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The official contest rules reveal that the competition is for unpublished book-length manuscripts of between 50,000 and 300,000 (!)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.
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."