The Sobol Prize is more than a crock of shit

Let's just overlook the fact they list their address two different ways on the "Sobol Award" site.

I mean, gee, it's a mistake anyone could make right? I mean, really, don't you get your address wrong on your website at least once?

Leaving location location location aside, let's crunch some numbers:

We're told in "how the manuscripts will be judged" that "The manuscript readers will follow a careful and progressive evaluation process".

They give themselves 90 days to read the entries.

If they get the max of 50,000 thats 556 manuscripts a day to be carefully evaluated.

If they get 10,000 it's 112 each and every day. Regardless of size or quality. No weekends, holidays or sick days. I can tell you that reading bad novels is the most tiring thing in the world. For substantiation of this conclusion you have only to read the comments trail of the Crapometer. Look at how many comments said "I had to stop reading".

The problem is they HAVE to read these. If they don't, if it becomes just a lottery or a sweepstakes, they've got a host of legal problems, none of which I'm qualified to comment on but the Bar Association is all over it.

Let's assume they get the 10,000 manuscripts, and need to read 112 a day.
They've got 4 people listed on the panel of judges right now.
I'm not even going to assume those are the actual readers cause that would be ludicrous.
No, the readers, those industry professionals who are "book editors, librarians and store staff" are unnamed, and unnumbered at present. Do they really think they can find enough people to read 112 manuscripts a day? Even at one a day, that's 112 people. One a week is 784 people. Even if they ARE paying these people, they have to find them. I haven't seen any ads for "Sobol Readers" around. Have you? Do they really think they can find 112 readers in less than three months? 784? Man, I'd be interested to see what kind of recruiting operation they're running if they think that. 112 professional readers is a nightmare to organize. Ask anyone who's run a writing conference. 784? Ask anyone who's run a labor union.

Furthermore, one thing I can guarantee you about store staff and librarians. Good people all, and probably have resounding good taste. Thing is, they've probably never read the stuff in a slush pile in their lives. Remember how many of you commented on the quality of the slush in the Crapometer? Well, that's what they're going to get. Why? Cause the only people who can enter are unpublished novelists. Unpublished. So, even if you fire your agent for the chance at the SOBol brass ring, if you've published a novel you're out. If you've published with iUniverse, you're out. They are targeting the very people LEAST likely to produce a publishable novel.

And they're going to have 112 people reading a novel a day just for the first round. Good luck with that.

I was willing to cut SOBol some slack on this contest because I was outraged at the requirement you sign with a literary agency that ISN'T in order to qualify for the final rounds. I think my exact words were "have at it".

No more.

This is just outright wrong.

I don't care how many big name people have attached their names to this. They should be ashamed of themselves. And yea, Brigitte Weeks, and Greg Tobin, I mean YOU. If you really think you are going to be "a unique nation wide talent screener for fiction writers" you would have done well to actually consult with someone who IS looking for fiction writers on a daily basis, and IS finding talent on a daily basis: the membership of AAR is a good place to start. So are the agents listed on Publishers Marketplace. And if you really want to scrape the bottom of the barrel, hell you could have emailed Miss Snark.

If an author is good enough to win, s/he's good enough for a legitimate agency to take on.

Now, I can hear people saying "well, there's a big awards dinner" and anyone who wins will certainly be on the fast track to have their manuscript considered by a major publisher.
I'll stipulate that's correct just for the sake of arguement. Say you've got six offers. Now comes the fun part. You're represented by an agency who's never conducted an auction. You choose one offer from the six. You're represented by an agency that has never negotiated a deal. You sign the contract and your editor leaves, or the publisher folds, or they cancel the contract cause they changed their minds. You're represented by an agency who has no clue what to do when the fecal roster hits the circulation device.

I find the implicit hostility this contest exhibits towards agents to be deeply puzzling. They won't let us represent the winners, they won't let us read the manuscripts, and they won't even let our clients enter. Do you suppose it was dreamed up by someone who was rejected by every agency in town?

The Sobol Prize is more than a crock of shit. It's Bookner Reborn.
Save your money.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the people who've attached themselves to this are being paid?

Anyway, thanks for the gutsy analysis of this prize.

Anonymous said...

You go, Miss Snark!

"Do you suppose it was dreamed up by someone who was rejected by every agency in town?"

You bet I do.

Not exactly someone I'd choose to judge my work.

Kanani said...

