FirstOne Publishing Has the Last Word in Bad PR Responses

imageVia Colleen Lindsay, a big ol’ heads up with impending ORLY? surrounding FirstOne Digital Publishing. FirstOne is a new digital press (Wait, why do I hear popcorn popping? Stop that!) that opened its doors this week with a contest that raised a few eyebrows. Aside from what Laura Anne Gilman noted in her entry as the standard hyperbole of a newly launching digital press, there’s a contest with a rather high entrance fee of $149 and a clause that has an Absolute Write thread discussing the entire concept in detail.

The clause reads, on the FirstOne website:

All submissions become sole property of Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned. By submitting an entry, all entrants grant Sponsor the absolute and unconditional right and authority to copy, edit, publish, promote, broadcast, or otherwise use, in whole or in part, their entries, in perpetuity, in any manner without further permission, notice or compensation.

In other words, as I and others are reading that, you pay a $149 fee, submit, and lose many, many rights to your work before the contest has even begun. You pay them, they can take your work and do all kinds of fun and profitable things with it… and not pay you a penny.

Oh, my. Remember,  Always Read the Fine Print Before You Sign Your Name. This is a classic example of why.

The response from the publisher, Karen Hunter, who lists a lot of co-writing credentials in her biography, to the Absolute Write discussion, raises my eyebrows more than the clause itself. I mean, wow. First, she says, “Whatever is telling you that something is amiss, is lying to you. And we accept your apology because you are wrong as it relates to the contest. To judge a book before you’ve read it is unfair. Let us launch the contest (Feb. 11). Join it. And if you have a problem, then you have a right to criticize. But it’s not even officially launched yet.

Then, later in the thread, “LOL…to most of the responses. Here’s the deal: If you want to be a part of something bigger than what you’re currently doing, join us. Be a part of the solution, not a part of the naysaying and the problem. It’s very easy to sit on the sidelines and poke holes at everything. It is far more difficult to get out there and do something different. That’s what we’re doing.

Again, we’re grateful for the feedback because it certainly forces us to do a better job, which we will. But it seems as if the comments and the criticisms are not edifying. If your goal is to be a boo-bird. Good job. If you’re goal is to help change publishing, get in the game and let’s play.

Either you’re part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. And if you are an author, finding so much success on your own, then keep it moving. No need to be concerned with what we’re doing.”

No, there’s a lot of room to be concerned. Janet Reid has explained her concerns, not only about the clause, but also the unfortunate and disrespectful response from Karen Hunter. The writers on AW are lining up reasons why this is a hot mess of bad idea, as are others on Twitter. The correct response is not, ‘You’re wrong. You have to trust me because I am made of awesome and also experience.’ No amount of sports rheotic and cliche will move that response from its current location in the Far Reaches of the Land of Crap.

There is room for responses that can respectfully examine errors and correct them. This is not one of them.

There are also a lot of fabulous contests out there, where you can win a query letter review to a publishing contract to a mullet wig. This is not one of them.

ETA: Evil Wylie has posted a similarly inspired contest page – and is soliciting ideas for better clauses in the comments. In addition, Scalzi has also posted, saying, in essence, “Run away! Run away!”

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  1. 1
    Keri Ford says:

    What really had my eyes a bubbling out was the fact that on top of all that hot mess in a dirty dish pile was that the winner “must” sign a contract with them. …..am thinking there must be rights to first borns in that thing with a section for signing in blood.

    #thingsyoudonteventouchwitha10footpolewhilewearingarubber

  2. 2
    Julie says:

    The response from Karen Hunter is not only rude and disrespectful, it’s absolutely absurd. Boo bird? I’m out.

  3. 3
    Keri Ford says:

    and ditto the fabulous contests thing. they pop up all the time ranging from free to $30-$35. The most I ever paid for a contest was $50 and that was for RWA’s GoldenHeart.

  4. 4
    megalith says:

    You also might be interested in reading John Scalzi’s take on it here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/

    Hint: He’s not high on it.

  5. 5
    Josie says:

    Were the sponsors previously in business in Nigeria?

  6. 6
    rebyj says:

    Ya know if it is all legit and a new publisher looking to debut with unknown authors, I still would not buy an e book from them because of this line in the “About Us” section at the First One Publishing website: “• Feature product placement within books.”

