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Like many other writers, I was so excited to hear that Amtrak was looking into a residency for writers on its trains. From what I heard via social media, this meant writers could ride for free – free! – on Amtrak trains as long as they tweeted their experiences during their ride.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

That sounded incredible to me. Not only will I need to travel later this year, but to have a free travel in exchange for some writing time, all while viewing the beautiful scenery, was beyond perfect. I eagerly awaited for Amtrak’s guidelines to see if I would qualify.

But I was rather disappointed when the terms and conditions were released this weekend. First off, in order to be considered, an author has to submit writing pieces. Makes sense, if they want to show they’re genuinely writers.

But there are some strict guidelines to adhere to. Among them:

  • Contain content that is misleading, inappropriate, indecent, obscene, hateful, tortious, defamatory, slanderous or libelous;
  • Contain content that reflects, advocates or promotes bigotry, racism, hatred, harm or exploitation of or against any class, group or individual, discrimination based on race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age, or actions or activities that are restricted, prohibited, illegal or unlawful (including without limitation, the consumption of alcohol or any other controlled substances);
  • Contain content that advocates violent, reckless, irresponsible or otherwise unhealthy behavior;

Basically, Amtrak is looking for something at most PG rated. Why so? Because in order to take part in the residency, the writer has to agree to give up their rights to their 10 page work to let Amtrak it for promotional purposes:

In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.) Upon Sponsor’s request and without compensation, Applicant agrees to sign any additional documentation that Sponsor may require so as to effect, perfect or record the preceding grant of rights and/or to furnish Sponsor with written proof that he/she has secured any and all necessary third party consents relative to the Application.

These guidelines aren’t very settling for many writers. Who would want to give up the rights of their work, especially if its a scene from something they are working on? It’s an issue all writers want to avoid. So what gives? And the content guidelines is very restricting, especially for me since I tend to write intense and disturbing themes anyway.

But I don’t want to lose hope that I would never be allowed to take part in the Amtrak Residency for Writers. Based on what I’m reading on social media, some writers are being vocal about the promotional guidelines, which aren’t very good. To be fair, this is a new program for Amtrak, so chances are there will be changes to better suit the needs of authors who would want to use their services. I certainly wouldn’t want to give up 10 pages of my WIP so Amtrak could use it for its own purposes. That just sounds wrong.

I would also like to see them lighten up on their content guidelines. It looks like even mystery or thriller authors can’t currently qualify for the residency. In fact, many authors can’t. I can see an erotica author not being allowed, but why not other genres and themes?

Authors aren’t endorsing reckless, illegal or destructive behavior. Usually they are just portraying the human experience. I’m not saying Amtrak should post R rated content on their website for promotional reasons. But why can’t someone have a more tamer excerpt of their work used, leaving it up to the audience to find out whether the author’s content is their cup of tea? It’s been done numerous times before!

But yes, the Amtrak Residency for Writers is still in its infancy. It will mature soon, I’m sure.