Writing Contests and Other Scammy Stuff

Oh dear oh dear oh dear (the words of my Irish grandmother)! How many ways can writers be teased out of their hard work? Let me count the ways.

To begin, there are contests.

To end, there are contests.

Writers are the biggest and easiest marks to be duped by “get published” and “win money” schemes. All you have to promise a writer is “Submit your work and the winner(s) of the contest will receive $1000 AND your work will be published.” Oooh! The temptation! After all, what scratches a writer’s itch more than money and publication?

Recently one such “contest” caught my attention. Mostly because it looked so easy – 1400 words to write a children’s book! Gee, I could knock that off in an afternoon. An hour or two to research the subject, an hour to write it, and another couple of hours to polish it. Piece of cake! AND ALL THAT MONEY AND FAME!

Then I looked at the “guidelines,” “FAQs” and “rules.” That’s where the “oh dears” popped up. First of all, only non-published writers would be accepted. Any writer with any talent has probably had something published somewhere for money (including newsletters and advertising copy) and would be rejected. Secondly, the prize money was not in cash to the writer, but had to be placed in an account with the sponsoring company. Question: how much would be deducted at withdrawal time?

But the biggest red flag, a huge scarlet banner, a humungous crimson pennant, lay in the fine print. In large print were juicy words about the winning entries: professional artists to illustrate your book and professional publishers and prize money $$$ and Internet fame and… just like a red cape before a hungry writer.

The fine print: all rights to your book would be relinquished upon submission to the contest. Those (many many) entries not selected as winners could be used by the contest sponsor any way they wanted: to publish the book themselves, sell to another publisher, or sell over the Internet.

Think for a moment! A writing contest attracts thousands of writers – some good, some not so good – full of ideas. Any decent professional writer could take the ideas of the “losers” and whip them into full-blown books – ready for publication and sales – for themselves. And who gets the profits? Certainly not the writer.

If I sound cynical, it’s because I’ve heard so many sad stories from writers who are struggling with their craft: poems “published” in a cheesy collection, stories claimed by companies that promised a “grand prize” and failed to deliver, books published online for all the world to copy, books tied up in red tape from vanity publishers, ongoing costs by “publishers” who promised to print your book in whatever shape it’s in, and books printed by online rogues without creds. I wring my hands and whisper, “Oh dear, oh dear,” but that’s all anyone can do when writers fall for something that looks “too good to be true.”

Here’s an idea for those writers who feel competent enough to enter a contest such as the sleaze I ran into: hold your own contest! Choose a topic (environment, finance, building construction, trees, rabbits, happiness, sunshine, pyramids, your home state, your best vacation…) and offer moderate prizes or remuneration in copies. (Better yet, confine your entrants to children – they don’t need much money to attract them, they are very talented, and their egos haven’t been developed yet.) List your rules on a website, set a deadline, and get ready for the entries.

But be sure to write in the small print how you’ll receive all the benefits of this contest by retaining the rights of all entries to do with as you please. And count me out!

©Copyright 2007 Val Dumond


About Val Dumond

VAL DUMOND is a writer who is enamored with words and putting them together to tell stories. Trained as a journalist, she also managed an advertising agency and public relations business. She has taught writing classes for many years and now focuses on her own writing, editing for other writers, and helping writers publish their books. She owns Muddy Puddle Press, where most of her books are published. Her favorite writing theme is historical fiction: She has done what-ifs for Klondike Kate — Queen of the Yukon, and the unlucky pilot who in 1933 tried and failed to be the first to fly solo across the Pacific. She also did a what-if about the status of women at a bank where she once was overworked and underpaid. (Kate received a new love interest at the age of 70; the pilot received a second chance at his heart's desire 50 years later; and the women of the bank rebelled enough to improve their wages and place women on the Board of Directors.) See: SUGAR, SPICE, AND STONE; WHEN ROOSTERS FLY; and A LITTLE REBELLION…. But Val's grammar books are the ones that draw attention. Her latest, AMERICAN-ENGLISH—The Official Guide (written for writers), is a culmination of five other books about language she has written. This new book urges writers to develop their own writing style by creating their own Style Manual, composed of preferences among the many choices that American-English provides. In it, she uses examples of uses for the various parts of language and punctuation, sets aside a section that's full of writing tips, includes a glossary and index for easy access to language solutions.
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