Sobol Prize

"For many talented writers, finding a publisher is more difficult than writing their novel," Shomrom said (the founder of the prize).
Gawd. I hope this isn't the truth. I can't imagine it is!

Because nothing has been harder than writing my novel. It would've been easier to quit than keep going. Writing was just one thing to learn. I had to read deeper and broader. I've done research, called total strangers and organizations, I've visited them... all on my own dime. I do this in addition to raising kids, working, dealing with financial difficulties, car problems and a number of things. And I've done it painstakingly, with a group a good people through a writers program. So no. I don't think anything is harder than writing the book.

Lauren said...

This has been all over the Internet as a scam--with Miss Snark, Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write, Writers Net and more. But the one question I haven't yet seen answered is why--WHY--are those big names associated with this??? Why don't they speak out? How did they get involved? What are they getting out of this? How did some nobody draw them in?

s.w. vaughn said...

Miss Snark, thank you for talking about the Sobol Awards. I've seen so many groups of writers and news outlets discussing this in complete seriousness, people gearing up to pin their manuscript and their nearly-$100 entry fee on a big old empty promise, it's unbelieveable. I've pointed as many as I can to you, the AW forums, and Victoria Strauss' blog for some objective opinions.

And you have a fabulous way with words. This line:

You're represented by an agency who has no clue what to do when the fecal roster hits the circulation device.

Priceless. If I had a WIP it would fit into, I'd totally steal it (with full credit to you, of course).

Anonymous said...

You are really on this one today, Miss Snark. I love your indignation. Surprisingly, I had no idea how offended agents would be by this.

You go, girl!

Anonymous said...

Ya Miss Snark...snarl away!

If writers really want to enter contests, all they have to do is check publisher's websites. They list them annually with an entry window, the names and credentials of the judges, what the prize is, and that there is no entry fee.

These aren't just any ol' pub companies, but the big houses.

thanks for the double *SNARL* about SoBol!

MichaelPH said...

I was tempted to enter the Sobol Prize for my "adult" novel (I usually write middle grade)...however Miss Snark you've talked me out of the proposition. Thanks.

Knitty Yas said...

I just took a little glance at their "agreement" that you have to sign if you make it into the finals. Talk about some highly scary stuff. They have the right to terminate the contract after 9 months but you have no said right in any way from what I read.

Sometimes I wonder why... then i remember... humans are greedy.

Conscripted Cherry said...

When I first read the SoBull what struck me as wrong was making you sign with them as your agency. I also had a feeling that there were other wonky things but I wasn't able to put my finger on it. Thanks for pointing so many of them out. Thanks also for the legal link, very interesting reading.

Schuyler Thorpe said...

I was going to do the same until I found your comment listed in one of my group digests.

Then after reading your entry, I was like, "what the hell am I DOING?"

So...I saved myself $85 in the short term by NOT DOING IT.

Then it got me to thinking about the e-mail I got yesterday after only going halfway.

I went back to the site and found something else a bit: Why PDF? Why not any other format? I checked my computer and I can't PDF my files anyway! I don't have the software for it!

And then the second thing hit me: 300K limit?

That in itself is suspicious. Granted, my own books have broken PAST that barrier already, but no TRADITIONAL agent or publisher will accept it!


It's nice to dream, but this thing now has red flags written all over it for me.

I'm going to head over to the P&E site and see what they say about this "agency".


roach said...

Dang it! I could have sworn that the first time (many months ago) when I checked out the Sobol Award site there was a little bit in the FAQ about the (for lack of a better term) "first readers" for the contest. It basically said (as best as I recall) that they were looking for readers and if you wanted to be one to e-mail them. It gave an e-mail address. I had considered for a couple of seconds sending in my resume, just for grins-n-giggles. But it looks like that bit has been expunged from the FAQ as I don't see it now.

I wonder if there are Google cache or Wayback Machine copies of earlier pages?

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is why Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch are writing these guys up as a legitimate operation. Miss Snark refers to PM as a reliable source for finding agents, but that same source is advertising Sobol, thus lending them credibility. What gives?

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

You go! Miss Snark rides again!...LOL...bookner...that's a name I hadn't heard in ages!

Ollie Ollie said...

'I was willing to cut SOBol some slack on this contest because I was outraged at the requirement you sign with a literary agency that ISN'T in order to qualify for the final rounds. I think my exact words were "have at it".

