“Preditors”—that’s the term writers have been using for publishing scams (funny pun, huh?). With the advent of the interwebz, back in the heady days of dial-up modems, limited internet time, and AO-Hell, these scams weren’t as widely panned by legit writing sites. Or maybe I was too young to have found legit writing sites.
And I have to tell you, there was one time where I got suckered. Hard core.
Sure, I was a sophomore in high school, thought I was the shit as far as writing went, because all of my English teachers loved me. For one assignment, we were supposed to write a poem based on Langston Hughes’ famous poem, “Dream Deferred.” My version of the poem, which I not-so-cleverly titled, “Dream Unsung,” was written during the watercolor portion of my 4th period art class (probably why I kinda’ suck at watercolors now).
I read it in front of the class, sure of my genius, to the smattering of applause from my classmates and the praise of my English teacher. I don’t remember how I got it into my head that I should try to publish it, but somehow I found my way to The Poetry Guild, or The Poet’s Guild or something similar. I submitted my little craptastic poem to their online site, only to get an email message with glowing praise. We love it! It’s great! It’s the bees knees! We want to publish you!
Now send us only $25 and you can get a copy of the poetry book. For $50, we’ll give you a copy with your poem on the front page!
I can’t remember if my parents were ecstatic, or if they suspected this was less than legit, but I do remember that even my grandmother chipped in moola in order to get a poetry book with my own poem in the front.
When I got it, I was excited. I mean, I was now a Real Published Author. But when I started to read some of the other poems, I thought, “Wow, some of these are really terrible.” Should’ve been a red flag. Out of the 160 poems inside, I liked maybe three or four of them. Some of them had rhyme schemes horrible enough that it would make even my sophomore English teacher fall into a coma. Or at least take up drinking.
I started doing research online, only to find out I’d been scammed. I remember telling my younger sister, who came up with the genius idea to test if this was really a scam. We created 10 different emails, and submitted the worst poems we could. Real “Roses are red, violets are blue, because I’m goddamned depressed” type stuff. And you know what?
They loved every single one.
Even the word-for-word copy of “Little Boy Blue.”
At first, I couldn’t believe that someone would do this to me. Not just to me, but over a hundred other dumbasses. But then I did the math: 160 shmucks + $25-50 a pop = $4,000 to $8,000 – the cost of a shitty hardback book to give to said shmucks = STILL A LOT OF MONEY.
It was my first lesson in the journey to publication: real publishers pay you.
I still have that little crappy hardback poetry book, and every once and a while I’ll take it down from my bookshelf, dust it off, crack it open, and shake my head.