Fiction War Magazine, owned by Wolvesburrow Productions (“a front-to-back engineer of design, publishing, in print, and online content”), is a publisher of flash fiction (500-1,000 words). In addition to an open call, for which it charges a $5 submission fee via Submittable, it runs regular competitions–for instance, this one, for the third quarter of 2018. The fees for these quarterly contests are quite a bit higher: $25, plus a $3.45 “fee”, for a total of $28.45.
Entry fees are not necessarily a sign of a questionable competition–though they do need to be proportional. Presumably, in Fiction War’s case, they go to fund the sizeable prizes: $1,000 for the winner and $100 for 14 finalists, all of whom are promised publication in an issue of the magazine.
Prizes or no, $28.45 is still a big entry fee for a 500-1,000 word story–which, to my mind, raises the question of whether Fiction War may have folded some profit in there. I also find it somewhat unsavory that Fiction Wars has an affiliate program, which pays “recruiters” a 25% referral bonus for every registration they refer. (The tag line: “Quickly earn enough to pay your own entry fee!”)
These concerns, along with competition guidelines that provide for prize payment “within 30 days of print publication” (it’s always a red flag when publishers pay on or after publication, since they may use such provisions to delay or avoid payment–but prize winnings should never made contingent like this), and include language* requiring entrants to grant exclusive first and ongoing non-exclusive publishing rights simply by submitting (in other words, if you submit a story to Fiction War, you cannot ever publish it anywhere else unless Fiction War publishes it first), would be enough for me to advise serious caution to anyone thinking of entering one of Fiction War’s competitions.
However, it appears that there are even more pressing reasons to avoid Fiction War.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve gotten multiple complaints from authors who won the grand prize or were chosen as finalists in one or another of Fiction War’s competitions: aggressive editing (to writers concerned about major, and in some cases apparently random, changes to their work, Fiction Wars responded that they could always re-publish the original version elsewhere once the magazine had been released), major editing and proof delays (over a year in some cases), and prize payments delayed by months or absent entirely (see the payment provisions, above).
Although Fiction War is supposed to be quarterly, only two magazines have actually been published, both in 2017. Despite this, and even as timeliness and payment problems continued to develop and compound over the course of 2017 and 2018, Fiction Wars continued to conduct and advertise competitions (and, of course, to collect entry fees).
Writers who contacted me told me that they believe Fiction War is a well-intentioned enterprise that has gotten in over its head. But good intentions and $2.75 will get you on the subway, and if I had a dollar for every well-intentioned publisher I’ve heard about whose good intentions didn’t prevent it from screwing its authors over, I’d have a nice nest egg by now. To me, Fiction War’s recent response, to a writer who contacted it to ask about payment, speaks volumes: “Please know that we take defamation very seriously.”
As of this writing, Duotrope has de-listed Fiction War.
* Here’s the actual language of the grant of rights clause.
Competitions often require writers to grant various rights upon submitting, as a kind of shortcut ensuring that the competition will have those rights already in hand when winners are chosen. But such a requirement should be temporary, and should always be balanced by language ensuring that rights are released back to entrants if they don’t win. There’s no such language in Fiction War’s guidelines.
UPDATE 8/11/18: Fiction War responds.
It’s pretty clear that Fiction War either doesn’t understand, or is seriously misinterpreting, its own grant of rights language.
By requiring writers to grant first publishing rights simply by submitting to the contests, and failing to release them from that grant if they aren’t chosen for publication, Fiction War is making it impossible for any writer who submits to its contests to publish anywhere else. To put it another way, Fiction War is not only claiming first publication rights for all submissions, it is retaining those rights even for writers who don’t win its contests or are not chosen for publication.
It is not uncommon for a competition to claim exclusive first publishing rights if it intends to publish winners, finalists, etc. (even though writers thinking of entering such a competition should consider how long they are willing to have their work off the market). But its guidelines MUST include language releasing that claim THE INSTANT writers are eliminated from the competition. Fiction War currently does not do this.
Also, prize winnings should not be treated like story payments. Publishers can and do pay on or after publication (though this can be a red flag, as indicated above)–but prize winnings should be disbursed immediately upon announcement of the winners, and not made contingent upon a further action, such as publication.
I’m also scratching my head over this, received this morning. I appreciate the polite tone, but…really?
Thank you for your feedback and thoughtful analysis — we’d like to give your followers $10 off Fiction War Fall registration with this Promotional Code: WRITERBEWARE https://t.co/LsvWui76do
— Fiction War (@fictionwar) August 11, 2018
ANOTHER UPDATE 8/11/18: Fiction War continues to respond. Note the reference to “bullies.”
UPDATE 8/13/18: Fiction War has added the following to the guidelines on its competition pages, just below the grant of rights language quoted above (though it has not changed its general submission guidelines): “For works not selected for publishing, all rights are solely held by the author.”
In private correspondence with me, Fiction War has indicated that this is intended to address the concerns about rights that I’ve outlined in this post. Unfortunately the language it has chosen is quite vague, and does not make explicitly clear a) that the grant of rights does terminate (unless they surrender copyright, authors always hold all their rights; that’s what makes it possible for them to license those rights to others), or b) if it terminates, when (do writers find out they haven’t been chosen for publication when competition winners are announced? Some other time?)
Here’s the language I suggested to Fiction War: “For writers who are not chosen for publication, this grant of rights terminates immediately upon announcement of the winners.”
All of this quibbling over wording may seem trivial, but any writer who’s been involved in a dispute over contract terms knows how non-trivial the consequences of vague, imprecise, or incomplete contract language can be. Here’s just one example.
UPDATE 10/20/18: Fiction War has published a third issue, which it is calling Spring 2017. It is also continuing to advertise competitions. However, the problems with payment and communication appear to be ongoing.
#Fictionwar update: They have published Spring 2017 & paid some of the authors, but the 1st place writer was not included & hasn’t received payment. She’s contacted them multiple times about this & is ignored. She didn’t withdraw, but had previously reported them to #writerbeware
— Meagan Noel Hart (@MNHart) October 2, 2018
Turns out @fictionwar is not publishing and not paying *some* of their winners, and are making this decision without any correspondence to the winning authors. When said authors try to contact FW to see what happened, they are ignored. #writerbeware big time. Not #amwriting there
— Meagan Noel Hart (@MNHart) October 20, 2018
UPDATE 6/20/19: Problems continue unabated at Fiction War. According to reports I’m receiving, it still is not paying writers, and still has not published its Summer 2017 issue (Issue 4).