Let's Review WHY Sobol is a Crock of Shit

Lots of info flying around the blogosphere about the Sobolobotomy Literary Prize.

A brief recap:

For $85 you can send your manuscript electronically to the Sobol folks. They say they've got the staff to have your manuscript read twice and commented on. (Miss Snark has no problem with this-for a differing view check out PubRants)

Then, if your manuscript is selected as a first round winner, it gets read by two more people (also no problem).

Then, if you make it to the final round, you must agree to be represented by the Sobol Literary Agency if you want to win the prize and be published.

That's the problem.

AAR rules are VERY specific that charging people to read manuscripts is NOT ok for reputable agents. Sobol spokespeople say they have administrative costs. Yea, so what. I do too and I struggle along without charging people.

You can have a contest; you can have a literary agency. You cannot have both at the same time.

Frankly, I'm outraged that Touchstone/Fireside has agreed to be part of this. The balderdash about "different and devoted community" and "unprecedented judging system" is crap. It's the worst form of PR talk because it's utter bunk and it makes the people who say it look like nitwits.

Girl on demand says it better. Read her here

There are NO other contests-not Romance Writers, not the Hillerman, not the Kirkus, NONE, that require you to sign with an agency before winning.

And not just ANY agent; they want you to sign with an agent who has no sales**, isn't an AAR member, and has no understanding of how an agency actually works and what it does. In other words you have an "agent" who doesn't value the role agents play in publishing.

You'd be better off if they required you to NOT have an agent. No agent is less damaging than an incompetent one.

There will be people who sign up for this thing. Someone is probably going to get a book out of it. You literally cannot talk people out of thinking they are the exception to the rule.

And this is not the end of the world; it's not even that important - unless you believe the things you do in your life have resonance. It's one thing to make a mistake. It's another thing not to fix it once you know about it.

Unless Sobol is truly a scam artist in training all they have to do is remove that "must sign" clause and I will PUBLICLY acknowledge it and thank them. In BIG RED LETTERS even.

Or, if they just want to do the right thing and not back down in the face of Snarkensian wrath, they can just fix it and not say anything.


**Let's all remember that Nat Sobel is a reputable agent with good clients and great sales. He is NOT the SOBOL guy. SobOl has no sales, no clients, nada zippo zilcho.


Marissa Doyle said...

I just read the comment trail on Pub Rants--and it's scary how many people just don't seem to get the problem here. An agent is about career development and the long term, not just one book. I agree with Miss Snark--if Sobol drops the representation requirement, go for it. It's your $85. But do you really want them as your agent for your next books? You're stuck with them for at least a year, and for perpetuity with your winning manuscript. Hmmm.

Call me cynical, but it still smells fishy. Read TNH's "Slushkiller" and her estimation of how many manuscripts submitted to her are unpublishable. Is S&S going to put their good name on the spine of the winner and pay $100K for it even if it's total drivel?

Anonymous said...

Alice Hoffman is associated with this now. I would have trusted her judgment on anything writing-related. Miss Snark, any comments?

Catja (green_knight) said...

What makes me furious is that here is a publisher trusting someone else's ability to pick out a profitable novel. Their own editors should be able to pick things from slush/agented submissions. The idea that a publisher would plonk down - sight unseen - a lot of money on a book that could (according to the contest rule) be in any genre at all, as long as it's fiction is infuriating. And they wonder why people want to self-publish in the face of publisher crazyness. This is a blow in the face of writers and agents alike. Be unpublished, spend $85, and be judged the best of a random group of unpublished writers and you get $100K thrown after you. Secure the services of a reputable agent, make a targeted submission to a publisher, or have a decent but not overly succesful first novel already in print, and you'll be lucky to be offered a tenth of that.

That does not compute.

Anonymous said...

re alice hoffman... guess this rules out one agent as MS

BitchySmurf said...

I'm so embarrassed for S&S. I can't believe they signed on with this even AFTER so much criticism was directed at it. I don't see the benefit. Touchstone/Fireside gets its name dragged through the mud. All the books it currently publishes are made to look bad in comparison. AND they have to publish something that (judging by past contests) won't sell well and might not fit the imprint at all.


Anonymous said...

