How can I tell if a contest or publishing offer is a scam?
Consider these warning signs:
1. The sponsor or publisher asks for money. If a contest requires a reading fee, consider
(a) whether the sponsor is a for-profit or non-profit organization, and
(b) whether you feel its other activities besides the contest are worth supporting.
It does cost money to run a contest, so don't label all contests with fees as scams. Your entry fee may be used towards helping to keep a publicly supported arts organization healthy.
A commercial sponsor of a contest, however, should only earn a profit by selling the winning book.
2. There is no payment in either cash or publication copies. Many legitimate publications can't afford to pay their contributors, but at the very least they should give you a free copy of the finished product. If your work is worth publishing, it's worth paying for.
3. The publisher lists only a P. O. box address. If no phone number or street address is listed, they might be purposely obscuring their whereabouts. Why--or what--are they trying to hide from you?
4. The offer is a form letter that looks hand-generated. Using handwriting-style typefaces and fake Post-it notes is a popular tactic with direct-mail solicitation from a charity or book-club, but you shouldn't find it on an acceptance letter from a publisher.