Friday, October 31, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Contest Alert: Mirage Books

India-based Mirage Books, which describes itself as "a publishing house dedicated to promote writers across the globe," has been advertising a short story contest on its website.

Red flags abound. The website is poorly written, suggesting to me that English is not the writer's first language. Paid editing services are offered--a clear conflict of interest for a publisher. There's much verbiage about how the horrid old hidebound big publishing world hates new authors and won't give them a chance (completely false, and often a marker for an amateur publisher). To date, the company appears to have published just two books--one by Nikhil Khanna, to whom Mirage's URL is registered, the other by Huned Contractor (here's his profile on Writers Net), whose name appears on Mirage's correspondence under the title of "Editor."

I suspect a self-publishing endeavor that is trying to expand.

From the perspective of this post, the biggest red flag is the fact that the contest has no official rules or guidelines. Entrants thus have no way to know what they're getting into--not even what they will win. Writers savvy enough to Google Mirage Books may happen on a press release like this one, in which it's revealed that winners will be published in an "experimental" anthology called Break the Rules--but if you're thinking of entering a contest, you shouldn't have to go searching the Internet in order to figure out what the prize is.

Unfortunately, the contest has already closed, so it's too late to advise writers to be cautious about entering. Mirage is currently sending out notifications to the winners, however--and in my opinion there's good reason to be cautious about accepting the prize.

For one thing, it's something of a booby prize. If you're a winner, your story will be published along with a bio and photo, but according to the notifications, "Apart from this recognition, there are no other prizes or any monetary remuneration whatsoever because the entire objective has been to promote writing talent." So Mirage gets to sell the book (largely, I would guess, to you and your friends), but you don't get squat. You do keep your copyright. Lucky you.

Mirage's notifications offer no information about such important issues as what rights you'll have to grant and for how long, though they do promise "a short writer's agreement to ensure that the story is original and not plagiarized from any source." However, there's a catch.

[B]efore we get on to the next step, we would like you to furnish some details which will enable us to release your story for publishing. Therefore, kindly email us your:

1. Full Name
2. Residential Address
3. Date Of Birth
4. Age
5. A Short Bio Of Not More Than 50 Words
6. A High Resolution Photograph
7. A Scanned Copy Of Your Driving License Or Passport Or Voter's Card As Identity Proof


I don't think I need to point out the inadvisability of providing item #7.

The book will be published in India. I'm not familiar with the laws there, but even so, I can't think of any reason why Mirage would need "Identity Proof" of any kind from its authors, especially given that it won't be paying anyone. Some of the writers who've contacted me fear the potential for identity theft, but frankly, I think it's more likely that this is just another sign of Mirage's lack of cluefulness.

Nevertheless, good sense would seem to indicate that the winners (there are 50 of them) should decline to share this information. If refusal puts them out of the running for publication...well, given all the other red flags that are present here, that might not be such a bad thing.

22 comments:

Jane Smith said...

While I am often saddened by the things that naive writers let scammers get away with, even I am astonished by this particular contest.

A competition with no rules? With no real indication of the prize? Where you have to provide your DRIVING LICENSE in order to claim the mystery prize?

Um, no.

(Victoria, don't you find yourself ever wondering if these things are sent to test you? This one, in particular, seems so way out there to me that I wouldn't have believed it had I not read it here. Either things are much, much worse than I thought or the bad guys are getting lazy.)

Victoria Strauss said...

Yeah. Some of this stuff is like satire; you couldn't make it up. Every time I think I've seen it all, I see something else. I've quit being amazed; these days, I'm just waiting for what's next.

JP Fife said...

I loved the line on their front page "After you shoot your email, please wait for us to get back, which we will."

If only I could deal with Spam in the same way.

JP Fife said...

Did you click on the media link? It takes you to a blog which has three entries. Check out the jpegs. The 'publisher' is a restaurateur according to the Street Guardian jpeg. The other jpeg is an interview with the author by ... the other author published by Mirage Books.

Kristi Holl said...

A scanned copy of some official document to prove your identity????? It's incredible that anyone--in this day and age of identity theft--would try such a thing!
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Marian said...

I can't believe the Mirage site is for real. Have you seen their guidelines on how to break the rules when writing a short story?

Most people write short stories in the third person... You could, instead, narrate your story in the first person such as "I climbed the stairs and got knifed."

But wait, it gets even more groundbreaking.

Makes it more interesting to read. Or else, try out something new such as, let a wall tell the story. Better still, let the kitchen knife tell the story of how it knifed you.