One thought that occurred to me after reading this entry is how right now is a great time to be a writer because of the existence of the internet. Access to the internet has allowed for the exchange of information in real time, which in turn has meant that us writers have gotten the heads up about the many scams that are out there. I know that in my own case that I probably have avoided making many mistakes that I might have out of ignorance if it wasn't for blogs like Miss Snark's, and other writer-related websites.

An $85 entry fee--Jeez! Too rich for my blood even if this was being run in a legitimate manner.

Jeffrey Dean Palmatier

Anonymous said...

...they want you to sign with an agent who has no sales...

Okay, in Miss Snark I trust...BUT, Sobel does show a list of fiction and nonfiction on its website. I only glanced at it, but Steve Almond stood out, and Barry Eisler seems to ring a bell. Since this is causing such an uproar I guess I'd like a little more input why Sobel is the scum of the earth. Surely it can't be the $100K they're offering. The $85 contest fee is high, but it's not ridiculous in light of the prize. Most contests offer a $1000 to $2000 prize for a $15 entry fee.

The thing I haven't seen addressed, that does bother me, is how they're actually going to read one, two, three
thousand manuscripts. How many librarians do they have, a thousand?

Anonymous said...

Say someone submitted their manuscript before realizing how much of a jip it is, and then went on to the final round. If said author turned down the contract/money/agency to try selling their manuscript elsewhere/elsehow, would the fact that they entered the contest at all be a mark against them, or would the fact that he or she entered it and made it so far but had the sense to turn it down and keep his/her rights give them a better shot with other, more reputable agents?

In which case the author is paying for reviews, which, winning or not, is helpful, and to some, maybe worth it.

anon writer said...

Reminds me of the real estate agencies who offer to sell your house for a set, low fee. The "established" real estate agents who charge an arm and a leg to sell the property you have put your heart and soul into improving, not to mention your life savings, are incensed because they fear a new business model that threatens their ability to make money off of home owners who are desparate to sell.

I say, assuming Sobol is legit and not a scam, the agents are hopping mad about the award because they fear the spector of a new business model.

What say the rest of you writers out there?

Sal said...

If Elaine Markson is still Alice Hoffman's agent (and it isn't terribly clear because the information that she is/was is no longer in Alice Hoffman's bio on her site), Markson isn't a solo agent, as our Miss Snark claims to be.

[You can see where the reference to Markson has been snipped from the Hoffman bio on Hoffman's site by checking out this version at hatchettebookgroupusa.com.]

Maybe Miss Snark knows the skinny.

Tattieheid said...

I'm a cynic.

It will not surprise me if the "winner" just happens to be in a genre that the publisher does specialise in. If you don't write in those genre you will just be wasting your money.

I notice that the terms of the "Writers Agreement" (Agency contract)are not available on their site. This makes it impossible to determine their fairness or validity. Presumably if you get to round two and then refuse to sign the agreement because the terms stink you will lose your money.

Standard agency commission is 15%. Does that mean Sobol will be making $21,300 from publishers advances on top of everything else?

It is one thing for competition organisers to involve publishers in the competition but quite another when those same organisers want sole agency rights. That is restrictive practice and also a clear conflict of interests.

They are just trying to capitalise on writer's desperation to be published. Sadly they will probably succeed and then claim moral justification.

Keep pushing the issue, someone has to.

Miss Snark said...

Hey Anon 5!
Nat SobEl is not the SobOl prize guy.
Nat represents Barry Eisler.
Sobol doesn't have a single sale listed on his web site because...surprise surprise, he's not an agent.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5 says, Aha.

Anonymous said...

What bugs me is that out of these 1000 writers (who so don't believe in their ability to ever land an agent that they're willing to PAY for a shot at publication), what are the odds that even one isn't dreck? Not great. And can you imagine the reviewers - they'll be salivating for a chance to read the winning book and shred it. No matter what, the winner will have a very short-lived career with much negative attention thrown his or her way.

I'm very happy I'm with HC - I'd be embarrassed as hell to be an S&S author right now. Are they even considering the published authors who wouldn't consider them after this?

