When I was very young and desperate to get something published somewhere, I came across a poetry contest online hosted by a company with a very important-sounding name like The International Consortium of Master Poets. (I just made that up, but you get the drift.)
I submitted something for it and, to my surprise, received a glowing letter a few weeks later stating the poem had been “reviewed by a panel of judges” who deemed it to be of the highest quality and “worthy of publishing.” I didn’t know who this judging panel consisted of but I pictured something like this –
A bunch of highly-educated old men, all laboring over the merits of my little poem. Man, oh man. Things were gonna start happening to me now!
I was overjoyed until I continued reading beyond the flowery praise to the request to pay them for the high honor of having my poem included in their annual “anthology” of poetry. This request was so deftly worded that I almost didn’t notice that it was the polar opposite of legitimate, traditional publishing wherein the author gets paid by the publishing house. I was also so talented, according to them, they would even allow me to pay them some more money to see my poem printed on a plaque, and even a coffee mug!
Fortunately, I didn’t fall for it. I was naive, but not too naive to smell a rat that big and stinky. So for a laugh, I entered another poem into their contest under a fake name to see if that poem would also be deemed the height of literary mastery by their panel of judges. A friend and I laughed ourselves sick writing it at the beach one day. Our goal . . . to pen the worst love poem of all time. Here it is –
My Gal Penelosquat
Her love reminds me of flowers.
I don’t need her tomorrow, but nowers.
She really makes me feel groovy,
like that Mona chick at the Louvie.
She’s hot, like a jalapeno squirt.
I’d cut off my ear, but it would hurt.
Her love is a towel
cooling my weary browel.
My love is a sponge.
On our love raft, we will plunge.
She’s just so – I can’t find the word.
Her hair is so . . . you know.
Her nose is so big, though.
And that name . . . Penelosquat McSchmultzerd.
I typed it out and sent My Gal Penelosquat off in the mail. Sure enough, two weeks later, I received the same letter stating that this high crime against the English language was as brilliant and worthy of publication in their anthology, plaque and coffee mug as the last one was! Imagine my surprise.
I post this as a warning, but not a condemnation of anyone who has been taken in by vanity publishing. There’s nothing wrong with paying a company to print a poem in a book, or on a plaque or coffee mug, as long as one doesn’t think it’s published and knows these companies are just offering a service and will take money from anyone willing to buy their anthology, no matter how horrific the poem is. It’s their deception in making each writer feel special that is repugnant to me.
Unfortunately, I’ve met people over the years who proudly stated they had a poem published by one of these companies, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them any of this. Some people just don’t have a very strong rat detector. But I hate to see fellow writers, baby eagles with downy wings, struggling with words for the first time, taken down by con artists selling them a bill of goods. They take more than money, they take self-respect. I mean, if they’ll take My Gal Penelosquat, they’ll take anything.