Alert: Author-Unfriendly Rules at America’s Next Author Contest

On Wednesday, I blogged about high entry fee awards schemes. Today, I’m going to discuss another potential awards trap: non-optimal entry rules.

eBookMall is a veteran ebook retailer, one of the very first (it was founded before the turn of the century). Now it’s hosting an awards program called America’s Next Author, which it is promoting heavily via email and advertising.

ANA, for English-language short stories of between 2,500 and 5,000 words, bills itself as “the first real social writing contest.” Winners are selected “based on a unique combination of votes from readers and publishing industry experts” (cue vote lobbying). There are eight nomination rounds; three finalists are chosen based on their Author Ranking (cue more vote lobbying, although, per the official contest rules, entrants are prohibited from offering “inducements to members of the public”).

The finalists then battle to the death (well, figuratively):

[T]he authors of these stories will compete head-to-head during two special writing assignments. These authors will battle against each other in a brief but intense bout of writing competition for the Grand Prize of $5000, worldwide press coverage, and the chance to be published.

In fact, not just the chance to be published. Actual publication. Per Clause 5 of the contest rules, simply  entering the contest constitutes a grant of publishing rights to ANA. ANA addresses this in its FAQ:

Why do I have to grant America’s Next Author the publication rights to my story?

Entering a story in America’s Next Author means that your story will be published. The unique nature of this contest is that all stories can be read on the contest website, and they will also be made available as PDF ebooks. This allows visitors to read the stories and vote for their favorite. Without publication, there wouldn’t be a contest!

We’d like to stress that this is a non-exclusive agreement, so you can still publish your story elsewhere. And we do not have any intention of using your story in ways that are not connected to this contest.

Ah, but it’s not quite so simple. Here is the actual wording of Clause 5:

By submitting an Entry you grant eBookMall the publication rights to your Entry during the contest and 12 months after the completion of the contest.

Note that while the FAQ claims that the grant of rights is non-exclusive, the actual wording of the rules doesn’t stipulate this. Grant language ought to be precise.

Note also that most publishers want exclusive publication rights–so for as long as your story is online at ANA, you won’t be able to try and re-sell it. Plus, your prospects for re-publication will be limited, since you’ll only be able to sell the story as a reprint, and most publishers want first-time rights. If you enter this contest, be sure it’s something you want to give up your first rights for.

Note, finally, that you aren’t granting rights just for the duration of the contest, but for a whole year beyond the contest’s end (something the FAQ doesn’t mention, and that eager authors, skimming the dense paragraphs of the rules–or maybe not bothering to read them at all–may miss).

I’m guessing this provision is there because eBookMall wants to leave the contest website up for a year. But what if it decides to use the grant of rights in some other way? Publishing an anthology of contest stories, for instance–which would fit just fine with the FAQ’s assurance that eBookMall “has no intention of using your story in ways that are not connected to this contest.” However, because of the rights you’ve granted, you’d have no control over whether or how your story was included. Nor is there any mention in the contest rules of compensation–so eBookMall would have no obligation to compensate you for this additional use of your intellectual property.

There’s also this, also in Clause 5:

In addition, to the extent that any moral rights (for example, the right to attribution and the right to integrity) apply, you waive (and to the extent that these rights may not be waived, agree irrevocably not to assert) your moral rights in your Entry for purposes of this Contest, including, without limitation, our use of excerpts from your Entry in connection with this Contest.

So pieces of your story, or even your whole story, could be disseminated without your name. And that dissemination could be wide:

Your Story and Excerpts, along with your name, city, and state of residence, and portions of your Entry which relate to the submitted Story, may be posted on any website owned or operated by us or any of our affiliates (“Our Site”), any other website or other online point of presence on any platform through which any products or services available on or through Our Site are described, syndicated, offered, merchandised, or advertised.

I am never enthused by contests that force entrants to to go vote-begging (Google [“America’s Next Author” + vote] to see what I mean). $5,000 is certainly a tempting prize, though. If you do decide to enter this contest, be sure you understand the rights you’re giving up, and are comfortable with the ambiguity of that 12-month post-contest publication window.


  1. The newest scam seems to be writing contests. Send us money and we'll read you stuff and you may win. Lottery tickets anyone?
    In defense of America's Next Author though, I entered a writing contest with Writer's Digest and I get a daily barrage of webinars and books about stuff I already know about or have mastered.
    America's Next Author has been trying to fleece me like Writer's Digest. Tell me something I don't already know ok Writer's Digest? And stop trying to sell me stuff everyday.
    You must think we're all suckers.

  2. Thanks so much for commenting, Kate. I hope this all turns out well for you–either way, please let us know what happens.

  3. I entered the America's Next Author contest and won!

    Except that it's been 37 days since the announcement and I haven't seen a cent of the $5000 prize. After weeks of dealing with their press relations person and getting contradictory information about when the transfer would be made and how, the executive of the company finally decided to get involved.

    Last night the Managing Director, Martijn Leenders sent me a screen shot of a test transfer they made last Thursday (5 weeks after the announcement) for $100. Every piece of data on the screen shot was wrong, ranging from the spelling of my name to my account number. Even the bank branch number and institution number were missing. He asked me to have my bank trace the transfer, but my bank says there is not enough information even for the $100 to leave their home bank.

