An agent of my acquaintance writes in with news of the “Sobol Award,” a contest sponsored by a literary agent who requires each entrant to plunk down an $85 reading fee and to sign a contract committing to “a one-year, exclusive (all rights) agreement with the Sobol Literary Agency for the work they have submitted.” The agreement contains this clause:
All semi-finalists are bound by the contract. However, the writers have the right to withdraw from both the contest and the representation agreement (Read Agreement) until the semi-finalists are selected for Stage 3. At that point the representation agreement cannot be terminated.”
“To say this contest is bullshit is putting it mildly,” says my friend. “No agency should ever be ‘hosting’ an award like this, and no agency agreement should be binding in this way.” Most agents would agree. See, for example, the Canon of Ethics for the Association of Authors’ Representatives, which provides in relevant part:
The AAR believes that the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or complete manuscripts) is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for such services by any other person or entity. The term “charge” in the previous sentence includes any request for payment other than to cover the actual cost of returning materials.
For a glimpse at the potential for abuse in literary contests not sponsored by agents, see “Where the Zoo Press contest entry fees went.”