Monday, January 08, 2007

Victoria Strauss -- Sobol Contest Closes

Thanks to an anonymous comment in my previous post for the information that the Sobol Contest has closed According to the Sobol website, all entries will be destroyed, and entrants will get their money back.

I'm sure that many theories will be offered for the contest's failure: the entry fees were too high, the contest's ill-advised presentation and publicity made it look suspicious, writers didn't want to potentially tie themselves to a currently nonexistent literary agency. But I don't think there's any doubt that a major part of what scuttled Sobol was the unprecedented storm of criticism and negative publicity that swept the blogosphere after the award was announced.

I was part of the storm. I thought, and still think, that my criticism was justified, but in light of this new development, I have very mixed feelings.

Food for thought.

66 comments:

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

This would seem to lend credence to the widely-held suspicion that the whole thing was a personal profit-generation scheme for Sobol himself. I'm also not sure how truthful the whole claim about a $100,000 deal with Touchstone could have been if they just up and decide to cancel the contest.

Saundra Mitchell said...

I don't know why your feelings are mixed. Having a bad agent is worse than no agent at all, and this contest threw money at authors (or did it, really?) and demanded to represent them without a shred of the history, experience or understanding of the industry Writer Beware has crusaded for since the beginning. I'd be *thrilled* it's over before somebody got hurt.

pinhead said...

I, for one, am glad that you have mixed feelings. Her Snarkness clearly has none, which troubles me. Why? Because the whole thing smacks of witch hunt. It's a grand illustration of how easy it is to generate a blind following through popularity.

Today, Sobol--perhaps a bad idea (maybe even a bad idea by good people)--gets burned at the stake. Tomorrow, who knows. And, since some of the mob leaders in this case (like Snark) are anonymous, the mob has no way of knowing whether there's a personal or professional motive in the attacks.

The Writer Beware blog appears to be remarkably fair, well-reasoned, and self-monitoring. You do not post anything that is speculation without clearly labeling it as such. You are careful to provide facts and quotations to back up your opinions and conclusions. And you stick your names on it.

I did not study the Sobol contest enough to know one way or another whether it was legitimate or not. I had no plans to enter anyway, so I just didn't care much. But the mob mentality that defeated it is, in many ways, terrifying.

Anonymous said...

Most people will, undoubtedly, strongly disagree with what I have to say.

When you have a very popular website and a following of thousands of devoted writers as does Miss Snark, you're going to have a lot of power over what those writers believe and how they behave.

For the most part, I believe Miss Snark is a fabulous resource for writers. However, when she states that she could never represent certain types of fiction because she finds the subject matter too disturbing, a sensitivity shared by many agents, and then works overtime to scuttle a possible outlet for that same type of fiction -- stating openly, for example, that she could never represent a novel on abuse of children because it would be too difficult to look her priest in the eye on Sunday -- then I believe she has wielded her power in a most destructive manner.

With so many blogs bemoaning the decline in reading for pleasure among Americans, why would an agent who claims to champion writers work so tirelessly to shut this contest down? Altruism, or a power trip?

You decide!

roach said...

I don't have mixed feelings at all. In fact my *eye-rolling* and *facepalming* were validated by the comments below (from the article):

"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."

and

"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."

Playing the misunderstood victim, bullied out of making the world a better place for writers just gets my hoosimacallits in a knot.

They weren't forced to shut down this contest, and they were given ample time to address the issues with the contest. Many of the people who blogged on the contest pointed out the exact problems they had with how it was run, so they could have made those changes and garnered themselves some good will and more entries.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I don't think it was a "mob" mentality at all. I think that Sobol grossly underestimated the intelligence of aspiring writers. Expecting that he could get 50,000 suckers willing to pony up 85 bucks a pop for an almost-zero chance their work would be published as a result was surely hubris on his part. After all, you can have an almost-zero chance of getting published for _free_. :0

I think it was also pretty clear that Sobol's ultimate goal on this was not to help writers, but to make a nice tidy sum for himself. When that didn't seem to pan out, he did what any money-hungry businessman does with a bad business idea---he got out.

Miss Snark said...

Mob mentality? Witch hunt?

I don't understand that at all.
I pointed out that literary agencies who charge reading fees aren't eligible for AAR membership.

I said, you can be a contest OR a literary agency, you can't be both.

I pointed out what they needed to fix to GET legit.

My language was salty, no doubt about it, but I'm not sure why you'd think pointing out flaws in a contest and offering specific solutions is anything short of well...useful

BuffySquirrel said...

Personally, I think if Sobol had removed the lock-in of writers to their agency, perhaps making it an offer of representation instead, few in the blogosphere would have continued to complain so loudly. If people want to spend $85 for the chance of winning $100,000, let them. That's no worse, in principle, than the lottery. Or a trip to Vegas. It's the lock-in that was always the problem for me, and I suspect for many others. That and the agency's lack of any track record of sales. Good intentions aren't enough.

If people are blindly following Miss Snark, that's obviously a bad thing, as it would be regardless of whom they were following. I suspect however that herd mentality isn't going away any time soon.

jeanne said...

