The number of people who get ripped off by poetry scams every year is incredible. These scams predate the Internet by at least a hundred years. Don’t be a victim.
Don’t do any research about the people holding the contest
The simple truth is that most contests that spend more than a little money on advertising are trying to make a profit. Most legitimate poetry contests have small prizes and a local focus. That doesn’t mean the one you found is bogus, but it is a good idea to check.
Join contests that advertise big, big prizes
Do you actually think that lots of rich, nice people are looking to give away big prizes for a single poem? Does that make sense to you?
Expect your poem (the first one you ever wrote) to win a big money
Sure, thousands of other poets probably entered, but your first effort will beat them all. That is a reasonable outcome, right?
Buy their stuff
Do you think that when you win a contest, you should have to pay for a commemorative plaque, buy the book your poem is in, or pay for a trip to a conference? If so, by all means, fork over your money. Everybody deserves to win an out-of-pocket trip to Las Vegas or Miami.
Avoid becoming a part of the legitimate poetry community
People who are a part of the poetry community around them learn pretty quickly about what is and is not a legitimate opportunity.
Pay that reading fee.
The reading fee is a staple of how for-profit poetry contests work. If a contest offers a $10,000 prize and the reading fee is $10 a poem, they only have to find 1001 suckers, I mean contestants, to start making a profit. Of course, that is without all of the “runner-ups” who pay for copies of the books their poems appear in.
If it sounds too good to be true then it MUST be true
If you want someone to take all of your money, make this your mantra.