Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Woe-etry

On Caferati's message board, and in our email, every now and then someone posts gleefully about having a poem accepted by poetry dot com (yes, deliberately not clickable), or about the contests that site runs.

And then one has to go about the sad task of letting the person know they've been conned. So, we thought, being a lazy sod, we might as well put all the gunk out here, thus saving ourself the trouble of having to search-&-cut-&-paste every time.

How does it work?

You send in an entry, and after a respectable interval, you get a lovely glossy mailer telling you that you are a semi-finalist. It will enclose an Artist's Proof of your poem for you to sign. The mailer will also tell you that you can buy a copy of the thick cloth-bound book that will contain the best entries in the contest.

It's a "benign scam," you see. The ILP (International Library of Poetry, aka Poetry.com) and others like it operate by preying on the desire so many of of us have: to see our verse in print. You DO get a book. A large coffe table book crammed with poems. For which you pay a whole lot of money. It's cheaper for you to do a vanity printing, with only your verse in it, and give them to your 50 closest friends.

How do we know it's a rip-off? We sent in a poem once* (we were so much younger then), and were flattered to find we were a "semi-finalist." We immediately checked out the bank balance and thought to ourself, hm, perhaps this is worth a shot. Lucky for us, we first asked a few friends and e-contacts more worldy-wise than us. And were gently told that we should, ahem, perhaps, er, reconsider.

Exhibit One
Poetry.com (a.k.a. the International Library of Poetry, the National Library of Poetry, and many others), is a vanity anthology scheme that draws in poets through free contests, and then solicits them to purchase the anthology in which they will be published, plus a variety of other merchandise and services. The contests, in which all entrants are declared "semi-finalists", are bogus; and while the company portrays itself as a viable and even prestigious poetry market, the complete lack of editorial gatekeeping and the resulting poor quality of most of the poems means that publication in one of its anthologies is not a professional credit.

A number of organizations, including the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, are seeking writers who have complaints about Poetry.com. You can find links to all of them at StopILP.com, a website organized by poet Robert James Funches.

Note: stopilp.com doesn't exist anymore.
Someone did the math. Here's Exhibit Two:
Turn-over estimate

The anthology that I bought cost me $ 59.95. (excluding p+p). My estimate is ... that there are around 1,500 poems in there. Since you won't get published if you don't buy the book, all those 1,500 poets have bought the anthology. That would mean 1,500 x $ 59,95 = $ 89,925 for the poems. There are 325 biographies of poets in the back (I DID count them by hand), for which the poet had to pay $ 25 extra. That's 325 x $ 25 = $ 8,125.

Together for this anthology that would be $ 89,925 + $ 8,125 = $ 98,050.

I took the time to count the released anthologies that they have on the poetry.com website and in the year 2002, ... they released a total of 52 anthologies. In 1998, which was probably a very profitable year for them the number of released anthologies rocketed up to 78.

So if we take the average of that, 65, and use that as the amount of released anthologies per year, you can calculate the following: 65 x $ 98,050 = $ 6,373,250 income per year only for those anthologies. That is over SIX MILLION DOLLARS!

*dingdingdingding*

And then I didn't even count all the other shit that they are offering. The awards, which cost like $ 175 - $ 250 each and the plaques on which you can have your poem printed and the audio recordings you can get from your poem and the offers for the symposia that you can visit as an outstanding poet.

And in this matter I'm only talking about the poetry part that they have. Imagine what their turn over is if you take into consideration that they also do 'business' in for example photography! My dear fellow poets, this is BOOOOOOOOMING business.
[Read the whole thing.]

Here, from the same page, is a poem by the person who wrote the analysis above:
Poor Victims

Naive poets
walking with open eyes
into a spider's web
of deceit and lies.

An institute
by the name of ILP
desillusions any
well-faithed wannabe.

A flattering letter
send in a fancy envelope
brings the new poet
temporarily new hope.
Dear fellow poets,
don't fall for
this trick;
ILP shall deceive us no more!
This was published, s/he says. :)

Here's another Semi-finalist:
Flubblebop
by Wergle Flomp

flobble bobble blop
yim yam widdley woooo
oshtenpopple gurby
yip yip yip
nish-nash nockle nockle
opfem magurby voey
Ahh! "Wurby tictoc?"
"quefoxenjib masaloouterp!"
bim-burm nurgle shliptog
afttowicky wicky wicky
erm addmuksle slibberyjert!
Reqi stoobery bup dinhhk
yibberdy yobberdy hif twizzum moshlap
dwisty fujefti coppen smoppen dob
tigtog turjemy fydel
saxtenvurskej brisleywum
swiggy swiggy swug
yumostipijjle dobers!
This, by the way, inspired the Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest

Oh, here's a few more links. Google will give you about 42,100 results for "poetry.com scam" in case you'd like to try it out (and another 595,000 for "literary scam").

A few to get you started:
http://windpub.com/literary.scams/wergle.htm
http://www.windpub.com/literary.scams/ (good list of scams)
http://www.winningwriters.com/warningsigns.htm
http://www.winningwriters.com/contests/avoid/av_web.php


* Can't link to it, because the site pushes you back to the home page when you enter the search results. If you really want to read it, you could search for our name, then pick the poem titled "Old Diary" from the search results.

Um. Correction. Still can't link to it, but we did a little R&D so we can now at least make the search a little easier. It was written somewhere in 2001, if we remember right, but the site apparently keeps the copyright updated! And the book in which we could order it, as well as the scheduled release date, keeps changing too, to just a few months after the time you make your search. The site notes, if you click through to the Order Book page, that "Actual title and cover photograph may differ."

3 comments:

GREATBONG said...

Beautiful. Brightened up a gloomy day reading this.

Falstaff said...

Ah, yes - the poetry.com scam. I too once sent in a poem and had it accepted. As I remember it, the 'writer's proof' came back with a set of comments from the editor - and very edifying comments they were. Fortunately, at 16, $60.00 was a LOT of money, so one did a bit more research and decided the whole thing was a set-up.

The real problem, I think, is the lack of adequate authentic channels for new poetry / poets to be discovered. The only real way to combat the scam is to have a legitimate channel where people can submit their poems and get honest feedback. There are all the major poetry mags, of course, but pretty much everyone you see published there seems to already have a whole bunch of publications elsewhere. It's very hard to know where to start if you're an unpublished poet but still cling to the delusion that you're any good.

david raphael israel said...

Peter --
this nicely detailed cautionary tale reminded me of the flarf phenomenon. Looking up flarf in Wikipedia, I see this is no mere coincidence; evidently the genre per se (flarf is sometimes described as "intentionally bad poetry") is said to have initially emerged from a submission to poetry.com. But then it went in other directions.

cheers,
d.i.