How did we get to be a herd? A mob? A devoted group blindly following -- blech! Because we read the information on the blogs and followed the links regarding the contest itself, and agreed something wasn't right? Talk about jumping to conclusions --

pinhead said...

Quoth Miss Snark, Mob mentality? Witch hunt? I don't understand that at all.... I'm not sure why you'd think pointing out flaws in a contest and offering specific solutions is anything short of well...useful

I wonder how many of the people who blogged about the Sobol contest actually read the entire rules and web site, and how many simply parroted what they heard from their trusted source? I did not have the patience to read Sobol's guidelines, so I did not blog about it. My opinion would have been only partially formed.

My intent with my previous comment was not to lambaste Miss Snark (for whom I have high regard and from whom I have learned a tremendous amount) but to point out how some issues can easily be turned into witch hunts.

I believe you have gained the power to incite the mob, Snark. And I think the Sobol demise illustrates that. You were not alone, and very likely criticism from you alone would not have caused the death of the contest. BUT: I think it is a good lesson to learn that the mob has significant power in the blogosphere, and those who have a leash on that power also have a responsibility to use it wisely.

I don't have the facts to call the Sobol prize's death a witch hunt--it seems like Good was served in the end--but the way it came about had the same characteristics of one.

jeanne said...

Do you think you have to read the entire Constitution and every single amendment, word for word, in order to know whether it's right or wrong to say, deny someone service at a lunch counter because of the color of his skin? I hope not. Certain underlying principles are understood and unless you're an attorney trying a case in constitutional law, you probably can answer the lunch counter question without a week-end studying the Constitution. i know I can.

It's the same thing with the Sobol contest. A contest that requires a) an entry fee and b) a specific agency to handle the winners is an example of an agent charging a fee to review work. I see that as fundamentally wrong and don't have to read the entire agreement to have an opinion.

Anonymous said...

"...how many simply parroted what they heard from their trusted source? I did not have the patience to read Sobol's guidelines, so I did not blog about it. My opinion would have been only partially formed."

O, pinhead, so aptly named.
Just because you didn't take the time to read the Sobol contest's rules doesn't mean that others didn't. Please don't imply that others are too stupid to read the contest rules and decide for themselves what they want to do. Many adults are quite able to handle reading and understanding all sorts of material--you would be surprised!

If a person has faith in a contest, they will enter. I didn't. Most people didn't, it would seem.

Anonymous said...

I believe you have gained the power to incite the mob, Snark.

I resemble that remark. Lemme get my pitchfork and torch....

--E said...

I'm going to repeat my comment from Miss Snark's blog here:

---------
"I think the criticism was probably quite damaging," [Weeks] acknowledged. "We should have responded more quickly, but startups don't always do the right thing."

-->Yeah, those damn watchdogs in the blogosphere. They make it so hard for a startup to figure out how to do something right.

Why don't [Miss Snark] and Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors post guidelines and stuff, huh? How's an honest literary philanthropist supposed to know the right way to run a contest?
----------

Did the outrage of the blogosphere sink a perfectly honest attempt to do good things for writers?

Who cares? Well-intentioned or not, they were idiots. Numerous websites and blogs state clearly what is and is not suspicious-looking when it comes to playing agent or playing contest-runner.

And "playing" is all these people were doing. No genuine agents were involved, yet they were planning to be agents to the winning authors. They managed to get S&S on board...after they announced the contest and the stink had already begun to rise.

We're talking about people whose resumes would indicate savvy. Apparently this only made them savvy enough to not actually be scammers (or to abort the scam when all eyes were trained on it and the profit wasn't happening).

But it's a special kind of stupid to do everything that has the hallmarks of scammer when there is so much information available on the theme of "the following behaviors are indicative of potential scammers: 1. charging fees; 2. claiming to be an agent without a track record of books sold."

What did they think was going to happen?

Kudos to the Sobol people for doing the right thing and refunding people's money (though I would like a follow-up article sometime to be sure the 1000 entrants did get their money back); if they return it fast enough, I won't even begrudge them the interest they earned on it.

Anonymous said...

"I said, you can be a contest OR a literary agency, you can't be both."

So, since Miss Snark has stated it, it is ever thus? We have to keep doing things the same no matter what? I guess that's a good idea. After all, look at all the new readers this approach has produced and the great numbers publishing is putting up.

Oh wait! Didn't I just read that Publishers Group West has filed for Chapter 11? And I know I read somewhere that a number of independent bookstores have gone belly up.

I also read somewhere that Jodi Picoult couldn't publish her early novels in the United States because they dealt with difficult topics. She had to go to the UK where people actually read . . . even when the material is different from what they are used to being force-fed by the gate-keeping, agents who herd the wooly-headed sheep.

Miss Snark may be the oracle most of the time, but I agree with earlier anonymous: This time she wielded her power to kill a new voice/business model. So what if Sobol was making money? Isn't that what Miss Snark and everyone else involved in publishing suppposed to do?

