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Writing Contests: Always Read The Fine Print!

I was recently encouraged to promote this "Affordable Insurance Options Essay Contest" to my readers. The website name was already setting off alarm bells in my head, but I decided to check out the rules out of curiosity.

At first glance, it may attract some writers: there's no entry fee, and the site offers cash prizes of $50, $100 and $200. However, if you read ALL the submission guidelines, it becomes clear that even if your entry about the importance of insurance coverage doesn't win, the site can use it without paying you:

All entries become the property of Affordable Insurance Options Online and we reserve the right to publish and/or distribute them as we see fit.

And you're also putting yourself on their mailing list:

Submitting an entry will also allow every applicant access to the AIOO Insurance and Investing online newsletter, which contains valuable information and tips on how to save money on insurance premiums, ensure adequate coverage, make sound investments and help your portfolio grow, and much more.

So I am going to post about their contest...as a warning to writers everywhere to ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT. Yes, there's a small chance that you may win one of the cash prizes. But if you don't, you've just handed over your writing to someone else for free. Even if your essay IS chosen as a winner, the company has to be able to reach you within 5 days, or you lose the prize (but they can still use your writing):

Accurate contact information is required for all prize winners to be notified.  If we are unable to contact any applicant within 5 days of the review process being completed, their entry will be voided and a different entry will be chosen.

It may seem obvious that serious writers should stay away from this contest, but I've already seen it recommended on at least one writing-related site.

Reader Comments (4)

A great cautionary post, and so very true. In this age we have to be incredibly wary of everything out there, and sometimes it's not so easy to tell the legit from those that are trying to get something from you.

June 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa K.

Writer Beware!
It's wonderful that you took the time to check and even extra time to share.

Giggles and Guns

June 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary

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

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike Kim

Wow... that's really scary, thanks so much for the wakeup call!

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSam van Zweden

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