After that, the kitchen knife fell in love with a vegetable peeler.

We once read a story that was written with not more than three words in each sentence. Try it out. It will read like a spray of bullets from a machine gun.

Yes, I can see people lining up to be shot with an automatic weapon. Or the literary equivalent.

Victoria is right. You can't make this stuff up.

p.n. elrod said...

"a spray of bullets from a machine gun"

They really should not be giving their "winners" such tempting ideas.

Deirdre Mundy said...

See the comment. Sentences are short. It is Hemmingway-like. Except not good. Perhaps it got lost. Maybe in translation.

Hmmm.. a fascinating exercise in totally disjointed thought!

Maybe 3 word sentences from the point of view of a knife work better in Hindi? =)

Victoria Strauss said...

I am shining. Metal, forged hard. Flash like lightning. Hands clutch me. Behind door, waiting. Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Kiss your neck. Yes, kiss it. Now push deeper. Skin parting, shhh! Hurts so good. Don't you know? I'm your dream. Deep in you. Blood spurting, red. Heart beating, slower. Hand reaching, empty. One more breath. Just one more.

Now you stop.

Hands withdraw me. Wipe my handle. No fingerprints, none. I lie down. By your side. Your eyes, open. Your eyes, reflected. My blade, shining.

We wait together.

Jane Smith said...

Damn. She's good. Even when she's being sarcastic.

Ha!

Marian said...

Congratulations, you won. Best short story. Best story ever. Judges are unanimous. Mirage prize yours.

Please send identification. To claim prize. Photocopy driver's license. Also credit card. And please include. Mother's maiden name. For verification purposes.

Then wait patiently. To receive prize.

Thanks so much.

Janny said...

Yanno, this three-word sentence idea sounds like something Bulwer-Lytton should make into a new category, Worst Short Story Written In Sentences Of Three Words Or Less...

...or is that Three Words Or Fewer?


;-P

Marian said...

Fewer. "Less" is when you're referred to something that can't be counted - e.g. less milk, less butter.

Marian said...

Oops, that should be "you're referring".

I'm so nitpicky.

Jane Smith said...

I prefer to think of you as someone who shows meticulous attention to detail, Marian.

It's a quality that makes you a very useful friend!

Janny said...

"Three Words or Less," however, being grammatically incorrect by design, would sum up the contest rather nicely, though.

(heh heh)

JB

Marian said...

Thanks very much, Jane. :)

Emma Larkins said...

Hey now, no need to be so disparaging! I actually entered this contest. True, I didn't dig too deep before sending a story (my bad?) but the exercise to expand my ideas of 'fiction' was a good one.

And it's not so easy to tell a real site from a scam, especially for newbies who just want to get their name out there! The site offered a chance at inclusion in an anthology, including a bio. And I can tell you for a fact that not everyone who entered the contest got in :) so at least it's not one of those things that includes anyone who sends anything, and sells the book only to the contributors.

But thanks, Victoria, for pointing out that it's a good idea to do some research before submitting. The license thing definitely creeps me out!

Mad Scientist Matt said...

I'm kind of surprised they only declared 50 winners, instead of declaring that everyone was a semifinalist... nah, guess that's been done too often before.

Jane Awe Stunned said...

i wish i had come across this blog earlier! seems like i'm one of the lucky ones mirage succeeded in fooling. no, i didnt send them a short story, i sent them the synopsis for my novel! and all this time i've been waiting patiently to hear from them. guess i should stop doing that now. i'm really scared. is there any chance they might misuse the synopsis?

Victoria Strauss said...

Theft is a commmon fear among new writers, but it's really groundless. A good publisher (or agent) won't risk its reputation by stealing; a bad publisher (or agent) is only interested in your money, or else is too inept to sell anything anyway. Besides, it's a lot easier just to work with you than to go to all the trouble of stealing your work and then pretending it belongs to someone else. Plus, you are protected by copyright law from the moment you write down the words.

In the more than 10 years that Ann and I have been working for Writer Beware, we haven't gotten a single credible report of theft of unpublished work. It really is the last thing you need to worry about.

Jane Awe Stunned said...

Thanks, Vitoria. Even i was telling myself that Why would anyone go to the trouble of stealing a book from one writer and than hiring another writer to write it. But i still worried a bit since this is my first book. and there are already too many doubts crowding in my mind against the big dream of success that I'm harbouring. But you comment has given me a big relief. thanks again...