Thursday, August 05, 2010

ShortStoryBook.net (Or, it's Not a Good Idea to Spam Writer Beware)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Think twice before you attempt to promote yourself or your service in the comments sections of what you believe to be similarly-focused blogs.

I probably would never have known about the contest currently being promoted by ShortStoryBook.net, had they not posted this to my Tuesday blog post:
Hi there!

Shortstorybook.net is organizing a short story writing contest.

We do think that you too might have a marvelous story to tell, one that is your own! So if you can compose it in not more than few words, we would want to hear from you. Also, you stand a chance to get your story published on our site and win cash prize of USD 100.

“Then what are you waiting for? …put on your thinking cap and get writing. For registration and other information check - http://bit.ly/short-story-contest-2010

Happy writing!
(Clue #1 to this outfit's lack of cluefulness: their failure to include actual linkage. I will provide it for them: Short Story Contest.)

The contest runs from August 1 to August 10, is for stories of 400-500 words in any genre (including some you may not have thought of: "The prominent categories for writing are Short Children, Love, Horror, Mystery or Fiction Stories"), and is free to enter. All entries will be published at ShortStoryBook.net, where readers can comment and vote. The story with the most votes wins USD $100.

OK, so it's silly (Short Children?), and the wording leaves something to be desired ("So gather up your pens & paper along with your intangible imagination"), but basically it's fairly innocuous, right? Well...

According to the contest guidelines, "Short stories which are accepted and published on Short Story Book cannot be published on any other site or personal blog." That's a bit vague--does it mean stories can't have been previously published? Or that, if entered in the contest, they can't subsequently be published? In the comments that follow the contest announcement, a would-be entrant requests clarification.
One of the rules mentions that the story may not be published on any or site or blog. Does this mean previously published or published after the competition (or both)? Does the author retain copyright on material submitted?
ShortStoryBook.net replies:
1. Yes, previously published short stories on any page on the internet cannot be submitted for this contest.

2. If your short story is published on shortstorybook.net then do not retain the copyrights for it. But we really want the world to know that its your story and hence we have asked for 2-3 lines of description about you which will be added below your story and this could even include a link to your blog.
Still puzzled, another prospective entrant asks:
Can you clarify this, pls

“If your short story is published on shortstorybook.net then do not retain the copyrights for it. ”

Seems a word might be missing.
And finally, from ShortStoryBook.net, a straight answer (my bolding):
Stories once published on shortstorybook.net cannot be published anywhere else [the writer does not retain the copyrights].
In other words, there's a provision of the contest that's not specified in the guidelines--a serious contest red flag--and that provision is itself a major red flag: surrendering your copyright.

Given that there's no official entry form (you just send your story in an email) or Terms of Use to which you must agree in order to enter, the odds that ShortStoryBook.net could or would enforce this provision if you went ahead and published your story somewhere else are probably pretty slim. However, the fact that they believe they own your copyright means they also probably believe they can use your story in any way they wish (for instance, for their short story gift program). Plus, even a copyright transfer as ambiguous as this might be a problem for another publisher, if you wanted to sell your story as a reprint or publish it as part of a collection (even most POD publishing services require you to warrant that you are the copyright owner).

Bottom line: your understanding of the guidelines of any contest you're thinking of entering needs to be crystal clear. If there's any ambiguity at all, don't make assumptions: ask questions. If you can't clarify to your satisfaction, don't enter.

This goes for passing on contest announcements as well. Don't take announcements at face value; research the contest before you blog or tweet about it so you're sure it's reputable.

Additional red flags at ShortStoryBook.net:

- There's no "About" page, or any information at all on owners or staff (Whois data reveals that the URL is registered from India). You thus have no way of verifying who runs the website or why it exists.

- There are no Terms of Use. For any website where you can upload or submit content, there should be a Terms of Use or Terms of Service page describing exactly what your and the site's obligations are, and what, if any, rights you surrender.

- There's no Submissions page, even though there are stories on the site that aren't part of the contest.

All in all, I suspect that ShortStoryBook.net is clueless rather than evil...but that doesn't make its copyright-claiming contest worth entering.

30 comments:

JS said...

Here's a submission for their Short Children category:


Once upon a time there was a girl named Mercy Bump. Unlike her sisters, who grew tall and strong, Mercy hardly grew at all.

