Pub Rants

Scammers At The Gate

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STATUS: Fridays always make me happy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? The line up begins again on Monday.

To give Publishers Weekly their due, they allowed the dubious purveyors of the Sobol Awards to air their opinions about their contest in the Soapbox section of the Oct. 9, 2006 issue of the magazine. It’s entitled Barbarians At The Gate? Scammers at the gate more like.

Here’s the link if you think it worth your time to peruse. I think your time could be better spent.

First, have you noticed that legitimate organizations and contests (those above approach because they actually are operating with a writer’s best interest in mind) have no need to defend themselves?

Second, I find it curious that Ms. Weeks actually didn’t address any of the issues raised by Miss Snark and others about why this contest is a scam.

In her 60 seconds Soapbox, Ms. Weeks basically says that the Sobol Awards provide manuscript critiques for so many writers who otherwise would never get any feedback at all. (Huge eyebrow raise here because really?)

It’s my understanding that there are lots of venues for writers to get wonderful feedback and critiques for their writing without paying a dime. They are called critique groups.

And there are other organizations with minor membership fees (fees that are then used to actually advocate for their members) where writers can join the various local chapters to get their manuscript read and critique. Organizations such as Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and that’s just to name a few.

And yet, according to Ms. Weeks, it’s the Sobol Awards who will raise those deserving writers out of the unknown by getting them representation by Sobol Literary Agency, which actually hasn’t sold anything. Sounds like some prize.

My favorite part is when she says, “You’ll notice they [the winners] are not locked in the dungeons of Castle Sobol for the balance of their careers. They take their checks, their published novels and then can pick among the many agents anxious to represent an author whose value has already been proven in the marketplace.”

That includes some interesting assumptions—such as any winner of the Award would actually get their book published to start. Considering the track record of the agency (which is nil) that will represent the winners…seems like a big IF to me.

And for better reading, check out what Preditors & Editors has to say about Sobol Literary Agency.

Basically, it still comes down to the fact that the only ones benefiting from the Sobol Awards are those who profit from the “registration” fee.

14 Responses

  1. Maprilynne said:

    The whole, “Methinks she doth protest too much,” applies here. Any agency that mentions in one line that they do not charge fees, fine, they probably don’t. But an agency that spend like three paragraphs on how they don’t charge fees has me immediately scratching them off my query list.
    As they say on Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money.” I don’t mean money per se, but show me your results. Show me sales! Show me the awards your authors have won! Don’t sit around and tell me what you aren’t, show me what you are.
    (Laughs at self.) See, agents have to show instead of tell too. *wink*

  2. ~Nancy said:

    What kind of BS was that woman dishing out? Give me a break.

    There are legit contests that have up front fees. But they’re small. And they usually look at only one small piece of the story pie by focusing on one genre (sf, fantasy, mystery, whatever).

    Yeah, just what I want – to be repped by an agency that has no sales and no publishing experience.



  3. Anonymous said:

    I was wondering what the big deal was about the Sobol Awards. The big upfront fee did not bother me, my thoughts were, “OK, so it is an expensive contest.”

    I went to their website and found something that really did bother me. To enter you must sign their contract. Some of the writer beware lessons Ms. Kristin has taught us were in there. The words “in perpetuity” are in their contract. The contract states that is binding upon your heirs even!!! I am not legally savvy beyond what I have “picked-up”, but their contract made me very suspicious.

  4. Anonymous said:

    er, um, not to be a a stickler prick, but it’s “above reproach” (not above approach), which, I should add, the Sobol folk are decidedly not.

  5. Termagant 2 said:

    I read that snippet, too. This is known as “spin doctoring.” Notice she wasn’t denying their fee is more than entering three average RWA-chapter contests (for one example). Notice she did not say they have EVER sold a book for an author. Notice she did not say their contract doesn’t mean exactly what it says.

    Woodward & Bernstein would’ve called this a non-denial denial.

    Published author wannabes, give this one a wide berth.


  6. Tattieheid said:

    I beleieve the Sobol Competition is a rip off.
    If they get the target level of response they seek there will probably be one or more good novels in the pile. It’s the law of averages. If they find a good/sellable novel they will find a publisher. The question is – will they have the ability to recognise one of these novels if they see it? Somehow I don’t think so.

    Word verification jcg fuq appropriate?

