Getting published is difficult – I probably don't need to tell you that. It
requires a lot of skill and more than a little luck, but all the luck and talent
in the world can be made to count for nothing if the approach you take to
submitting your work is inappropriate or unprofessional. Just how wrong writers
are still getting this was highlighted recently by one of our competition
entrants, so in this article I'll be pointing out the mistakes she made, how you
can avoid them, and how you can make sure you don't throw away your writing
career before it's even begun.
In this particular instance, the entrant in
question (we'll call her Mrs X) had submitted several poems for
consideration in our International Poetry Competition. She then contacted us,
asking to withdraw one of her poems and replace it with another one.
Any of you who have ever entered writing competitions (and taken the time to
read the terms and conditions) will know that even contacting a competition
organiser regarding your submission is normally a big no-no. Pretty much all competitions
will specifically state that no correspondence will be entered into regarding
individual submissions (see for instance the rules for the Annual Fish
International Poetry Prize (http://www.fishpublishing.com/annual-fish-international-poetry-prize.php#rules):
"No correspondence will be entered into once work has been submitted") and
firstwriter.com is no different. If you weren't aware of that fact then make
sure you take great care if you ever feel you have to contact a competition
organiser about an entry you've made – it may be enough to disqualify you from
If you are trying to confirm that a competition
has received your entry then check before you enter if they have a specific
system for this. Some competitions will ask you to send a stamped addressed
postcard with your entry which they will post back to you to confirm receipt. If
you fail to include such a postcard and then contact them separately asking for
confirmation then they're liable to be justifiably annoyed. If they offer online
entry then they may also offer a means of tracking your submission online. If
they do, they will also be likely to be annoyed if you contact them asking for
information you could have got yourself.
The same applies generally for information
regarding the competition. Check the documentation (whether it's a brochure, an
entry slip, or information online) thoroughly for an answer to your query before
resorting to contacting the competition organiser. Most of all, read the terms
and conditions carefully, and if they specifically state that you can't do
something don't waste your time and the competition organisers' time asking for
an exception to be made. There's a reason why the competition organiser sets the
rules it does, and you shouldn't expect to be treated any differently from
everyone else who enters.
It should be fairly obvious why competitions
aren't willing to enter into correspondence about entries, but if you need it
spelling out then it all comes down to time and costs. Most writing competitions
are run by small and/or voluntary organisations, charities, and educational
establishments. None of these have large staffs that can be dedicated to
answering endless queries from entrants. The entry fees are generally set as low
as possible, and the prize as high as possible, and no margin is left for
employing people specifically to answer emails. Answering your questions might
also be more difficult than you think. Lots of competitions will make your entry
anonymous so it can be judged blind. Trying to work out which entries are yours
and what their status is can therefore be very difficult and time consuming, and
could entail having to manually sift through thousands of entries.
So, Mrs X has already made a boo-boo just by
contacting us, and has compounded this by asking us to alter her submission,
which is specifically prohibited under the terms and conditions of not only our
competition, but pretty much every other writing competition you're likely to
come across (see for instance the Bridport Prize (http://www.bridportprize.org.uk/rules.htm),
the biggest writing competition in the English language: "No corrections
can be made after receipt"; the
Fish International Poetry Prize: "Poems cannot be altered or changed after
they have been entered" and so on).
The reason for this rule should be even more
obvious than for the last – not only would the administrative time of constantly
updating, correcting, swapping and altering entries on every writer's whim be
totally prohibitive, but you also need to remember that as soon as an entry is
received it starts a journey along a judging process. If an entry gets to the
shortlisted stage then it may have been read several times by several judges –
if you then decide you want to swap it then that process has to start all over
again. Worse still, an entry might be about to be pronounced the winner – if it
were then to be withdrawn the entire judging process would have to start all
over again to search for a new winner. No competition could afford to operate in
such a way.
So if you're entering a competition, don't expect
to be able to change, correct, or withdraw your entries. The chances are that
you won't be allowed to. You need to bear in mind that when you enter a
competition you are committing your pieces of work, as they stand, for the full
duration of the competition. You also need to bear in mind that you may be
making commitments regarding the rights to your entries. Most competitions will
want to publish the winning entries, and by entering the competition you will
often be granting the organisers at least some rights of publication. In some
cases you may be giving them total ownership of your work (see for instance a
poetry contest run by Oneida County Tourism Council (http://www.co.oneida.wi.gov/county/app/docs/oneida/200712211006521631931.html):
"All poems become property of Oneida County Centennial Committee and may be used
as the committee deems appropriate"), in which case you would have no further
right to reproduce or publish the work you had submitted.
In most cases, however, competition organisers'
demands are more moderate. They may, for instance, require the rights to your
work for a specific period, before they revert back to you (see for instance the
Fish International Poetry Prize: "Copyright returns to the author one year
after publication of the anthology"). In such a situation you would be unable to
do anything else with your work until the end of the year after the anthology
was published. Other competitions, like firstwriter.com, are more
flexible still, leaving copyright with the author, and only requiring the right
to publish the work if it is a winner (see for instance the
Prize: "Worldwide copyright of each entry remains with the author, but the
Bridport Prize will have the unrestricted right to publish the winning poems and
stories, (including runners up)". In these situations you are free to submit
your work to other competitions, magazines, etc. and can have them published
elsewhere even while they are entered in the competition – but you have to bear
in mind that there is the chance that your work might be published by the
competition you have entered it into, and you won't have the right to stop that.
