Enter With Care

Contests! I love them. I enter as often as possible. Some have taught me helpful things about writing. Some have given me new things to include on my writing resume.

There are a few short and sweet contests held by agents that I’ve entered in the hope of drawing attention to my writing. One gave me feedback from a professional and from other entrants.

Sadly, I stopped entering one contest because the fee was higher than most and the prize wasn’t commensurate.

Today I checked into two other contests. One, I’d love to enter, but I’d be in over my head. The other, I learned about because an agent, Janet Reid, warned against it.

Turns out it is a novel contest — for some reason, when I was reading the agent’s post, I thought it was for a short story, maybe because that’s the kind of contest I’ve entered lately.

As Ms. Reid warned, there is an entry fee, this one considerably higher than any I’ve seen for any other contest — $149.00. But that’s not why she was warning writers away. In the final Contest Rules point called “LEGAL Information” this:

By submitting an entry, all entrants grant Sponsor the absolute and unconditional right and authority to copy, edit, publish, promote, broadcast, or otherwise use, in whole or in part, their entries, in perpetuity, in any manner without further permission, notice or compensation.

You read that correctly. ALL entrants. If you send them your work, they own it. You might not win a thing, but they win your novel. Now, remember, entrants PAY to submit their work, so essentially, if someone enters this contest, he is PAYING someone else to take ownership of his novel.

That, my friends, is a ROYAL rip-off. Most troubling is that people are clicking the “like” button, which makes it appear as if this scam will turn out to be lucrative. I hope not.

Some of the commenters at Ms. Reid’s site pointed out that beginning writers, who seem to be the target of this scam, are least able to absorb the cost and least informed about what these rights issues mean.

Honestly, this reminds me of Superman. If I remember the story correctly (and I just looked it up on Wikipedia for verification), the creators of the character — the writer, Jerry Siegel, and his collaborative artist, Joe Shuster — sold Superman to Detective Comics, Inc. which later became DC Comics. As the popularity of the series grew, Siegel tried to regain his rights to the character. He lost.

In 1975, with the Superman movies on the horizon, he turned to the public (which is how I heard about the story) to protest the fact that he had received no royalties for the lucrative (and soon to become more so) franchise.

A settlement was reached, but after Mr. Siegel passed away, his estate again took the matter to court.

In other words, at best, losing your rights to your work will tie you up in the courts for the rest of your life, and possibly beyond!

The bottom line: no matter how boring, when it comes to contest rules, read every last word and be sure you understand what they are saying. And stay away from contests that take money and take rights. The money alone should be a red flag, but the rights is a giant stop sign.

Published in: on January 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm  Comments (3)  
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