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I think most writers would have given this contest a wide berth with our without Writer Beware (WB) or Miss Snark. Remember that neither WB nor MS (MS) blogged on this contest until it had already been picked up by the major newswires, and the major newswires included several quotes from the publishing industry that questioned the contest's integrity. Neither the major media buzz nor the S&S deal generated the levels of submissions Sobol wanted. I seriously doubt he would have received 50,000 entries at $85 under _any_ circumstances, even had MS and WB shouted his perfection from NYC rooftops. He just didn't have a sound business model if his sole objective was profit.

And if his sole objective _wasn't_ profit, then there would be no need for him to cancell the contest, would there?

Anonymous said...

She had to go to the UK where people actually read . . . even when the material is different from what they are used to being force-fed by the gate-keeping, agents who herd the wooly-headed sheep.

Now you just sound silly. Americans don't read? Then why would publishing corporations keep selling here?

And your use of the word "gate-keeping" makes me think you're a bitter failed writer who doesn't want to do the work to be good enough to be published.

I'm happy Sobol shut down, and I did read the rules on the site. Whether they were clueless, scammers, profit-makers, or a little of all three, their methods were wrong. They could've fixed the problems everyone was harping about but they chose not to. Why didn't they remove the requirement for representation and merely offer it as a possibility?

Why didn't they reduce the number of entries to a manageable number? 50,000 manuscripts of 300 pages each means reading 15,000,000 pages of text. Assuming one page per minute, that's 250,000 man-hours of reading. There's 168 hours in a week.

That could've scared off people, too, when they started to wonder how anyone could honestly claim to read that many books.

The fact that they canceled and are refunding may mean they were more clueless than scummy, but it could also have meant that the heat was on them too much to just disappear.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Obviously, the numbers didn't add up properly for many writers. Otherwise there would have been far more than just a thousand entries.

For comparison, P&E's Reader Poll for 2005 experienced over 9,100 individual participants in just two weeks. Sobol managed 1,000 in how long? That sounds like an indicator that Sobol didn't have its act together.

pinhead said...

Wow, all you have to do is mention mob mentality, and the mob turns on you!

I can only report what I, personally, observed. I have faith in many things that I don't personally observe. For example, I have faith that the moon still exists when it's around the other side of the world. I have faith that somewhere, someone holds the exact opposite political views as I do, and they hold them with equal conviction. And, I have faith that many of the people who blogged about Sobol actually did read the web site and reached their own thoughtful conclusions.

That, however, is not the reality personally observed by me. What I saw was Writer Beware reporting a well-reasoned description of the red flags, with a "possibly legit but I'd stay away" hedge on conclusions. I saw Snark erupting with "crock of shit", sometimes blogging about Sobol several times in a single day. And I saw in the comments on Snark's blog a chorus of "yeah! sink the bastards!" with every mention of Sobol.

My original point was not that Miss Snark is an evil rabble rouser; nor that her readers are idiot parrots. My original point was that mixed feelings are appropriate at this juncture. Not once have I defended the Sobol contest, yet most replies to my comments focus on "Sobol got what they deserved."

Recently, Republicans tried to increase President Bush's executive powers. (I think it was the Terry Schiavo situation.) At the time, a wise friend of mine, a Republican himself, said to me, "They had better be careful how much power they give him. It could be Hillary sitting up there next."

The point being that what I observed was, indeed, mob mentality. (Again, I have faith that there were others outside the mob equally opposed to Sobol.) The fact that the mob caught an actual witch on their first try does not change my opinion on that.

Shellibelle said...

"Isn't that what Miss Snark and everyone else involved in publishing suppposed to do?"

I hope Miss Snark makes an obscene amount of money. Especially since she doesn't shake me down for $85 to break the seal on my submission packet.

Hellooooooo???

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I've blogged about this on my own blog today:

http://jillelainehughes.blogspot.com

BuffySquirrel said...

Why did Sobol feel the need to lock five entrants into a contract of representation with them while excluding them from any possibility of winning the money or publication by S&S?

All Round 2 writers must sign, in order to win Round 2, a representation agreement with the Sobol Literary Agency covering submitted Manuscripts; The representation agreement by its terms becomes effective only if and when the signer becomes a winner of Round 2...

and

Out of the 10 Manuscripts selected in Round 2, the 5 Manuscripts who received the highest scores in Round 2 will be judged during Round 3 of the Contest by a panel of judges composed of individuals with appropriate qualifications as determined by Sponsor in its sole discretion. Each judge will review the top 5 Manuscripts...The Round 3 judges will choose the Sobol Award Winner and 2 runners up.

Usually when you win something, you get to choose whether you actually want to accept it. I don't think Sobol can have it both ways. If representation by them is a valuable prize, then there can't be any need to force people to take it; if it's so worthless that you have to force people to take it, well....

Anonymous said...

To "Now you just sound silly" Anon:

Read the latest issues of PW (translation: "Publisher's Weekly")
if you don't believe "Americans aren't reading" any more (obviously compared to past times) and that the future looks bleak, i.e., "How do we get kids to start enjoying reading."

You need to learn the facts before you blather at the mouth. I may sound silly, but you sound quite ignorant.

And I suppose Jodi Picoult, who was the inspiration for my "Americans don't read like Europeans" comment, is a bittered, failed writer - and wrongo again about me - sorry.

