On the Brennus IRC chatroom, it came up that a few of us have received an email.
I've, since Worm started taking off, received about 20 of these things from various people. It's usually one of the following:
* "We want to make a platform specialized for online serials (possibly with an app)."
* "We want to aggregate entertainment in general/just web serials and have a one-stop shop for people to visit to find and promote the best stuff. If you do it, we'll give you publicity."
* "We want to be the next Patreon/Kickstarter, getting you the money you deserve!"
* "We're a new video game company and we want to make a video game based on your work."
I had 10+ of these guys in April/May alone, probably as students graduated/finished up for the summer, got together with classmates in the same program and decided to start their business/project.
We saw the ad from bigworldnetwork a bit ago (this was one of the serial aggregate sites) and I just wanted to bring up the topic, because I know some people might be young, naive or stupid - I know this because I was all three at one point, and if a different offer had come in at a different stage in my life, I might have grabbed for it like a drowning man grabs for a life preserver.
Just a few points. It's ultimately your decision, of course, but go into this stuff with your eyes open:
Always find out what's going on with your intellectual property. Small publishers, big publishers, startups, con artists and assholes in general are going to try to take it from you. All it takes is for you to sign a contract that has "So-and-so hereby gives the rights to their work to _____" or something equivalent.
What does this mean? If I were to sign away the rights to Worm, Worm would no longer be my story. It would be the publisher's/startup's. If HBO decided to do a Worm TV series, they'd reach out to the person with the rights - the publisher, and the publisher would negotiate the deal. It's very possible to wind up in a situation where you sign away the rights to your work, it takes off, and you make a pittance for it. Kurt Vonnegut sold his work to a publisher who put it in those crummy magazine stands in gas stations. To make something of it, he had to buy the rights back and then reach out to another publisher.
He was lucky. Before you sign anything or jump on board with something, find out about the rights. Ask about exclusivity (can you continue blogging your serial through other channels) vs. being locked in (in exchange for the promotion/whatever, you must only publish in this way or via this channel). If you're writing for something like BigWorldNetwork, which (IIRC) offers a small amount of pay for publishing via. their channel, figure out if you're locked into certain word counts or formats, what you are and aren't allowed to do.
The best way to go about this? Talk to a lawyer, go over any and all paperwork. If they tell you something, get it in writing and ideally get it initialed and scanned/faxed to you. If it isn't clear, make it clear.
Ask about the money. What are you getting, and how? What are they getting? What happens if you drop the ball? What happens if they drop the ball?
If they want you to pay something up front, it's a safe bet you should run as fast as your legs can carry you. Howl the names of dead gods in the hopes of disconcerting the enemy and allowing yourself to create more of a gap. This will almost always be a scam. I've seen many horror stories.
Pay very careful attention to the money. Even if you're not being paid and you're not paying anything, find out how they plan on getting their money.
Look, the fact is that the vast majority (90%+) of startups fail within the first five to ten years. Most don't make money for the first five years, as money goes back into building the business. So go into any deal with the impression that this guy or girl or group, no matter how neat their promises are, is probably going to fail. Is it worth your time and energy?
If they don't have a good answer for you as to how they plan on getting the money they intend to use to pay you, or how they intend to stay afloat, that's a sign of something. Maybe they're deluding you. More often, I suspect, they're deluding themselves. I've had offers from people who were already getting off the ground who just didn't seem to know anything or have any plans.
Whether you're dealing with a publisher, a startup, a video game company or whatever, always remember that contract terms are negotiable. Look it over, get help in looking it over, take note of possible issues. As a general rule, they need big fish to get audience, and they need audience to draw in the big fish. While it's certainly an option to jump on board with an idea and hope it takes off (and takes you with it), especially if you can stand to take a tumble or two. Just be sure you avoid the bigger pitfalls, like the traps of scams and the possibility of losing your rights.