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Predatory Contests

5 Ways to Spot a Fake

Now that you’re a contest pro or at least thinking about becoming one, you need to be aware of some of the contest scams out there.

As long as there have been contests, there are people who find opportunities to fleece people out of their money. I remember the first time I got rooked. I was sixteen-years-old and had submitted a poem to this “National Contest.” I was thrilled when a month later I found out I was a finalist and that all the finalists were going to be in a hardbound coffee table book. To ensure my status, all I had to do was buy the book. For $50. Which because I didn’t know any better, I did. When I got the book, it was huge. There had to be a thousand poems in there. And my little three stanza one was buried on page 534, surrounded by ten other poems that had nothing to do with each other.

Sadly, there are still versions of this tactic going on even today.  But it’s pretty easy to spot the scam contests if you know what to look for. Usually a quick Google search will bring you up to speed on the popularity and the reputation of the contest.

1. The first thing to do when you’re investigating a contest is to be aware of the fees.

It’s not a red flag for a contest to have an entry fee. In fact, that’s pretty standard. The Institute for Writers fee is $19, there are $1,300 in cash prizes, and you get a bonus of an online workshop after it closes. But if there’s a $150 entry fee, there better be a pretty good prize to win or a benefit to entering that makes it worth it to shell out the money. The Writer’s Digest contests have reasonable fees. Most are around $30 for the first entry and then the price increases the more works you submit. Their prizes are generous and plentiful if you get an honorable mention or better.

2. Never pay to have your entry included in a book.

Money flows towards the writer in book publishing. Unless you’re self publishing, you should never have to shell out any money to have a book published. There are plenty of legitimate contests that do offer a publishing deal for the winner. None of them will ask for any reading fees or extra money aside from the initial entry fee. Keep in mind, even though legit contests like Kindle Scout and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest are completely on the up and up, you’ll still want a literary agent or an intellectual property attorney to look at the contract before you sign to protect your rights and interests.

3. Don’t buy merchandise from the contest.

You don’t have to shell out $10 for a trophy or a certificate to say that you won. A good contest will want their winners to be their best advertisement, so it’s in their best interest to give you swag that you can show off on social media.

4. Scrutinize the people who are running the contest.

Anyone can put up a website and claim to be an expert. But you want to save your contest budget for people who can help you in your career, people who are experienced with writing, editing and publishing. Chances are if you haven’t heard of the contest before, no one else has either. And if no one has heard of the contest, it doesn’t really do you any good to put it on your query letters or resumes.

5. Read the fine print.

In some disreputable contests, your entry becomes the property of the contest owners. That’s right. By submitting your entry, you could have signed over your right to publish your work. Thankfully, scammers like this are few and far between because the Internet has made people more savvy and it’s easier to communicate and out these predatory contest rules before too many people get hurt.

Don’t be afraid to enter contests. Just be an informed consumer and know what you’re going to get for your entry fee. They’re a great way to build up a writing resume, as well as your confidence. Just don’t let ego get in the way of common sense. If you think something is fishy about the contest, trust your instincts and walk away. Better safe than sorry. There will be other opportunities right around the corner, and another great contest to enter.

Here some links to get you started spotted predatory contests:
•    How to spot a fake contest: http://www.victoriastrauss.com/advice/contests/
•    Writer Beware outs some known scammers: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/contests/
•    Vetted contests by Funds for Writers: http://fundsforwriters.com/contests/
•    Book Baby talks about the Contest Myths: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/04/the-myths-of-writing-contests/ 

USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes contemporary love stories and paranormal romances.  Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks.  Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists and the first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time.  Her dragon paranormal romance series from Entangled Publishing, has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.”

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