Sunday, January 14, 2007

Who wants to win a book contract?

So, there is a big buzz going around about what is basically promising to be the "American Idol" of book publishing. Slut it up here

I have some pretty strong opinions on this which I will share below. It's not going to be pretty or polite, so if you're looking for "Nice Zoe" she's left the building for the day.

To be very blunt about this contest, I think it's lame.

I read the fine print. In the first place, with all the people who are going to be entering this thing I think your odds are really no better than they are if you were to go the traditional route trying to get an agent or submitting to small presses.

Supposedly these people are just Desperate to increase book sales and find new talent. If that's true, you should just leap right out of the slush pile, right? I don't buy it. I think it's just a bunch of publicity nonsense taking a bunch of newbie writers' hopes and dreams for a ride through their Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of Doom.

From the site:
Submissions may not be submitted elsewhere unless and until the entrant has been eliminated from the Competition. By entering your Submission in the Competition, you hereby give Touchstone/Fireside (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) first publication rights to your manuscript until such time as you are eliminated from the Competition.

Excuse me? What? I'm your butt monkey now? I submit and you own me in some kind of novel limbo until such time as I'm eliminated? Yeah um...ok. Sure. I'll get right on that.

Granted, I do understand the purpose of them holding rights while the individual is in the competition, it would be crazy for someone to win and go: "Yeah, sorry I just got offered a better contract somewhere else." Still, the fact remains...if I've put my hat in the ring of your writing lottery, I can't actually pursue any other means of publication. (i.e. querying agents to represent me.)

And while it's RUDE to simultaneous submit to editors, it's pretty impractical to let a manuscript sit in a slush pile forever while you're waiting on someone to pass on it. Still, THIS says they own your ass until you're eliminated. If I was real serious about getting published...which I seems a bit silly to tie myself up for months at a time when I could be sending out query letters.

The other thing that makes the little red flashing lights go off:
• By entering this Competition, you agree that if you are selected as the Grand Prize Winner, you will sign Simon & Schuster’s standard publishing agreement within five days of receipt of the agreement.

Whoa, there assuming I'm the "one true chosen one" I have to just sign over my soul within five days? Is this a fiction contest or a hostage situation?

Also, is five days really enough time to find an agent or a lawyer to look over it to protect you? I mean we're talking a big publisher here with giant thirty page contracts designed to screw you over without the proper buffers in place. Does ANYONE go into a contract with a big publisher without a second set of eyes to protect them from evil legalese?

They aren't incredibly specific about what's in it for the poor sob that wins. ($5,000, a publishing contract, and distribution through Borders. Excuse me for saying so, but Borders alone isn't very wide distribution for a publisher of that clout.)

So...I'm just going to sit back and watch it like reality TV, like I did when Darva Conger, love her heart, won "Who wants to marry a multi-millionaire" and married a relatively poor (for a millionaire) balding ugly guy with no personality, whose later very public divorce was splashed all over the tabloids.

I imagine this will be something similar. I can't wait to meet the little Darva.


Amethyst said...

You know, I have to agree. This is purely a vanity contest. I thought about doing it but I also thought about the details, and it reminds me of those scams. Not saying that this is a scam, but it's more like playing the lottery. Chances are very good that you won't win.

IMO better to write what you want then what everyone else wants you to write anyway. You'll be more passionate about writing what you want.

Zoe Winters said...

I think one of the driving forces is...if you win, you are almost guaranteed a bestseller, on your first book, from sheer hype alone. The thing's gonna be so hyped up by the time it's over with that people WILL buy the finished book. And no doubt this is the first "guaranteed bestseller" plan the industry has come up with.

However, it's just so riddled with potholes. For one thing, If you really DO have a shot at this, you're tying up your manuscript rights for months. Months that you could have spent looking for an agent. If what you have is "that hot" or "that great" Great enough that you think you could actually win it. Then an agent somewhere will snatch you up. (Most of what gets sent in is crap. They aren't customarily going through gold in the slush pile.)

