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

August 10, 2018

Contest Beware: Fiction War Magazine


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Fiction War Magazine, owned by Wolvesburrow Productions ("a front-to-back engineer of design, publishing, in print, and online content"), is a publisher of flash fiction (500-1,000 words). In addition to an open call, for which it charges a $5 submission fee via Submittable, it runs regular competitions--for instance, this one, for the third quarter of 2018. The fees for these quarterly contests are quite a bit higher: $25, plus a $3.45 "fee", for a total of $28.45.

Entry fees are not necessarily a sign of a questionable competition--though they do need to be proportional. Presumably, in Fiction War's case, they go to fund the sizeable prizes: $1,000 for the winner and $100 for 14 finalists, all of whom are promised publication in an issue of the magazine.

Prizes or no, $28.45 is still a big entry fee for a 500-1,000 word story--which, to my mind, raises the question of whether Fiction War may have folded some profit in there. I also find it somewhat unsavory that Fiction Wars has an affiliate program, which pays "recruiters" a 25% referral bonus for every registration they refer. (The tag line: "Quickly earn enough to pay your own entry fee!")

These concerns, along with competition guidelines that provide for prize payment "within 30 days of print publication" (it's always a red flag when publishers pay on or after publication, since they may use such provisions to delay or avoid payment--but prize winnings should never made contingent like this), and include language* requiring entrants to grant exclusive first and ongoing non-exclusive publishing rights simply by submitting (in other words, if you submit a story to Fiction War, you cannot ever publish it anywhere else unless Fiction War publishes it first), would be enough for me to advise serious caution to anyone thinking of entering one of Fiction War's competitions.

However, it appears that there are even more pressing reasons to avoid Fiction War.

Over the past two weeks, I've gotten multiple complaints from authors who won the grand prize or were chosen as finalists in one or another of Fiction War's competitions: aggressive editing (to writers concerned about major, and in some cases apparently random, changes to their work, Fiction Wars responded that they could always re-publish the original version elsewhere once the magazine had been released), major editing and proof delays (over a year in some cases), and prize payments delayed by months or absent entirely (see the payment provisions, above).

Although Fiction War is supposed to be quarterly, only two magazines have actually been published, both in 2017. Despite this, and even as timeliness and payment problems continued to develop and compound over the course of 2017 and 2018, Fiction Wars continued to conduct and advertise competitions (and, of course, to collect entry fees).

Writers who contacted me told me that they believe Fiction War is a well-intentioned enterprise that has gotten in over its head. But good intentions and $2.75 will get you on the subway, and if I had a dollar for every well-intentioned publisher I've heard about whose good intentions didn't prevent it from screwing its authors over, I'd have a nice nest egg by now. To me, Fiction War's recent response, to a writer who contacted it to ask about payment, speaks volumes: "Please know that we take defamation very seriously."

As of this writing, Duotrope has de-listed Fiction War.


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* Here's the actual language of the grant of rights clause.


Competitions often require writers to grant various rights upon submitting, as a kind of shortcut ensuring that the competition will have those rights already in hand when winners are chosen. But such a requirement should be temporary, and should always be balanced by language ensuring that rights are released back to entrants if they don't win. There's no such language in Fiction War's guidelines.

UPDATE 8/11/18: Fiction War responds.


It's pretty clear that Fiction War either doesn't understand, or is seriously misinterpreting, its own grant of rights language.

By requiring writers to grant first publishing rights simply by submitting to the contests, and failing to release them from that grant if they aren't chosen for publication, Fiction War is making it impossible for any writer who submits to its contests to publish anywhere else. To put it another way, Fiction War is not only claiming first publication rights for all submissions, it is retaining those rights even for writers who don't win its contests or are not chosen for publication.

It is not uncommon for a competition to claim exclusive first publishing rights if it intends to publish winners, finalists, etc. (even though writers thinking of entering such a competition should consider how long they are willing to have their work off the market). But its guidelines MUST include language releasing that claim THE INSTANT writers are eliminated from the competition. Fiction War currently does not do this.

Also, prize winnings should not be treated like story payments. Publishers can and do pay on or after publication (though this can be a red flag, as indicated above)--but prize winnings should be disbursed immediately upon announcement of the winners, and not made contingent upon a further action, such as publication.

I'm also scratching my head over this, received this morning. I appreciate the polite tone, but...really?
ANOTHER UPDATE 8/11/18: Fiction War continues to respond. Note the reference to "bullies."


UPDATE 8/13/18: Fiction War has added the following to the guidelines on its competition pages, just below the grant of rights language quoted above (though it has not changed its general submission guidelines): "For works not selected for publishing, all rights are solely held by the author."

In private correspondence with me, Fiction War has indicated that this is intended to address the concerns about rights that I've outlined in this post. Unfortunately the language it has chosen is quite vague, and does not make explicitly clear a) that the grant of rights does terminate (unless they surrender copyright, authors always hold all their rights; that's what makes it possible for them to license those rights to others), or b) if it terminates, when (do writers find out they haven't been chosen for publication when competition winners are announced? Some other time?)

Here's the language I suggested to Fiction War: "For writers who are not chosen for publication, this grant of rights terminates immediately upon announcement of the winners."

All of this quibbling over wording may seem trivial, but any writer who's been involved in a dispute over contract terms knows how non-trivial the consequences of vague, imprecise, or incomplete contract language can be. Here's just one example.

