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I'm Coming Out of the Closet...

...on how I first got published. Let me know if you've heard this one before.

Around the age of 16, I noticed an ad in the paper for a FREE poetry contest that offered $500 to the winner. About a year into writing abstract and angst-filled song lyrics that I called poetry, I decided that I could probably win this contest--not that I was sure of myself or anything.

So I entered the contest. Unfortunately, I did not win the $500 prize. Fortunately, I was the lucky winner of an Honorable Mention certificate, and the company decided to accept the poem for publication in an anthology they were putting together. It only cost like $60. So, of course, I jumped in and bought the anthology and even a coffee cup (pictured below).

However, things started going south once I received the anthology and realized that the poetry in it was not exceptionally good. And when I looked at my poem surrounded by these other poems, I realized my poem probably wasn't particularly gifted either.

Suddenly, I was getting offers to enter another FREE contest. So I sent them my absolute worst poem. It was also an award winner that merited publication. Of course, of course. I felt like such a sucker.

Over the years, this company would send me notifications of contests, gifts I could buy to commemorate my great achievements, offers to spend thousands of dollars attending their prize ceremonies, where I could also win big money.

They were unrelenting, and for over a decade it has been a dark secret hidden in my past. Something I've been ashamed to admit. But no more. I want others who've fallen into this trap to know they're not alone; I want others who could fall into this trap to know what I did not know as a junior in high school: stay away. There's nothing illegal going on, but ethics are thrown out the window, for sure.

If you've had a similar experience or have a "friend" who's gone through this, I definitely encourage you to share.

Best,

Robert

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Yes, I bought the coffee cup. What was I thinking?!? ;)

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