This comes down to blaming bad luck all over again. Someone thinks if they can't get an agent or a publishing contract anywhere else, that they can win this contest because this is a 'jury of your peers' who will recognize your greatness. Why not just might not be all that great...yet.

I'm willing to admit that. jeez.

This plays on that good luck/bad luck thing.

Not to mention, if you ARE the fresh-faced starry eyed person "lucky" enough to win, you have 5 days to sign a contract or forfeit your dream (and possibly go to court over it. I'm not sure.)

They aren't specific on whether they will negotiate with you on the contract. Giving you five days to actually sign makes me think they aren't willing to negotiate. And you can bet a guaranteed bestseller is going to make them very careful about the contract from their end.

They found you and by god they own you. They will have "first refusal" for everything and you'll be tied to them forever whether you want to be or not.

I think more people would take the contest more seriously if they would post the contract somewhere.

I also think that if the contract really is detrimental to the author, even with threats of a legal battle they should refuse. Because then they can use their name recognition and "hey, I won this contest but they wanted to screw me over" to get an agent and a contract more to their benefit.

I imagine if this happens it will turn into a bidding war circus, and would likely be the best course of action for the winner, if they really want to capitalize on the fame and publicity from winning the event.

Zoe Winters said...

also, i'm really not sure that legally they can in any way make you agree to sign a contract before you've seen it. It'll be interesting to see the circus that errupts though if the winner is savvy enough to ask the right questions.

I expect they just assume complete naive aquiesence.

Lisa Logan said...

LOVE the post; I laughed so hard at some of your stellar wit! Thanks for posting this.

That said,I do have a few thoughts.

1. This is not the first such contest a major publisher has offered. It's actually pretty common. It shouldn't automatically qualify as ""

2. Few publishers allow simultaneous subs, so the rule here isn't that shocking. At least HERE you have a definite date by which you WILL have your MS back...and the vast majority will be eliminated and available to send out long before May's final judging. Thus, you're not tying up your MS any longer than you would for most other subs or any other contest.

3. Sure, chances are you won't win. Chances also say you will be rejected 99 percent of the time by subbing the normal way, too. The odds aren't much better--and this contest is free.

4. The contract thing IS a biggie. Still, there's a little thing I like to call WRITE AND ASK, which people can do before entering. THEN, if the contest Powers That Be want to act all mysterious/sketchy/ about it, you can write a nasty blog warning people about publishing contract contests.

Zoe Winters said...

hehehe Lisa, good points! I know there are other contests, but this one seems to be being really hyped up due to the "audience participation" angle that makes it kind of "american idol-like"

But I do agree with what you're saying. :)

Michelle said...

Zoe, I am really wary of these kinds of contests, having just seen what happened over at a competition run by another publishing house. It wasn't run exactly the same way as this one, but the one point of similarity was the public voting. And there in lies the main problem for me.

It does not come down to the value of the work (although apparently the publishing company will choose some of the winners) but a popularity contest, or, as happened with the competition I'm thinking about, a competition where people just made up a whole bunch of pseudonyms and voted for themselves.

Zoe Winters said...

are you talking about the sobel contest? Because they were involved in that one too I believe.

Edie said...

As far as simultaneous submissions to editors go, agents do it all the time. I don't know if the few places who accept submissions have a thing about it anymore for unagented writers. I know someone who's sending a full to two major houses, one NY and one Canada. (I'm guessing you know the Canada one, LOL.)

Downtown Press, which I think is (or was) a Pocket chick lit imprint had a contest about 3 years ago. It was worse than this one. People signed their rights to them, something like that. It was insane.

Michelle said...

No, I'm talking about AvonLit.

Zoe Winters said...

Yeah Edie, I think the rules on simultaneous submission are starting to relax a bit. Though some editors it makes really angry, but I don't see why it should. It's the slush pile and in any other business in the world you can request multiple people to invest in your business and see who bites.

Michelle, ah. (yeah I know that's quite a reply lol)