Beware of Contests Offering Publishing Contracts

Highlighter seriesEven though words are our stock-and-trade, many writers are intimidated by contract wording. The pages look fuzzy and convoluted, like  some math-test nightmare from high school. Writers assume they won’t understand the contracts, so they close their eyes and click SUBMIT.

Nonsense. If you can write a book, then you can read a contract well enough to spot a bad deal. The trick is knowing where to look.

This post is the first of the Highlighter Series in which I will take actual contacts, highlight key provisions, and explain meanings and consequences. I won’t tell you NOT to sign these contracts, but I will tell you NOT to sign these contracts unless you understand what you are giving away and that you have better choices.

My first victim: MeeGenius Author Challenge

Last week, a friend asked me to look at the MeeGenius Original Publishing Agreement. MeeGenius publishes digital children’s books, particularly for tablets. She was about to submit her picture book to the MeeGenius Author Challenge, but the Publishing Agreement scared her.

I opened the Agreement. I looked first for any section titled Grant of Rights or License. This is always a good place to start. If you find unacceptable terms, then you don’t need to read any further.

What I found was troubling:

2. Grant of Exclusive Book Rights

If MeeGenius accepts your Manuscript, you agree to grant, and hereby grant, to MeeGenius exclusive worldwide, perpetual rights, with the right to sublicense, to publish and otherwise “use” (as defined further below) the Manuscript as a book, in print form, audio book, sound recording, and/or any other analog, digital or digitized formats, for distribution in original or translated versions in all languages, in all cases, over or via any communications network or medium, in all cases, whether now existing or hereafter devised…

MeeGenius may make edits and adapt the Manuscript to render the “Work” as one or more linear or enhanced books. MeeGenius may add or replace illustrations, cover art, songs, audio narration, sounds, video, images and graphics commissioned and/or owned by MeeGenius or licensed from third parties (” MeeGenius Added Work “)…

The rights granted by you will be referred to as “Book Rights.” The Book Rights are exclusive including as to yourself. This mean you may not grant any further Book Rights in the Manuscript without MeeGenius’s approval…

MeeGenius will also have the right to create a series of or other derivative books based on one or more of the story lines, characters, specific passages of text, actual illustrations or derivatives illustrations in the style thereof, or other aspects of the Manuscript or Work, on the same royalty and payment terms as provided herein as applicable…

My comments: So MeeGenius may publish e-books, print books, audio books, sound recordings, and translations in currently existing media as well as formats developed in the future. They may even create a series based upon the author’s works. This is unacceptably broad.  I recommend against granting rights to a publisher unless that publisher has the experience and track-record to develop, publish and market that particular format successfully.

MeeGenius produces ebooks only. Why would an ebook company want rights it cannot use? Because the agreement also gives MeeGenius the right to sublicense and assign its rights to others. They could sell off your work without your consent.

But there’s more.

4. Grant of Non-Exclusive “Other Rights.”

Without duplication of the “Book Rights” above, you agree to grant, and hereby grant, to MeeGenius non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual rights, with rights to sublicense, in and to the Manuscript and any resulting Work(s) to create derivative works in any non-Book formats in any and all media, whether now existing or hereafter devised (the “ Other Rights ”)…

Some examples of Other Rights can include adapting the Work as a video game, virtual environment, stage dramatization, movie, television, etc., licensing a character, title, illustration, or a portion of the contents for merchandising goods or services, or creating derivative works (other than as covered by the Book Rights) based on one or more of the story lines, characters, specific passages of text, actual illustrations or derivatives illustrations in the style thereof, or other aspects of any of the Work.

My comments: The grant of movie, broadcast, merchandising and other rights is non-exclusive, which means you could sell these rights to others. But in reality, as long as MeeGenius has non-exclusive rights, no one else will want to invest in creating a movie, show or merchandise since (i) MeeGenius could piggy-back on any success, and (ii) MeeGenius gets a cut of all revenues generated by others. Also unacceptable.

Can you ever get out of the MeeGenius Agreement? Unlikely.

9. Term; Termination.

Termination. This Agreement may be terminated by either party upon written notice to the other party as follows:

  • By you, upon sixty (60) days’ prior written notice to MeeGenius, if MeeGenius breaches its payments obligations and MeeGenius fails to cure such payment breach within such 60-day period.
  • By you, if MeeGenius fails to publish the Manuscript as a Work on any part of its publishing platform within twelve (12) months of its receipt and formal written acceptance of such Manuscript…
  •  By you with respect to any individual Work, upon at least sixty (60) days’ prior written notice to MeeGenius identifying such Work, if MeeGenius ceases to publish or otherwise make available for purchase such Work pursuant to any of the Book Rights in any format and on any medium for a consecutive period of six (6) months, provided that no such termination notice shall be effective if MeeGenius demonstrates that such Work was made available in a format or on a medium pursuant to any of the Book Rights during the 6-month period alleged or resumes publishing or making available such Work within such 60-day notice period.

