Getting Paid to Write on a Train. Also Twitter.

A few weeks ago, Amtrak announced its Writer Residency program. Over the next year, Amtrak will offer free 2-5 day rides to 24 professional writers, in sleeper cars on under-capacity trains.

This is awesome. If you’ve only ridden Amtrak on the coasts, trains seem packed and mostly reliable, a luxury alternative to bus. Elsewhere, Amtrak seems to plan its routes through the mountains, deserts, and plains so as to maximize natural beauty rather than grade, cost, or connectivity. The New River Gorge section of the Cardinal line alone is worth the price of the ticket.

ratpag’s productivity drops substantially on these trips, so I’d suggest Amtrak schedule them during the winter so that the writers have less daylight.

Amtrak is accepting applications. It gets a little weird from here. For example, your Twitter handle is a required field.


I guess you’re expected to tweet while en-route, even though most Amtrak lines don’t have WiFi. If you’re Cormac McCarthy, well I guess this whole thing really wasn’t for you anyway.

Then on Tuesday, PBS posted a story based on a Twitter conversation about how Amtrak’s terms of use for resident writers is less than ideal:

6. Grant of Rights: 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.

You just skimmed that, right? Good. Basically whatever you submit as a writing sample in your application, Amtrak now owns. The workaround is to submit something that’s already been published, like say a particularly embarrassing column for your college daily.

PBS pretends to be outraged, but come on, this is Amtrak. Did you really expect them to hit this out the gate? I think PBS expects them to apologize, like Amtrak has ever apologized for, say, leaving someone stranded for two days in Huntington, West Virginia in December because they couldn’t schedule a bus. They’re definitely not going to apologize while in the process of giving away free tickets.

Towards the end of the the article, author Miral Satter, appears to create a competing rail residency program without the restrictive terms. The program appears to consist entirely of the Twitter hashtag #BiblioCrunchResidency. Tweeting aside, I can’t tell if she’s serious. From her byline:

Miral Sattar is the CEO of BiblioCrunch, an award-winning author services marketplace that matches authors with quality, award-winning professionals to get new books to market.

So she’s like a freelance scout for publishers? Do they have a hard time finding authors or something? I thought that was the entire point of WordPress? And how many employees does a company need before you can call yourself a CEO without people rolling their eyes? Seriously, because I want people to stop laughing at me.

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