Mercy was an intelligent child and knew from a very young age that she was different from the people around her; her health was good, though, and her doctors didn't seem to be worried. She was bright and energetic and talented, and she was a very small girl who became a very small woman.

Her loving parents, and the people in her small town, did everything they could to make it possible for her to explore all her interests. A carpenter built a special seat so she could play the family's parlor organ; she sang in the church choir; she embroidered and sewed and did well in the local school.

When she got older, she decided to try to make a career on the stage, like many other people in that era (the 19th century) who were affected by growth syndromes. She appeared on showboats and in a few New York theatrical productions, where she came to the attention of P.T. Barnum, who made her a star.

She's better known to history under her middle names: Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump was one of the biggest celebrities of the 19th century in fame, if not in size. She and her husband, who performed under the name General Tom Thumb, traveled the world and entertained such luminaries as Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria.

And thus ends a short story about a short child, whose creative talents as much as her physical differences allowed her to build an extraordinary entertainment career.


JS is on the tall side herself, and she thinks this whole project sounds awfully ill-planned. Her favorite fruit is the raspberry.

JS said...

(Note to ShortStoryBook.net: that was not actually a submission; I was just riffing on the "Short Children" typo.)

(Note to other readers: that's a true story. Hooray for Lavinia Warren!)

Abhaya said...

For me, a missing About Us page is always a big red flag. It essentially says that there is something they do not want you to find out. Unfortunately, many (not all) business from India who want to reach out to international audience, tend to do this. I wish my countrymen would be more courageous :)

Abhaya

Nicola Kim said...

Good tips on this blog - now I know what to look out for in any future competition submission. I do agree with previous comments - if there isn't an About page, something is dodgy.

Andrée Lachapelle said...

@ Thanks for making us aware of this (ho-hum) contest, Victoria.

Victoria Strauss said...

Nicola, there are more contest cautions on the Contests and Awards page of the Writer Beware website.

areteus said...

I have seen several scams on the internet which seem to originate in either India or one of the African countries. I suspect it is because it is cheaper to hire labour there. Though it is hard to see where the immediate profit in this is so I am not sure it is a scam just not well thought out. Unless there is some way in which you could gain a lot of money from owning the copyright to a lot of short stories?

For the record, most sensible contracts I have seen include the following:

- Claim on first rights to publish in the country where the publisher is based only (sometimes with an option to negotiate for future rights). This means they get the first chance to publish it in the market they claim (so you cannot then go to another publisher and have them publish the same thing at the same time).

- No long term claim on copyright.

- Low royalties. Or rather, reasonable royalties which do not seem too large to believe (i.e 50% or more). While it may seem a great deal omn paper, generally high royalties for the author also mean less spent on publicising the work, shipping it out to suppliers and all the other things publishers do for their cut. It is better to have a smaller cut of a larger cake than a large cut of nothing.

Genie of the Shell said...

I wonder if areteus has the answer. The first red flag for ME in all this was the frequency of spelling and grammatical errors in a "writing" contest from a "writing" website. The text from Shortstorybook.net reads like a fake software popup from a foreign computer virus. It's hard to believe that any seasoned writer in English as a primary language would fall for this goofy stuff.

Anne R. Allen said...

A big red flag for me is the spammy way they're spreading the word about the contest. I first saw that message as a (blatantly inappropriate)response in the comments threads of a number of writing blogs, then it appeared on mine. I deleted it immediately.

JS, love the short children story!

christine tripp said...

?So if you can compose it in not more than few words,>


"The dog died, the end."

While I know that is more then a "few" words, I think it's a great story with an important message and hopefully a moral for all good little children.

Or, it's me giving scam contests like this the raspberry.... ever SO politely:)

These contests most likely originate in America. You'll find many US citizens willing to send out spam for pennies an email. There is most likely a submission fee, there has to be!

Mrunal Shah said...

Dear All,

The short story contest running on www.shortstorybook.net is not a spam/scam or something which is fake.

Before a contest is marked with a red flag, I think its important for you to be in touch with the organizers and clear all your doubts.

1. We sent notification to people in form of comments so that if you don't find this information valid then you could delete the comment. We could have even sent emails to people. Most of the blogegrs to mention their email address somewhere on the blog.

