Alert: America’s Next Author Contest

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

On Wednesday, I blogged about high entry fee awards schemes. Today, I’m going to discuss another potential awards trap: non-optimal entry rules.

eBookMall is a veteran ebook retailer, one of the very first (it was founded before the turn of the century). Now it’s hosting an awards program called America’s Next Author, which it is promoting heavily via email and advertising.

ANA, for English-language short stories of between 2,500 and 5,000 words, bills itself as “the first real social writing contest.” Winners are selected “based on a unique combination of votes from readers and publishing industry experts” (cue vote lobbying). There are eight nomination rounds; three finalists are chosen based on their Author Ranking (cue more vote lobbying, although, per the official contest rules, entrants are prohibited from offering “inducements to members of the public”).

The finalists then battle to the death (well, figuratively):

[T]he authors of these stories will compete head-to-head during two special writing assignments. These authors will battle against each other in a brief but intense bout of writing competition for the Grand Prize of $5000, worldwide press coverage, and the chance to be published.

In fact, not just the chance to be published. Actual publication. Per Clause 5 of the contest rules, simply  entering the contest constitutes a grant of publishing rights to ANA. ANA addresses this in its FAQ:

Why do I have to grant America’s Next Author the publication rights to my story?


Entering a story in America’s Next Author means that your story will be published. The unique nature of this contest is that all stories can be read on the contest website, and they will also be made available as PDF ebooks. This allows visitors to read the stories and vote for their favorite. Without publication, there wouldn’t be a contest!

We’d like to stress that this is a non-exclusive agreement, so you can still publish your story elsewhere. And we do not have any intention of using your story in ways that are not connected to this contest.

Ah, but it’s not quite so simple. Here is the actual wording of Clause 5:

By submitting an Entry you grant eBookMall the publication rights to your Entry during the contest and 12 months after the completion of the contest.

Note that while the FAQ claims that the grant of rights is non-exclusive, the actual wording of the rules doesn’t stipulate this. Grant language ought to be precise.

Note also that most publishers want exclusive publication rights–so for as long as your story is online at ANA, you won’t be able to try and re-sell it. Plus, your prospects for re-publication will be limited, since you’ll only be able to sell the story as a reprint, and most publishers want first-time rights. If you enter this contest, be sure it’s something you want to give up your first rights for.

Note, finally, that you aren’t granting rights just for the duration of the contest, but for a whole year beyond the contest’s end (something the FAQ doesn’t mention, and that eager authors, skimming the dense paragraphs of the rules–or maybe not bothering to read them at all–may miss).

I’m guessing this provision is there because eBookMall wants to leave the contest website up for a year. But what if it decides to use the grant of rights in some other way? Publishing an anthology of contest stories, for instance–which would fit just fine with the FAQ’s assurance that eBookMall “has no intention of using your story in ways that are not connected to this contest.” However, because of the rights you’ve granted, you’d have no control over whether or how your story was included. Nor is there any mention in the contest rules of compensation–so eBookMall would have no obligation to compensate you for this additional use of your intellectual property.

There’s also this, also in Clause 5:

In addition, to the extent that any moral rights (for example, the right to attribution and the right to integrity) apply, you waive (and to the extent that these rights may not be waived, agree irrevocably not to assert) your moral rights in your Entry for purposes of this Contest, including, without limitation, our use of excerpts from your Entry in connection with this Contest.

So pieces of your story, or even your whole story, could be disseminated without your name. And that dissemination could be wide:

Your Story and Excerpts, along with your name, city, and state of residence, and portions of your Entry which relate to the submitted Story, may be posted on any website owned or operated by us or any of our affiliates (“Our Site”), any other website or other online point of presence on any platform through which any products or services available on or through Our Site are described, syndicated, offered, merchandised, or advertised.

I am never enthused by contests that force entrants to to go vote-begging (Google ["America's Next Author" + vote] to see what I mean). $5,000 is certainly a tempting prize, though. If you do decide to enter this contest, be sure you understand the rights you’re giving up, and are comfortable with the ambiguity of that 12-month post-contest publication window.

8 Responses

  1. America's Next Author

    Hi Victoria,
    We would like to clear up this issue with some additional details:

    The rights we claim as America’s Next Author are to publish the submitted stories during the contest and for 12 months after the end of the contest. We are investing a lot in this contest (so do the participants!) and would like the submissions to stay archived so readers can enjoy and compare the stories for free. We have no intention to publish or use the stories outside the context of “America’s Next Author” and eBookMall.com.

    In addition (as is also clarified on our FAQ page), the rights we claim are non-exclusive and only deal with digital publication. All rights remain with the original authors.

    It is unfortunate that some authors have had bad experiences with some fake or fraudulent contests, and we understand that people will become more careful after such an experience. So far over 300 writers have submitted stories and we treat their work with the respect they deserve. If you want to take the plunge and participate: you’re welcome to join!

    - Team America’s Next Author