Before You Sign | Prizes and Competitions

01 December 2021 Before

This month with our own Authors Awards deadlines looming we asked the advisors what you should look out for when entering prizes and competitions.

They said prizes and competitions can be a great way to increase your reputation, make sales and even earn money. Many are reputable but some can be little more than scams, taking all your rights or demanding entrance fees but never giving anything in return.

You can find good practical advice on the site for the Artists Bill of Rights campaign. They point out that companies, publishers and magazines constantly require creative works to promote their products and earn revenues. Like all business commodites, the value of these rights should be subject to negotiation between you and the organisation that wants the rights to use your works.

However, some organisations don't want to pay you for rights to use your work, so they try to get them from you for nothing by running a competition. They ask you to submit a creative work, a short story for example, to a competition while dangling an offer of publication to encourage submissions. In this way they prey on the natural desire to see your work being promoted, often touting the benefit of 'exposure'. Remember that exposure can kill. What you need is to earn money from your creative work.

The terms and conditions of these competitions form a contract whereby you grant the rights to use your work to the organisation promoting the competition. Remember to check these terms carefully.

Some prizes and competitions ask for entrance fees. This might be reasonable - it is extremely expensive and time consuming to organise a prize, pay judges and read all the entries - but the fees should not be subsidising the prizes. Check the actual prize money and the reputation of any prize before paying an entrance fee, and if you are suspicious contact previous winners.

Check what rights you are giving away. Sometimes the terms and conditions demand an assignment of copyright, allowing the organiser the right to use your works forever, to use them in advertising, even to profit from these rights by sub-licensing the rights to other organisations with no benefit ever being returned to you. This practice is often termed 'rights grabbing.' Ensure that you only allow one-time limited use at most, and that you are always fully credited.

As always, send all agreements to us for checking before you sign anything.

And on a final note: if you have a publisher, always ask them to submit your work for a prize rather than submitting it yourself. Oddly, if you submit to a prize yourself then it is subject to tax, but if it's done on your behalf then it isn't.

The Authors Awards are run by authors, for authors, and avoid these practices on principle so you can submit with peace of mind.