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Insurance Company Owner Responds To My Writing Contest Warning Post

In response to my post, Writing Contests: Always Read The Fine Print, one of the owners of the insurance website wrote:

Hello Debbie,

My name is Mike Kim and I am one of the owners of Affordable Insurance Options Online. I am writing this comment in response to the "warning" you posted regarding the essay contest we are currently holding.

First of all, I greatly admire the sense of duty you displayed to your visitors by creating this post, and the time and energy you put into it. It's obvious that you care greatly for your visitors and are going above and beyond to look out for their best interest.

I do, however, have to take issue with the negative attention you are bringing to what we believe is a legitimate and well intentioned writing contest. You discuss three major points why you believe our contest should serve as a cautionary tale.

1) We assume the rights to the content submitted. The main reason for this contest is to better inform our visitors on the importance of adequate insurance coverage, and to do so in a fun and entertaining way. There is no way that we could accomplish this without publishing the submitted entries and allowing our visitors to read the true life stories. We are in no way, shape or form trying to conceal the fact that we will be publishing the content, as many other writing contests do. That fact is disclosed in plain view, in the section above the area in which they submit their essay. Those who don't want their essays published can simply choose to not enter the contest.

2) People who enter our contest are put on our mailing list. Actually, they gain access to our online newsletter that offers valuable information on insurance related topics, and other financial matters. Not only are people made aware of this in the contest guidelines, they are also again made aware of this when they submit an entry. In fact, they have to click a confirmation link that tells us it's ok to send them the newsletter. Of course, the newsletter is free and if they don't want it, they can cancel at any time.

3) If we are not able to contact the winners in five days, alternate winners will be chosen. We do not want to delay notifying the winners and publicly congratulating them for their accomplishment. In this technologically advanced day and age, contacting the winners should not take more than a few days. If it does, chances are the contact information provided is invalid. In this case, we want to make sure to offer the cash prize to the next worthy applicant who would surely be thrilled to be named a winner. We strongly believe that all applicants will not only see this as fair and ethical, but they will actually appreciate not having to wait weeks or months to be notified if they win, just because we are having trouble contacting someone else.

Because of the reasons detailed above, and the fact that it is totally free to enter our contest, I ask you to please reconsider your stance. We here at AIOO take great pride in our site, this contest, and our general moral and ethical business practices. I would like to reiiterate that your dedication to your visitors is commendable and I don't fault you one bit for creating this post. Even if I am unable to change your mind, I have great respect for you and your website. Having the freedom to disagree is one of the many things that makes this country so great!!! Thank you very much for your time, Mike

While I appreciate the prompt and courteous response, I still can't recommend that writers enter this contest. You may win a cash prize, it's true. But whether or not you win, you are giving up all your rights to work you have created.

If you're hazy on the issue of rights and copyright, you should read Understanding Rights and Copyright by Moira Allen. An excerpt from that article:

All Rights. This term, loathed by writers, is often used by publishers who want to avoid the need to buy additional rights later. By acquiring all rights, for example, a publisher acquires electronic rights as well.

Once you've sold "all rights" to a piece, you can never sell that piece again. All you retain is the right to claim authorship. You may even be precluded from selling revisions or rewrites of the same material.

That doesn't mean that you should never sell "all rights." In some cases, the benefits of a such sale may outweigh the lost potential for resale, especially if there is a limited market for that particular work. If you do sell "all rights," however, be sure that you are being adequately compensated. (For more information on this topic, see Selling All Rights: Right or Wrong?

Wouldn't your time and energy be better spent working on your other writing projects? Or at least entering writing contests which let you keep the rights to your work so you can use it elsewhere? This contest also requires that the content be unique, which means you'd be writing content specifically for this site and this site only.

In the end, of course, the choice is yours. As Mike points out, the company is very upfront about its submission guidelines.

Helpful resources for writers about writing contests:

Writer Beware Guide To Writing Contests and Awards

Finding Legitimate Writing Markets and Contests - Canadian Authors Association

Writing Contests: When Winners Are Losers - by Moira Allen

Reader Comments (7)

I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are just confused and not actually malicious but, hello, saying you get the rights to all submissions makes that entry *useless* to the writer for anything else in the future. That's a very steep price to pay for the honor of entering your contest.

