A couple of recent e-mails have got me thinking about the writing business, and how writers and their work are perceived. One of them was probably quite innocent, the other turned out not to be, but the common factor was that both were trying to get something I'd created for nothing. This is a topic I've posted on before, and there are definitely circumstances where I don't mind giving stories away, particularly ones that have already seen print, but I also like to think it should be the exception rather than the rule. Anyway...
First came an e-mail from a student who said that she'd connected with my story Strive to be Happy, as published a couple of years back on Flash Fiction Online (and still available here), and wanted to reprint and discuss it at flashfiction.net. I checked them out, decided that they were kosher, (and indeed, well worth a look if you're at all interested in writing flash fiction), and said yes - with a few conditions. I wanted it to be clear where the story was originally published, that I still held copyright, and that it was being reprinted by permission.
Said student never got back to me. Of course there are a zillion reasons why that might have been, ranging from rudeness to alien abduction - but it did make we wonder if my answer, and my desire to keep copyright and reproduction rights over something I'd created, were a factor.
A couple of days after that, an individual by the name of Kenney Mencher got in touch out of the blue to invite me to take part in a contest: write a flash story based on a portrait of his and win an original sketch. The portrait was quite good, the sketch was pretty sucky, and all in all I thought he had a bit of a nerve. But the concept intrigued me, so I started putting something together, and the story - as stories will - sucked me in more and more.
I was already wondering if I really felt like giving it away for the chance of winning a picture I didn't particular like when I had another look at Mr Mencher's blog and realised, belatedly, what he was up to. To briefly summarise the paragraphs of legalise gibberish under the "Disclaimer for Flash Fiction Contest" section, I would - just by posting my story - be giving up all rights whatsoever over my work and also, bewilderingly, my contact details, not only to Mencher but to anyone else he liked the look of. He could republish my story under his own name, or rewrite and then publish it under his name, and I'd have no legal comeback. For that matter, he could sell my contact details to the Mafia if he felt like it.
Like I say, there's a fair bit of legalise going on.
Having dug further, it's pretty clear what Mencher is up to. He's got a painting exhibition planned, wants some text to accompany it, and has no qualms whatsoever about screwing over his fellow artists to get it on the cheap (or rather, effectively, on the free). Of course, the way he's going about it means that he can use not only the "winning" entry but the others as well, without the hassle of crediting any of the respective authors. Way less bother than doing the whole thing scrupulously, right? He has, by the way, another forty or so of these "competitions" planned - and somehow, I don't think I'll be entering those, either.
Well ... my story was mostly done by the time I realised all this, and I'm quite pleased with it as a first draft. I plan to finish it and then sit on it, with a view to rewriting it somewhere down the line, so the effort shouldn't be wasted. As for the rest, I guess I'll be a little more wary in future when people contact me out of the blue. It's easy to get blindsided by someone showing interest in your work - but if that interest means trying to get rights over it for free then it's really not such a great compliment, is it?