You gave them the benefit of the doubt and didn't apply your normal expectations of behaviour because they outraged you? Sorry Miss S, it's early morning and I'm hard of thinking at this hour (as well as others). I've read and re-read and I don't get it.

Not that it matters. Far as the gist of your post goes, HELL YEAH!

Doesn't the latest release from AP have Greg Tobin justifying his involvement and claiming it's all entirely legit? I wuz reading around on this gift to writers everywhere yesterday and seem to remember so.

I used to enter these kind of poetry contests as a teenager, back when I was stupid and uninformed, not just stupid. No more.

Ollie Ollie said...

Roach said:

'Dang it! I could have sworn that the first time (many months ago) when I checked out the Sobol Award site there was a little bit in the FAQ about the (for lack of a better term) "first readers" for the contest. It basically said (as best as I recall) that they were looking for readers and if you wanted to be one to e-mail them. It gave an e-mail address.'

I remember this too. They appear to be continuously editing to evade particular criticisms.

Anonymous said...

From what I can piece together is this:

The founder Gur Shomrom is a internet technology entrepreneur who made a killing financially. He wrote a book. He shopped it around. More than likely, it was laden with a thick plot, technical descriptions, and just wasn't interesting. No one was interested. He, being the entrepreneur that he is, wouldn't think of workshopping the book and working diligently on it for a number of years undergoing many revisions. (Mind you, I have known several rich people in the past who have written very good novels, so my skepticism isn't because of his money.)

He self published. No one bought it. He created his own agency. In order to get clients, he created this prize.

He added that "not a single writer will face silent rejection," receiving two or more evaluations from a panel of editors

Learning how to take rejection and use it to fire you up is part of the schtick of being a writer. Better yet, workshop your book, get a critique group, strip it down, rewrite it, polish it up. Then you won't face a silent rejection when an agent decides your efforts merit acceptance.

"As the winners' agent, we will nurture them,"
That's for writers groups, teachers, programs and crit groups to do. I don't see the agent's place as nuturing someone.

"introduce them to publishers and negotiate the best deal for them,"
An agent will do this for you without charging you
$100/ to read your submission.

"We discover new writers
So do writers' programs, conferences, crit groups, community writing groups, and a lot of other places.

Verdict: Those who are going to fork out $100 bucks would be better off putting that money to a multi-week workshop class.

This sounds very nice, but the problem is that you won't be getting back the feedback you need to help you be a stronger writer.

Anonymous said...


It's harder than writing the book. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I, too, was floored by PM's support.

none said...

What I'd also like to know is why some reputable industry folks in the UK are involved with YouWriteOn, and how the founder talked the Arts Council out of public money to support what looks very much like a front for a vanity press.

(word verification: ffiuyu. indeed!)

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, why do you assume they must read the entire novel? Why not read it like slush and turn it down after a few pages? I would think that ALL contests do this - they can spot a non-winner right off the bat and just stop reading. Why would Sobol be forced to read whole novels, and who would ever know if they didn't?

Do you think St. Martin's PI contest actually reads the entire novels that they receive?

What am I missing?

writerdog said...

Off the subject.

But I just know how you "love" Fan Fiction.

An interesting article online from the "Wall Street Journal."


Anonymous said...

Great rants from Miss Snark and Snarklings on the Sobol Award scam.

I wanted to tag along w/ a confession of an embarrassing but related incident.

A couple of years ago, I was hanging out w/ a nice, respectable, author at the KGB. At some point amongst the emptying of bottles, he asked me the gist of the novel I had just finished, and liking the premise, suggested I contact some agency named Sobel. With an EL.

So, along came this past Wednesday morning, scanning the wires in a vulnerable pre-coffee mental state....and you can guess what almost happened.

However, I admit I am amused by the reports of the scammers' website undergoing daily, backpedaling "adjustments" to criticism. Next act to watch for: Weeks and Tobin getting off the ship like it's on fire from above and below.

I predict there will be much snickering and slow. sar. cas. tic. app. lause.

Anonymous said...

Testy, testy, this morning, aren't we?

Everyone should be. This whole Prize thing is such a scam.

Thank you for putting it in such Snarkilicious terms.

Remind self not to annoy Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for the folks at PW, but to address two of the anonymice, Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com are not "advertising" the award, nor did we "support" it.

