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Spotting Fake Writing Competitions

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Editing and Publishing

If you follow We Got Story on Instagram, you will likely already know we are huge advocates of a good, old fashioned writing competitions. We even have a section on this site that will let you know of upcoming contests you can get involved in! And why not? Participating in a writing competitions is an incredible way to challenge yourself, from working to a theme or a deadline to trying on new narrative methods or genres. Winning is a fantastic bonus, but is by no means the real reason writers - both published and unpublished - jump at getting involved. Yet, as with most things in this world, there are always those who want to turn something positive into a selfish gain. In this case, we're talking about those who set up fake writing competitions and fool countless aspiring authors in the process. As someone who researches thousands of writing competitions annually, I want to share with you some handy knowledge I've picked up that will help you spot the fakes online.


Why Set Up Fake Competitions To Begin With?


Let's be clear: fake competitions are scams and, like other scams, they want to get something from you that ordinarily you would not freely give. In the case of writing competitions, they want your best products of writing. Whether it be from something specific such as a given topic, style or inspiration source to anything at all, they want you to put in the work so they don't have to. And what do they do with it? Most of the time, they compile all the fake competition entries into a book and sell it online as their own work. Others may enter the best entries into real competitions or use them as part of their own writing portfolios. Regardless of what their goal is, the result is the same for the writer who was scammed: their hard work was stolen and they have no way of knowing what has happened to it after they press submit. Let's consider some warning signs we can look out for.



Setting Private, Short Time Frames


A direct message or e mail urging you to send in an entry within days, especially implying other writers might fill up available slots, is a key method of getting writers to panic-act without taking the time to think clearly. Often, they want a lot of work fast so they can dissolve the scam quickly - they are less likely to be caught this way! A real competition will be far less demanding, with deadlines made public and time frames reasonable. Legitimate organisations avoid focusing on your competition. They want to bolster your confidence, not lay on extra pressure to act as if you have 'serious competition' inches from pushing you out of the running.



New Accounts/Websites:


Be wary of anything under 6 months old: scammers often repeat the trick under new names and usually don’t stay active with each round longer than half a year. Accounts with little original content that only dates back a few months may signal a recently invented front. Google the organisation name to ensure the details are the same. Use online tools to find the age of their website. We recommend DupliChecker's Domain Age Checker. Websites can be set up quick but designing a full website takes time, so one-or-two-page sites indicate not much real attention has been given to its creation.



Hold Back


Young accounts that do not interact within their theme community or post original content should not be asking for submissions. They have established no foundation or brand and haven't earned your trust. Original content does not include reposts, screenshot-and-cropped images, or generic, lazy pieces. Content should be researched, well-designed and carefully written work that is clearly from them and not some secondary source. How do you know if they are engaging within their online community? If they have social media, take a look at who they follow - is there a theme linking the accounts together, or are they mostly from different niches? Click on a few accounts they follow and look for signs they have interacted lately. A low-give, high-take ratio is happening, they aren't as trusted as they claim.



One-Way Affiliations


Some fake competitions claim to be supported by/affiliated with another (more reputable) organisation or company. Check these claims! Their partner should say something similar in return if it is real. Take a look at their websites or social media feed for mentionings of this so-called partnership. A lack of reciprocation implies the links were invented to make the competition appear more powerful or legitimate. Many big-name companies have dedicated teams on social media communications, so there's no harm in sending a message if you want to be sure.



Broad Scopes


Most competitions set word/line limits, specify a theme or genre, or at least separate stories from poems. If it seems they are keen to accept any and all work, it may be down to them wanting a wider selection to choose and steal from. The wider the net, the more fish they will get. Don't get caught.



Why Specifications Are Good


Perimeters – for example word limits and theme - challenge writers to produce good results even when restricted and this helps find deserving winners. Competitions, by nature, are competitive and you should feel a sense of quality and order as you peruse the guidelines. Another reason could be they are looking to publish a collection of pieces under one theme, however this is something that should be made clear up front and the author credits of your addition should never be removed from you.



Less Than Professional Websites


It is easy to be fooled by a website, but it is still worth checking. As already mentioned, organisations running a writing competition with any form of reward, monetary or publicity, typically create a working, appealing website that goes beyond a page or two. From workability, accessibility, ease of reading, item placements, and overall quality of the content, a website can throw up numerous red flags.



Website Check - Questions To Ask:


  • Does this site look somewhat professional?


  • Do all links and tabs work appropriately?


  • Is it written in excellent English, or other language your submission is to be written in?


  • Does e mail or postal addresses check out on a map search?


  • How old is the domain?



When To Take The Risk


What does your gut say? When you are not convinced by the stranger behind the name, it is best to trust your instincts and avoid them. If you do still want to enter, only send in something you would not lose sleep over if someone stole it. Good practice is to post sections of the piece online where posts are dated - never in full and never somewhere obvious - in case you need proof you wrote it first. Hopefully these warning signs and tips make you feel more capable spotting deceptive competitions in future, and please do not let a few bad ones stop you from taking part in the world of legitimate writing competitions. Check out some of our own verified upcoming writing competitions over in our Challenge Central section!