  7. katiesandwich said:

    So I was watching Spongebob again last night, and I thought of you. Spongebob is supposed to be on vacation, yet he keeps coming back to the Krusty Krab because he just can’t stay away… and here you are, blogging away about agent stuff when you’re supposed to be taking a break!

  8. Termagant 2 said:

    Tattieheid, you write: If they get the target level of response they seek there will probably be one or more good novels in the pile.

    But what HAPPENS to this one good novel? This is an “agency” with no track record, no plan, no bona fides at all. And according to what I’ve heard of the contract, they can tie this good novel up ’til the government eschews corruption, and there’s not a thing the author can do about.

    Except maybe regret he sent them $80 and his project in the first place…


  9. Ryan Field said:

    You know guys, we all know we should beware of agents who charge fees (we knew that twenty years ago, too). But what we don’t know is where publishing is going these days. New writers are tired of the old approach, and from the look of book sales so are readers. A friend recently told me her son had a book published, POD; it was actually very good. Last week I found (yes found) a book while jogging in Central Park. I was supposed to find it; some type of gimmick where a book gets passed around and whoever finds it and reads it then must pass it on and log onto a web site to keep the book tracking alive. The book was spectacular: well written, edited so perfectly I was jealous and a moving plot that kept me reading all night. I could almost bet my life this book made the agent rounds and was rejected every time (I’d love to name it but that wouldn’t be ethical). My point is not to advocate this Sobel thing, but I am curious about it, and, about the fact that they don’t seem to be backing down, yet, under so much attack. Though it may be naive, and it all may turn out to be extremely unethical, I’d like to see something good come out of this Sobel Award business to show publishers that if they want to increase book sales they’d better change the way they’ve been buying manscripts for the past forty years. And, let’s face it, Sobel is charging a fee, yes, but how much more do new witers pay to go to the so-called, well received conferences? How many thousands pay big bucks go to these conferences and go home without luck? Personally, and this is not an attack on agents, I’ve always found it insulting to writers that large publishers (many) don’t consider unagented material and rely on the subjective taste of a handful of quirky people to decide what readers are going to like.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Bold statement Mr. Field.
    Well said…

    I too wish for change in the publishing industry. Maybe the market will change it, and evolving technology would act as the catalyst.

  11. ya author said:

    Ryan Field wrote:
    >>I’ve always found it insulting to writers that large publishers (many) don’t consider unagented material and rely on the subjective taste of a handful of quirky people to decide what readers are going to like.
    As an author I don’t like the arrangement either–but *on the other hand* I can’t blame editors for being this way. If you had to weed through never-ending stacks of submissions (many of them sent in by authors who aren’t ready to publish, disregard proper submission etiquette, or just aren’t right for the house) you too might be more apt to consider work that’s passed an agent’s scrutiny.

  12. Catja (green_knight) said:

    An agency that is both professional and able to adequately represent _any type of novel_ is most unlikely to exist. There aren’t enough hours in the day to learn the ins and outs of middle grade, erotic, literary, technothriller, fantasy, Christian, and, and, AND – so to say that everybody has an equal chance *and* that the winner will be adequately represented contains at least one blatant lie.

  13. Anonymous said:

    Ryan Field said: Personally, and this is not an attack on agents, I’ve always found it insulting to writers that large publishers (many) don’t consider unagented material and rely on the subjective taste of a handful of quirky people to decide what readers are going to like.

    You’ve never waded through a slush pile, have you?

    Here’s how to get an idea of what the slush pile is like: Go to any fan fiction site. Start reading every story, from the top down. Notice how at least 85% of the stuff is not up to basic literary standards, in terms of grammar and composition. Notice how big a relief it is just to get to a story with all the words spelled correctly, much less with subject/verb agreement and–joy of joys–a recognizable plot. Notice that the majority of what you are reading makes you want to gouge out your eyes with a spork.

    This is exactly what the slush pile is like. Exactly. Do not, for one instant, think that what lands on publishers’ and agents’ desks is any different.

    I personally have no problem with agents and publishers filtering what makes it to publication. Having experienced slush, I am, rather, deeply, deeply grateful to them for doing so. They deserve medals.


  14. Ryan Field said:

    Anonymous said…
    You’ve never waded through a slush pile, have you?

    I’m wading through one right now, dear. Don’t ever be presumptuous on a blog page…Ryan Field is a ballpark in Chicago.