Last week I heard about a contest that made my inner child squee. The Jim Henson Company in partnership with Grosset and Dunlap are looking for someone to write a YA book in the world of The Dark Crystal.
I love The Dark Crystal.
In my opinion, it's one of the few kids movies that has gotten better with time. The story and characters are solid, the world is engaging...in short it's one of the few sandboxes (that aren't mine) that I'd love to play in. When I heard about the contest I thought this would be my chance to do just that. Well....
After reading the official rules I had to take that desire out back and shoot it execution style. It was for my own good, really. You see, according to the rules, all entrants have no independant rights to their entry, name, image, or anything else in conjunction with the contest. I understand why they don't want the entrants to sell their work independently. Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Brian Froud worked very hard to make the world of The Dark Crystal what it is and I can't blame the company for wanting to protect that, especially in light of the recent fanfic ruling. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to let them have the rest of those rights. If I sent in a short story and I won, the story would become their property and there's nothing I could do to stop them. The simple act of sending an entry means that I would have agreed to ALL the terms and conditions. There's no room for exceptions or negotiations. It's a package deal.
But oh! It doesn't end there.
The winner is contracted to write a YA novel that may or may not be based on their winning entry and there's no mention of payment. Grosset and Dunlap also reserve the right to not award a prize if they don't think the entries are up to snuff. Take a moment to think of all the twisted implications of that. They will have all those entires -- and the full rights to said entires -- that they can publish to their heart's content and not only do they not have to pay the author(s), they don't have to award grand prize to anyone. Everyone loses but the publisher.
Now, I may not have much of a love life, but I'm not that eager to be screwed.
If there's one thing I took away from the Superstars Writing Seminar (other than the importance of reading contest rules and contracts) it's that it's impossible to make a living as a writer if you throw your rights away like rice at a wedding. The old sayings "Look before you leap" and "Cover your ass" need to be tattooed on the back of a writer's hand. Heeding those two phrases will prevent a lot of pain and heartache.
I do want to make perfectly clear that I'm not writing this post to tarnish the Jim Henson Company's good name. I love what they do and the passion they have for their work. But they're puppeteers and artists, not publishers. If this worst case scenario plays out the blame will be on the publisher for screwing over the unsuspecting entrants. Granted, I don't have proof that they're going to screw anyone but Grosset and Dunlap (and their parent company, Penguin Group) have been doing this long enough to know exactly what they're doing. I sincerely hope that their intentions are good and they do intend to award the prize and a contract that involves more favorable terms (including payment) to the winner. However, I'm cynical and wary enough that I don't want to jump into bed with a publisher without a pre-nup.