Mental Floss wants to own your pitch

The other day I posted a snippet from the Mental Floss website. Did that inspire you to pitch an idea to them? If so, Writer, beware, says Practicing Writer — read the fine print first. The American Society of Journalists and Authors has warned its members about Mental Floss’s submission agreement. Here’s the tricky part:

All submissions (and all ideas, wording, materials and other content, in whole or in part) become the property of Mental Floss, and may be used, modified, distributed, and provided to others by Mental Floss without restriction or payment of any kind. By making a submission, you represent and warrant that you have the right to disclose and to authorize any and all uses and disclosures by Mental Floss of the submission, and you agree that you waive and that you will not claim any rights in or restrictions on the submission (or any use or distribution by Mental Floss) at any time. Mental Floss will not return any submissions. If you would like to make a submission on terms different from those set forth above, a separate written contract identifying the specific subject matter of the submission must be signed by you and Mental Floss before you make the submission, and the submission must identify that written contract by date and contract number. [Emphasis mine]

In other words, your pitch belongs to them, and they can do anything they want to with it. What’s more, you can’t claim any rights over any part of your pitch. And if you don’t like that, you can submit a separate written contract. This is all before you write the actual article.

For contrast, let’s look at a couple of other writer’s guidelines. Here’s the one from Family Circle Magazine:

If you would like to submit a story idea for consideration, please look over recent issues to get an idea of our format, columns and topics we have covered in the past. When submitting, please send a double-spaced, typed query along with clips (including one from a national magazine), bio, and a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Due to the large quantity of submissions we receive, we cannot personally respond to, be responsible for, nor return any unsolicited material. And please, no e-mails or calls.

How about the Smithsonian Magazine?

Thank you for inquiring about submitting articles to Smithsonian Magazine. We are no longer accepting submissions by email or postal mail. Please use the Web submission form to submit a written proposal of 250 to 300 words as a preliminary query. The proposal should convince us that we should cover the subject, offer descriptive information on how you, the writer, would treat the subject, and offer us an opportunity to judge your writing ability. Background information and writing credentials are helpful. The proposal text box on the Web submission form holds 10,000 characters (approximately 2,000 words), ample room for a cover letter and proposal.

All unsolicited proposals are sent to us on speculation, and you should receive a reply within three weeks to queries sent using the Web form. If you have supporting material or clips of your previously published work available on-line, please include the URLs (links) in the area provided on the web form. If we decide to commission an article, the writer receives full payment on acceptance of the manuscript. If the article is found unsuitable, one-third of the payment serves as a kill fee.

Smithsonian Magazine is buying first North American serial rights only.

Harper’s:

Harper’s Magazine will neither consider nor return unsolicited nonfiction manuscripts that have not been preceded by a written query. Harper’s will consider unsolicited fiction. Unsolicited poetry will not be considered or returned. No queries or manuscripts will be considered unless they are accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Submissions to the Readings section are welcome at readings@harpers.org and are encouraged, though volume precludes individual acknowledgment.

So there you have three well known, long-established magazines that I thought of off the top of my head that don’t ask any more than that you send them a pitch and wait for their response. What’s up with Mental Floss?

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