Contest Alert: First One Publishing’s Writing Contest

Writer BewarePosted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I’m behind the eight ball with this post, because home renovation insanity has kept me more or less offline for the past few days. Many other bloggers have beaten me to the punch with commentary on this contest, so there’s already quite a bit of information out there. Apologies if what follows is repetitive of stuff you’ve already seen.

First One Publishing, a new digital publishing venture, has announced a contest to promote its launch. Entries must be novels of up to 65,000 words, and prizes include publication.

There are a number of reasons to be wary of this contest. First, the prizes. Publication is an attractive prize–but First One is new, and not all new publishers make it. First One does have more behind it than many startups–it’s an offshoot of Karen Hunter Publishing, which looks like a fairly well-established independent, and the CEO, Karen Hunter, has a wide and varied background in writing, publishing, and marketing. But it’s a very good idea to adopt a wait-and-see approach with any new publisher until it has been in business, and issuing books, for at least a year–and that includes entering its contests. Plus, First One’s mission statement doesn’t inspire confidence. It is hardly “the first major publisher to put the ebook first” (in fact, it’s hardly a major publisher), or “the first publisher to truly put the focus on the author” (a statement that’s depressingly reminiscent of clueless publishing ventures started by bitter writers who think they can do better than the evil publishers that rejected them)–and how many times have we seen that “welcome to the future of publishing” line from a digital startup? Digital isn’t the future–it’s what’s happening now.

Second, the entry fee. At $149, it can best be described as ridiculous. Even the various “indie” book contests, which will set you back a fair chunk of change, don’t charge that much.

Third and most egregious, this clause from the contest guidelines:

All submissions become sole property of Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned. 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. Entries that contain copyrighted material must include a release from the copyright holder.

I’m not as concerned as other commentators about the first sentence of these guidelines. It’s a fairly common contest provision, and it just means that the contest sponsor takes physical possession of entries, and doesn’t have to return them to the authors. It doesn’t really belong in a contest where submissions are digital, rather than on paper–but it’s not intended to refer to intellectual property.

I’m not overly concerned about the last sentence of the guidelines, either. The language is vaguer than it should be, but I’m pretty sure that by “copyrighted material,” what’s meant is not the contest entry itself, but any material included in the contest entry that’s written by others. In other words, the intent of this sentence is similar to that of the clauses in publishing contracts that require authors to obtain releases for any copyrighted material they may include in their manuscripts.

But the middle sentence…that’s a big problem. Simply by entering this contest, entrants are granting First One Publishing the right to use their entry in any manner whatsoever–including publishing it–for the life of copyright and without compensation or notice. It’s not quite a surrender of copyright, but it’s pretty close.

In other words: if you enter this contest, kiss your work goodbye. Yet another reason to always read the fine print–and to read it all the way through. The offending clause is included at the very end of the guidelines, under the heading “Legal Information,” which many people might be tempted to skip.

A discussion thread about the contest at Absolute Write triggered indignant responses–though no apparent changes in policy–from the publisher, Karen Hunter. If you don’t want to wade through the whole thread, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books provides a handy summary.