What’s The Deal With EW’s Fanfic Contest?


Another year another fandom freak out because someone’s talking/using fanworks. This time it’s Entertainment Weekly, they’re running a contest for Fanuary asking for people to “Submit Your Best Fan Fiction”. The winner of the contest will be published in EW and online at EW.com. Considering the ghosts of fandoms past, it’s understandable that people are a little apprehensive but it’s important not to jump to conclusions without taking a closer look (although once you’ve done that it’s perfectly reasonable the judge the crap out this contest).

Basically EW is spending January celebrating fans and fandom. They’re calling it Fanuary. The whole thing is a little Regina’s mom – especially the fact that they write fanfiction as two words – but it’s certainly not the worst thing that has ever happened to fandom. The fanfiction contest is just one of a number of activities that are included in theme month. The contest is simple, fans submit and original fanfic of less than 10,000 characters and one winner will be featured in the pages of the magazine.

Is this just another example of a major media company exploiting fandom’s free labor for profit? Well yeah of course it is but that seems to be a thing now. Really though, the main problem with this competition is that the entire concept shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the fanfic community as a whole. That said not everything is as bad as it seems.

There has been a lot of discussion about the terms and conditions of the contest, as there always is. Honestly they should really anticipate the backlash at this point and make the contracts clear before we get to this mess. But we’re here now so let’s try to clear things up. The main point of contention is this line: “Entries become sole property of Sponsor and none will be acknowledged or returned.” Which is, as fyeahcopyright suggests, annoyingly vague but probably not as frightening as it sounds.

Tumblr user rivkat clarifies that this line is: “clearly a holdover from physical entries. What they mean is that if you send them a printout or a disc or a USB drive with your story on it, they won’t return those physical things or let you know ‘we got your entry!’”.

Here’s what you can actually expect from the contest. According to fyeahcopyright, EW does NOT have exclusive rights to your work just because you submit it. They can still do A LOT with your story, like edit it, and republish it without further permission, but so can you – as long as the winner doesn’t have to sign a more restrictive contract before being published. They also can’t claim your work as their own or assign authorship to someone that is not you.

Another alarming aspect of contest is that they’re asking to publish the story with real names rather than allowing the option of a pseudonym. Again, this appears to come from a lack of understanding about the fanfic community rather than any deliberate malice but it’s still something that should be noted. While discussion and understanding about fanfic is getting better there is always a chance that being publicly associated with fanfiction could have negative consequences.

The basic things you need to know about this contest are:

  • EW seems to hold a non-exclusive licence to any fanfics submitted, meaning they can use it how they want but they can’t claim authorship of your work. They don’t own it.

  • They are asking for the right to publish the author’s real name, rather than a pseudonym and there is no way of knowing how this contest will be received by the media, the public, or the Powers That Be.

  • You are not getting paid for your work even if you win. EW on the other hand will, in a round about way, profit from your work.

If you got to the end of this post and you still want to enter the contest then go for it. If you want to lament the fact that these mainstream media outlets keep trying to profit off something they do not understand that is also pretty reasonable. In fact we encourage you to do that in the comments, we’d love to hear it.

Author: Undie Girl

Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.

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2 thoughts on “What’s The Deal With EW’s Fanfic Contest?

  1. I’m not down with the idea of receiving NOTHING for winning; magazines on the up-and-up pay writers, even cheap magazines. Also, if I’m not mistaken there’s language in there regarding liability; such that if any legal questions arise from the publication of the fiction (you know, like those pesky copyright issues fanfic writers are so careful about), YOU (by submitting your work) are agreeing to take the heat, not EW. Perhaps that’s why they want writers’ real names.


  2. While I am not at all into the idea of the winner not getting paid at all for their published piece, at the same time I’m not sure they COULD be, because then they would be receiving monetary compensation for writing that most likely at the VERY least uses another person’s characters, and probably more than that.

    ETA: Personally I think I’m more concerned about the effect this could have on fandom and the legality of fanfiction.

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