Where Personal and Professional Life Collide...

My life in 8 words: Organized chaos, by preference. Exhausting, but never boring

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I don't know why this set me off, particularly, but it did....
brain.  hurts.
So this came up on my Twitterfeed:

RT @mightymur THIS IS WHY YOU READ BORING LEGAL CRAP (esp. in writing contests!) http://bit.ly/e2kiHa (read clause 13.

And so, of course, I went and looked.


I have no idea who First One Digital Publishing is - their "about us" claims "First One Publishing is the first major publisher to put the ebook first." Really? Aside from how they claim to be a "major publisher" that is going to be a surprise to a lot of other ebook-first publishers already established.... (and I'm not even going to touch their proud announcement that they will "feature product placement within the books." No word on if the author gets to decide what products, or if they see any remuneration from that placement)

The president, Karen Hunter, has a very impressive list of credentials, including a Pulitzer....and if you scroll down you see that she "served for four years on the editorial board of The News, where she was a member of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize- and Polk Award-winning teams." Which may or may not be like being one of 13 producers of a Tony-winning show. She is also the head of Karen Hunter Publishing, which seems to have an interesting, Black-focused list...

which, looking at the selections, makes the cynic in me think she got a bunch of her interesting friends to work with her on projects larger houses wouldn't take. Nothing wrong with that...but call it what it is, a special-projects press. Is First One Digital different?

Now, mind you, I would be perfectly willing to cut any new press some slack, because a lot of what gets said is hyperbole and puffery and you can still have a decent small press underneath. However, we then come to this:

"First One Publishing will launch with a contest, a search for the next great story teller. We will do a worldwide viral search that will culminate in a digital publishing deal and a global marketing campaign for the winner."

And thence to the tweet that set me on this journey.

First of all, the header on the contest page is "Who wants to be an author?" Which is, to me, a major warning sign. Not "Calling all writers" but "who wants to be an author?" I have a rant about the important difference in the two words, but I'll save that for another time. Moving on.

The contest is open to completed manuscripts between 35,000-80,000 words, fiction and nonfiction, any genre, no childrens' books. A little short on the low end, but okay....

All works must be original. Okay. All works must be prose (no poetry), okay. And then we get to #3: # The contest is open to nonprofessional writers who are legal residents of the United States over the age of 18 as of February 1, 2011. (emphasis mine). Um.... all right. Not unpublished, but non-professional. To me, that's a warning sign, because it's saying "we don't want anyone who has done their homework." Danger, Will Robinson.

#4: Entries must not be more than 65,000 words long and must not have been previously published. Okay...but didn't they just say up to 80,000 words? Yes, yes they did.

Only in English, okay. Only submit one manuscript, okay. $149 fee to enter... okay, that's steep, and "must be paid online before manuscript is accepted."

If you're still interested in the contest after this, god bless you, as my ex mother in law used to say.

If you win? Well you get both digital and "terrestial" publication (I thought they were focused on ebooks?) plus $5,000 and a marketing tour. 20 other people will get a digital-only contract, no money.

All right, so far it's raised my eyebrows a bit, and definitely not something I would recommend to an aspiring novelist, but nothing has set off a serious warning bell. And then we get to clause 13. I am going to highlight a few bits for you, with comments.

13. LEGAL Information

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. [translation: whatever you send them, they own. They are, by these terms, not legally obligated to pay you anything...no matter what they do with your work. This? Is not how a professional publisher works. End of story.]

In the event that there is an insufficient number of entries received that meet the minimum standards determined by the judges, all prizes will not be awarded. [Despite taking money, they are under no obligation to produce a winner. But they still are claiming legal right to whatever you submitted.]

By entering, entrants release judges and Sponsor(s), and its parent company, subsidiaries, production, and promotion agencies from any and all liability for any loss, harm, damages, costs, or expenses, including without limitation properly damages, personal injury, and/or death arising out of participation in this contest, the acceptance, possession, use or misuse of any prize, claims based on publicity rights, defamation or invasion of privacy, merchandise delivery, or the violation of any intellectual property rights, including but not limited to copyright infringement and/or trademark infringement.