Anonymous said...

catja said... "Be unpublished, spend $85, and be judged the best of a random group of unpublished writers and you get $100K thrown after you. Secure the services of a reputable agent, make a targeted submission to a publisher, or have a decent but not overly succesful first novel already in print, and you'll be lucky to be offered a tenth of that."

And that's the rub. I was one of the posters over on Pub Rants. And part of my "rant" was more at the publishing industry in general rather than defending Sobobl. But my point is that even if this is a scam... $100,000 and a book deal w/ S&S is not something that even the LUCKIEST first time writer who does secure an agent and does manage to sell his/her book will get.

So what the guy has no track record. The contract will either be for the book or a set period of time. Let's face it - if it is a scam - the guy wants to get his money and go. He's not tying anyone to a 10 year deal.

Either way - new author has (say it with me)... $100,000 and a book deal with S&S. A shot that maybe the book will do well. A chance to get a foot in the door beyond the normal means.

I compared it to American Idol. When that started I'm sure that all the long suffering artists struggling to get a manager, a record deal, etc looked at it as a joke. It was said that the contract benefited the record producer and not the artist - but still the artist got 1,000,000.

You think Kelly Clarkson cares how she got her start? You think she cares that the first contract didn't benefit her the way it should have?

More importantly does any high powered music mogul give a slightly chunky high school student - who happens to have a great voice - a shot at the big time? Does anyone look at the sweet nice girl from Texas and think - yeah she's going to be the next big thing?

Maybe, but odds are slim.

The next big thing isn't the next big thing until it is. If someone can break through with this "scam" of a contest, make their money, get a foot in the door...then I say good for them.

Anonymous said...

So what the guy has no track record. The contract will either be for the book or a set period of time. Let's face it - if it is a scam - the guy wants to get his money and go. He's not tying anyone to a 10 year deal.

Okay, so what happens with your next book? And the one after that? Do you see your writing career as stopping at the one book and 100 grand, or do you see yourself continuing to publish books? How much credibility do you think you're going to have with the many other agents and publishers in the market, if you win this award?

Kelly Clarkson might have established a career, but think of all the other winners who you don't hear from nowadays. And note that Clarkson doesn't like talking about the AI win because she doesn't want to draw attention to how she got her start as she thinks it lacks credibility.

If you're serious about being a professional author, you need to think long-term. A good agent will help you build a career. The Sobol competition will help you become (maybe) a flash in the pan.


Richard White said...

Everyone is saying agents are afraid of this contest because it allows writers to get to a publisher without an agent.

But, you're not avoiding agents with the Sobol contest.

If you are one of the finalists, you have to sign on with Sobol as your agent.

So, Sobol is guaranteed a percentage of the prize money from Simon and Schuster as your rep.

So, they make money off the contest AND they make money off the winners.

That's why it's slimy.

Ryan Field said...

I don't think the issue here is totally about contests: I've entered Writer's Digest Shorts for years simply to test my editing skills when it comes to writing something decent in 1,000 words. I've even bought a few bags of magic beans, because I thought they were fun, too. I've always been a real sucker for contests and raffles and lotteries simply because I get a kick out of them.
But this Sobol thing crosses too many lines when it comes to ethics, and common sense. When I was in college I once paid 300 bucks (money I didn't have to waste at the time)to the infamous fee-charging agent (who is now dead, I believe; at least I outlived the crook)of the day for a crititque and possible representation. I learned my lesson the hard way.

For ten years I owned an art gallery and represented many contemporary artists from The New Hope School. I didn't charge them to hang their work in my gallery; I didn't get paid until I SOLD their work. I had overhead, paid for all promotions and expenses, and never took a dime from the artist under the pretense of "administrative" expenses. My reputation was as important as making money.

Miss Snark wants the "must sign" clause removed. Speaking as a writer who was once taken advantage of, I'd like to see their balls removed.

Anonymous said...

Agents do not have to fear this--why would anyone get that idea? Agents routinely have more queries than they can field, most eventually end up with full stables of working writers, and they have no time to read unsolicited. Why on earth would somebody think an agent would be afraid of this stupid scheme? Whether it's a full scam or not, I dunno...but that $85 would pay for a lot of queries to recognized agents. (And just because S/S is behind this doesn't make it legit--look at the furor over the idiocy of the editor who bought OJ's book--and now it's in the toilet).