16 comments :

Anonymous said...

But instead of a cogent, blistering rebuttal to the allegations, Fiction War responded with a generic weak defense. Really? As editors would Fiction War publish a work that ended with "And then the good guys killed all of the bad guys. The end."?

Use your words, Fiction War.

Victoria Strauss said...

Did they respond publicly? Where?

Anonymous said...

They say they responded directly to you. No?

Anonymous said...

$10 off Fiction War Fall registration with this Promotional Code: WRITERBEWARE
https://fictionwar18q4.eventbrite.com?discount=WRITERBEWARE

Diana Brown said...

They also posted a letter on their Facebook page and pinned on their twitter feed (near the end, I do believe they mention you Victoria. "Any statements referring to our agreement as a "rights grab,"...is intentionally false, and definitely libelous."

They have deleted all comments from the facebook page image of the letter and turned off commenting. They have blocked at least half a dozen people who posted very reasonable questions to their twitter (and have deleted and reposted the letter on twitter at least twice in order to remove replies).

www.twitter.com/fictionwar
https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=fiction%20war

Diana Brown said...

(oops - my error. they haven't turned off comments on FB. They have just blocked *some of us from commenting and are deleting comments by others so quickly that it *seems like there are none)

Victoria Strauss said...

Fiction War did write me a long email, but they asked me to keep it confidential so I haven't mentioned it.

I've updated my post to reflect their public statement (as well as the weird offer of a "WRITERBEWARE" discount on registrations).

Anonymous said...

Thank you Victoria for exposing this debacle. I am one of the affected winners from a competition last year. To date, the only response I've received from Fiction War regarding my queries is an email claiming volunteer slowness and change in structure as reasons for their poor publication performance. If you look closely, which I'm sure you have, the payment of awards is based on accepting their edited version of your story. If you withdraw, you lose your prizemoney. I have also been blocked from their Fiction Warriors facebook page, probably because of past queries on the page, but more likely due to my most recent email to them on the day the Duotrope delisting came out. Any comments that show the magazine in poor light are deleted, both from their facebook pages and from twitter. I am still considering what to do about my winning story. I have to this point not withdrawn because I did not want to disadvantage other winning writers from my competition, in that if I withdraw my story, there will not be enough stories to publish a full magazine. However, as the fallout continues, I now believe many have already withdrawn, so the likelihood of my story getting published, and the chance of receiving my prizemoney, is nil. The fact that Fiction War continues to promote their competition is disturbing. In the latest Atom Bomb contest, the deadline continues to get shifted as they need "four more 100 word stories" to complete their shortlist. I don't know what makes them think a further four stories will be better than any they already have. To me, this is a money grab, and writers around the world are being scammed. It is only through posts like yours that the word can spread, and perhaps someone in the future can be spared the financial loss. Thank you.

Allen F said...

Their reactions suggest they know they have no actual defense to the questioning of their actions/methods.

If I were a betting man I'd bet they didn't didn't con anywhere near enough writers to pay the winners out of the pockets of losers, so they're not going to be publishing anything without a lot more 'losers'.

As has been mentioned, any contract that holds 'first publishing' rights with no time limit is a rights grab - even more so for those that don't 'win'.

Avoid these jokers and those like them. Never sign a contract you haven't read all of or don't understand.

Anonymous said...

There have been no contracts signed. But in their submission guidelines, they can change the rules whenever they like.

Allen F said...

In this case submitting is agreeing to their contract terms, which as you pointed out can change without warning or reason. A very good reason to not submit.

Allen F said...

@ VS

I'm wondering if they thought using your site would help defuse your warning - $10 off if the writer reads your warnings and is still dumb enough to submit to them.

Anonymous said...

Allen F, yes in hindsight, it would have been a good reason not to submit. But at the time, fellow writers were winning and getting paid. You see, this is how long this debacle has gone on. those days were over a year ago. It's been nearly a year since I submitted in good faith that this was a good writing contest. they have facebook pages and a fiction warrior group so everything was transparent. I suspect they have run out of money and need entry fees to continue there existence. But it's not helping if nobody gets paid their winnings. Nor does it help when they delete any negative comment or question, as is what has been happening for months.

Allen F said...

Foresight is looking at something and saying: "What could possibly go wrong?"

Sadly in this case quite a bit as you've discovered the hard way. If they never publish another thing you've lost whatever you sent them with that 'first publish rights' you agreed to by submitting. And thirty bucks. I lost $60 long ago to another scheme, learn from it and move on - preferably not falling for another trick like this one. Warn others if you will, with luck you'll see a warning before losing any money/time/art on the next one.

Yes, they might have seemed honest when you applied, but that agreement of theirs was very one-sided, always watch out and avoid them - the 'prize' might hurt more than it helps.

Oh, and never depend on what you read on facebonk and twit - as they proved they can remove/hide/overrun anything that makes them look bad. (You do know you can 'buy' facebonk likes and other underhanded stuff - right?)

Good luck to you and keep writing. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Allen F. I note the above added response from the magazine. It's funny but had they answered queries at all, they would not have ended up in the mess they are now. And their rules keep changing. I'm tired of it now. Watching them try to wriggle out of their responsibilities and watching other writers continue to give them money is draining.

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