After a few months of reflection, I may have been too harsh on the contest. (Here’s the updated page, including the submission form, which is open through the end of the year.)
True, the terms are still pretty bad, especially if you don’t win first place and the coveted publication spot. Royalties should always be part of an author’s compensation, and there ought to be some kind of monetary compensation for the runners-up whose work gets published on DarkCrystal.com.
It could be argued, however, that the Jim Henson Company is, well, different. Although the Muppets were sold to Disney a few years ago, it still owns the rights to the non-Muppet properties, and it’s still largely family-owned and run. This isn’t a global media conglomerate. It could, and I argue this very tentatively, be reasoned with.
I say this to argue that it might be possible to argue some of the points I took issue with in my last post on the subject, or at least ameliorate some of them. One might ask that their submission not be used if it doesn’t win. (I say “ask” because, well, JHC basically owns the story once it’s submitted, so that’s all one can really do.) If one wins, and the book does well, it could be leverage for book two (and really, I don’t see this as anything other than a lead-in to a trilogy), and that’s when an agent could be brought on board to argue for better rights.
I know that’s a lot of stipulation. If this were, say, The Walt Disney Company, and the property were Tron, I don’t believe for a moment they’d be willing to negotiate with its fan-sourced content creators. But by and large, the Jim Henson Company plays fair, and if it didn’t, all it would take is one blog post to break that reputation.
Is it worth the 40+ hours I estimated to participate? Maybe. It depends on how much you love the source material. It’s definitely a lower threshold to enter than simply writing an entire book on spec, which would take me six months. And it’s a property I really, truly love, so. . .
A few other points:
- You can submit under a pseudonym. If someone wanted a way to have an opt-out Alan Smithee clause (in case the company changed your work in a way you found unacceptable), that’s the way to do it.
- JHC hasn’t always been so kind to The Dark Crystal. There’s that sequel that’s been in development since I was in high school, which never seems to quite get off the ground. Then there’s the TokyoPop manga Legends of the Dark Crystal, which ended two-thirds of the way through its intended run. On the other hand, The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths, created by Brian Froud, is pretty awesome, and it looks like it’ll finish its run next year.
- I don’t think many company executives go cosplaying while speaking on panels, like Cheryl Henson did at Comic-Con as seen in this video.
I don’t know if I’ll participate in the contest, but I’ve already started a story (3,000+ words of one, even!). I’ll update about this again later this year.