    It is not clear what kind of document the screen shot was from, but there's no indication it was from an Internet banking site.

    This morning, Martijn told me another test transfer will be made and I should have that within 7 days. Then, they'll send the rest of the $5K. I will have to wait another 7 days for that. I'm sure there are lots of alternatives they could explore, but what does my poor-writer financial stress mean in the grand scheme of things compared to very slow corporate procedures? I sure wish I could have my bank call the eBookMall executives every day until my overdraft is paid back. Then, they might understand what this experience has been like!

  4. Thanks for the warning, it is a rather generous rights assignment, but I suppose getting your name out there costs somehow. I entered my story not so much in hope of winning as to get out there a story which I wanted to have an audience. The feedback has been really encouraging, American readers have been very kind. But I am Sorry that now I have got some confidence in it that I might not have the same chances to publish it elsewhere. Still, if I hadn't submitted it I wouldn't have known how well readers would receive it, so that's a win, of sorts!

  5. Wow! I would love to have advertising space on that site. With everyone in it asking everyone they know (and don't) to stop by and vote… that's a lot of hits.

  6. America's Next Author Contest is not a contest. A contest is a competition where the winner is judged based on skill and the quality of the entry. That is not happening here. This is a sweepstakes where entries are selected on how well they can garner votes or game the system.
    Of all the alleged writing contests I've seen any that require votes from anyone other than a qualified judge is not a contest, it is a scheme to garner traffic and membership for the sponsoring sites. So because they are not true contests the next great American novel can lose to a poorly written fanfic vampire tale because the writer rallies the support of their high school to game the system. Don't expect much if you enter and don't be disappointed if you don't win.

  7. I guess it really depends on what you want to get out of the contest. I just entered and being an unpublished author who hasn't really had the motivation to put myself out there….it gave me an assignment and a deadline which I found inspirational and I really enjoyed the experience. For me….I feel like I already won. I think it can help direct unpublished authors to find their own voices.

    It doesn't necessarily have to be taken SO seriously. If you haven't published anything and it's only a short story…what harm could it really do?

  8. Quote:

    "In addition, to the extent that any moral rights (for example, the right to attribution and the right to integrity) apply, you waive (and to the extent that these rights may not be waived, agree irrevocably not to assert) your moral rights in your Entry for purposes of this Contest, including, without limitation, our use of excerpts from your Entry in connection with this Contest."

    If the "right to integrity" clause means anything like what I think it may, you would not only be permitting the contest organizers to remove your name, but to change the content of your work in any way they please.

    Not cool.

  9. I don't care how good the prize is, this doesn't seem any better than writer derbies or freelance gigs that want you to write a specific 'sample' to apply. Bottom line to me seems to be that they feel perfectly okay about using writers to make both marketing and financial gain. I'd pass on this one for sure.
    Writer Chick

  10. I can see how people think of this as "smelly," but it was all up front in the rules. Basically it boils down to "don't give them your baby." Don't enter a story that you plan to re-market and eventually sell elsewhere.

    I'm in, and I embraced it partly because it IS a popularity contest. We're judged not just on our story, but on how well we market ourselves. Although I've seen a few issues with glitches and stuff not being ready on time, overall I've found it a good experience so far.

  11. But did the contest REALLY have anything to do with that success? That's the question I always have when it comes to authors crediting contests for getting them noticed by publishers/agents/whatever. And it just seems that all the people who didn't win have given up too much to make it worthwhile, whether this involves an entry fee or rights over their work.

  12. I have entered it about a week ago. Since the piece I entered is in another contest (2nd place) and has been published in an anthology. I didn't figure I would win, the publicity sounded good however. The particular piece that was submitted I'm writing a longer version of right now.

    All in all, its worked out well for me. The publicity of the two contests did manage to get me in front of another couple of publishers which will be publishing me and they'll even be paying me.

  13. I really dislike any of the X Factor, American Idol, Britain's Got Talent type programmes as they often all come down to vote begging, and seldom does a real talent emerge.

    From what you've included about the contest details it seems as if it's firstly a publicity contest, and secondly a speed-writing contest.

    Plus the T's & C's sound a little much. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  14. I don't understand the point of any writing contest no matter how legitimate. Your submission sits in a pile of submissions until it is read by the contest organizers, and then what? Suppose you win and get a few bucks. You can use your win as a selling point for your book or whatever, but then you have to send it to an agent or publisher, where it will sit in a pile of submissions until it is either accepted or finally rejected. You delay your possibly being published for the length of time it takes for contest organizers to read and evaluate, and then you have to sit and wait until you hear from whomever you've sent your material. Why not just send the masterpiece right to where it will be considered?

  15. I advise people NEVER to enter a contest if they lose/sign over rights just by entering. No matter how good the prize.

  16. I was looking at the ANA site just yesterday and in reading the rules, the rights assignment did seem a bit smelly. Thanks for the confirmation/warning!

  17. Thanks for the warning. It's unfortunate that taking advantage of others, writers included, has become the norm.

    Look at the financial nerds that ripped off their customers and threatened world banking, look at the businesses that have shuttered because one CEO or group of directors became too greedy or wanted CHEAP labour.

    A sad state of affairs.

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