I had an email this morning from Gather.com about their First Chapters Writing Competition, and I thought I'd post the information in case any of my readers might be interested. The contest goes from August 1st through the 22nd, and the winner will receive a guaranteed publishing contract (with a $5,000 advance) for their romance novel with Simon & Schuster's Pocket Books.
Be sure to read the full contest guidelines and the FAQs.
As a copyright-conscious writer, my first question to them was where I could link to the contest guidelines -- I wanted to verify what happens to the writers' rights to their submissions, particularly if they don't win. I saw one contest a little while back that took the copyrights to all submissions, whether you won or not, so I am a little wary of these things.
Basically, the only condition concerning copyright that I see is that you are agreeing not to submit the novel elsewhere until you are eliminated from the competition; in other words, until you are eliminated from the competition, Simon & Schuster has first dibs on publishing your book. Seems fair enough -- after all, that's why you're entering the competition anyway!
The other concern is that in order to compete, you have to publish your first chapters in the First Chapters Romance Group. The concern here is that posting your writing to an open forum can hurt your chances of selling first rights to the work, but usually not if it's a membership-only forum (i.e. a way for you to share your work with just a few people, without everyone else online reading it).
No worries with this contest -- submissions are viewable only by other Gather.com members. (Yes, you have to be a member to enter, but it's free.)
Basically, what I'm saying is that I've done the research for you, and I've verified that the First Chapters Writing Competition looks like a valid contest. I suggest reading the guidelines and FAQs for yourself before commiting to anything, but I am satisfied that the two main problems I usually see in writing contests aren't present in this one.