t even stock POD books, let alone something from ScamPoet Publishing or Poetry.com, and bookstores won’t accept Vanity Press books. For that matter, no poet would be on the bookstore bestseller list except for Ludacris or Jimmy Carter. We don’t go into poetry to get rich. We go to poetry to vent our savage pangs…and a fellowship or two is nice too.

Many beginning poets get stuck, but you don’t have to. If you are smart and ambitious, you will be a successful poet with plenty of literary magazines and e-zines carrying your byline. Poetry.com and its people will always be “The pus that infects the mucus that cruds up the fungus that feeds on pond scum.”

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