Saturday, June 02, 2007

Spotting A Literary Scam, Part II

Be sure to read yesterday's post before you read this one. This is the second of two.

In picking three agencies to talk about, I deliberately chose one legitimate agent, one obvious rip-off artist and another less obvious one.

Let's talk about the legitimate agent first and compare Kimberley Cameron's (legitimate agent) website to Mark Sullivan's (the guy we looked at last night) website. Among the things I'd like you to note are:

  • Kimberley provides lots of specifics; Mark provides virtually none. An example: She tells you the names of the agencies she's worked for; he says he "worked for several literary agencies"
  • Kimberley is a member of AAR; Mark is not
  • Kimberley is blunt in saying that her agency rejects 98% of queries; Mark has soothing language about how he "guides" new writers and says he asks to see approximately half of the manuscripts pitched to him
  • Kimberley has lots of clients with lots of published books; Mark lists seven books (one of which is self-published and another he spent five years editing)

'Nuff said?

The differences are sometimes subtle, but they are definitely there.

Let's look at the other two agencies from last night's post.

I'm betting you didn't have any trouble spotting the Writers Literary Agency (WLA) as being cut from the same cloth as Mark Sullivan. The same kind of reassuring language that hints at long lengths of time: "We believe that we are unique in that we are willing to develop an author and their talent. We like the metaphor of a business incubator as a description of how we will take time to bring an author's work to the proper quality level, even if it takes months to do so."

Just like Sullivan, there's a lack of specifics; only this time, there are no clients or books listed.

The whole "Marketing Activities on Behalf of Our Authors" is a dead giveaway. Agents don't talk about advertising. Agents sell manuscripts to publishers. Even though Writers Literary says they don't charge fees, that business about "We are beginning to advertise our authors in certain magazines and media that the buyers read [What's with "buyer"? Agents solicit editors or publishers, not buyers]. We may suggest that you participate in one of these campaigns."

What do you want to bet that a client is expected to pay for an ad? Have you EVER heard of a publisher reading an ad and asking to see the manuscript? IT DOESN'T HAPPEN.

When you check with Preditors and Editors, you find WLA is not recommended because they charge fees--despite the site's assurances that they don't charge reading fees. My guess is their fees are all "marketing" and "advertising" fees.

When you check the Writers Beware website, it really gets interesting. WLA is listed as one of the "Twenty Worst Agencies." But along with the Writers Literary Agency are all the other names these scammers use. Here they are:

Writers' Literary Agency & Marketing Company (a.k.a. WL Writers' Literary Agency), formerly The Literary Agency Group, which includes the following:

  • Christian Literary Agency
  • New York Literary Agency
  • Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency, formerly Sydra-Techniques)
  • WL Children's Agency (a.k.a. Children's Literary Agency)
  • WL Poet's Agency (a.k.a. Poet's Literary Agency)
  • WL Screenplay Agency (a.k.a. The Screenplay Agency)
  • Writers' Literary & Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)

Remember what I said about questionable agencies wrapping themselves in religious or patriotic guises? Check out the Christian Literary Agency.

But better yet, look at the websites. First, we have the Writers Literary Agency site here. Then let's check out the New York Literary Agency here. Look familiar?

But wait . . . there's more. Take a look at the Christian Literary Agency here. These people roll out new agencies with a cookie cutter. When Preditors and Editors or Writers Beware puts out a warning, these guys just churn out a new agency, using the same format each time.

Now let's talk about the last agency on yesterday's list: the Barbara Casey Literary Agency.

My friend, B.E. Sanderson, immediately picked up on the red flag. By charging for editing, Barbara has a huge conflict of interest with her role as agent. Remember what we learned on Mark Sullivan's site. An agent who edits may be tempted to select manuscripts that will earn large editing fees.

Another commenter asked if we should condemn people who critique manuscripts to pay the bills. Absolutely not. However, a writer seeking an agent who will have his best interests in mind should not get involved with someone who has a conflict of interest.


Go to the page where Barbara showcases her books, not the books she wrote, but the books she claims to have "placed with publishers" here. Do you notice anything?

Doesn't the style of artwork look remarkably similar on those books? I only checked six books, including the entire first row, but EVERY ONE of the books I checked was printed by a publisher called Archebooks Publishing.

I checked Archebooks with Preditors and Editors and found this comment: P&E has received numerous complaints about this publisher.

So what do we have? An agent who edits her writers' books for money--a service that most agents provide for free to their clients. And we have an agent who seems to sell mainly to one publisher, a publisher for whom Preditors and Editors reports numerous complaints. Can you see how that conflict of interest can taint the entire relationship?

Picture for a moment a symbiotic relationship between an agent and publisher. Writers query the publisher and get referred to the agent for more "editing." Or the writers query the agent and, after editing, get referred to the publisher.

When I google Archebooks, I find lots of complaints. An enterprising writer tried to visit their physical site in Las Vegas, but found only a storefront renting post office boxes in a strip mall.

Conflict of interest is a slippery slope. Once an agent puts HER interests in front of her client's, a line has been crossed. And I expect, over time, it gets easier and easier to forget to think of what's best for the client.

It's a cold, cruel world out there, folks. Learn to protect yourself. Like B.E. said, be cautious.


B.E. Sanderson said...

I wondered about those publishers listed on Casey's site. That's another flag - I hadn't heard of any of them. And while I'm sure I haven't heard of every single legit publisher, I should've been able to recognize at least one.

Maya Reynolds said...

B.E.: When I first moved to Dallas, I dated a cop for a while. He was appalled at how outgoing I was out on the street or in my car. I frequently would smile and nod at strangers. He lectured me, saying "You have to act defensively if you don't want to end up a victim."

Now, many years later, I STILL smile and nod at people I don't know. I can't help myself. But I do think defensively now. I don't assume everyone is my friend, and I'm constantly assessing threat.

Barbara Casey's website is warm and welcoming. She obviously wears many hats: agent, writer, editor. But do you want a renaissance woman for your agent or someone who will represent YOU and your interests?

Booties said...

Hi there. The WL Agency actually sent me a contract - and yes, I had to pay money to get my work critiqued. I Googled them and am horrified at how much terrible press they are getting. Suffice to say I am not signing!
Thanks for the heads up :)

Tough Love said...

Hey, saw your post while I was googling Barbara Casey. I've got a MS submission authored by her, "represented" by her agency, in front of me.

It's absolutely awful.

Scammers! I will continue to smite you. Keep sending me this crap.

Daniel Rea said...

God I feel like an idiot. I have a PhD and fell for the WL scam. E-signed their contract but fortunately in 72 hours you can rescend your signature.
My lawyer informed me e signing is not legal any way. Anyone can create email addresses. Contracts are only legal with a hand signed signature.
This Fletcher guy is pure scum. My red flag went up after the contract signing I got an email 10 minutes later telling me I needed to pay for a critique. From their publishing arm.
Hmmm... I have gotten no money yet but need to pay $90 for a critique. No legit agent askas for money before you get paid.
God I feel stupid. Thanks for the website.
Maya I am originally from Dallas and live in Miyazaki, Japan. God I miss Texas. Thanks for all the advice.

Maya Reynolds said...

Hey, Daniel: Texans are always welcome here!

No reason to feel like an idiot. You smelled a rat early and got out. And you've learned a valuable lesson. Congratulations.

You've prompted me to change my plans for my post today.