Writing Contest in Omaha — Scam?

Laila reports that the Zoo Prize Short Fiction contest has been canceled. But here’s the rub: all the writers who submitted their work (some 350) won’t get their $25 entry fees refunded. Even with Michael Curtis’s involvement, this strikes me as a potential scam, particularly since the money ended up going towards a full-page ad in the Atlantic Monthly — hardly the literary celebration that the writers expected. To cover its ass, the Zoo Press page reports that “Zoo Press reserves the right to withhold the Award in any given year.”

But if we do the math, 350 X $25 = $8,750. It’s too late in my time zone to call the Atlantic’s advertising department to try and confirm placement of the ad. But I will call them tomorrow morning. A full-page ad, according to this resource, costs $40,480.

The man behind this operation is Neil Azevedo. Some casual Googling reveals that Mr. Azevedo has been published in The Paris Review and The New Criterion. However, it may be worthwhile for the 350 writers to make their presence known to these and other publications. If Mr. Azevedo has a history of taking the money of writers and using it to promote (or in this case, partially subsidize) his own interests, then he needs to be called on it.

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  1. Like I said, I emailed him to give him a chance to answer some of the questions raised by the cancellation. But boy I know quite a few people who are quite angry and want their money back pronto.

  2. Hmm. Zoo Press cancels their fiction contest just as they release Jeff Tweedy’s book of poetry. The pieces are all starting to come together…

  3. This is an annual occurance with the AWP Novel prize. I don’t know what happened this past year, but there were two or three years in a row that they didn’t feel any work justified being published. No refunds there either.

  4. Having recently judged a contest myself, I can understand withholding a prize if the quality of the work is truly below par. However…

    I’m not sure if Zoo Press’s ass is covered by their clause “right to withhold” since that’s not the case here. Not only did they completely blow the money, they falsely led those of us who entered (and yup, I was one of them) that all was well–they were swamped with entries.

    What REALLY angers me is that they had the gall to ask those of us who entered for MORE money. As compensation, Zoo Pres will mail two books of poetry I’ll probably never read–if, and only if, I mail them $1.42 for shipping. Nice.

    And I have yet to hear from Neil Azevedo myself, but whenever and wherever possible, I’m making myself heard about this incident. Zoo Press had a very good reputation until this. I seriously wonder if they’ll ever get it back. I have a letter ready to go out to Poets and Writers magazine–and The Atlantic Monthly.

  5. The funny thing is that all it takes is a return phone call from Azevedo to, if not necessarily square things away, then to clarify. If he was honest about the situation, saying that he didn’t plan on refunding the money and that it was there in the clause, then he’d at least come clean with his intentions. But the fact of the matter is that he’s avoiding all queries. Calls from me, calls from Laila, calls from writers who entered the contest. And that sets a bad precedent which digs him further into the hole.

  6. Like Kerry, I was one of the unlucky 350 entrants. Like Laila, I have emailed Mr. Azevedo and have not gotten any response. I’m certainly not interested in getting two free books of poetry, and having to pay yet more money to cover the shipping costs. I do wish there was opportunity for legal recourse here (though Maud Newton has already covered that ground). In a career already rife with rejection by its very nature, it’s a shame that writers have to be treated unfairly by a contest that, considering the link with C. Michael Curtis, appeared to be legitimate. Knowing that the funds were spent on promotion doesn’t assuage matters. Sadly, it leaves all involved with a very sour taste.

  7. And yet another lie from Zoo Press!

    This is what ZP had to say in their email to contestants:

    Unfortunately, the entry fees for the relatively few number of submissions we received went toward promoting the prizes;(specifically we received approximately 350 submissions for two prizes
    totaling less than $10,000, which we put into a full page ad in the Atlantic Monthly and two other smaller email campaigns, to our financial loss).

    I just heard from the advertising department at the Atlantic Monthly–there was no full-page ad. They took out a 1/2 page verticle ad (digest size)in the September, 2003 issue. I’m waiting to hear back from AM about the cost.

  8. To my mind, the clause that reserves the right to “not award” doesn’t apply in our case. When a contest does this, they have *read* all the manuscripts and decided that none was suitable for publication, or they picked finalists but the final judge didn’t feel good enough to back any of them.

    In our case, we paid 25.00 to NOT have our manuscript even read or considered. And in that case, we most certainly deserve a refund.

    I know several people who entered last year and also lost their money. This, after Zoo Press announced that they had so many applicants last year they needed more time to award a winner. What a bunch of crap.

    I’ve contacted Poets and Writers and they are interested in this story. (You may recall they recently published several articles on contests.) I have also contacted websites that advertise for Zoo Press and told them of this story. I have contacted Zoo Press, but have not heard any response.

  9. Did anyone happen to see that Zoo Press is also sponsoring a novel competition, deadline July of this year, judge C Michael Curtis? There is a 25.00 fee for entry, with a disclaimer that the fee is “non-refundable.”

    I googled this contest and only found a few references to it, so it looks like it’s new. I have this terrible fear that the same thing will happen to entrants of the novel contest and really do believe Azevedo is a scam artist.

    Please do whatever you can to spread the word.

    Kind regards,

  10. Not exactly helping the struggling writer

    So what if you entered a fiction contest, paid a $25 entry fee, then became informed that the contest would be discontinued? You might expect a refund, right? Well, a reader sent word that entrants of Zoo Press’s recent contest…

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