satisfaction guaranteed, or no money back.

So there’s this writing contest advertised by a company called “First One Digital Publishing”.  The contest has unusually restrictive rules for entry.  In a nutshell, they require a $150 entry fee, you sign over all the rights to your work even if it doesn’t get picked as a winner, they can use your work any way they want without telling you about it, and you can’t sue them for anything, ever.

Some of the more seasoned writers in my Twitter feed have already written about the dubious nature of that contest.  (Read John Scalzi’s take here, and literary agent Janet Reid’s opinion here, for example.)

To be clear: this writing “contest” is designed to sucker in young and inexperienced writers.  It’s primarily designed to fill the wallet of the organizer via entry fees.  It states right in the rules that if the “judges” determine that not enough entries meet their standards, they don’t have to award any prizes.  They get to keep all entry fees, and the rights to all the manuscripts that were submitted.

(Even if they decide to pick a winner that isn’t a pen name of one of the organizers, fulfilling the “contract” by putting up a Kindle version of the manuscript on Amazon.com costs nothing at all and takes about 15 minutes.  There’s very little overhead to being an e-publisher–hell, I can call myself an e-publisher and put all my manuscripts out as Kindle versions for no cost and with very little labor and time investment.)

To be sure, offering such a contract isn’t illegal.  But it’s also not illegal to point out to others that it’s almost criminally stupid to sign away the right to one’s work forever, and pay the other party good money for it. No matter how this contest turns out, it’s deliberately designed to have only one winner–the person/s who run it.

9 thoughts on “satisfaction guaranteed, or no money back.

  1. og says:

    I’ve been approached by these nutballs before. The entry form used all kinds of complimentary and flowery language to convince the writer he was some kind of literary genius, and oh, boy would we be lucky to get your submission and modest ebtry fee, and after all you want the work to get published and you won’t be needing it so we retain all rights to the work so we can get it out there as often as possible! Aren’t you glad we contacted you?

    I think strapping these nutbags to a folding table and slowly dripping boiling oil on each nerve ending in turn would be a good way to convince them not to do this, but thankfully, talented people are not often duped by this behavior.

  2. perlhaqr says:

    Wow! That’s a brilliant scam! And it plays right on the biggest flaws a certain chunk of the “artistic” crowd. And with the power of the internet, they can reach a huge audience.

    I wonder how many NaNoWriMo entrants they’ll dupe into coughing up $150.

    I’m tempted to try something similar against the over-self-esteemed fools at the art department in the local university, maybe claim the theme is “Capitalism”, and be nice enough to refund the money of anyone who doesn’t turn in a crappy painting of Che. 😉

  3. john b says:

    Good gosh, Marko! At least I’d spring for dinner and dancing beforehand!

  4. Tam says:

    Both links point to Scalzi, BTW…

  5. ILTim says:

    Its an age old scam. There was a similar skit on That 70’s Show once luring girls in to be models, applicant fee, styling fees, photo shoot costs, all to submit a ‘trial’ set of photos at the ‘model’s expense. But you’ll be a star!!!

  6. […] faded into oblivion, what with the massive upheaval in what used to be the music industry. Instead, it migrated over to the book aisle: So there’s this writing contest advertised by a company called “First One Digital […]

  7. Victor Krueger says:

    Maybe a suitable punishment would be to put the organizers in sensory deprivation tanks and then (submissions are text files rather than paper?) have them listen to a text to speech program read each and every submission to them. Over and over. Forever.

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