Note to Shellibelle: You need to add to "doesn't shake you down" the caveat: doesn't offer you representation through her blog. Nope - no offers forthcoming from Miss Snark. Sobol, on the other hand, offered publication, money and -- ON THE NOVEL THAT WAS SUBMITTED TO THE CONTEST ONLY -- as in, onetime and not the rest of your natural life -- representation.

Y'all are sheep.

kch said...

Victoria-- Mixed feelings are not justified here. You did due diligence, you printed nothing inflamatory, untrue, or imprudent. Just solid advice based on a wealth of experience and info. Please do not start second-guessing yourself on this or anything else. Sobol was an ill-thought business model and you can't possibly hold yourself responsible for its collapse.

When disaster is averted, you can never really know how much good you accomplished. You never really know the extent of what could have happened had it not been for your actions. Because, well, they didn't happen. This is one of those times, and I say good on you for it.

roach said...

"And, since some of the mob leaders in this case (like Snark) are anonymous, the mob has no way of knowing whether there's a personal or professional motive in the attacks."

So pinhead, were you being intentionally ironic in using a pseudonym pointing out Miss Snark's pseudonymous nature? And was your missue of anonymous when you meant pseudonymous just a finishing touch, like the cherry atop a hot fudge sunday?

pinhead said...

To Roach:

Sheesh.

Love, pinhead.

roach said...

"Sheesh."

I'll take that as a "no" then.

*digs into the sweet and delicious hot fudge sundae* Yum!

BuffySquirrel said...

They didn't offer representation. Offers can be refused.

Victoria Strauss said...

Still sorting out my thoughts. Here's what I think right at this minute:

- I don't believe Sobol was a profitmaking scheme. From the beginning, that theory did not make sense to me. I did enough research on Mr. Shomron to be reasonably sure he's a millionaire who doesn't need to trump up a shady scheme to put more cash in his pockets.

- I believe Sobol was an endeavor of the heart. I believe it was Mr. Shomron's dream, and that he meant to do good. Which for me, adds an element of sadness to what's happened.

- I believe that the dream was misguided, and the contest was misconceived. From the high entry fee (though I have to point out that many screenwriters shell out this kind of dough for contests and don't blink an eye), to the stipulation that the top ten entrants bind themselves to a nonexistent literary agency, to the contest's publicity strategy, it was wrong from the start. And when the reaction started to build, the contest staff wasn't very pro-active in addressing it. Sobol is partly responsible for its own downfall.

- If anyone is still wondering whether the contest is a scam, the decision to fold it early is proof to the contrary. Mr. Shomron had a goal; when he realized he couldn't fulfill it, he fell on his sword. I think this is honorable. I expect that entrants will get their refunds.

- Many of those who blogged about Sobol, especially industry people like Miss Snark and GalleyCat and Angela Hoy, carefully read Sobol's website, guidelines, etc., and condemned the contest from a basis of knowledge. But there was also a lot of bandwagon-jumping, a lot of people shouting "scam!" without, I think, properly considering the meaning of the word or whether it was reasonable to apply it to Sobol. Over the past few months Writer Beware has gotten many emails from people saying "What about the Sobol Award? I heard it's a scam. Is it?" This was not the doing of any one person, but rather a kind of viral word-of-mouth thing that swept the writing blogosphere. I did quite a bit of blog-surfing as the Sobol saga unfolded, and I was really struck by this.

- The flip side of scam awareness is scam hyperawareness--a kind of paranoia in which almost everything seems like a scam, and at the same time, paradoxically, devalues the word "scam" to such a degree that it can be applied to anything that's even the least bit irregular. Neither, IMO, are good things.

pinhead said...

Dear Roach,

Yup. "No."

Love, pinhead
PS: After reading the discussion, some of which has actually been thought-provoking, I have concluded that I gave Snark's followers too much credit for the demise of Sobol's contest. It would have imploded for lack of support anyway.
PPS: Why do you assume "pinhead" is a pseudonym? If there can be a girl named Shithead (pronounced shah-tade') as documented in Freakonomics, then I can certainly be pinhead (pronounced puhn-hade').

Anonymous said...

Well said Victoria. I hope Mr. Shomron will fix the glitches in his contest and try again.

And I hope those who wield power in the blogosphere are less quick to condemn.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

Okay Victoria, but if you don't think Sobol was out for profit, how do you explain his stated goal of receiving 50,000 submissions at $85 each? (50,000 X $85 = $42.5 million, by the way). Since according to multiple press interviews, Sobol really thought he could get 50,000 subs at 85 bucks a pop, it therefore means he also really thought he could make $42.5 million.

And since he got around 1,000 subs, and therefore made about 85 grand (not too shabby), and since this Shomron fellow also supposedly had the financial backing to fund the contest WITHOUT the sub fees, (and also pulled the plug when it was clear he couldn't even make $100,000) what other conclusion can we draw OTHER than this guy just wanted an easy way to make 40 million bucks??

Any ideas? 'Cause I frankly don't have any other explanation. The whole thing just reeks of Ponzi scheme.

As far a folks getting their refunds, I'll believe it when I see it.

Anonymous said...