My comments: If they fail to publish or make your work available for purchase, then you may terminate. To avoid termination, all they have to do is offer your ebook for sale on Amazon for a few days.

My blood pressure was so high at this point I kept researching.

Here’s more from the Official Rules and Conditions, as well as their Website

Even if you are not a winner, MeeGenius reserves the right to publish and use all or a part of your entry as an eBook and for other uses as described and provided for in the MeeGenius Standard Form of Publishing Agreement, in which case you may be contacted separately with an acceptance of your entry for publication purposes only.

My comments: So, merely by submitting to the contest, you could be forced into this Agreement. However, there is no $1500 cash prize. There is no mention of any advance.

If you are not a winner or separately contacted about publication by December 31, 2014, all rights in your submission fully revert back to you and you retain full rights to your submission.

My comments: So they hold onto your rights for months. This is significant because the website also states:

Your manuscript cannot be submitted to any other publishing houses or challenges during the review period. Once your rights are reverted back to you then you have full rights to submit your manuscript with other publishers.

My comments: So writers are granting them a six-month exclusive.

I kept going. An internet search led me to troubling complaints by MeeGenius employees on GlassDoor.

And check out reviews on Amazon.

Of course, MeeGenius will pay the standard author royalties on any and all of sales derived from the author’s work. They are not stealing anyone’s creations, but they are asking for more than I would be comfortable giving.

Writers, you do not have to agree to contract terms such as these. Seek out companies and contests with fair, author-friendly terms. Give them your work and your business. We want them to thrive alongside writers.

And, let’s work together here. As you come across egregious, over-reaching contracts, or fair, balanced agreements, please send me an email. I will help spread the word.

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4 responses to “Beware of Contests Offering Publishing Contracts”

  1. I’m sure it is possible to get a contract that works for both parties. But a lot of these contests don’t want any problems with any of their submissions ever after – so they just take all the rights without giving anything back.

    It gotten to the point that I eschew anything that isn’t just up to me – I don’t trust anyone any more. Me, I can trust. If I take a picture, and it isn’t of someone recognizable, I can use it. If I write it, I can safely publish it. If I need something, I figure out how to generate it.

    My brain doesn’t work well enough to find all the little ways you can go wrong with signing or agreeing online.

    I’m HOPING at least publishing on Amazon, for starters, will be straightforward.

    What’s the best way, when a friend lets you use a picture and ‘doesn’t want anything for it,’ to make sure that stays true, even if the photo-cover becomes famous? Does that hold true for his heirs?


  2. Hello Helen,

    We read your post with great interest.

    Firstly, the most fundamental fact was omitted from the post: We are one of very few publishers who read every single unagented manuscript that comes through the door, and to that end, we do the work of an agent in helping develop books into other formats to secure more opportunities for revenue for our authors. That is, as you and your author friend must know, a pretty big deal.

    In any aspect. Our doors are open to anyone with a story to tell, and you can ask our 200+ authors about what’s it like being a member of the MeeGenius family. In fact, you are welcome to search Twitter for #MGAuthorChallenge to read quotes from different authors who have participated and won the challenge and tweeted about it. These are real and live people, not two pseudo or anonymous names hiding in a review site.

    Do we sound too excited? we definitely are. We are passionate about what we do – allowing anyone in the universe with a pen, to fulfill their dream of becoming a children book author. We salute and we’re protective of the people who muster the courage and share their creativity and gift with us.

    With that concept in mind, all resources, risk, time and effort, that an agent invests with picking the right talent, we need to do ourselves. We too need to protect ourselves – we put a lot of time, money and effort promoting our books and authors, and want to be clear we need full cooperation and commitment from the author. This is pretty standard. Just like any other contract between a service provider and an individual.

    We pride ourselves with giving an open door to ANYONE to submit their manuscript. We’d like to think you can see that as well.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Run from this company. I also don’t believe the terms are fair and the company is posed to exploit your work, sharing tiny profits amongst a large base of other authors. The comment above from the employee about how the company does not use an agent is interesting, and I think it shows in the quality of some of the work in their inventory (some of it is really bad!). It is also presented as an excuse for the poor contract terms, the two are not connected. I’ve also had the misfortune of using the platform – constantly crashes. run!

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