PW's report was far different from ours in both tone and content, and I would not want to be casually grouped with them. Their coverage more or less rewrote the Sobol release with gusto ("new publishing model"; "in a time when slush piles are hardly touched anymore"; “We want to take care of all those guys who don’t know anyone and can’t get published"; "I believe there are major works not getting discovered").

As for Lunch, while I ignored the award when it was first announced in July, after the AP put it on the wire and Goldberg McDuffie started the publicity machine it was time to cover it, and we did so in our usual fashion.

Our report summarized some of the facts of the award; noted that this wave of coverage was not "news" at all; and established that this was a business designed to make money from submissions rather than a philanthropic prize/mission. And we summarized objections raised since mid-summer by Miss Snark, Preditors & Editors, and others, and linked back to MS.

B. Dagger Lee said...

Dear Miss Snark:

I have a few points to add to your excellent analysis-to-date.

If America was a person on the couch, the diagnosis would be narcissistic personality disorder.

The prevailing zeitgeist is that I can do and be anything. There’s no such thing as specialized knowledge or competency, only credentials. Michael Brown is credentialed; he’s the former head of FEMA. He is now a highly paid consultant on emergency and disaster-preparedness.

One of the interesting things about American Idol, or Project Runway, is the way the special knowledge (professional knowledge) of the judges is displayed. Knock them if you will, but Simon, Paula, Randy, for American Idol, and Heidi Klum, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia for Project Runway, know what they’re talking about and what they are judging. They’re far far better judges than the average person. AND, there’s always a segment on what they had to sit through and see in the auditions, which is a lot a lot of dreck. They earn their judge’s pay.

The other interesting thing is the contrast between the winners--who have usually had years of training, illustrating well the saying that it takes ten years to make an overnight success--and the people who are weeded out: the ones with training and experience in auditions have lost competitions and failed auditions many many times. The ones with no training and no experience in auditioning are shocked, shocked when they are turned away. They can’t believe it. “Simon’s mean and has a grudge against me.”

This contest preys on those who want to believe, which is the necessary prerequisite for any con. If America today, the prevailing idea is that if you believe hard enough, you can make it so, without any of that pay-your-dues, years-of-study, crapola. This Sobol "contest" is attempting to capitalize on the American Idol phenomenon—by building an American Writer platform—but instead of making its money honestly as a byproduct of the contest (advertising), these “contest-contrivers” cheat the contest by making the money off the wishful thinking of the contestants.

Imagine if American Idol charged people to audition.

yrs, B. Dagger Lee

Anonymous said...

Romance haters alert -- the following applies only to RWA chapter contests, so if you're not interested, stop reading now.

RWA chapters run contests constantly. As a judge for one such, I can honestly say that ALL of the submissions are read and scored in their entirety. Now: there is no RWA based contest I know of that asks for the full MS as the entry. More often it's 20-30 pages, a particular type of scene, etc. We judges are unpaid, we do it to support our chapter (and for the fun??), so it'd be ludicrous to ask us to read 5-10 full novels.

That said, some of these contests are getting a good reputation, and your $25-$35 entry fee may be money well spent. For certain it's money better spent than in sending these scam artists $85 do do whatever they are doing. At minimum, you will get feedback by able and/or published writers who can tell you where your MS rocks and where it (ahem) doesn't.

Romance haters may resume reading at this time.


Catja (green_knight) said...

schuyler thorpe: try


(I know it's a vanity publisher, and I don't endorse them, but I've used their pdf printer in the past)

or look at www.tucows.com for a pdf writer. It can be very handy, particularly if you want to ensure that it prints correctly on another computer. (My last 50 page sample had turned into 52 on migration to a Windows computer, *with exactly the same settings*)

Mac OS X users, of course, have the ability built in...

(In effect, the Sobol fee gets you two readings and a comment. I'll read your mss for $50, and you won't be locked into a contract you can't escape from. Ok, there's no price, but, y'know, I'll throw in a £1 lottery ticket. How's that?)

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark?

Why don't you tell us how you REALLY feel about the Sobel Prize?

You're holding back, I can tell.

Anonymous said...

Dear Catja,

thank you, thank you for the data on how to turn docs into pdf files. when i switched from mac to pc i too was bewildered.

On tucows.com, did you do the free download of from docudesk.com, or the download that costs $49?

domynoe said...

The awards dinner is nothing. Poetry.com hosts an awards dinner, and they've been known to be a scam for a long while now.