If anyone is still wondering whether the contest is a scam, the decision to fold it early is proof to the contrary. Mr. Shomron had a goal; when he realized he couldn't fulfill it, he fell on his sword. I think this is honorable. I expect that entrants will get their refunds.

Yes, but that begs the question, why didn't he address the problems instead of closing shop? If he'd gone out of his way to fix the issues the industry experts had such a problem with, not only would the contest still be going, but many of the same people who reported on it would probably then be singing its praises. The contest had a lot of potential.

I have little doubt the prizes would've been awarded, so in that sense, I don't think it was a scam. But I still suspect the contest owners wanted to generate profit more than anything else.

Anonymous said...

Psst, Jill! $4.25 million, not $42.5 million. :)

From the anon poster right below your post who could've saved herself some typing and written, "What Jill said."

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

Dammit. I had my decimal point in the wrong place. Guess that's why I was an English major. I will now have to correct my blog. Yahhhhh.

Georgiana said...

I have to disagree with this:

though I have to point out that many screenwriters shell out this kind of dough for contests and don't blink an eye

I have belonged to three fairly large community of screenwriters and believe me we complained all the time about the ridiculous price of some prestigious contests. Most of us would decide we could only afford to try one or two per year, usually something like the Nicholl Fellowship. And quite a few of us wouldn't do any that had an entry fee. We're just as poor as any other struggling writer and we don't want to waste our money any more than the next person.

I was particularly intrigued to hear Miss Snark's comments about the Sobol because I've seen loads of screenwriting contests where representation is a prize. I never thought about it from her perspective but I decided she made sense.

And on a side note I think it's hilarious that a couple of people are bashing Miss Snark and her readers at this site. Looks like someone doesn't have enough courage to go to the source.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "sheep" and "mob mentality": It's interesting that those here who have accused people who expressed concern over or disgust with the Sobol contest of being sheep or a mob because so many people--industry insiders and otherwise--did so do not mention the number of people who blindly supported the Sobol contest without doing their research.

Mobs come in all flavors.

Aconite

pinhead said...

And on a side note I think it's hilarious that a couple of people are bashing Miss Snark and her readers at this site. Looks like someone doesn't have enough courage to go to the source.

Snark showed up here early on. Why "go to the source" if (a) my point was about something else and (b) "the source" is already in the room?

For my part, I was not criticizing Snark so much as pointing out how eagerly her readers took up the pitchforks and torches. I said this to illustrate (sort of by contrast, I guess) that I think Victoria is an Extra Good Person for having mixed feelings. Not because Sobol's a great thing but because mixed feelings is the manifestation of a thoughtful and reasonable character. My whole point--apparently lost in the fervor over daring to "criticize Snark"--was that Victoria demonstrates herself to be a thoughtful, concerned person who wants truly to do the Right Thing. Although I do not know her, I feel confident in saying she's a person who cares about what she does, how she does it, and the impact her words have on others. Mixed feelings are often part and parcel of that type of personality.

Oh, and speaking of finding things hilarious: I find it hilarious that so many people feel a need to jump to Snark's defense. From what I've seen, Snark needs no help in that department. Nor, do I think, does she have any cause to defend herself. In addition to the criticism she's offered, she's said that if Sobol took that one clause away, she'd stop calling it a crock of shit. I believe her.

Anonymous said...

pinhead: Snark showed up here early on. Why "go to the source" if (a) my point was about something else and (b) "the source" is already in the room?

Well, to be nitpicky, you posted your comment before Miss Snark posted hers. And by comparing and contrasting Writer Beware and Miss Snark, you made your post about her as well as Ann and Victoria.

Aconite

M.J. Rose said...

There were certainly some bloggers who did read the fine print.
Bloggers didn't kill Sobol, they shot themselves.

pinhead said...

Well, to be nitpicky, you posted your comment before Miss Snark posted hers. And by comparing and contrasting Writer Beware and Miss Snark, you made your post about her as well as Ann and Victoria.

Fair 'nuff.

I'm posting a link to this comment train over on Snark's site now. Not like I'm hiding or anything. And of course the readership has no overlap...

December Quinn said...

She had to go to the UK where people actually read . . . even when the material is different from what they are used to being force-fed by the gate-keeping, agents who herd the wooly-headed sheep.


Yes, over here in the UK we get so many more bios of minor celebrities, and they fly off the shelves, as do countless copies of any magazine that puts Jordan, Jade, or Posh on the cover (or of course Kate & Pete or Angelina & Brad or TomKat or whatever).

So many more badly-written books, as well, with lots of head-hopping. I just finished a bestselling Richard & Judy bookclub pick with continuity errors up the yin-yang. Like the ages of the characters changed from chapter to chapter, and characters described as wearing a skirt in the beginning of a scene are described as wearing pants on the next page, in the same scene. There was at least one major contiunuity goof in each chapter, which made me wonder if the book had been edited at all.

I've bought quite a few books here in the UK since moving here. I can honestly say I've only liked a couple of them and found them well-written.

I haven't seen a larger proportion of readers here, either. Trust me, I can walk through the town centre here and not find a single person sitting on one of the benches reading anything, much less something so much more erudite and daring than they read in the US. Walking through a park where I lived in the US I'd usually see at least one person reading a book. Not here. Our town has one small bookstore, usually pretty much empty.

