I Lost My Poem & How to Avoid Writing Scams

In November 2017, I entered a writing competition. Within the month, I received a letter in the mail stating I was a finalist, and they wanted to publish my poem in their anthology.

 I was ecstatic. 

I ran into my parent's room, grinning ear to ear because I WAS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED! I immediately signed my poem away (even sent the letter using priority mail), only to find out they were a vanity press, and I would never see my poem in print unless I paid over sixty dollars.

I learned they published every writer who submitted and would put them all into one big book, then charge the writers to buy their own work.

Realizing no one except the authors in the anthology would read my work was devastating. I didn’t feel like a real writer; I felt like a fraud. The only place that would publish me was a scam (and it only took one google to figure that out).

I still don’t list that poem under my previous publications because I don’t want to be associated with the company that scammed me. To this day, I wonder if they read my work or just sent an acceptance letter, hoping I would buy my own poetry. To this day, I don’t understand what rights they have to my poem (because I signed them away without reading).

So, how do we avoid scams? While they are getting trickier, below are a few things to help you avoid these scam publishers.

Never sign away the rights to your work without reading the fine print.

Know what type of rights they are asking for. Most journals and magazines will ask for First North American Rights. This means they have the right to publish it first, but after that, the rights revert back to the author. If you see anything other than this, make sure to do your research.

Research the publisher before signing your work away.

If I had done that, I would have never lost my poem. There is even a blog dedicated to helping writers navigate scams called Writer’s Beware. Check and make sure the publisher you’re signing with isn’t on there.

Make sure you are clear on what you are getting for your work.

Are they giving you royalties? A contributor’s copy? An honorarium? I’m not saying you cannot work for free. A lot of new reputable magazines are not able to compensate their writers. However, if the publisher refuses to tell you if you get compensation and/or what that compensation is, that is a red flag.

If the work they sell is overpriced, It’s a Red Flag.

I don’t mean a couple dollars over the usual, but the publisher that took my poem sold a poetry collection for over sixty dollars. No one buys an average book for sixty dollars, let alone poetry. If the books they sell are overpriced like this, it probably means their pay comes from authors buying the copies.

Do They Have an About Page?

Every magazine I submit to now has an about page. It not only tells me who they are but gives me an impression of what they are looking for as well. If I go to a magazine, journal, etc., and do not see an about page, I’m going to wonder what they are hiding.

Talk to Other Writers!

This is a big one. If you feel unsure whether or not a publisher is legit, I would avoid them. However, if you want to be super sure, your best resource is other writers. If you can get in contact with a writer who was published with that company, even better.

Overall, do your research, know your worth, and keep you and your work safe out there. For more writing advice, updates on my work, querying tips, and miscellaneous fun, don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list. And as always, happy querying (or writing)!