Shady Writing Contest Rules - from the ALA?

At the University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute in April of 2018, I presented a session called “The Winner’s Circle: Are Writing Contests Worth the Fees?”.  I discussed the ways to check if a contest is reputable, which ones are good to enter, and what to do if you win. Later, I expanded on this material and created a 30-minute video, including how to make the most of a contest win, along with a resource sheet. You can acccess this $25 course HERE, or click the image below.

Are Writing Contests Worth the Fees -- a 30-minute Author Pro course.

So, I was already thinking a bit about contests and the warnings I made to my fellow writers about paying careful attention to the pesky fine print. Sometimes the contest rules have the writer sign over the rights to work JUST BY ENTERING!! Yes, it’s true. You would think it would be relatively unknown, shady groups that do this sort of thing. Right?? So, imagine my surprise when I became aware of the Wisconsin Author Project being touted by public libraries across the state as a way for indie authors to gain attention from readers, and was less than pleased with some of the contest terms. 

Wisconsin Author Project Indie Contest -- Writer Beware of Tricky Terms





Here’s the contest announcement language:

“Through the Wisconsin Author Project, made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, libraries are helping local authors get the recognition they deserve for writing great books. Wisconsin residents who are authors of self-published adult or young adult fiction will be invited to submit their work. One winner will receive $1,000, a write-up in Library Journal’s December Best of Books print issue and Library Journal’s Digital Review, be honored at ALA Midwinter 2019 THRIVE event in Seattle, and be invited to speak at the Wisconsin Library Association Annual Conference in October. One runner-up will receive a write-up in Library Journal’s Digital Review and an invitation to speak at the Wisconsin Library Association Annual Conference in October.

Submissions are due June 30th. The submitted books will be reviewed by staff at Library Journal and by members of a WLA committee. The winner and runner up with be announced this fall.”  From the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium website 

Okay, so far so good. You are seeing reputable group along with a nice prize package. You click on the contest link and, in addition, to the prize listing you see who is eligible.

Each book that is sumbitted to the contest must be:

  • Self-published
  • In an adult or young adult fiction genre
  • Written by a Wisconsin resident
  • Available in either ePUB or PDF file.

Again, so far so good. When you click on “Submit Your Work” . . .the first step is TERMS. The scary part starts in number 1.

"This Community Content Portal Service License Agreement (the “Agreement”) is between the author, owner or creator submitting work (“Creator”), the library whose portal the Creator submitted the Work, as defined below, (the “Library”), and BiblioLabs, LLC (“BL”). Under this Agreement, the Creator grants the Library and BL certain rights as defined below to the work created or owned by the Creator and any meta-data (collectively, the “Work”) and provided by Creator to the Library and BL.

Grant of Rights. Creator hereby grants to the Library and BL a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide right to receive, store, use, reproduce, distribute, display, market, import, export, download and upload, compile with other similar works in a derivative work, and transmit the Work, in whole or in part, in such tangible and electronic formats, sublicense to any third-party publishing platform or distribution platform (“Sublicensee”), as may be in existence now or developed in the future, specifically and exclusively to public libraries (“Public Libraries”). Public Libraries shall mean any library (whether physical or electronic), which is operated or funded by any national, federal, state, local, municipal, public service district, quasi-governmental agency, nonprofit entity, or to which the general public may have access without the payment of a subscription or similar fee. Creator further grants to the Library and BL the right to include an abstract, annotation or description, bibliography and other appropriate metadata in any index and/or finding products or services of the Library or BL, a Sublicensee, or alternative third-party service used by the Library, BL or a Sublicensee. The rights granted herein are perpetual."

RED FLAGS everywhere . . . by entering you’re giving your e-book free to libraries to distribute to their readers. In all fairness, you might choose to do that as a writer to get readers interested in your work. I’ve made the first book in my series free for a limited time to gain readership. But this isn’t the only way to get your work into libraries. (I’ve written about that before in the October Writers’ Forum.)

But that isn’t the most egregious phrase. Reading on, you get to the phrase “compile with other similar works in a derivative work” … What!? Yes, they reserve the right to take your story and combine it with other works that you have no control over. I assume this might be some sort of collection of stories that are alike, but that should always remain under the author’s sole control.

In the final line, the rights granted herein are perpetual.  Although further down the page you read a clause that states that with 180-days notice you can remove your work from this agreement.  

"Rejection and Removal from Program. The Library and BL reserve the right to decline publishing or to reject for publication an Creator’s Work. The Library and BL reserve the right to REMOVE any Work from the Library, BL or a Sublicensee’s platform, at any time for any reason or no reason at all. Should Creator subsequently seek to revoke the license granted herein, Creator must provide an express, written request, sent by certified mail, directed to BL at the following address:
100 Calhoun Street, Suite 220
Charleston, SC 29401
BL shall, within 180 days of receipt of such request, remove Creator’s work from the BL platform."

And what’s also interesting is what’s missing. There will be a winner and a runner-up, those are the only two books that receive the marketing attention. There’s no assurances or details on how all the other entries will be marketed or catalogued to gain attention from library patrons.

Additionally, the contest isn’t split into sub-genres. All fiction (young adult and adult) is in one large contest category—mystery, thriller, suspense, romance, historical, contemporary, fantasy, paranormal etc. . . all lumped into one category. This seems strange if librarians were involved at all in designing this contest as they are acutely aware of the differences in genres.

Finally, if you are having any success at all with listing your book exclusively with Kindle Select, offering your title for free in this manner likely would violate the exclusivity agreement there. Beware!

This shows you that no matter who the sponsor of a contest is—you absolutely must read EVERYTHING you are agreeing to. It's frustrating to me as an indie author that no one in the ALA or WLA leadership found these terms problematic in advance of this contest announcement. 

If you’ve come across other contests with tricky language, please comment below to help your fellow writers navigate away from sticky terms that could be harmful in the long run.






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