    Do they mean you read page 49 and page 50 is a advertisement page? Or like J.R. Ward everything down to the toothpicks have a name brand? Either way it’s not for me. The only way product placement would work in e books is at the end of an e book after you finish and wonder what you’re going to read next, that there be a page of “if you liked this you may like” recommendations from the publisher. An advertisement for instance, soft drinks or shoes is just going to be an annoyance.

    Link to the “About Us” section of their website. http://www.firstonepublishing.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=104&Itemid=54

  7. 7
    Isobel Carr says:

    *scrapes jaw off floor*

    I guess I’m part of the problem, and proud to be.

  8. 8
    meardaba says:

    Wow.  Does anyone else get a bit of a Orwellian feel to these comments?

    If you want to be a part of something bigger than what you’re currently doing, join us…Either you’re part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.

    She seems to be trying to divert the focus from her fine print to whether one is cool enough to join her exclusive group.  Hey, the best defense is a good offense, right?  Just to keep with the terrible sports metaphors.

  9. 9
    Laurel says:

    I can’t tell if it is a contest or an effort to generate start-up capital through the high entry fees and product donation in the form of intellectual property.

    “in perpetuity.” W.O.W.

  10. 10

    Just thinking here:  remember that story about the person who had to give back the Pulitzer cuz the story was made up?

  11. 11
    SB Sarah says:

    Not to be outdone, Evil Wylie has his own contest to offer, for $1 and with a host of additional clauses left by helpful passersby:

    http://www.evilreads.com/evil-contest/

  12. 12

    I’m on my second bucket of popcorn here.

  13. 13
    meoskop says:

    You know, there are a lot of crazy-ass people in the world and way too many Good Girls trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I can’t wait till they tell you what a Big Meanie Establishment Pawn you are.

  14. 14
    AC says:

    From the Absolute Write thread: “Just as American Idol has given us Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken, and so many, many more, First One will deliver the next Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks, and Stephenie Meyer.”

    Lol. King’s alright, but Sparks & Meyer? Way to hold yourself up to a great writer standards there. (Reading “Reasoning with Vampires pretty much killed any thoughts I had of reading any of Meyer’s work. I can stand bad plot, but bad editing…eh.)  Unless it’s not about the next great writer, and the next great cash cow. And there’s really no way to predict if anyone will get as big as Sparks or Meyer.

    Also, um, I’m pretty no one on AI had to pay to tryout on AI, and they didn’t sign away their rights to everything.

  15. 15
    Sofia Harper says:

    No, what bothers me is how many people will actually enter the contest.

  16. 16
    Sabine says:

    A lawyer’s take on the whole pile of steeming manure:

    http://foresthouse.livejournal.com/578029.html

  17. 17
    Mireya says:

    I mentioned this to my husband, and read to him the clauses (particularly #13)… this was over 5 minutes ago and he’s still trying to recover from a coughing fit that he got as a result of a serious case of the LOLs… he’s an attorney :>

    I never do this but I couldn’t resist this time around:

    Word of the day: thinking58 … thinking 58 reasons why that contest is SO wrong in SO many ways.

  18. 18

    I must be a real sicko ‘cause when I read the contest rules I laughed like a loon.  It was so over-the-top ridiculous that I couldn’t take it seriously.  But I must confess, “boo bird” was the icing on that particular piece of WTF? cake.

    I’m sorry.  I know there are aspiring writers who’ll get sucked into this quicksand, but really, people, use some common sense when thinking about participating in these events!

    Having said that, kudos again to AW and all the other hardworking folks who want to protect writers from scams and dubious publishing events.

  19. 19
    Sarah Frantz says:

    As far as I can see, there’s not way to actually enter the contest. It seems they want you to send in a paper MS, which seems strange for a digital publisher that has a picture of a caveman to designate “terrestrial” books (and WTF is with that adjective choice, anyway—never heard it before). But also, for a publisher that touts itself as “all about the author” (and WTF on that, too? What about the READER?!), there’s no general submission guidelines on the webpage either, that I can find. Strange all around.

  20. 20
    Carrie S says:

    “Boo Bird” is my new favorite phrase. 

    “This plan is foolproof!”  Allilianakirstenkimberly cried.  “We shall simply jump off this sinking pirate vessel and take refuge in a nuclear submarine!”

    “That won’t work” protested the plot moppets, flying into a potato rage.  “The year is 1762!  Nuclear submarines haven’t been invented yet!”

