Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Contests with publication as part of the prize

A call for submissions for an award arrived in my inbox. It’s a legitimate award (PEN/Bellwether) with a cash prize as well as a publishing contract. The publishing contract would include an advance, separate from the cash prize.

I do not qualify for this award, but it made me curious about the publishing end of it. I wonder about the advantages of winning an award but losing the option of shopping the work to multiple editors. Looking at the submittable form, there does not appear to be a place to acknowledge that by submitting the work, the author is entering into a contract with the publisher, should the author’s work be chosen.

(1)I doubt you can speak to the particular award, but, does entering a contest like this mean the author must agree to the publishing terms? 
(2) How can the author do that, if they aren’t presented? 
(3) If there is no acknowledgement that the author agrees to the publisher’s terms, can a writer enter the contest, and upon winning, refuse that publisher? 
(4) Can the writer refuse that publisher without ending up on the industry’s Do Not Ever Publish list? 
(5) At what point, if at all, can the writer bring in an agent to help negotiate publishing terms? 
(6) Do awards drive sales?
(7)  Although the MS cannot be under consideration by a publisher when it is entered into the contest, nothing says the writer can't be agented. Does the agent then help negotiate the publishing deal? 
(8) Does the agent get a percentage of the award prize? 
(9)Would you advise a client to enter an award like this? 

I think this wins the prize for most questions asked in one email.
Just as a general note: one email, one question.

Rather than answer each of these, here's an overview of contests that offer publication as a prize.

1. If the terms of publication aren't specified, don't enter. There's nothing worth risking losing the rights to your work.

2. If the contest entry rules don't tell you WHO will publish the work, don't enter. Being published badly is worse than not being published.

3. The contest entry rules should specify what happens if you want to decline the prize (publication.)

There are some very legitimate, well-respected contests that offer publication as the prize. Graywolf Press has three. The PEN/Bellwether, associated with Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, is another. 

But publication by GimmeYerRights LLC isn't the same thing at all.

As with all contests, read the fine print on the entry rules.
And always check Victoria Strauss' Writer Beware site. She collects info on less-than-desirable folks who prey on unwary woodland creatures, as well as well-intentioned but clueless folks who "just want to help writers."


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I feel like many (most?) contests that I see do post the terms, but I can't speak to why that might be. Years ago, it seemed to me that the "litfic" world and the "genre" world couldn't possibly be so vastly different, but it's since become abundantly clear to me that genre is what I'm up to and those are the general submission rules and conventions I'm most familiar with. When I run into things outside of that, I get a little baffled.

AJ Blythe said...

One of these "win a publication" contests I've been considering entering gives you right of refusal to the publication deal. The 2019 first place-getter did just that so there was no winner last year.

It's possible they don't include the terms because it might be something like this. If you win, they offer them and you make a decision.

Craig F said...

A couple of years ago I entered a contest. It was from a southern university and published an anthology yearly with NEA money.

It looked like something tasty at first.

Way down in the ultra-fine print you found the worm. It paid a fifty dollar, one time award. Bigger than that was the fact that your rights would be reverted to you never, ever.

I passed and e-mailed the story to some friends, they passed it on and I now have over 5,000 people who have read it and want more.

Now all I have to do is find a way to prove that.

Abby Harris said...

I feel like I learned a lot from this post. Thank you very much.