That time of year again

A quick post here about short story contests. Specifically the Sunday Star Times Short Story Contest, here in New Zealand.

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Each year around this time, my site gets a lot of views because I’ve written over the last few years about this contest, and, I guess, people are looking for information about when it opens, what the prizes are, when it closes and so on. A google search brings my posts up on the first page when you search up the contest.

I have written about the contest because over those years, their rules have been egregious: their terms and conditions allow them to effectively publish any entry without having to pay the author.

I don’t think that they go ahead and use those rights – they seem to just publish the prize winners. The thing is that rights are all writers have, and we need to protect them.

I don’t know if they’ll retain that this  year. I did get in touch with the contest organisers about the issue, and had a positive to neutral response; to the effect that they would look at those conditions again for the next time they run the contest.

So, I’m hopeful that when they next run the competition, that the conditions will be more favourable to writers. Also hopeful that they will run it this year, and announce the details soon.

Sargeson Prize – competition for New Zealand writers

sargeson-small-fileOver the last few years I’ve railed against the terms and conditions of the Sunday Star Times short story contest – where they effectively retain the right to publish any entry without paying the author. I have been in touch directly with them, and had a positive response, indicating that they will look again at those terms and conditions should they run the contest again.

In the meantime, there’s another contest open for New Zealand writers – the  Sargeson Prize, run through the University of Waikato. The contest is named for celebrated New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson.

Under the terms of this contest, writers retain the rights to their story, win, lose or place. That’s fair. There is no entry fee (my advice, avoid contests that charge a fee: money flows to authors, not from).

There’s a nice prize too.

You can enter here. Entries are restricted to residents of New Zealand.

Entries close on June 30th, so there’s still a little time to get something in. You could write it tonight and send it in tomorrow, if you’re really keen.

 

Sunday Star Times short story contest – rules need an overhaul

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Last year and the year before I posted about why I wouldn’t enter the Sunday Star Times short story contest. The same applies this year. Without going over the same old ground too much, it comes down to one clause in their rules (scroll down to T&C), where, by entering, you give them the right to publish your story “without fee”.

As I said before, writers get paid.

I write for the love of writing, but I also take myself seriously as a writer. I license my stories for remuneration. Kind of along the lines of how anyone with skills does work for remuneration. The bus driver, the plumber, the dairy owner where you buy your copy of the Sunday Star Times.

Goodness knows, most writers make little enough money as it is.

If you’re so inclined, by all means, enter. The entry details are here. Check those terms and conditions (I know we live in a world of clicking ‘agree’ to terms and conditions without having read them. Some T&Cs out there are as long as a few of my novels).

I would love to enter for the chance of winning. I know the thrill of winning a writing contest. I know the satisfaction of banking a cheque. But that clause is a step too far.

Of course many writers will enter the contest. The newspaper will find an excellent story and publish it and pay the writer the prize money (it’s pretty good prize money too). But then, the newspaper might publish some of the other entries “without fee”.

It’s simply no way to treat writers.

Why I’ll avoid the Sunday Star Times Short Story Contest again in 2017

sst-logoLast year I posted about not entering the Sunday Star Times Short Story Contest, New Zealand’s “premier” short story contest (free entry, up to $3000 prize, has launched many careers, etc.), because the rules were egregious. That is, designed to have writers forfeit rights to their stories.

That’s just plain wrong.

And this year, the contest is doing the same thing.

Last year I was disappointed. This year I’m kind of mad. Not because I would expect to win–I’m far too much of a learner-writer to be so bold–but because the organisers should know better than to have conditions or rules that make it possible to prey on naive writers. Especially young writers.

Here’s the rule I take exception to: “Fairfax Media and Penguin Random House New Zealand have the right to publish the winning and highly commended manuscripts of the Open Division and Secondary School Division entered without fee” (my bolding).

So effectively the newspaper can publish any entry they choose. The publisher could even publish an anthology without paying any writers. There’s no definition of ‘highly commended’, nor how many entries might be judged as such–as I said last year: from my perspective anyone who makes the effort to get it together and write a story should be highly commended. Well done. For the effort at least. I’ve known plenty of “writers” who never get around to actually writing.
The kicker is that the newspaper reserves the right to publish those stories “without fee”. This misses a basic tenent of writing: writers get paid.

