Friday, November 07, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Zimbo Books Fiction Competition

Have you recently received an email from Zimbo Books about a new, big-money literary contest? If so, you aren't alone. This company appears to be engaging in a sizeable spam campaign. I've gotten a number of questions, and there's discussion in many writers' forums. Zimbo even spammed me--at my Writer Beware email address, no less.

According to the email announcement,

Zimbo Books is pleased to announce the Zimbo Books Fiction Competition 2008 commemorating the launch of Zimbo Books. This exciting competition as described in the competition rules has 2 major benefits:

* A prize pool of USD $100,000 with a first prize of USD $80,000.

* The next four runners up get USD $5,000 each.

* One year's subscription for all Authors to sell their books online via Zimbo Books (value USD $45).


The official contest rules reveal that the competition is for unpublished book-length manuscripts of between 50,000 and 300,000 (!) words. Entries must be accompanied by a synopsis of no more than 750 words. Zimbo takes no rights to submitted manuscripts--though by entering, you grant it the right to list and sell your book on the Zimbo website (more about that below). The entry deadline is April 21, 2009, so there's plenty of time to enter. And get this--if you refer another writer to the contest, you can get a referral fee of $15.

Wouldn't it be nice to win $80,000? Or $5,000? Or even net a few $15 referral fees? I could use some extra cash, and I'm sure you could too. But wait. It's not that simple. There are some factors to consider first.

- The entry fee is a whopping $85. Contest fees don't automatically tag a contest as disreputable, but for a book contest (as opposed to a screenplay contest, where entrance fees tend to be high) $85 is way too much. (For instance, the Atlantic Writing Competition, sponsored by the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia, charges $25. The San Diego Book Awards Association charges $15. There are many others.)

Zimbo reserves the right to reject entries "that it deems, in its sole discretion, to be inappropraite [sic], for any reason whatsoever", in which case your fee will not be refunded. Zimbo also reserves the right to cancel the competition "in the event an insufficient number of entries are received"--in which case, you get a refund of $40 (the difference between the entry fee and Zimbo's regular $45 "publishing" service). There are no details on what would constitute "an insufficient number."

- By its own admission, Zimbo is not a publisher. "Zimbo just allows you to sell your books. We are not publishers." (While it's nice of them to clarify, alert writers may already have inferred this from the number of typos and other errors on the Zimbo website). A literary contest conducted by an organization unrelated to publishing or book selling is not likely to provide a step up in your writing career, even if you win.

So what is Zimbo, if it's not a publisher? An ecommerce website "where products and members interact." If this reminds you a bit of eBay, that may not be an accident: Zimbo's parent company, Technocash Pty Ltd., is "a licensed financial institution providing payment solutions" that "presently provides Australian collection services for hundreds of non-Australian eBay sellers." In addition to selling other products, you can sell your book by paying Zimbo $45, for which it will turn your ms. into a pdf file and list it for sale.

- Speaking of which, just by entering the contest, you agree to let Zimbo list and sell your manuscript from its site for one year. Here's Zimbo's explanation of why this is peachy super-keen:

How does Zimbo Books compare to having a book published?

Zimbo Books is much better. For a start you don’t need a publisher to start selling If you are one of the very few lucky authors to get your book published, the time taken to get the book to market is often more than a year. No waiting with Zimbo Books. Plus you get much more money with Zimbo Books for each sale. Many authors get a royalty of 10% paid by the publishers. But it is 10% of the wholesale price not the retail price. For example, if the book has a retail price of $30, it could have a wholesale price of $15 and the 10% royalty is $1.50 – compared to Zimbo with a net sale amount of $7.


Oy. If this inaccuracy-laden rationale doesn't turn you off, consider whether you really want an uncorrected pdf file of your book out there on the Internet. Consider whether you want to possibly put your first publication rights in jeopardy by agreeing to what will almost certainly be perceived by agents and editors as cut-rate self-publishing. Consider that, if you do manage to place your book with an agent or publisher before the year is up, they will probably want you off the Zimbo site--but there's no provision that I could find to allow you to cancel your Zimbo listing before the year is up. Oh, and the listing is automatically renewable. So unless you do cancel, it won't expire.

- So far, a full list of who will be judging the contest is not available. A contest's prestige rests in part on the qualifications of its judges--which you can't assess if you don't know who they are. A short bio of one judge has recently been posted, but while this gentleman is admirably accomplished in his own field, it's unclear how he is qualified judge a literary contest.

- Contest entrants must agree to parent company Technocash's privacy policy, which allows Technocash to disclose personal information to third parties., "Sometimes we provide personal information about customers to organisations outside of Technocash. Generally this will only occur when the organisation or other entity helps us with our business. For example: outsourced service providers including mailing houses or telemarketing agencies; authorised representatives of Technocash; other financial institutions; credit reporting agencies; and our accountants, auditors or lawyers." Since the contest entry form requires contestants to provide not just their email addresses, but their phone numbers and street addresses, I suspect that entrants should be prepared for an increase in spam, junk phone calls, and/or junk snail mail.