Do you live in the UK, anon? Or are you simply making a generalization based on something you read, or some idea that you have of people in the UK or Europe being so much more sophisticated and better?

Victoria Strauss said...

Jill said:

"how do you explain his stated goal of receiving 50,000 submissions at $85 each? (50,000 X $85 = $4.25 million, by the way). Since according to multiple press interviews, Sobol really thought he could get 50,000 subs at 85 bucks a pop, it therefore means he also really thought he could make $4.25 million."

I think they were simply naive in assuming they'd get even close to that number of entries. And as I've said before, I think the $85 was to cover honorariums for readers as well as postage and photocopying of manuscripts. If it generated any profit, it would have been a very small one, and I believe Mr. Shomron when he said that any extra money would have been put back into the organization (which employed staff and paid salaries, and probably rent and other stuff as well).

Apologies to M.J. Rose--I should have mentioned her in particular as one who read the fine print, especially since I quoted her in one of my posts.

This isn't a personality contest between me and other industry bloggers, and I don't like the thought that anyone might see it that way. The way I feel is just me, and it doesn't make me extra good or extra thoughtful or anything like that. In fact, I'm sure that many people think it makes me a weenie, and that's probably just as accurate an assessment.

Termagant 2 said...

Victoria writes: The flip side of scam awareness is scam hyperawareness.

Do you think we unpubbed are hyperaware? If we are, then it's because there have been so many attempts to part us from our money, that we've become suspicious. But I submit this is healthy suspicion. The work bloggers put in on making us aware of marginal efforts to change the writing/selling paradigm is worth it, y'all. We appreciate it even when we must go ourselves and read the fine print. If you hadn't blogged, we wouldn't be aware of the need to dig, would we?

Sure, the blogosphere can get carried away. I'd accept that danger anytime, since the alternative is an information-void that we susceptible writers cannot afford. Bring on the data--we'll assess it & see what to do with it, make our choices, and then blog about the outcomes.

T2

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

Victoria, you are certainly entitled to whatever opinions/feelings you wish. We all love you no matter what.

And what is the deal with Mr. Shomron-whatever-his-name-is claiming to have already sunk $1 million into the contest that failed? What on earth could he have possibly spent $1 million on for just a dinky contest? Especially considering that a lot of contests that charge far less operate essentially out of people's basements? That must be some expensive website he put up. The guy obviously has some problems managing his resources.

BTW, I just had to move comment settings on my blog to "moderated" to repel inflammatory harrassment from the anonymous person who posts under the name "pinhead."

--E said...

Victoria, look at it this way: if, indeed, the Sobol was brought low by the "unprecedented storm of criticism and negative publicity that swept the blogosphere" it was no one's fault but that of the people running the thing.

What was the storm about? You said it yourself: "the entry fees were too high, the contest's ill-advised presentation and publicity made it look suspicious, writers didn't want to potentially tie themselves to a currently nonexistent literary agency."

There was no storm of "These people are evil. EEEEEEVIL!" There was plenty of storm of "this contest looks shady and not worth it."

To attribute the lack of submissions to mindless followers of La Snarkissima is patently agenda-laden. People avoided this contest because it was waving red flags. Whether we learned flag color theory from Miss Snark, WB, P&E, or any of the other folks in the industry who know the difference between shit and shinola, is irrelevant.

The simple fact is that in the face of much caveat emptor, the only defense is to be an informed consumer. Writers have become informed. They got this way by talking to each other. The blogosphere makes it easier to track, but grapevines existed long before the internet.

You do a good thing here, Victoria. If Mr. Shomron didn't research what *not* to do before investing a million bucks, that's his problem. He's an adult, and probably a heck of a businessman most of the time. Don't feel responsible for his mistakes.

pinhead said...

Jill Elaine Hughes said:
BTW, I just had to move comment settings on my blog to "moderated" to repel inflammatory harrassment from the anonymous person who posts under the name "pinhead."


Some may call it inflammatory. I call it self defense. Jill accused me of "slander" when I have done no such thing. I posted a spirited reply on her blog pointing out (a) that my comments on this topic have actually praised both Snark and Writer Beware, and (b) Jill's credibility on the question is on thin ice when she herself blogged (and silently edited later) innacurate financial figures on Sobol.

As far as I can tell, I have attacked NO ONE. Not Snark, not Victoria, not even Jill herself except in my own defense. Which was, of course, summarily deleted off her blog with the public announcement that I'm "harrassing" her.

I challenged Jill to quote my comments on the WB blog to show how I'm libeling (or "slandering") anyone. I quoted my own posts verbatim to show my praises for both Snark and WB.

Yet Jill has chosen to escalate her attack on my character by posting here. It makes me sad and frustrated to have to defend myself from someone so intent on doing me harm in response to something I did not do.

Victoria Strauss said...

Pinhead and Jill, I value your readership and welcome your comments, but please don't use the WB blog as a forum for dispute. Thanks.

pinhead said...

Pinhead and Jill, I value your readership and welcome your comments, but please don't use the WB blog as a forum for dispute. Thanks.