    Allilianakirstenkimberly tossed her mane of copper coloured curls.  “Oh, poo”.  She said, “Don’t be a boo bird!”

  21. 21
    JaniceG says:

    “Boo bird” is a common phrase in the sports world but I must admit to being a little nonplussed at seeing it in this context. This woman could have coined the phrase “The best defense is a good offense”!

    On a more serious note, this incident (and the similar one regarding the recipes at the Cooks Source web site) is a great example of the Intertubes using its power for good – a lot more people would probably have been sucked into this were it not for the online outrage and instant publicizing of the problem.

  22. 22

    I am awfully proud to be on Team Boo Bird right now.  ::chokes back a tear of joy::

  23. 23

    If you copy and paste the whole clause up there in the pink box into Google, you get a Google books result (The Givenchy Code) with a contest in the back from 2005. Looks like almost all the terms in this new contest were taken verbatim from that one – except that one didn’t appear to charge for entry (though they did also want all those rights).

  24. 24

    Oy. And people wonder why so many authors are turning to self=publishing. The absolute freedom from any restrictions on your own copyright is bliss, even after the relatively benign control of a reputable publisher’s contract.

    If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate. And many precipitates have no future other than to be disposed of down the sink – as this crap should be.

  25. 25
    Carin says:

    Sarah Frantz: I won’t got back and re-read it again, but I believe contest entries won’t be accepted until 2/1/11.  Karen Hunter mentions this and says they’ve got time to get feedback and make some changes.

    I know next to nothing about getting published but this mess makes me shake my head in disbelief!

  26. 26
    holly says:

    Hmm, on top of everything else, I’m sorry, but I can’t really take seriously a “publisher” who publicly interacts with potential clientele and/or peers on a supposedly professional matter and uses netspeak. Also, her “response” needs a beta. I say “beta” rather than editor, because this whole thing reminds me of the shenanigans I’ve seen in fanfiction.

    I’m just sorry that chances are, someone will buy into a scheme like this. And I don’t get it, either – it just seems like if you’re so desperate to be “published,” the dreaded “self e-publishing” would be a better idea than this sort of thing.

  27. 27

    the dreaded “self e-publishing” would be a better idea than this sort of thing.

    Indeed. I make a lot more than the entry fee for this competition each month from my books on sale at Smashwords, and I don’t have to spend a cent of my own money to do so.

    However, I’m sorry that Holly felt it necessary to take a swipe at self-publishing while criticising a supposed ‘real’ publisher.  Can we please stick to the issue at hand? If you want to drag in other questionable practices, I can lists you a whole bunch of ‘real’ publishers ripping off authors and customers, including much bigger names than are involved in this nonsense.

    Self-publishers are not engaging in fraud, don’t take other people’s material or copyrights, and hey, some of us are actually doing it by choice, not desperation. Oh, and we don’t charge ridiculous fees to play in our sandbox. ‘Kay?

  28. 28
    Holly says:

    However, I’m sorry that Holly felt it necessary to take a swipe at self-publishing while criticising a supposed ‘real’ publisher.  Can we please stick to the issue at hand? If you want to drag in other questionable practices, I can lists you a whole bunch of ‘real’ publishers ripping off authors and customers, including much bigger names than are involved in this nonsense.

    Self-publishers are not engaging in fraud, don’t take other people’s material or copyrights, and hey, some of us are actually doing it by choice, not desperation. Oh, and we don’t charge ridiculous fees to play in our sandbox. ‘Kay?

    whoah whoah whoah – I’m sorry if something I wrote came off like that – that is NOT what I was getting at. Maybe I mis-worded something, and I apologize. My “dreaded” remark was sarcasm, if that’s where you got the idea I was taking a swipe at self-publishing. I genuinely am mystified why anyone would fall for a pay-to-publish scheme like this when self-pub’ing is becoming easier and gradually more acceptable in wider circles (as it should be, imo)

  29. 29
    Holly says:

    *eyeroll at self* I had mis-placed air-quotes. I see it, now. Sorry.

  30. 30

    I had mis-placed air-quotes. I see it, now. Sorry.

    No worries, and sorry for being so defensive. There’s just so much shit slung at self-published authors, and so much of it could be better aimed at so-called ‘traditional’ publishers. They do much more harm than we self-pubbers could ever do.

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