Bottom line, in my opinion: Zimbo's competition is not a real literary contest, but a moneymaking venture (the $85 entry fee) in support of another moneymaking venture (I'm guessing that the contest is intended both to bulk up Zimbo's inventory of electronic books, and to promote its $45 "publishing" service). Even if that weren't the case, the enforced publication provision should be enough to make careful writers think twice.

Oh, and that fat prize money? It's listed in US dollars, but according to the fine print, "As Zimbo Books is based in Australia all credit/debit card transaction [sic] are processed in the AUD equivalent."

14 comments:

Kristi Holl said...

Boy, if that outfit isn't illegal, it ought to be! "Send me $85 and if I don't run the contest, I'll give you back $40"??? Thank you for taking considerable time to research and report on these scam artists.
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Armand said...

$45 (plus other $10 to convert it from .doc to .pdf -- which takes 2 seconds or so, with a script on the server!) to list the book online? You're better off paying that for Google AdSense or selling it on eBay.

There's one other thing. They list all over the site an Thawte secure connection seal, which normally means it's a connection secured by a digital certificate issued by Thawte. Only it isn't. I'm not sure if it qualifies as a fraud, but it certainly is misinforming the user. (They do have a Thawte certificate, but it's issued for https://secure.technocash.com.au, not for any of their other hosnames. And the one for which the certificate is issued gives you a very nice "Access denied" message when trying to access it.)

I wouldn't recommend anyone giving away credit card info over unsecured connections, unless they want several dozens of people to have the possibility to see it. (I know I'm being a bit paranoid, but spying for passwords and credit card info on compromised servers is a common practice among crackers/internet frauders. And virtually *any* connection usually goes through 15-30 servers.)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

The sad thing is so many new writers fall for this crap. Thanks for bringing this outrageous outfit into the open, Pat. If you help one hungry writer, you've done your job.

JP Fife said...

Oh goody, we get to pay for spam and junk mail as well as paying to enter a 'contest.'

p.n. elrod said...

I've said it (too many times) before: I am in the WRONG business.

&*##+& conscience.

Captain Black said...

Get OpenOffice.org. It's free. There's a button for "save as PDF..."

Paul Maurice Martin said...

Yes, but you're not being entirely fair here.

I think you should acknowledge that "Zimbo" has a nice ring to it - evoking, for example, "jumbo," "limbo," or "dumbo."

Marian said...

Zimbo's website is... something else.

"You can sell additional books at the same price. Tell your Friends and Relatives and Book Clubs and Everyone"

This reminds me of Winnie the Pooh books. Yes, I shall be sure to tell all Rabbit's Friends and Relatives.

The big advantage of Zimbo Books is that there is no printing, delivery and stock costs of books... The buyer can read your book on their computer or print it out to read in hard copy as they choose.

What a nice experience, using my own paper and printer to produce a great stack of paper I can lug on to the subway each morning.

I really hope no one falls for this kind of tripe.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

There are a couple playwriting contests out there that do something similar---collect high entry fees, promise a large prize, but reserve the right to make no award. There's one "contest" based here in Chicago that collects probably thousands of entry fees every year, but has yet to award a single prize.

Mail fraud, anyone?

evepaludan said...

Thanks for the alert!

Inkpot said...

wow - $80,000 for first place, but only $5,000 for second and third? Seeing as they are dealing with fantasy money (as regards what they will be paying out opposed to the oh so real money they want to fleece contestants of) I think they could have boosted the price money for the runners up. :) Thanks for posting this Victoria.

Steve said...

I received the latest version of the Zimbo spam today. It invited the reader to meet one of the judges of the book competition, Dr Darrell Hines (PhD, MA, MEd, FIMEB, FTCL, FAGM, LMus, LTCL(CMT), ETC, LSDA, LTCL, DipMus). I googled the guy and it turns out he teaches music. There is no mention of him ever reading or judging books. I suspect his name is there to impress us with all his qualifications.

Anonymous said...

Well, since they stole the web design from Etsy.com (source code is copyrighted but that didn't stop them from taking it, copyright notice and all: http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/blog3/?p=1636 ), I wouldn't trust them not to steal your writing.

Victoria Strauss said...

Update on the Zimbo competition: the listing and selling of entered manuscripts on the Zimbo site is now optional, and the registraton fee has dropped to $40.

However, something else has changed as well. The prize pool is no longer $100,000; it's "up to" $100,000. Per a new paragraph in the updated Official Contest Rules,

Zimbo Books will allocate the Registration Fees received, after deduction of 25% administration fee, towards the total prize pool of up to USD 100,000. If the total prize pool is less than USD 100,000 then the five winners will receive prizes calculated on a pro-rata basis to the prizes they would have won if the prize pool was USD 100,000.

This is a common contest fine-print "gotcha:" big prizes are announced to draw in entries, but because the prize money is conditional on the number of entries, winners are actually likely to get much less.