2. Charging a fee for a contest didn't make any sense to us, in other words it discourages a writer.

3. Yes, whatever you submit for the contest cannot be submitted to any other online contest. What's wrong about this? We want to avoid duplicate content.

4. We have no intentions to use the story for our gift a short story section. Gift a Short Story is a unique idea and you have to read the entire page before you comment on it.

5. Yes, we missed out on the About us page, but that will be up soon.

I'm really upset seeing what people have blindly written about this contest on this blog post.

Regards,

Mrunal Shah
Short Story Book

HailerStar said...

I would like to know how Writer Beware was supposed to contact someone if they have no relevant information on whom to contact regarding the contest (specifically by name).
I also think it is very ironic that the staff/owners of Short Story Book (dot) net are offended that someone would write up an article about their techniques. If you spam someone/everyone's comment section of their blogs and spam their emails then you are bound to have people write up articles about your operating policies. It's logic.
You wanted publicity, now you have it.

Prathmesh said...

How in a world does 'only one' comment be counted as 'a spam'? ;)

Mrunal Shah said...

@HailerStar - On the contest page there is an email address provided which is gift@shortstorybook.net and the other option to contact the organizers is to leave a comment.

Every comment left on the blog has been answered.

Please suggest another way by which we can let people across the world know about this contest.

Mrunal Shah
Short Story Book

Mrunal Shah said...

@Victoria - I'm not sure if you have clearly seen the information on Who-Is for this site.

Name of the owner, address, email address along with telephone number is clearly mentioned.

http://www.whois-search.com/whois/www.shortstorybook.net

Mrunal Shah
Short Story Book

Jeannie said...

@ Mrunal Shah

I'm going to assume that we've got some cultural miscommunication going on here.

In general, leaving your advertisements on the comment section of someone else's blog comes across as impolite. Really, it's not the best way to approach people. If you would like to advertise to a large number of writers, go to a site like AbsoluteWrite (www.absolutewrite.com/forums/), sign up as a member (it's free), and place your announcement in the appropriate forum--yes, there is a place specifically marked for promotion and other such announcements. Be prepared to answer questions. Some of them may be skeptical, and you'll have to be ready to talk about yourself, and why you are doing this.

Second, Victoria is right when she says that asking for an assignment of copyright is an alarm signal. This will get you negative attention every time. If you don't want previously published work, that's fine. But copyright is a different thing. When you ask for copyright, you are asking for all the rights to a story, forever and ever. If you want to publish a story exclusively, you need to have a better understanding of how rights are divided up, particularly in North America. You need to decide if you are going to ask for one-time rights, or for a limited term of rights. You need to make it clear to contestants whether you are asking for print rights, e-rights, multi-media (including audio rights), and for how long. "Forever" is so unfavorable to the writer and any plans they may have for their story in future, that if you ask for it, you can expect sites like Writer Beware to warn potential contestants that your terms may not be in their best interests.

I'm sorry if all this sounds a little harsh, but I think it might help you to become more familiar with North American publishing practices before you try to recruit contestants from this territory.

Best of luck!

Mrunal Shah said...

@Jeannie

Your comment was indeed helpful and we will take necessary steps to make sure that the contestants are provided with all necessary information.

Thanks,

Mrunal Shah
Short Story Book

Lydia Sharp said...

They had posted to my blog as well, same day I think. I deleted the comment, but I have no idea how many readers saw it before I did. grrrrr...

A misinterpreted wave said...

I was totally confused with the etiquette of it all, suspected it was a hoax (looks like a hoax, quacks like a hoax etc), but didn't want to appear rude.

I think in my desire to remain polite I have looked silly. To be honest I didn't give this 'competition' another thought and only now realise the damage I could have done by not deleting the comment :( I am now scampering off to mend the error of my ways :)

Liz said...

At least, your spam was writing-related. I have had everything from escort services to erection sets on mine. I had to start moderating, a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Mrunal Shah, maybe you are running what you believe to be a legitimate contest but the wording is not clear. When we see unclear or confusing instructions, we call it ofuscation, which means that people immediately suspect that there is a hidden meaning or possible interpretation that can be used against the writer later on. In the western hemisphere, we've had decades of this from our politicians and small print on contracts. People are suspicious of this and tend to steer clear from it, so it won't help you attract contestants.

