Last week's announcement of the Sobol Awards—in which online submissions from unpublished fiction writers compete (for an $85 fee) for thousands of dollars in prizes and literary representation with Sobol Literary Enterprises, the contest's sponsor—has sparked debate in the agents' and writers' communities.

"The question is if it is a reading fee or an entrance fee, and if that poses a conflict. It is something to discuss, but I am not sure if this is crossing a line," said Gail Hochman, speaking as an agent at Brandt and Hochman, not in her capacity as president of the Association of Authors Representatives. "The principals of this contest are well-credentialed and honorable, and I don't think this award wants to take advantage of writers. But it's a hybrid and it raises questions."

The Sobol Award will accept up to 50,000 entries, which will be evaluated by tiers of readers who will winnow the field down to 50, to be judged by a panel of authors. Every work will get at least two evaluations. Sobol will agent the manuscripts that win and award 10 cash prizes.

Sobol CEO Gur Shomron said the awards will help discover works that fall through the cracks in the current system. Among those working at Sobol are movie producer Sue Pollock; Brigitte Weeks, formerly of Bookspan; Laurie Rippon, formerly with HarperCollins; and Neil Baldwin, formerly with the National Book Foundation.

"Even though there are a lot of reputable people involved, the track record on these things is not good," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "The model of charging money to read manuscripts is something we have opposed before."