That means you can offer your entry to other
competitions and magazines that are happy to receive simultaneous submissions,
but you can't offer it exclusively to anyone. This is where Mrs X made her next
big mistake. After committing her poems to our poetry competition and granting
us the unrestricted right to publish them she then subsequently signed an
exclusive contract with another business, granting them the exclusive rights to
publish one of the poems she had submitted to us. The thing is, that was a
promise she couldn't legally make because she had already granted
firstwriter.com the right to publish that poem. I don't need to explain how
unprofessional that is. It's like signing a contract to sell your house to one
person one day, then signing another contract to sell it to someone else a few
days later. It's the kind of thing which – if you allow yourself to get a
reputation for it – will put editors off you like crazy.
And don't fall into the common trap of thinking that
something isn't a contract or isn't legally binding just because you haven't
signed a piece of paper. Any agreement can form a legally binding contract. You
can enter into a contract by pressing a button, parking your car in a car park,
or by doing anything else where it is made clear that by doing so you are
accepting certain terms and conditions. Usually, whenever you enter a writing
competition, you will, by doing so, have entered into a legal contract where you
agree to be bound by the rules of the competition – which will usually involve
granting some rights to publication in one form or another. It's therefore
important to always check these carefully, so you know what you will and won't
be able to do with your work after you enter it.
Finally, Mrs X has one last lesson to teach us,
and that's how not to react if you find you've got yourself into this
kind of mess. If you find you've accidentally given two different publications
the rights to publish your work (and at least one of those is an exclusive deal)
then you need to bite the bullet and be up-front and honest with both of them –
particularly the one you have given the promise of exclusivity, which you may
not be able to keep. You need to make them aware that you had already given
someone else certain rights to the publication of your work. You could try
negotiating with one party to give up that right, but remember that you are
asking a favour. You've got egg on your face here, and you're in no position to
start making demands. A little humility will go a long way. Certainly, don't do
what Mrs X did, which was to make threats of litigation and involve her
attorney. You're not likely to have a legal leg to stand on (in fact, if you've
granted conflicting publishing rights to two different businesses then you're
more likely to be the subject of successful litigation than the initiator of
it), and you're only going to antagonise the publisher who you're actually
seeking help from. Worse than that, you could risk ending your writing career
before it's even begun. Litigation means publicity, and once editors get to know
you as the writer who promises work to different publishers at the same time,
then tries to sue the one she first promised it to if she changes her mind,
they're not going to touch you with a stick. Who's going to accept a writer's
work, knowing that they have a track record of suing people who accept their
The best solution, of course, is to avoid getting
into such a situation in the first place. Whenever you submit your work anywhere
do so carefully, as if you are handling something of value (which you are,
aren't you?). Take your time. Read all the information. And above all, make sure
you know what rights you are or aren't granting, and only proceed if you are
happy to stick to what you've promised. If you do that, you don't need to worry.
You can enter competitions with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they are
generally run by genuine folk who will understand and stick to the terms and
conditions – you just need to make sure that you, as an entrant, do likewise!
For over 150 writing contests, click
here. To enter the firstwriter.com International Poetry Competition click
here. To enter the firstwriter.com Short Story Contest click
For several months, I worked for a small town newspaper as staff reporter. I wrote front-page news, feature stories, editorials,
obituaries, classified ad copy – you name it – I did it. I was on the
payroll making minimum wage but I was improving my writing ability every
day. Little did I know that the hands-on experience I received was way
better than attending a writer’s class. I was out there, reporting the
news and honing my craft at the same time.
With the experience I gained from working at the paper, many good
things have come from it. I started my own business about 12 years ago and
it is still in operation today – I started my own newspaper.
It has been a blessing running the kind of business I enjoy and being
able to utilise my talent as well.
My advice to writers: keep believing in yourself, and don’t give up. Write every single day, even if it’s no more than a letter, or a paragraph
in your diary or journal. The key is to write everyday.
You may never own your own newspaper (that was what I chose – it’s all I knew at the time, and I needed a job!). But you can have your own writing
business if you tried hard enough. It’s not easy – a lot of hard work goes
into everything you do.
I found my venue to hone my writing cravings and so can you.
Marcella Simmons has been writing professionally since 1988 –
she has over 650 published credits in over 350 small press
publications nationwide. In 2005, Simmons had her first book of
poetry published, and is working on several book projects at
this time. She continues to write a regular weekly column for a
local newspaper in her hometown, as well as many other writing
projects. "Writing is a way of life for me," she says.
Simmons is the mother of eight children (all are grown now) and
she has seven grandchildren with another on the way. "My
family is also a way of life for me, and my inspiration."
Horror magazine seeks submissions Horror Bound Magazine, a magazine of horror/dark fantasy/noir/slipstream and thrillers, is now accepting short stories (up to 7,000 words maximum), poetry, book excerpts and art.
Short stories between 3,000 words and 7,000 words inspired by Edgar Allan Poe are also being sought for an upcoming anthology with the working title "Return of the Raven".
The deadline for submissions to the anthology is March 31, 2009. For full details of submitting to the anthology or the magazine
"little super heroes" needed Chicken Soup for the Soul co-author is looking for uplifting true stories, between 500 and 750 words, about boys aged 3–8 who have spoken about what they would do if they were a superhero, or done something in some way heroic themselves.
Authors of chosen stories will receive $150 and six copies of the book. Submissions should be sent to
@gmail.com by March 6, 2009, including a picture of the "little hero".
Recession hits publishers Publishers are reporting significant drops in sales in 2008. HarperCollins lost 75% of its operating income during the first six months, and holiday sales have been abysmal, leading to job losses in most major publishing houses in recent months.
Placing a book
is therefore harder than ever. Writers will either have to
make even more submissions to be successful, or
use the downturn to build writing credits with magazines and
competitions. Either way, access to a professionally-maintained service such as
firstwriter.com is now more vital than ever in order to gain that key advantage.