Alert for Poets: Oprah Wants You (But You May Not Want Oprah)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Oprah. The mere mention of her name sets writers’ (and let’s face it, publishers’) hearts aflutter. Oprah, maker of best sellers. Oprah, whose most offhand endorsement can generate massive sales. What author hasn’t daydreamed about that kind of exposure? What author hasn’t wondered how their life would change if their book became an Oprah pick? Well, other than Jonathan Franzen.

So I’m betting that legions of poets are thrilled by this call for submissions at Oprah’s website.

Poetry—it has the power to excite, encourage, and even sustain us during difficult times. How has poetry made an impact on your life? O, The Oprah Magazine is teaming up with guest editor Maria Shriver for our poetry-themed April issue, which hits newsstands March 15. Send us your original work or a favorite poem that’s especially meaningful to you—Maria will review submissions, and some may appear in the magazine or on this spring.

Sound tempting? Not so fast. There’s a problem: the Terms and Conditions for original submissions, a.k.a. the fine print, to which you consent in full simply by sending in a poem. These appear (in very fine print indeed) below the entry form.

According to Item 2, poets won’t be paid. “Neither Harpo [Oprah’s company] nor any of its affiliated companies or entities are obligated to use or pay you for any Submission.” (My bolding.) For many poets, perhaps, not such a big deal–I’m sure plenty of people will be willing to pass up money in order to be able to add Oprah’s magazine to their publication credits.

But that’s not all. Again, my bolding.

4. All Submissions shall become the property of Harpo, may be edited for length, clarity and/or functionality, will not be subject to any obligation of confidentiality, may be shared with and used by the staff of Harpo and any of their affiliated companies or entities and shared with legal authorities if Harpo believes it warranted. Neither Harpo nor any party with whom Harpo shares the Submissions shall be liable for any use or disclosure of any information or Submission that you submit.

5. Harpo shall exclusively own all known or later existing rights to the Submissions worldwide with the unrestricted right to use the Submissions for any purpose in all media now known or hereafter discovered without compensation to the provider of such Submissions.

What this boils down to:

– Simply by submitting your poem, you grant Oprah’s company and anyone in or affiliated with it the right to use or disclose your submission and any information accompanying it, without limit.

– Simply by submitting your poem, you grant Oprah’s company all rights to your entry, exclusively and worldwide, presumably for the full term of copyright.

Run away.

Recently, a lot of anger was stirred up in the writing community over a contest launched by new publisher First One Publishing, which featured very similar rights grabs. Will any of that outrage be directed Oprah’s way? It will be interesting to see.

Just another reason to read the fine print.


  1. I have a editor in australia telling me to use robert to help get my book published but im now scared of this process after reading your reports.
    could someone contact me via email at to talk about this.


  2. About Publish America:

    I was with them through about 7 books.
    I kept thinking "Maybe next time" when it came to royalty checks. Then I went in on the whole "Why I became an author" bull crap.
    Well, I ended up trying to get out of my contracts. They wanted $350.00 per book they had not yet published (4 total) and $50.00 each for those they had (7 total).
    I emailed every person in that company and shamed them with the mention of God.
    Before I knew it, my contracts were cancelled and sent certified mail from a Jeffery flunky.
    It is almost impossible to get away from them, I had sold quite a few books and was never paid for them, but, this is how I feel about that.
    Just being out of their grasps is enough for me.

  3. I was one of those that thought having Oprah backing my work is all that mattered, that it was the most awesome thing in the universe!
    The devil get's to many people, inside them and what's sad is he loves those who so claim to be righteous and close to God.
    Shame on you Oprah, that's all I'm going to say.

  4. What worries me the most is they encourage people to send in poems that don't belong to them, but are important to them.

    What the heck does that mean for the writer if some well meaning person gives the mag and didn't read the fine print? Do they loose all their rights to their work with a 'tough luck' despite having no call in the matter?