The omission of a subject with the verb "not retain" was also very confusing. Who won't retain copyright, the writer or the site? Again, most people will be suspicious. You need to state your message clearly.

Then you get all upset that people question you and point out the problems. What did you expect? You invade other people's blogs. OK, it worked for you and got you tons of free publicity, but if that publicity turned out to be negative, again what did you expect, given the nature and purpose of this blog here?

It might be a cultural difference or it might be a language barrier, but I wouldn't submit a short story to you under the conditions you request, sorry.

A Ramble in Aphasia said...

Dear Mrunal,

People have not written “blindly” about this contest. There’s nothing to get upset about. You must admit that though your intentions may have been genuine your approach has issues.

1. Sending a notification either in the comments of a blog posts or sending unsolicited emails to a large group of people is termed as spam. Bloggers mention their email address to communicate with readers, not to get spam mail.

2. Not charging a fee is fine, but you don’t mention who are the judges or what happens to entries that don’t win any prize.

3. Avoiding duplicate content is OK, but you are asking writers to give up all rights to their story, if I am not mistaken. If you are aware of the various rights offered, you would know that writers would be unwilling to give up all rights simply for a possible chance to win $100.

4. If you have no intentions to use the story for the ‘gift a short story’ section, what is the harm in mentioning this explicitly in the contest rules and guidelines?

5. Missing an About us page is a huge issue. Ideally when anyone creates a genuine website that’s one of the first pages that is built. For me this was also the major red flag that stopped me from entering the contest. Why would anyone submit their hard work to a site when they don’t know the person behind it? How can they verify the organizers’ credentials?

Overall, I’d suggest you take a look at other genuine writing competitions websites and follow their model.

Also, please get someone to proofread the website completely. The number of spelling and grammatical errors is quite high which is another problem for a site conducting a writing contest.

Sidenote - Word veri: derds, = deluded nerds?

Victoria Strauss said...

Mrunal,

If you announce a contest in the comments section of a blog that's devoted to exposing the schemes and scams that prey on writers, you shouldn't be surprised when the blogger takes a close look at you. As I said in my post, I'd probably never have known your contest existed if you hadn't left your comment. It just points up the importance of researching the venue before you attempt to promote to it.

3. Yes, whatever you submit for the contest cannot be submitted to any other online contest. What's wrong about this? We want to avoid duplicate content.

But that's not what you said on your website. You said this (by the way, I see you've gotten rid of the short children):

Short stories which are accepted and published on Short Story Book cannot be published on any other site or personal blog.

And then you said this:

Stories once published on shortstorybook.net cannot be published anywhere else [ the writer does not retain the copyrights].

I did wonder whether your apparent copyright transfer requirement arose from confusion about the difference between rights and copyright. But even if it does, and you didn't actually intend to take possession of contest entrants' copyrights, there's nothing on your site to let writers know what rights they are granting by entering your contest. That's a very, very basic contest red flag.

BTW, I did check your Whois information (there's a link in my post) but I don't think that writers should have to check domain registrations in order to figure out who's running a website.

Ricky Bush said...

Ahh...registered in India, huh? My guess was going to be Nigeria.

Marian Perera said...

I checked out their site. There's one category for "Fiction Stories", one for "Romance Stories" and one for "Love Stories".

Anonymous said...

It's like the pyramid scheme by a Dr. Tim Kaiser last year. Somebody is pulling our leg...

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to Dr. Tim Kaiser, by the bye? Is he still running his short story service?

Mrunal Shah said...

All missing information has been added on Short Story Book.

Thanks,

Mrunal Shah

Victoria Strauss said...

Mrunal, thanks for the comment. I see you've added quite a bit of information, including an "About Us" page, which is great.

However, you still haven't clarified the rights issue--specifically, what rights writers surrender when they enter your short story contest. If you truly intend to require writers to surrender copyright, you need to make this clear in the contest guidelines--and you need some sort of wording indicating that by submitting to the contest, writers accept and understand the guidelines and the rights they're giving up.

christine tripp said...

Mrunal, most writers would never consider giving up the copyright to their work, especially not without payment.
You might want to reconsider this as there is no need to transfer copyright to enter a contest.