Poetry.com – What’s it All About?

As an editor, both acquisitions and pre-publication content editing, I receive a lot of questions from aspiring writers, novelists, and poets. One of the most frequent comments I hear is when an excited and newly published poet tells me, “I’ve been published by www.Poetry.com and am a semi-finalist in one of their contests!”

One of the most painful moments for me as an editor is when I explain to that poet why bragging about this is not necessarily a good thing in the publishing world.

First, a word about Poetry.com. If you are an amateur poet and have no desire to be a poet or a writer for a living or even as a lucrative hobby, and your only desire is to have a place on the internet where you can have a page and display your poetry, then Poetry.com might be exactly what you are looking for. Poetry.com does indeed publish anthologies of poetry, and if you submit to them, your poem will indeed be included in a book of poetry.

However, that’s about as far as it goes, and if you are expecting anything more than just a fun place to post and the chance to have your poem in a book somewhere, then you will be disappointed in Poetry.com.

First of all, please understand that on Poetry.com everyone is a winner. They do not refuse any poem sent in, no matter how bad it might be. Don’t believe me? Sign up and post an atrocious poem, and I guarantee you will receive a letter in the mail saying you are semi finalist and your poem is going to be published in a book.

After this, you can plan to receive many emails from Poetry.com, in addition to the third party sites they will sell your address to (Read the FAQs. They admit to this.) as well as a couple of different mailings, both via email and USPS. The first piece of mail you will receive is what is called a “proof copy” of your poem, asking you to make any necessary editing changes to your poem and return it to them by the due date in order to be included in the anthology for which your poem was selected. Along with this proof page will be a form to ask you to order the book that your poem will appear in, which sells anywhere from about $40-60 bucks.

For those who have never been published, or for those who may have chosen to use a vanity or print press publisher, you should know that a legitimate trade or reputable publisher will provide to a contracted author at least one to five author’s copies of your book at no charge and many give you more than that. At the very least, most publishers will sell you the book at an author’s discount or at wholesale (without royalties). Additionally, trade publishers or traditional publishers will never charge you to print or market and distribute your book.

Poetry.com doesn’t do this, because they do not provide author’s contracts or royalties. In fact, you will receive no payment whatsoever for publishing your poem with them, and there are no royalties.

Yes, your poem will indeed appear in a book, but you will have to pay a hefty sum for that book if you want a copy. They will also try to ‘sell’ you an extended author’s bio that will be included on the facing page of your poem. I have several printed books in publication as well as several ebooks, and every single publisher provided me an author’s bio in the book at no cost to me whatsoever. This is how it should be in the publishing world. Poetry.com’s price for this extended author’s bio will vary depending on how long and what you want included. If you want a picture included, it can cost a small fortune.

After the proof form is sent back to Poetry.com, that’s when the hard core solicitations begin. In addition to the expensive copy of the book, they will also try to sell you the audio version of the book in which your poetry appears – and this is upward of $75-175 bucks for the ‘collection’.

After that, they will send you something telling you that you have won a prize – but you have to pay for it too. Sometimes it’s a plaque and sometimes it’s a silver bowl, and sometimes it’s other things, but the cost for the prize averages a measly $175 bucks. No, this is not the value of the prize, this is the actual cost that you, the winning poet, will have to pay in order to have your prize shipped to you. Have you ever heard of a prize you won costing you anything other than maybe taxes or shipping? $175 bucks?

That’s when the real push begins and you will inundated with letters and emails stating that you are a winner, that you are a finalist, and all you have to do is come to their annual awards ceremony, where you can meet the infamous Florence Henderson, or another more obscure celebrity, who will host the convention. Not only do you have to pay to attend the convention (and it’s a hefty sum) but you have to arrange your own air fare, hotel, and other accommodations. Sure, you can set up a booth there to display your poetry and such, but that’s another hefty fee too.

Poetry.com is all about making money, not about getting people published or promoting authors or poets.

Now, in their defense, what little of it I managed to find during my research, the coffee table books they print are very attractive and high quality books. The audio recordings are clear and well put together. However, for the price and considering the author has to pay to purchase anything, Poetry.com has a very lucrative business, in which the only person who profits is not the author, but Poetry.com itself.

There is one good thing about Poetry.com though. Best I can tell from my research, you retain the copyright to your poem and therefore, you still own it. There is no contract assigning rights, even first publication rights, to Poetry.com. You can republish the poem or try to sell it somewhere else… because you still own it; it’s still yours. That’s just about the only redeeming quality to this particular ‘contest.’

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that people don’t win cash prizes. I’m sure that every year someone out there does indeed win, or they would have been shut down by now. But with a contest that boasts free entry and over 51 million poems, the likelihood of you winning that contest, especially if you never purchase anything and do not attend the convention, are actually less than the odds of winning the same dollar amount playing your state lottery.

While it is usually the goal of every business to make money, most businesses do indeed offer some type of a service. In my opinion, if you check out their site, you’ll see it’s heavily-ridden with advertising. Poetry.com’s primary function is not necessarily providing a service. They’re goal is nothing more than making money, and the way they think to do that, in the opinion of this author/poet/editor, is to get as many poor saps who want to be published so badly to enter their poems in what I loosely call a contest. Being a publisher, and I’m also using that term very loosely in this instance, is a very distant second to selling their products and convention seats.

Don’t feel bad though if you fell for their ways. You are not alone, because with more than 51 million poems boasted, many people have fallen for this money making website. Hopefully, you didn’t lose too much money, and at the very least, you did get a poem in a book. However, if you are a serious writer, be leery of using that as a portfolio tool – people in the publishing industry are fully aware of Poetry.com’s tactics and most editors and publishers will not take an author/poet seriously if they use Poetry.com as one of their portfolio items.

To sum this up, Poetry.com is a great and fun place for an amateur poet or writer who has no intention of ever selling or making a profit or career out of writing. If all you want to do is play around and have some poetry up for people to read on the internet and have your name printed in a fancy book that costs a small fortune, and enjoy playing the odds at maybe winning the meager prizes, then Poetry.com might just be the place for you to hang out and do that.

If, however, you take your writing career seriously and are in it for more than just a little fun and gambling, Poetry.com can actually be detrimental to your writing career. Before entering any contest, especially a contest that is so prolific and uses so much paid advertising online as Poetry.com does, be sure to check them out carefully. Writers Beware and Preditors & Editors both have wonderful sites with alerts and warnings about companies that offer contests, publishers, agents, and other writing industry information. Be sure to check out both sites and ask around in the local writer’s groups or internet forums before sending your work to any contest or publisher.

Good luck with your writing or poetry career!

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