If you follow We Got Story on Instagram, you will likely already know we are huge advocates of a good, old fashioned writing competitions. We even have a section on this site that will let you know of upcoming contests you can get involved in! And why not? Participating in a writing competitions is an incredible way to challenge yourself, from working to a theme or a deadline to trying on new narrative methods or genres. Winning is a fantastic bonus, but is by no means the real reason writers - both published and unpublished - jump at getting involved. Yet, as with most things in this world, there are always those who want to turn something positive into a selfish gain. In this case, we're talking about those who set up fake writing competitions and fool countless aspiring authors in the process. As someone who researches thousands of writing competitions annually, I want to share with you some handy knowledge I've picked up that will help you spot the fakes online.


Why Set Up Fake Competitions To Begin With?


Let's be clear: fake competitions are scams and, like other scams, they want to get something from you that ordinarily you would not freely give. In the case of writing competitions, they want your best products of writing. Whether it be from something specific such as a given topic, style or inspiration source to anything at all, they want you to put in the work so they don't have to. And what do they do with it? Most of the time, they compile all the fake competition entries into a book and sell it online as their own work. Others may enter the best entries into real competitions or use them as part of their own writing portfolios. Regardless of what their goal is, the result is the same for the writer who was scammed: their hard work was stolen and they have no way of knowing what has happened to it after they press submit. Let's consider some warning signs we can look out for.



Setting Private, Short Time Frames


A direct message or e mail urging you to send in an entry within days, especially implying other writers might fill up available slots, is a key method of getting writers to panic-act without taking the time to think clearly. Often, they want a lot of work fast so they can dissolve the scam quickly - they are less likely to be caught this way! A real competition will be far less demanding, with deadlines made public and time frames reasonable. Legitimate organisations avoid focusing on your competition. They want to bolster your confidence, not lay on extra pressure to act as if you have 'serious competition' inches from pushing you out of the running.



New Accounts/Websites:


Be wary of anything under 6 months old: scammers often repeat the trick under new names and usually don’t stay active with each round longer than half a year. Accounts with little original content that only dates back a few months may signal a recently invented front. Google the organisation name to ensure the details are the same. Use online tools to find the age of their website. We recommend DupliChecker's Domain Age Checker. Websites can be set up quick but designing a full website takes time, so one-or-two-page sites indicate not much real attention has been given to its creation.



Hold Back


Young accounts that do not interact within their theme community or post original content should not be asking for submissions. They have established no foundation or brand and haven't earned your trust. Original content does not include reposts, screenshot-and-cropped images, or generic, lazy pieces. Content should be researched, well-designed and carefully written work that is clearly from them and not some secondary source. How do you know if they are engaging within their online community? If they have social media, take a look at who they follow - is there a theme linking the accounts together, or are they mostly from different niches? Click on a few accounts they follow and look for signs they have interacted lately. A low-give, high-take ratio is happening, they aren't as trusted as they claim.



One-Way Affiliations


Some fake competitions claim to be supported by/affiliated with another (more reputable) organisation or company. Check these claims! Their partner should say something similar in return if it is real. Take a look at their websites or social media feed for mentionings of this so-called partnership. A lack of reciprocation implies the links were invented to make the competition appear more powerful or legitimate. Many big-name companies have dedicated teams on social media communications, so there's no harm in sending a message if you want to be sure.



Broad Scopes


Most competitions set word/line limits, specify a theme or genre, or at least separate stories from poems. If it seems they are keen to accept any and all work, it may be down to them wanting a wider selection to choose and steal from. The wider the net, the more fish they will get. Don't get caught.



Why Specifications Are Good


Perimeters – for example word limits and theme - challenge writers to produce good results even when restricted and this helps find deserving winners. Competitions, by nature, are competitive and you should feel a sense of quality and order as you peruse the guidelines. Another reason could be they are looking to publish a collection of pieces under one theme, however this is something that should be made clear up front and the author credits of your addition should never be removed from you.



Less Than Professional Websites


It is easy to be fooled by a website, but it is still worth checking. As already mentioned, organisations running a writing competition with any form of reward, monetary or publicity, typically create a working, appealing website that goes beyond a page or two. From workability, accessibility, ease of reading, item placements, and overall quality of the content, a website can throw up numerous red flags.



Website Check - Questions To Ask:


  • Does this site look somewhat professional?


  • Do all links and tabs work appropriately?


  • Is it written in excellent English, or other language your submission is to be written in?


  • Does e mail or postal addresses check out on a map search?


  • How old is the domain?



When To Take The Risk


What does your gut say? When you are not convinced by the stranger behind the name, it is best to trust your instincts and avoid them. If you do still want to enter, only send in something you would not lose sleep over if someone stole it. Good practice is to post sections of the piece online where posts are dated - never in full and never somewhere obvious - in case you need proof you wrote it first. Hopefully these warning signs and tips make you feel more capable spotting deceptive competitions in future, and please do not let a few bad ones stop you from taking part in the world of legitimate writing competitions. Check out some of our own verified upcoming writing competitions over in our Challenge Central section!


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