Why not just be honest and say, "We're too lazy to hire someone to write our own content so we were doing this 'contest' to get some free writing to put on our site."

I think that some people genuinely don't understand how much work writing is and think writers are so happy just to write we are willing to work for free or just give it away.

Gotta admit, I find these people a little slimier now than if they had kept their mouth shut. ;-)

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHillary

I have to agree with you here. Everything BOTH of you said is true (as I understand it). Of course they informed entrants of this - how else would YOU have so easily obtained the information. iirc you even pointed readers to where this information was located.

That does not diminish the fact that is in not a well-run contest. This is one of those contests that, in fact, puts me off the whole thing in general. Not to mention that some less informed writers may actually read those terms, but not fully understand the consequences.

I think you've done a good job here and it's up to readers/writers themselves to weigh the pros and the cons and decide what is best for them.

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAuroraLee

This is a great post, Debbie. I wonder if some companies issue contests without fully understanding the implications of such rules. I get that they want to post the winning entries, but if they understood what giving up "all rights" really meant and how that affects the author in the long run, I sincerely hope they wouldn't include such rules in their contests. Perhaps they need to reconsider their contest submission guidelines rather than asking you to reconsider your stance.

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia Osmond

My own 1st rule of writing is: Get paid or write for your own benefit and a lot of fun.

This prevented me wasting my time for big hopes and a handful of nothing.

The honest way to get 'true story' submissions would be: "Send us your story and some proof. If we like it, you get paid. A fair and usual writers salary. If we didn't like it, the copyright returns to you."

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMela

Thanks for both of these posts, Debbie.

Your advice in the the first post was perfect - you didn't say "Don't enter," you said "Read the fine print." I see contests like this a lot - both for writing, but more often for photography - soliciting abundant free material, retaining all rights to everything submitted, and paying out a couple hundred dollars in prizes. I don't think the organizers are "slimy" so much as "cheap." They see this great way they can get a lot of content for their advertising campaign for almost no cost. Because everyone can "write" (if the definition of writing is put some words together) and most everyone can click a camera button - which means that it is really easy for some to devalue those of us who actually have invested the time and effort into learning to do these things well.

And, in addition to "cheap", they are "ignorant" in how they devalue our work. Maybe I should run a contest to see who can give me the best free insurance policy and I'll give the winner $50. But I get all the insurance policies. Nuh, doesn't happen that way, does it? It's the artists who are always expected to give their stuff away for free.

These contests especially take advantage of the up-coming writers/photographers, who are so desperate to get any publishing credit anywhere, that they often feel pressured to agree to let their work out there for free.

Like I said, I don't think the organizers (in this case) are "slimy" or "malicious." Their response here was very courteous. But they are cheap, and ignorant of the value of what good writers and phoographers can do. Hopefully this whole discussion is part of the continued learning process for everyone:
- for them, to see that this contest is actually taking advantage of writers (no professional would ever enter a contest with terms like this, so they are taking advantage of the up-and-comings who are desperate to get published anywhere)
- for writers, to (as Debbie says) read the fine print with everything you submit, and do not agree to giving (or even selling) "all rights" without carefully considering what that means, and certainly to not assigning any publication rights that don't come with some remuneration, without carefully considering why you would do that (e.g. for me, I do donate writing and photos to charitable foundations e.g. environmental organizations - but I would never donate my work to a for-profit business).

Writers: Remember your work has value! That does not mean you should never give it away. But think carefully about when and why you would do that.

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline Windh

I think the company in question seems not to understand the difference between having the right to publish, and "all rights". I have seen a number of contests where the winner must grant a non-exclusive right to publish the work. That seems fine to m...

The other thing I'm seeing here is that they want publication rights regardless of whether or not you win. That seems troublesome to me. If you are going to use my work, I want something for it. So, if you're only paying the winners, you should only be publishing the winners...

I do agree that the company probably does not understand these things, but I'm hoping that they will read the comments here and learn from this experience.

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertuxgirl

Boo Afforable Insurance Options. Blech.

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra

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