Writing Contests -
Opportunity or Scam?

As a writer and publisher, I subscribe to a number of online sites which periodically offer "Writing Contests" or sometimes they appear as "sponsored" post in my Social Media feeds, and some charge an Entry Fee which I find issue with. So let's examine a few of the contests that I have come across to see if they benefit the entrants.

If you are "Sponsoring" a contest, then I don't feel as though there should be a Entry Fee. As the sponsor shouldn't you cover the cost of your own contest? And does my entry fee become a part of the monetary award received by the winner? Or does my entry fee go towards covering the "salary" of the contest judges? If the entry fee does cover these things, aren't you (as the sponsor) leaving yourself open to not being able to cover your expenses? Or are you "hedging your bets" by having other sponsors that are contributing to the prize awards? Or are your judges working for free? I mean there is nothing in the contest "Guidelines" or the "FAQ" that explains what my entry fee covers.

If the contest is for work in printed/published book format, I must send you a hardcopy of the book which you don't return when the contest is over. So, now I'm out the entry fee and you're not going to pay for my product nor return it. The entrants saving grace in this scenario is that their work is copyrighted (hopefully if it's been published), so there is no chance of their work or part of their work being used without compensation. If it is, they at least have a legal leg to stand on in a lawsuit, if they have the means with which to bring a lawsuit against the contest sponsor. This is advantageous to those who don't win in what way?

In the case of script writing contests, I send you a hardcopy of my screenplay and more times than not the script becomes the property of the contest sponsor whether you win or not. So, now I'm out the entry fee and the rights to my work, and since I have "surrendered" my rights (cause you didn't pay for them) you can use my work any way you see fit and won't owe me any royalties. Again, this is advantageous to those who don't win in what way?

For James Patterson's Co-Author contest, there is no "Entry Fee" but you have to take his Masterclass which cost $90, okay (insert sarcasm here)! The contest FAQ states that your material doesn't need to be copyrighted for the competition, okay (insert sarcasm here)! So, I'm taking a class that is supposed to teach me how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page, and that's going to help me sell more books how? On top of that, I'm out the cost of the class, and my work is not copyrighted therefore I have no legal leg to stand on if you decide to claim it as your own. Once again, this advantageous to those who don't win in what way?

As a writer, everything I produce is precious to me, and I have a problem surrendering my work to someone who has not paid for it and has the potential to "steal" it and claim it as their own. Furthermore, they have the potential to defend their use of my material, my work, my blood, sweat, and tears with the defense "They voluntarily surrendered all rights to the work when they entered the contest. It was there in the guidelines if they had taken the time to read them.", which most people don't when faced with the prospect that their work could possibly gain world-wide recognition.

Unfortunately, I don't see any benefit to 90 - 99% of the entrants, and I actually see a lot of "Red Flags". So my advice is read ALL of the Guidelines, as well as, the FAQ (cause a lot of finite details are hidden there, and we all know "The Devil is in the Details.") before submitting your work to any writing contest regardless of the sponsor, and always Copyright your work.

Sources:
Writer's Digest Contest
Script Pipeline Contest
James Patterson Co-Author Contest

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