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Simon & Schuster to publish winners

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NEW YORK (AFX) - A division of Simon & Schuster has agreed to publish the top three winners of the Sobol Award, offering advances of up to $100,000 for a controversial new literary contest for agentless writers that also includes a $100,000 first prize.

"We were very impressed with Sobol's plans to harness the broad reach of the Internet and through a very well-thought out editorial process find three great works of fiction. We can't wait to read them," Mark Gompertz, senior vice president and publisher of Touchstone Fireside, said Tuesday in a statement.

Announced in September, the Sobol Award offers $100,000 for the best unreleased, agentless novel, with prizes of $25,000 and $10,000 for the runners-up and $1,000 each to seven others.

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

Numerous questions have been raised about the prize, especially its $85 entry fee and stipulation that Sobol officials would serve as literary representatives of the winners; industry policy prohibits agents from charging money to read manuscripts. Sobol has said the fees are necessary to cover administrative costs.

One critic, Robert Weil, executive editor of W.W. Norton & Co., said he was glad to hear that Simon & Schuster -- the publishing unit of CBS Corp. -- would publish the winners, but added that he still disapproved of the contest.

"I feel sorry for the people who had to pay to get into this," Weil said. "If Simon & Schuster can generate a lot of excitement and make the books successful, that's great, but it also reflects a commodification of the business. It's just treating books like product."

Brigitte Weeks, Sobol's editorial director, said that the three top entries each would receive $100,000 advances from Simon & Schuster for worldwide rights, or $50,000 for U.S. rights only. She acknowledged that committing to one publisher could limit the advance for a promising manuscript, but said she still believes winners will be better off.

"For most people, the certainty of being published by an established major publishing house is a much better trade-off than holding out for a million dollar auction, which is incredibly rare," Weeks said.

The Sobol Award Web site ( accepts up to 50,000 manuscripts, online only, with applicants required to pay an $85 entry fee. Winners will be announced next fall; judges include best-selling novelist Alice Hoffman and Robert Riger, a vice president at Barnes & Noble Inc.

The contest deadline was originally Dec. 31, but Sobol's executive vice president of contest management, Sue Pollock, acknowledged that response has been slower than expected and that the date had been pushed back to March 31, 2007.

She declined to give an exact number of manuscripts received, but said it was more than 1,000 and that the contest had not been hurt by any criticism.

"It's been very hard to get the word out," she told The Associated Press. "We're all still learning on the job in terms of publicity. The Internet has been more difficult to penetrate than we had hoped." Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be

Copyright 2006 AFX News Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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