Saturday, December 17, 2005

Victoria Strauss -- Scam Tales, With Haiku

Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Happiness is possible in the very here and now." My meditation teacher encourages me to be aware of the moments of joy that arise spontaneously in the ordinary process of living. So today I was sitting in the sun with my morning cup of tea, enumerating the reasons for contentment, and it occurred to me that I'd composed a haiku.
A good book, a sleepy cat.
Birds outside the window.
Why is it that a snowy day seems warm?
Don't worry, I'm not planning to make a career of it.

On to scammery. Today I'm going to talk about agent replication. No, they don't climb into a machine that makes living copies, or grow clones in a lab. But they do sometimes twin themselves, in an effort to rope in more clients and rake in more dough. They aren't usually terribly smart about it, however.

Agent One--let's call him Joe Schmoe--charges his clients a per-submission fee for photocopying and Priority Mail postage. Supposedly, Joe sends the first 100 pages of the client's manuscript, plus a synopsis and cover letter, to 20 or 30 publishers at once. (This is known as "blitz" or "shotgun" submission; it's very unprofessional, and editors, who can tell when they're getting a form submission, hate it.) How can someone make money at that, you ask? Well, there's evidence that Joe often doesn't actually send anything out. When he does, he cuts corners and keeps the change--sending just a synopsis and cover letter by ordinary mail, for instance, and bundling several submissions in a single envelope (also really unprofessional and hated by editors).

Need I add that Joe has no sales?

For a fee-charger, Joe is relatively restrained. His clients wind up out-of-pocket by "only" a few hundred dollars, not several thousand. Maybe that's why he felt the need to replicate--by running two agencies instead of one, he could double his income. Like criminals who use sound-alike aliases, however, he left too many clues. His first agency is Schmoe & Associates, run by Joe Schmoe. His second agency is SA Literary Agency (Schmoe & Associates--SA--get it?), run by Joe Schlemiel. He uses the exact same M.O. for SA Literary as for Schmoe & Associates...and the two agencies have the same mailing address. Duh. It didn't take the Writer Beware detectives long to figure that one out.

Agent Two--let's call him Mensaguy, because one of the "credentials" he lists on his website is Mensa membership--runs an agency that's a front for an editing service. He charges $4,500 for editing that he provides himself, despite his total lack of qualifications to do so, having (as far as the Writer Beware sleuths know) never actually worked in publishing or published a book.

Everyone who submits to the agency gets a recommendation to edit. Because Mensaguy knows that $4,500 is a big sum of money--and probably also because he just can't help himself--potential clients are bludgeoned into submission with pages and pages of verbiage justifying paid editing services in general and paid editing services for them in particular. Your average scam editing pitch is two or three pages--a letter recommending editing, and maybe a marked-up manuscript page. Mensaguy's pitch runs twelve closely-written, single-spaced, often incomprehensible pages. The pitch is personalized for each recipient (like those junk mail solicitations I sometimes get that start "Dear Victoria") but essentially the same each time. Here's a sample:

To win, here's what needs to happen: The story sets (chapters) leave nothing to the imagination and are creative, in-sequence and novel. Further, they provide good acuity. That is, the reader knows why you are taking him/her on the journey as the author wishes events to unfold. What's not right is the lack of commercial panache necessary to sell the manuscript! Fail to see this and you've penned the title for nothing...because it will never happen the way it is.

Ouch. I'm sure I don't need to say that Mensaguy has no sales either.

When Mensaguy decided to replicate, he was smarter about it than Joe Schmoe. He gave the new "agency" an unrelated name. He endowed it with an address in a different city (probably a PO box, though I don't know for sure). As the new agency's Director, he adopted a brand new name that didn't suggest his own--and just to make double sure, he changed sex. What didn't he change? The $4,500 editing fee--and his incredibly verbose materials. That's right--as the new agency, he sent out the exact same mind-boggling twelve-page pitch. The minute Ann and I got the documentation, we made the connection.

Please, scammers--you're making it too easy for us. Cover your tracks better. Don't leave so many clues. Give us a challenge! We're asking nicely.

2 comments:

James Goodman said...

SA Literary as for Schmoe & Associates...and the two agencies have the same mailing address.

Oddly enough, that sounds vaguely familiar to the case of a certain southern slimeball. Counting down the days until he see him go down in flames. <*>Grits teeth as he walks away. <*>

LJCohen said...

Victoria,

You have enough in your haiku for several poems.

A good book, a sleepy cat.
Birds outside the window.
Why is it that a snowy day seems warm?


sleepy cat
ignores the noisy chickadees
outside

snow covered ground--
inside this good book
keeps me warm

ljc