Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

December 18, 2015

Almond Press Redux: Revenge-Rating a Critic

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week I wrote about Neoglyphic Entertainment, which responded to criticism of the rules of its Neoverse writing competition by engaging in productive dialogue and ultimately making the rules more author-friendly.

Not everyone in the small press world is so open to change. In my experience, and that of the countless authors who've contacted me about their publisher troubles, small presses are at least as likely to react to critiques of their contracts or business practices with defensiveness and anger. Or even, sometimes, attempts at retaliation.

Case in point: Almond Press, whose short story competition I featured here last July. Essentially, the competition was a way for Almond to gather free material for an anthology--the competition winner received a cash prize but none of the other entrants received any payment other than "exposure." (The anthology lineup can be seen here.) I wrote,
Even if Almond isn't reaping a secret profit from free stories, though, this is yet another example of the increasingly prevalent writing culture that urges authors to work for exposure, rather than for fair monetary compensation. Sometimes, exposure may be indeed be worth it--if Tor were to run a similar competition (not that it would), it might be worth entering. But where exposure is the main or only compensation for publication, you really need to parse its meaning. Does publication in an anthology from an obscure small press with Amazon sales rankings in the hundred thousands constitute "exposure?" If so, is it an equitable tradeoff for being paid for the exploitation of your intellectual property?
Well, Almond Press was not happy with that assessment, which is understandable. But did they change the competition rules? Did they decide to compensate all their authors? Did they contact me to discuss my post or even to threaten me with legal action?

No. Nothing that mature.

Last week I was checking my books on Goodreads, which I do sometimes to see if there've been any new reviews (yes, yes. I know). I noticed a brand-new one-star rating on one of them, from...could it be? Almond Press!


Interesting, I thought. So I clicked on Almond's profile...and what should I discover but this:


That's right. Almond Press had revenge-rated every single one of my books. Clearly, a small press staffed by grownups.

I contacted Goodreads, which told me that everyone is entitled to an opinion--which is certainly true, if it's actually an opinion and not a childish attempt at retaliation. So it would appear that Almond's revenge-ratings are there to stay. Not that big of a deal, really--unless, of course, you think that publishers should respond to criticism in a forthright and professional manner.

Hmm. Maybe I should check Amazon.

December 9, 2015

Neoverse Writing Competition Makes Its Rules More Author-Friendly

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This is the kind of post I wish I got to write more often.

For the past couple of weeks I've been getting inquiries about the Neoverse Short Story Writing Competition, sponsored by Neoglyphic Entertainment.

The competition is free to enter--always a good thing--and offers cash prizes as well as anthology publication for the winners. But there was a problem: the Official Rules, which included a number of author-unfriendly provisions. All entrants were required to grant exclusive publishing rights, even though only the best 20 would be included in the anthology. While the top 10 entrants received cash prizes, entrants 11-20 got no payment at all. And Neoglyphic retained a right of first refusal for entered stories that received other publishing offers--not just an overly sweeping claim, but a conflict with the exclusive grant of rights.

I've devoted a lot of blog space to bad contest terms, but given the lure of writing contests, it's a subject that never goes out of style. I was preparing a post on the Neoverse competition when I received an email from Neoglyphic's co-founder and COO, David Ramadge, introducing himself and his company and asking for feedback. I sent back a list of questions...and to make a long story short, David and his colleagues--who were already working to change things based on advice from other experts--have re-written the rules.

The new rules can be seen here. (For comparison, the old rules have been left online.) The grant of rights is now non-exclusive, and only the 20 winners grant publishing rights; other entrants grant only the right for their stories to be distributed for the purpose of judging. All 20 winners now receive cash prizes, making the anthology a paying market.* The right of first refusal is gone, and the license terms overall have been simplified and clarified. And all these changes are retroactive. If you've already entered, you are now covered by the new rules.

I have to say that I'm very impressed with Neoglyphic's openness to change. So often, small presses respond to criticism and suggestion with anger and intransigence. Neoglyphic says it wants to be "a positive contributor to the writing community"; in my opinion, it has made a good start.

So should you enter? That's up to you. In addition to the cash prizes, the competition promises "Visibility, Recognition, Reward" for the authors published in the anthology--a promise that may or may not be deliverable, even for an established publisher.

And Neoglyphic is not an established publisher. It is a new company, and the anthology will be only its second publication (the first will be Sunborn Rising, an "immersive novel"). When I asked David Ramadge why authors should consider an as-yet untested publisher--especially given the volatility of the small press world, where new publishers are as likely to fail as to survive--he told me: "[W]e are a company aimed at building tools for storytellers and creators....In regards to the readership of this anthology, we obviously do not know with certainty what kind of distribution we will achieve but are confident in the relationships and marketing abilities of our team to provide a meaningful result for our winners. This is also why we made the entry free and the prizes generous, because we are new....[F]or us this contest is about building goodwill and a name for ourselves, and so it is in our interest to make this as successful as possible."

The submission deadline for the Neoverse Short Story Writing Competiion is December 20, 2015.

~~~~~

* Authors do not receive royalties from the Neoverse competition anthology; the prize money is their only compensation. Some people feel that a royalty structure is a more equitable form of payment, because it allows authors a share of profit--but especially for small press anthologies, where distribution may be limited and sales may be small, my feeling is that a flat fee is preferable to a percentage of income split among a big pool of contributors.

In any case, David Ramadge tells me that Neoglyphic plans to reinvest any profits the anthology may realize: "From a financial perspective, never has it been our goal to generate a direct profit with this contest; if we do happen to sell anthology copies to cover the costs of prizes, production and marketing then those funds will go directly back into the Neoverse contest."
 
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