I know newspapers struggle in this fluid environment, but they still pay their journalists. They pay the delivery people. They pay the printers.

If the newspaper is going take the right to fill a page with someone’s hard work, they need to pay for the rights to do so. With that rule they are effectively licensing a writer’s copyright for free.

A few years back I did enter a contest a couple of times. The Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest, run by the National Space Society, and Baen Books. Their rules are straightforward: if they publish your story, they will pay. It used to be that they just paid for, and published the winning story, but over the last few years they’ve started publishing (and paying for) the stories of the placegetters.

In 2013 I placed third in the contest. I didn’t get any prize money, but I retained the jbmassc-coverrights to my story. Baen didn’t publish it.

In 2014 I won. My story got published and I got paid. Decent money. And as it happens, this November Baen are publishing an anthology of some of the winning and place-getting stories from the first decade of the contest. My story will be in the volume. And I get paid again for the reprint rights.

That’s how it works.

The Sunday Star Times runs a contest, but publishing a story is still effectively licensing copyright. Getting paid is how writers make a livelihood. Actually, when I think about it, getting paid is how anyone makes a livelihood.

Shame on the Sunday Star Times, and those associated with the contest for preying on the enthusiasm of writers. And most-especially on young writers.

Why I didn’t enter the Sunday Star Times Short Story contest this year.

sst-logoThe Sunday Star Short Story Contest is an established New Zealand contest. For the most part it’s run annually. With the disappearance of The Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award, the Sunday Star is now, as far as I can tell, the major New Zealand short story contest. And one of few that does not ask entrants for an entry fee.

The prize is substantial. $1000. For a 3000 word (maximum) story. That’s about thirty-three cents a word. Getting into the non-fiction per word payment range. Pro-fiction rates get up around ten cents a word, mostly around six to eight cents.

That tells me I should enter.

I’ve been long-listed for the contest in the past. My writing’s getting better. I’m losing eligibility for other contests because of my pro/almost-pro status.

So I wrote a story. I’m pretty pleased with it. I got it proofed and ready to go.

I went to the site to enter. That’s easy. Fill out the form, attach the document, click the ‘enter’ button. By entering I agree to the rules.

You know those sites we sign up for and we tick the box to accept the terms and conditions? Some of those documents are massive. We put our trust in them. Mostly that’s just fine.

Anyway, I decided I should read the rules. Really there were only eighteen. A little more than a page. Compared to some of those ‘terms and conditions’ documents, nothing more than an eye blink.

In the past the Sunday Star Times Short Story Contest. offered prizes to the first, second and third place-getters. Now, it’s just one prize. That’s okay. Things change.

– Open to permanent residents only. Check.

– Maximum of 3000 words. Check.

– Maximum of one entry per category. Check.

– Original work. Check.

– The finalists’ names, entry details, biographical information and photographs will be required by Fairfax Media and will be used for promotional purposes without compensation. You consent to this use of your details by entering the competition and agree to your name being published without notification or prior approval.

Uh. Hold on. “Without compensation”? Oh well, I suppose that’s all good promotion. Name and photo in the paper, if I happen to be a finalist. Nice for the ego and so on.

Okay. On with the rules.

– All entries submitted remain the property of the entrant. However (my italics), Fairfax Media and Penguin Random House New Zealand have the right to publish the winning and highly commended manuscripts of the Open Division, Secondary School Division and Non-Fiction Essay entered without fee. (my bolding).

What? “Without fee”? Really? So that amounts to: If I enter they’ll be able to publish my story without paying me.

It does say ‘winning and highly commended’, but it doesn’t say what constitutes highly commended. From my point of view anyone who gets it together to write a story and send it off should be highly commended. It takes courage and effort. Well done. If that’s the criteria, then any and every entry could qualify for publication ‘without fee’. Oh, except for the winning entry.

While I’m having a rant; right now there’s a New Zealand magazine that publishes a short story each month. As I understand it they take a vote or something at the end of the year and choose a winning story from those twelve and give that writer a prize. The other eleven do not receive anything save publication. I’m not even clear that they get copies of the issue in which they were published. Effectively those stories appear ‘without fee’.

This is why I didn’t enter. Writers get paid. The journalists in the paper and magazine who write the articles about the treaty and the housing crisis and climate change all get paid.

And that’s why I didn’t enter. That story I wrote? I’ll be sending that off to a paying market.