Bella Stander said...

There's no guarantee of publication. (You honestly don't think a company like S&S would commit to publishing shlock sight-unseen, do you?) Thriller writer MJ Rose read the fine print; see her findings here.

So now there's even less of a reason to enter the contest--and even more of a reason to make like a real writer and research REPUTABLE agents, send out queries, etc.

Anonymous said...

Responding to CH...

Going the "reputable" direction... what do you think happens to your career if your first book doesn't sell through? What do you think your "reputable" agent will do when he/she can no longer can sell your book to publishers and they can't make money off of you?

There is only one thing that means success in this business... you must attract readers with your writing. They must want to buy you and read you again and again.

Kelly Clarkson "made" it - probably because she has the most potential/talent for Pop music.

Whoever wins this - will either make it or not based on the quality of the book and whether or not people read it.

But if it's good...if it's the new "it" book... and the the writer then leaves Sobol and goes looking for another "reputable" literary agent...you honestly think that an agent won't want to take on a bestselling writer simply because he got his start with a Sobol award?

That somehow all that money he made and will continue to make because it turns people like him will be "tainted?"

Miss Snark can say otherwise, but my guess would be that if the stars align and a book comes out of the pack that is really good and the author turns into Dan Brown... that the chances are Sobol Award winner or not... he'll find himself with a career.


Ryan Field said...

Someone tell me: Did Kelly Clarkson, or any Idol contestant have to pay Fox a fee to enter AI? Did Jerry Springer pay a fee to Dance with the Stars? Did Zora pay a fee to date The Bachelor?

Kanani said...

It's horrible when good companies support scams, which eventually turns it into "just doing business."

Best to be on the watch out for more sprogs cropping up in the future.

And all I can do is feel sorry for the good guy, Nat Sobel. What a bummer to have a name that could be confused with this mess.

Anonymous said...

what do you think happens to your career if your first book doesn't sell through? What do you think your "reputable" agent will do when he/she can no longer can sell your book to publishers and they can't make money off of you?

SD - a reputable agent will get you a deal for at least a couple of books with the same publisher - that's one more than Sobol is getting you in this contest. A reputable agent will continue to work for you if one manuscript doesn't sell and will give you a steer on what to do if your publishers start muttering the 'd' word. They will also give you honest advice based on their knowledge of the industry because that's how they earn their money.

Take a look at blogs other than Miss Snark here - most of the agents who blog discuss situations like that and how they handle it/have handled it in the past. It's not the case that you're automatically dropped after one misstep. Respected agents are constantly selling, selling, selling because it's in their interests as much as it's in yours.

Throwing the question back at you, what do you think Sobol will do in that situation? Because I think they'll be absolutely clueless. So that leaves you with one book (possibly a good book with good reviews, possibly not) and nothing in the game plan. And what happens if S&S publish your book to mediocre reviews/sales? If you get a critical mauling in this competition, then it'll be well publicised because it's clear that S&S are going to promote on the basis of the competition aspect. Who is going to take you on then and what are you going to do?

You use the Dan Brown analogy and it's interesting because everyone wants a big seller, but check out the industry gossip about his next book - it's late and there are big concerns it won't deliver.

Very few authors hit it as big as Dan Brown and that wasn't his first book - his previous novels had reasonable but not stellar sales figures, but his agent and publisher stood by him and knew how to handle his career.

You want to take a risk because of the dollar signs that Sobol are dangling, then rock out because there's always a remote chance that you'll get lucky and win the lottery. But as has been said here and on the other Blogs, if you can make it in this competition, you could probably have made it through the 'normal' route and at least the normal route has established credibility.


Ted W. Gross said...

I honestly had to get my 2 cents for the "slush fund" about the Sobol Award at Cobwebs Of The Mind.

So if you are interested, Weighing In On The Sobol Award.

And though I won't give it the Official Cobwebs Of The Mind - Miss Snark Fire Extinguisher Award for Scams and Trollers it comes close.

Anonymous said...

I have an agent. In two years, she has not been able to sell my novel, which she assures me is very good. If I entered the Sobol contest, with her permission, and won, what harm would there be. She'd still be my agent.