  5. I'd probably pass on the money and rights to a poem Oprah used on her show, network or mag…but I'm wondering if she even credits the poets selected?

    Word verification = tacki 🙂

  6. I almost wonder whether Oprah has SEEN the fine print. The sooner the word spreads about this unfortunate deal, the better. I write fiction for middle-grade readers, not poetry, but I am as disgusted by the 'arrangement' as if I had actually submitted a poem. There's a weak link in every group. The bigger the group, the more chance for things like this to happen. Just my opinion. I can't seem to think of any reason why a big magazine like 0 can't PAY for poems as do most nationally known magazines, and it is unspeakable to claim rights to someone's work in perpetuity, as well as using writers' works, in whole or in part, wherever and whenever this establishment wants to. Be very sure that, having learned about this ripoff, I won't skip over the fine print just because a BigNameMagazine is offering an opportunity….for What?….

  7. Very informative article. The question is, "How many people actually read the fine print?" Does this mean that if your poen is copyrighted and registered with the Copyright Office, you won't have a leg to stand on if you wish to file a suit?

  8. This is an excellent and helpful blog post and a much needed reminder for writers to read the small print when submitting original artwork born of the passion, experience, and talent that they should proudly retain ownership of until they are paid for their hard work.

    Kudos on this blog post. I will be tweeting this and sharing it on facebook and will refer to it on my blog as well.

  9. Very odd – it says you can send in your original work, "or a favourite poem."

    You can't hand over all the rights to something you haven't written in the first place…

  10. That's really interesting, considering Oprah's usual kindness. Taking away your rights and passing out your personal info is not what I would call kind. Then again, I'm betting it's not Oprah who wrote up the fine print.
    Thanks for making the writing community aware of this. 🙂

  11. Aside from the copyright issues (notice coverage of all media yet to be discovered – they learned from publishing contracts that didn't cover Ebooks), Oprah can certainly afford to pay, at least for those selected for publications. Since poetry in general never (?) made anyone wealthy, one wonders why they adopt this position.

    If it were just to promote poetry, a bit of cash-for-publication wouldn't amount to what her entourage spends at Starbucks in a week.

    It sounds very much like those scams that put your poetry in a book for free, or want you to get yourself listed in a pseudo-Who's Who, or an alumni book – all to sell you the book.

    What other way do you see Oprah making money off this deal?

  12. "Not that I cannot generate more poetry, but I sure as hell am not granting Harpo rights in perpetuity to my work."

    It sounds as if you have already done exactly that.

  13. I'm wondering if what's new here is that this all-rights arrangement (you can scarcely call it a contract) applies to *all submissions*, not just to those that are accepted and published?

  14. And they get the right to edit your poetry, at will! I've always been a lousy poet. Now I know why: My poetry is not "functional." Guess I need Harpo to edit it for "functionality."

  15. Were I a poet, I probably would have leaped onto this without thinking because it's for Oprah. Thanks for your attention to detail.

  16. For as long as they have been poetry contests, publishing companies have been putting that disclaimer in. This is not new. I'm not saying it isn't a disgrace, but it isn't new.

  17. Thanks for going so in-depth on this. I'll be paying much closer attention to all contest fine print from now on.

  18. CatSlave sez: No doubt PublishAmerica is brainstorming on how to cash in on this. Apparently the previous money grab ploy of "buy enough of your own books and we'll send one to Oprah" was a disappointment. Stay tuned for the next sales pitch PA sends its authors.

  19. Great analysis of the fine print! Most of us are soooo eager to get noticed, we'd stand at the corner and pass out freebies all day. We need a union!

  20. Crap! I submitted five poems to that link, in the hopes of exposure, as you said.

    Not that I cannot generate more poetry, but I sure as hell am not granting Harpo rights in perpetuity to my work.

  21. NOT a fair deal at all. Thanks for bringing the details to light. I'll share this with my fellow poets so they don't get sucked in!

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