It doesn’t pay to charge…

In the world of literature, writers shouldn’t have to pay editors or agents to read their work, and that seems to be behind the failure of the $100,000 Sobol award, as reported by the AP:

Controversial new prize canceled due to lack of interest
AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) … The Sobol Award, a controversial new literary contest that offered
agentless writers a $100,000 first prize and a contract with Simon & Schuster for the top
three winners, has been canceled.

Officials acknowledged that the prize’s entry fee and other contractual requirements had
deterred would-be participants.

“No further manuscript submissions will be accepted,” award organizers announced Monday
on the Sobol Web site ( “All writers who have submitted manuscripts will
receive a full refund of their entry fee ($85) and our copies of the manuscripts will be
destroyed and deleted from our system.”

First announced last September, the Sobol prize was immediately attacked by agents,
bloggers and other critics for the entry fee and for requiring that Sobol officials serve as
the winners’ literary representative. Industry policy prohibits agents from charging money to
read manuscripts.

Interest never took off despite the presence of such industry veterans as Brigitte Weeks, a
former editor of The Washington Post Book World who was Sobol’s editorial director, and
best-selling novelist Alice Hoffman, who was to have served as a judge.

“Maybe the message is that unpublished writers have been exploited in so many different
ways that it’s difficult to launch an effort, regardless of whether it’s in good faith or
not,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, which represents thousands of
published writers. “Charging people is fundamentally suspect and it’s hard to overcome

Submissions remained low even after Sobol organizers announced last month that Simon &
Schuster would publish the top three contestants and that the original contest deadline of
Dec. 31, 2006, had been pushed back to March 31.

“It’s unfortunate. We were looking forward to working on the project,” said Marcia Burch,
vice president of publicity for Touchstone/Fireside, a division Simon & Schuster that would
have released the winning books. She added that the decision to cancel was made entirely by
Sobol officials.

The award was created by Sobol Literary Enterprises, a for-profit venture started by
technology entrepreneur Gur Shomron, as a means “to discover talented, unknown fiction
writers and help them get the recognition they deserve.”

Weeks told The Associated Press on Monday that only about 1,000 manuscripts were received,
far below the 50,000 that prize organizers were prepared to accept and well below the minimum
of 2,000 that Simon & Schuster had required to ensure its participation.

“I think the criticism was probably quite damaging,” she acknowledged. “We should have
responded more quickly, but startups don’t always do the right thing.”

Shomron told the AP that he had invested more than $1 million in the prize and that a
full-time staff of four would be laid off.

“I’m losing a lot of money,” he said. “But what I’m really sorry about is all the
writers who were participating and wanted to be successful.”

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