["and no matter what happens, you can't sue us. Or get your manuscript back."]

Thank you, and good night.

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Sad thing is, there will always be naive writers wanting to 'break into' the publishing world who'll fall for this, hook, line and sinker and not fully comprehend the ramifications of clause 13.

And that's why I feel obligated to stop and say something. Trust me, I had other plans for Friday night....

*goes off to do those plans*

Wow. They get 34 entries, and they can turn that entry fee right around and give it to the winner.

Will this spur a Practical Meerkat entry?

Sounds like a job for Atlanta Nights. Except for that $149 part.

Did you ping Writer Beware on this one? The "publisher"'s name is ringing a faint bell.


Though I probably wouldn't have gotten as far as clause 13; some of the wording was setting my nerves on edge, but I would have bailed by the time I got to the fee. I'm not going to pay that much for a guaranteed shot at publication from a name I recognize, much less a chance at possible publication from a name I haven't heard.

But still. Clause 13 is ... very twitch-inducing.

I kind of doubt that release clause is actually enforceable, but how many entrants could afford to take it court?

That soft squishy popping noise was the sound of my head exploding.

You know, for those of us running author-friendly small presses, with no scams, no dirty laundry, and the feeling that, in publishing, money is supposed to flow from the publisher towards the writer, this entire contest BS thing of theirs reeks to high heaven.

::Headdesk multiple times:: That has scam written all over it. No good.


I am sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing as a warning to other writers. Keep writing!

er, this "didn't happen to me." I saw the posting and investigated as a jaded member of the reality-based publishing community.

Thank you for sharing this. They would have lost me at the $149 entry fee, but the rights grab is scary. I hope they don't get anyone submitting.

Thank you for advertising this scam. People who pray on writers are disgusting!

I don't have a problem with the entry fees generating the prize money. I've seen this type of contest and figure "why not?"

But...you PAY them to enter--and they GET YOUR BOOK FOREVER?

Honestly, would ANYONE be that stupid?

Of course, there are those that just won't read the fine print. They will see 'contest and publish' and take the risk, totally non-suspecting.

This has got to be illegal. It just has to.

Did anyone else notice there is no contact info on their site? At least none that I could find.

No submission sguidelines
No "reply" buttons to their blogs.


This makes vanity publishing look almost legitimate. Scary thing is someone is going to fall for it without reading the fine print.

Someone is paying attention to this, because I checked the website, and both pages now specify entries up to 65,000. Hope you didn't have to pay First One for that change!

The con artists"publishers" behind this contest are now trying to defend themselves over on Absolute Write.

Did they change Rule 13? I tried to join just to comment-but it won't let me.

Apparently no one has a problem with giving up all rights to their work forever?

Apparently no one has a problem with giving up all rights to their work forever?

er... the reactions here and elsewhere would suggest that many people have a problem with that...

I love the whole "worldwide search bit", followed by "open to US residents only". While it's certainly not the most outrageous thing in there, it does give you an idea of the spirit of bullshit in which the whole thing was created.

You make a number of good points- but the one which amused me was how they're running a world-wide contest in the US.

Yup. They're doing a "worldwide viral search", but all applicants must be legal US residents. It seems they have a rather fuzzy understanding of the meaning of "worldwide".

Anyway, definitely a very dodgy deal. I hope they don't get too many people falling for it.

I suspect they would CYA as "a worldwide search for US citizens..."

It's pretty clear a lawyer with no understanding of publishing wrote this up for maximum protection for the client, and didn't consider the specific requirements of the industry. This is also why having your family lawyer look over a publishing contract rarely ends well...

Actually that's specifically because it's a contest, rather than a call for submissions. There are specifics rules/laws governing contests. One of the reasons why it's specifically void in Qu&eactue;bec and Puerto Rico is because, if it was opened to those two locations, they would be obligated by law to accept submissions in French and Spanish.

This is sad. This surely serves as a wake up call to other writers out there. Thank you for sharing this!

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