Some companies charge writers a fee to edit, design, and print their work, then retain the rights to that work. These are vanity or subsidy presses. Sometimes they require writers to buy a copy of an anthology in which their work appears. In general these types of companies should be avoided. When a writer pays to have a book published, the writer should retain the rights to the book. On the whole, keep in mind that publishing with vanity presses that charge you a fee usually won’t advance your career, and that traditional publishing companies and legitimate agents don’t charge writers a fee to be published.
A legitimate contest may charge writers an entry fee, usually $10 to $20, to cover the costs of running the contest, prize money, and payment to outside judges. If you are asked to pay for anything else—typesetting, printing, design, or publication in an anthology—the organization sponsoring the contest could be a scam.
If the publisher asks for money—or for the writer to “co-invest” in the publishing venture, be wary. If the publisher is evasive, if there is a lack of information on the website, if they do not have a telephone number, or if the listed number yields only a tape-recorded message, and your phone (or e-mail) queries go unanswered, be cautious. If the publisher makes promises that seem too good to be true, they probably are. Research all potential publishers before submitting your work.
Preditors and Editors can help you identify these scams before you fall victim to them. You can find listings of legitimate writing contests, grants, and awards in the Writing Contests, Grants & Awards database.