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Is the Sobol Award shady?

16 October 2006

The story of the Sobol Award provides a warning for unpublished writers of the dangers of being too gullible. The award, which closes on 31 December 2006, is open to all unpublished novelists who do not have a literary agent. The winner will get the considerable sum of $100,000, making it in theory the largest prize anywhere in the world for an unpublished novel, plus representation for their work.

Writers are invited to enter a novel, written in English, of at least 50,000 but no more than 300,000 words, but this in itself is a bit of a giveaway, as it is extremely unlikely that an agent would be able to find a publisher for a novel of 300,000 words, however good it was.

But it is the $85 entry fee which is the real giveaway. The maths are simple and you can see that it doesn't take a vast number of entrants to make this a nice little earner for the organisers, providing that they can get enough entries. There are many unpublished writers struggling to get attention, but if Sobol manages to get the 50,000 entries that they reckon will constitute the cut-off, the competition will earn $4,250,000, a very good return for setting up a small website, doing a bit of judging and awarding a $100,000 prize. Less than 1200 entries are needed to cover the prize money.

The Sobol Agency does not as yet exist, although it is worryingly similar to well-known New York agent Nat Sobel's agency, currently called the Sobel Weber Agency. This makes it hard to gauge whether the offer of representation is worth anything, but it is a truism of agency work that having a bad agent, who might tie you and your work up without selling it, is worse than not having one. Good agents are like gold dust and it's worth struggling to find a reputable one. In the meantime it's safer to go for established agencies and the security they give you. At least you can be sure that they already represent a lot of writers, and have managed to sell their work.

The Sobol Award

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