Glamour and glitz doesn't make a thing legitimate.

Victoria Strauss said...

"This has been all over the Internet as a scam--with Miss Snark, Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write, Writers Net and more."

Writer Beware has NOT labeled the Sobol Award a scam (see my recent post). Why? Because I don't think it is. Obviously nothing is impossible--but I think that Sobol is a misguided but sincere vanity project dreamed up by yet another frustrated writer who thinks he's figured out a way to get around the system. Really, it's the spritual equivalent of the PA authors who set up their own literary agencies.

So should writers enter the contest? That's a whole other question. In my opinion, the main reason to avoid it isn't the entry fee, but the fact that the finalists will be required to sign a contract with a literary agency that does not currently exist. This is no different from signing with an agent whose background is shrouded in secrecy or whom you can't research. In other words--a really poor idea.

So--scam, no. Bad idea, yes--even though I do think it's possible that a win may carry some weight, if only because of the curiosity engendered by the publicity surrounding it.

Anonymous said...

Harder than writing the book?

I agree with Kanani (and that's not because I'm her friend)

Nothing is harder, nothing takes more humility, nothing takes more diligence and persistence, and a willingness to shove your ego aside, especially if you've ever gone through a writers program.

Anonymous said...

Just to mention the PDF thing again... OpenOffice is an open source office suite (kinda like MS Office but better imho and free) that exports to PDF.

This comp sounds like a bunch of balls. I'm glad I only just heard of it... Someone once told me that you should never have to pay for a legit competition - the same as you should never pay to be read by an agent. As a collector of all things free, I never will, not even £15 nevermind $85/$100.

Anonymous said...

"Nothing is harder than writing the book." I so agree. Sometimes it is easy, but not often. And then there is all the shit that happens: mostly bad shit that you think you will never get through. But somehow you do. You think you will die or at least hope that you will, but in the morning you're still there and in a few weeks, days, hours, you're at it again. Hoping this time it will be better. Not perfect, just better.

Hell, if someone wants to enter some contest, what the hell? Eighty-five dollars is not the end of the world. I mean, if it's not a scam what's the big deal? Yeah, okay, sometimes eighty-five bucks is all I have too, but whose business is it? Let the writer decide. Give it up. Get over it.

Georgia Girl

Novelust said...

Georgia Girl:

You can't protect the stupid from themselves, but you can make sure people out there see the other side of a very flashy marketing campaign. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm glad someone's doing it.

Besides all that, it's Miss Snark's blog and she'll write what she wants to. So how about you give it up and get over it?

- Another Georgia Gal, aka, Novelust.

Anonymous said...

I also think nothing is harder than writing the book.

I'm at the proof-read stage with my first book. Other things along the way have been more frustrating, more annoying, more infuriating, more stressful. But nothing has been just plain slog-your-guts-out put-your-heart-and-soul-in-it work-every-brain-cell-you've-got harder than writing the thing.

Anonymous said...

how dare you, Georgia Girl!

Urf wid er head !!!

Anonymous said...

"If they get 10,000 it's 112 each and every day"

Does that calculation take into account the fact that they say that every manuscript will be read twice?

I feel so sorry for those poor readers.

Anonymous said...

I reckon that if anyone is at a doubt that they cannot hire enough folks to read such a plethora of manuscripts in such a time period, had better break out their calculators. If they take on 50,000 pieces at $85 a pop, that is, get this, 4.25 million dollars! With a $100,000 prize, a banquet dinner, and a couple of smaller consolation prizes, the overhead is about minimal. So they have the money to pay readers, unless it is just a magnificent way to bring money to the agency, pick a few winners and chuck 49,950 manuscripts in the can. Believe me, I've worked in a few literary agencies, and 99% of the stuff that comes in never makes it past the first paragraph of the query letter. Our agents use everything possible to make money, including taking the unused stamps off your SASE. Worse than that, we would spend our days amusing ourselves with stupid entries and gimmicks. Think your material is awesome? Well, give it to a room full of recent college grad interns who believe their work should be looked at before yours, and they'll tear your masterpiece to shreds--literally and figureatively speaking.

Anonymous said...

I signed up anyway.

I don't feel $85 spent\lost that way will make me feel more stupid then I am, Miss Snark.

I hope to live to tell you my story all the way to the prize. :)

So, wish me luck, all of you, Snarklings!