It is with some trepidation I write this post, as apparently there are solicitors’ letters flying around. But I feel it is important to spread the word, and warn new writers and comp entrants about potential problems. Many of you may already be aware of the saga involving Brit Writers Awards.
I don’t know the exact chronology of events, so I will start with the earliest concerns that I know of. Last December, Jane Smith of How Publishing Really Works, At that time the concerns raised were mainly about the BWA’s apparent lack of experience, both in running a competition and in publishing. Jane Smith visited the subject again recently in this blog post. Jane talks about how the BWA have now started an agents division. The BWA say that they are in touch with publishers who are asking them to help find novels (commercial and literary fiction), children’s novels and short stories for anthologies. Anyone who’s ever tried to sell a short story to anything other than a magazine will tell you that agents and publishers are not hammering writers’ doors down asking for short stories and poems, so they’re unlikely to be asking anyone else to find those for them. I know because I’m a short story writer and I can tell you that the markets for short stories are shrinking fast. The full text of the BWA email can be found on Claire King’s blog here. Claire King has also discussed the BWA again recently, in this blog post. She asked the BWA a series of important questions. The response came that the BWA had referred the matter to their solicitors.
Now Harry Bingham has bravely entered the fray, asking the same questions and more about the way the BWA is run.
I would suggest that you don’t just read the blog postings. You should also read the comments sections as they often contain more information.
The BWA’s response to most of the questions asked is to refer the matter to their solicitors. It seems to me that the questions being asked are perfectly reasonable, and in no way libelous.
I have now taken the personal decision not to include the Brit Writers Awards on my comps calendar or in my comps listings in Writers Forum again. Not necessarily because I believe the comp is a fraud, but because of the way the BWA have responded to perfectly reasonable questions about their operation. Writers have a right to know and to ask questions about the comps they enter and the authoring/editing services they use. It does not make it libel to want details and as a champion of writers’ comps I am the first one to insist that organisers make all the details available. If I ask a question and it seems to me an organiser is dodging the questions, or becomes antagonistic, then I tend to go to the default mode of not trusting the comp.
I suggest you read the evidence, and follow any links to other discussions (there are far too many for me to list here) and make your own decision about whether you enter the BWA comps or sign up for any of the publishing services.
Please could I ask that you keep any comments on this blog on the right side of the libel laws? Just to be clear, as I know from what David said in the comments that it’s not clear what is the right side of libel, when I posted this originally what I really meant was that I did not want any name-calling or unsubstantiated accusations about the BWA or anyone else involved in this discussion. Reasoned discussion on this blog is welcome, but I don’t want (and I’m sure none of the others involved in this want) it to turn into one of those internet ‘pile ins’ where half the people who comment have no real interest in the issue at hand. I’m very grateful to those who have responded so far for their reasoned responses.
Note: I want to make it clear that on this blog I only speak for myself and not for Writers Forum magazine.