I apologize. Feel free to delete any or all of my posts as you see appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't think Jill states that Pinhead slandered anyone, but rather states that people like Pinhead and other anonymous posters have accused (falsely) Miss Snark and Victoria of slandering the Sobol contest and therefore driving it out of business.

pinhead said...

...states that people like Pinhead and other anonymous posters have accused (falsely) Miss Snark and Victoria of slandering the Sobol contest....

Thanks for the thought, Anonymous. I am not sure that's what was posted originally in the comment thread. The way it appears now, however, you are correct.

The thing is, I didn't do that, either. I never said Snark or WB wrote falsehoods about Sobol. I said the readers of those blogs took up the cause with vigor and zeal, and I questioned how well-informed (outside of reading Snark & WB) said mob were.

Before abandoning this pseudonym (pity because I was growing to like it), I would also like to apologize to Jill if anything I said hurt her feelings. I do not know her personally, so no one should judge her character by this single exchange between us. I sure don't.

pinhead
over and out

PS: Any future posts by "pinhead" on this or any other forum are not from me.

Anonymous said...

Hmm . . . after reading the comments here I'm almost afraid to post.

Round 2 writers must sign, in order to win Round 2, a representation agreement with the Sobol Literary Agency covering submitted Manuscripts . . .

This reminds me of a "prize" from a local gym I once "won" (as a young, doe-eyed girl of 18) for free membership, only I had to sign on and pay for a year's membership after to get it. I kept asking why, if I won a prize, I had to agree to buy. The guy originally "helping" me kept bringing in more big, buff men - all increasingly higher up in the company - to explain to me how this "prize" was supposed to work. I have memories of sitting in a black room where there was an overhead, swinging lightbulb and beefy men interrogating me . . . well, never mind. I finally got so disgusted I wrote "VOID" on the contract they wanted me to sign and left.

Not to suggest that the Sobol award was anything like that, but this part of the contract sort of reminded me of that experience. Of course, unlike my nonexistant gym membership, the whole point of winning was to get representation.

Jeri said...

I don't think you should havwe mixed feelings. Look, the rules of the game are that good people who write bad novels don't get published. (Anyway, that's the theory.)

Well, let's remember the scientific laws that govern sauce, geese, and ganders. Good hearted publishers/agents/film companies who advertise badly designed contests don't get contestants.

The same rule governs everybody: in the publishing industry, if your end product is badly designed, badly produced, and inadequately developed, your product is rejected. True for both books and contests. Sobol seems to have expected extra consideration because it was throwing around big names, big money, and big promises. And we all know those are no substitute for quality, substance, and information.

Anonymous said...

december quinn:

I haven't seen a larger proportion of readers here, either. Trust me, I can walk through the town centre here and not find a single person sitting on one of the benches reading anything, much less something so much more erudite and daring than they read in the US. Walking through a park where I lived in the US I'd usually see at least one person reading a book. Not here. Our town has one small bookstore, usually pretty much empty.

Each town's different. As a Brit living in London, I see people reading on buses, the tube, on benches during their lunch hour and there's a book store on almost every main street (which are paved with gold, by the way :)).

Seriously, I don't get the idea that the UK is a more literary nation. We've got a smaller market than the US and in some ways, it's harder to break into. There's also a big trend towards publishing and pushing celebrity ghost-written autobiographies and the usual crap that you wouldn't ordinarily blow your nose on and our councils are quick to close libraries if they think it'll save them a few quid. But this isn't unique to us and at least we also have a number of good independent publishers willing to look at something a bit different.

With the Sobol Contest, much as I enjoy reading Miss Snark, I saw the same warnings from a wide variety of sources and when I checked out the site, I came to my own conclusions. Whether Sobol was a scam merchant or a well intentioned but clueless beginner, he obviously thought that this would all be easier than it turned out to be and was unwilling to work on putting things right.

-Britbeat

Catja (green_knight) said...

Anyone with half a brain should have been extremely wary of an agency that has a) no experience and b) proposes to judge *any work of prose, whatever its content/genre/style* fairly.

The first makes it extremely unlikely that they will represent any writer well. The second is impossible to achieve in a single human lifetime, simply because of the time needed to read, in depth, across the offerings of any _one_ genre. Let alone five. Let alone 'every conceivable.'

Anonymous said...

Some of us have $85 to spend and an MS sitting on the hard drive. The "normal" process of getting a literary agent is pretty brutal on the ego--even for some of us who have published in major magazines, newspapers, and have a non-fiction book to our credit. I am in possession of several calculators and rather easily figured out that the $100k would come from the entry fees, but what they hey, maybe someone would read the book. Looking at the costs of hiring people do do piecework reading of so many manuscripts (even in part), I didn't think it was an outrageous setup. It would have been nice to see how it played out and whether I get the funds back is immaterial.

Anonymous said...

I'm the first anonymous on this post ("Most people will, undoubtedly, strongly disagree . . ") I then went over to Miss Snark's blog and posted this url and suggested readers come here if they wanted another point of view.

I also posted (again as an anonymous) "Since Miss Snark has stated it. . ." but after another anonymous got personal, I faded into the blogosphere. There's no point in continuing the discussion after someone attacks you personally. It's akin to arguing religion or politics: a complete waste of time.

