This is embarrassing to admit, but I figure if it keeps some nauseating goop out of some other writer's in-box, it's worth it, so here goes.
I once submitted a poem to a free online contest, at Poetry.com. The allure was the cash prize, frankly. (As they say on the street, I was short.) They typeset my poem online; I e-mailed it to my brother. That was sorta fun. They let me know that they were producing a beautiful bound book that would have a whole page devoted to MY creative endeavor. I could order it for a special price. OK, fair enough, they gotta finance this endeavor somehow. But I didn't want the book and didn't order it.
Then the e-mails started. Larded with syrupy praise, they offered more books, more contests, even a grand Poetry Convention in Florida where I would be honored and presented with an engraved plaque attesting to my "artistry" -- all for a hefty fee, of course. Yecchhh. I clicked on the "stop e-mail" link at the bottom of the e-mail. I was told I had successfully removed myself from their mailing list.
The e-mails kept coming. And coming. I kept clicking. They kept coming.
Some choice bits from the latest one:
Several weeks ago, we informed you that we have been reviewing the thousands of poems submitted to us, as well as examining the poetic accomplishments of people whose poetry has appeared on the Internet and in various editions released by other poetry publishers in America and Europe. . . . after an exhaustive examination of this poetic artistry, The International Library of Poetry wishes to feature an entire page devoted exclusively to the poetry of Annie Gottlieb in a collection of new poems written by the Best Poets we have encountered.
The Best Poems and Poets of 2004 . . .
Congratulations on your accomplishment, Annie. Your poetry will be featured along with a distinguished group of just 200 of the Best Poets that were selected to participate in this special project. . . .
Before going any further, Annie, let me make one thing clear . . . you were selected for publication on the basis of your unique talent. The new poem which you will submit for this edition has been accepted for publication because your previously published poetry sparks the imagination and presents the reader with a fresh, unique perspective on life. . . .
We believe you to be one of the most interesting poets we have encountered . . . You should be aware that you are under no obligation whatsoever to submit any entry fee or subsidy payment, or to make any purchase of any kind.
Again, congratulations. The Best Poems and Poets of 2004 promises to be the most exclusive collection of poetry we have ever published. We feel you have a special talent and we believe your poem will add to the importance and appeal of this edition. . . .
P.P.S. This will be your only opportunity to have your poetry published in The Best Poems and Poets of 2004. We currently have a waiting list of poets who wish to participate in this historic project. In order for us to meet our scheduled publication date, please submit your poem as soon as possible. If we do not receive your poem in the next 7 days, your nomination will be transferred to the next poet on our waiting list. ©2004 poetry.com
So why am I "exposing" these folks, sending the link to this post to every writers' website I can find? Theirs is a perfectly legitimate vanity publishing enterprise. Sure, they're lying -- about how wonderful your poetry is and what "exclusive" company you're in. But they're not exactly stealing -- they state that there is no obligation to purchase anything or pay any subsidy. There is undoubtedly a market for their services among naïve amateur poets -- some of them pretty good -- who enjoy seeing their work in print, being stroked by unctuous advertising copywriters, and hobnobbing with fellow "creators." So why am I slamming poetry.com and making fun of them?
Because they have committed the one unforgivable sin of the online marketer: THEY DIDN'T TAKE MY NAME OFF THEIR GODDAMN MAILING LIST WHEN I TOLD THEM TO! AND TOLD THEM TO! AND TOLD THEM TO!
When this gets around, I hope their faces are red and their traffic goes way down. Oh, and I hope they hire a new copywriter. A real poet, even a wistful amateur one, won't fall for a sales pitch disguised as a gooey, phony, generic compliment.
It's the ear, stupid.
UPDATE: This beats all. Not only did they not delete my e-mail address . . . they sold it. This arrived today:
N o b l e H o u s e
London – Paris – New York
Noble House London
2 Harrington Road
London E11 4QW
Noble House Paris
2 Bis Avenue Durante
Noble House New York
Empire State Building
New York, NY 10118
Office of the Publisher
29 November, 2004
As you may know, Noble House is one of the foremost publishers of fiction and nonfiction works by new and established authors today. Our international poetry division has had the honour of publishing the poetry of more than 1,800 poets over the past twelve years.
Recently I had the pleasure of reading the poetry that you have had published in the United States. I congratulate you on this grand endeavour, and propose to you that your singular talent and vision deserves appropriate international recognition as well.
For this reason, I have posted this letter to request your permission to include one of your favourite poems in Labours of Love - a new poetry edition that is being distributed worldwide by Noble House . . . a collection of poetry that is perhaps unlike any you have ever seen . . . one where each poem is featured on its own page . . . [bla, bla, bla, etc.]
UPDATE, 1/6/05: These people are UNBELIEVABLE. Not only doesn't "unsubscribing" work, bad-mouthing them all over the world wide web doesn't even faze 'em! Either these people have elephant hide or they're aliens from Alpha Centauri . . . or maybe the whole operation's automated:
Ladies and gentlemen, and fellow poets . . . It's now time to declare the winner of the largest cash prize ever awarded to an amateur poet . . . Our Poet of the Year for 2005 . . . and Grand Prize winner of $20,000 is . . .
We're familiar with your work, Annie, and you know . . .
it could happen just that way!
I would like to inform you of your nomination as Poet of the Year for 2005, and to personally invite you to read your poetry at the single largest gathering of poets in history
Your induction will take place Friday evening, February 25th, at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, during the International Society of Poets Spring 2005 Convention and Symposium
You will also be honored with two separate and very special awards for your poetic achievement at special ceremonies throughout the weekend. . . .
Etc., ad nauseam. Anybody ever attend one of these things? If I could get a freebie as a journalist I'd almost like to go, just to see if anybody's there, and report on it.