Apologies, Victoria, for stirring up a hornet's nest. You deserve nothing but applause. In an earlier post, you were very open minded about the Sobol Award and did not dismiss it out of hand as others were quick to do. You owe no one any apologies. Your behavior was professional and above-board.

That's why I read this blog: you're well informed, a great writer and you can be funny as hell! Thanks and, again, sorry for the firestorm.

Dave Kuzminski said...

I don't know who else received correspondence from Sobol's legal representation, but P&E did in the beginning. That was another thing that grated upon us.

Dave Kuzminski said...

I just learned that Touchstone is co-sponsoring with Gather.com a new contest called First Chapters.

meleah rebeccah said...

In lieu of it being "DELURKING" week (or so I've heard, over in blog land) You are supposed to comment on blogs you read all the time but never say anything.

I have never commented, so, I wanted to take the time and let you know even though I don't comment, I READ you all the time, and LOVE THIS BLOG! so, um, thanks.

ivantia said...

I thought you might like to know that SOBOL did refund the money, at least to me via paypal.

I entered the contest with a 'what the hell attitude'. 85 dollars does not go all that far in sending out queries and frankly I was interested in having two readers opinions even if I was paying for it. If I got to round 2 well then I would speak to them directly and make my decision.

So shoot me now, but I feel badly that someone tried to give a chance, and if not that then hope, to people struggling to surface in a difficult field. An effort that failed, in part, because of a flood of strong negativity that I suspect made many people second guess their own instincts.

Anonymous said...

ivantia, I'm sorry things didn't work out the way you'd hoped. I still don't see how it was wrong of anyone to point out the major problems with Sobol's setup, and let people make their own decisions. The fact that there were a LOT of people pointing out a LOT of problems just means that Sobol went about things quite badly indeed, and that's no one's fault but Sobol's.

It's never a bad idea to second- or third-guess your first "instincts." If your instincts are good, they'll hold up under scrutiny. If they don't, you've probably saved yourself a lot of trouble.

You felt this was a good deal. A lot of other people didn't. Are you blaming them for your lost chance? Your last paragraph seems to imply that. You can't logically claim simultaneously that everyone has the right to make their own decision about Sobol and then be peeved at the people who thought it was a rotten setup.

Aconite

December Quinn said...

Each town's different. As a Brit living in London, I see people reading on buses, the tube, on benches during their lunch hour and there's a book store on almost every main street (which are paved with gold, by the way :)).


Thanks, Britbeat. I was afraid after posting this might seem like some kind of anti-Brit diatribe, which it isn't. But yes, London is very different--at least from freaking Devon it is--and I'm always confused by people who think the English spend all their time sitting by a roaring fire reading Shakespeare and smoking pipes.

Lack of literacy, or rather, lack of reading-as-hobby, certainly isn't unique to any particular country. I guess that's why it bugs me when people seem to think it's solely those dumb Americans who don't read books. :-)

Thanks!

ivantia said...

Though I am not sure that anyone is reading this thread any more, I wanted to respond to annon.

No, it is not for me I am sad. I was interested in two professional readings and the rest was gravy. In any case, I like to roll the dice.

I am sorry for the organizers. If they were, indeed, on the up and up, they can't be feeling so great right now.

As a society, we are very quick to launch an attack. The rush is very seductive. The more people who join in, the bigger the rush.

Plus any group that is at the mercy of another for its existance, (like writers and publishers), it is likely to have a pretty good supply of stored anger. So when something is easy to rip into, some of the pressure is vented off at this target. (Better known as scapegoating)

In any case, I am happy that googling sobol led me to this blog. I've learned a lot.

Anonymous said...

ivantia,
Though I am not sure that anyone is reading this thread any more, I wanted to respond to annon

You can see the dates and times of postings at the bottoms of each post. That's one way to tell if the message thread is still active.

I don't have a Blogger login, but I did (and always do) sign my post with my handle. I take responsibility for my words.

As a society, we are very quick to launch an attack. The rush is very seductive. The more people who join in, the bigger the rush.

This completely ignores the question of whether or not Sobol deserved the criticism it got. There were major problems with the setup, which the organizers didn't do enough research to avoid in the first place and didn't bother to correct when they were pointed out.

The storm of criticism it got was not because we're angry people looking for a scapegoat; it was because it was a seriously flawed concept, and a lot of people recognized that.

$85 for two unspecified people of unknown credentials to critique your manuscript--hey, it's your money, and you can do that if you want. But for all you know, you'd be just as well off offering two people off the street the same money to read and critique your manuscript. Sobol never did explain what would qualify their critiquers to judge the manuscripts. How much could you trust the quality of such critiques?

It's your choice, and I don't think anyone who pointed out the problems with Sobol's contest ever said you couldn't participate if you wanted to. But plenty of people pointed out the problems so that others could make informed choices about whether or not to participate. Many people chose not to. That's no one's fault but Sobol's. Sobol is not a scapegoat here.

Aconite

BuffySquirrel said...

I wonder if the Sobol Literary Agency died with the contest.