Thursday, March 23, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Go Ahead. Make My Day.

Recently, Ann and I compiled a list of Writer Beware's 20 Worst Agents, which we posted to WritersNet, Absolute Write, and Miss Snark (check out the comments from people who were rooked by agencies on the list). Since then, we've been waiting for the inevitable explosion, and taking bets on who'd be first. We were wrong: it wasn't Agent B, who has cease-and-desisted us several times over the past few months. It was Agent R.

Here's what Agent R, a.k.a. Cris Robins of the Robins Literary Agency, has to say on her website about Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors. Responding point by point:

For years I've sat back, quietly, and listened to Ann Crispin and Victoria Straus and even the Preditors & Editors page say how they've had all these complaints about us; how we are not recommended; how we do this wrong and that wrong.

Not quite quietly. Back in 1998 or 1999, when my phone number was listed in my name (rather than my husband's, who has a different surname), Cris called me up to yell at me for providing warnings about her agency, and to demand why Writer Beware thought it was such a big deal to recommend paid editing services to clients and potential clients (making editing recommendations was at that time a main focus of the agency). I tried to explain, though I could hardly get a word in edgewise. Eventually she hung up on me.

Cris also contacted Ann and me under an alias to try and find out what we were saying about her agency and, possibly, to tempt us into making actionable statements. And she showed up under another alias at a writers' message board where I was a regular participant (an alias she has used in the past to provide bogus testimonials about her agency) to argue vigorously in favor of agents charging huge upfront fees.

So, I'm wondering why is it then, when presented with a sterling opportunity to bring all these so-called complaints to light, when the rubber hits the road and the chance to really put a sword in our hearts and potentially prove all their claims, do they back down? When they are in a position of having nothing to lose and EVERYTHING to gain, do they do nothing? When their claims finally have a chance of being brought into the light of justice, do they stand back and let them die?

We're not exactly backing down. Since this time last year, I've responded in email to 27 questions/comments about Ms. Robins: 6 general questions about the agency's business practices, 19 very similar complaints/advisories (many with documentation) citing fees and other irregularities (currently, the agency charges $3,250 for a year of representation, often using a hard-sell telephone approach to try and convince dubious writers) and 2 other problems (a publisher irritated about inappropriate submissions, a writer claiming nonperformance on a ghostwriting contract).

Perhaps it is as I've said all along - they have NO verifiable claims or complaints against us; they have not one letter, e-mail, or person who can stand up and declare with righteousness - "This is what the Robins Agency did to me and it was wrong."

Bzzt. Wrong. See above.

But, don't take my word for it, take theirs. Ann Crispin was approached by someone filing a complaint against our agency with the Missouri Attorney General's office. She was asked for any and all complaints against us to put with this complaint. Her response: "If you'd like to talk with us about the info and documentation regarding her in our database, please call me."

A point of correction: Ann was not approached by any complainant. She was responding to a request for contact by someone named Christopher Dahl, posted at the Robins Agency thread on Absolute Write. Also, I'd like to know how inviting someone to call for information is "backing down."

(P.S., Cris--posting someone's email online without their permission is a copyright violation.)

The results: NOTHING. Not one single piece of information in her so-called database was ever included in the filing. Why is this?

Uh...maybe because this Christopher Dahl never responded to Ann's invitation to phone? Neither Ann nor I ever heard anything at all from this individual.

We contend that it's because there is nothing that she has that can withstand the scrutiny of a legal filing. Yet, by her own admissions, she feels justified in warning hundreds of writers away from us? And this is a good service to her readers; to deny them opportunities just because she can?

Actually, we are happy to help writers pass up an opportunity to waste $3,250. And we feel comfortably justified in warning writers about the nonstandard practices of the Robins Literary Agency, which now and in the past include or have included:
  • Recommendation of the agency's own paid editing services, often on the basis of just three sample chapters (a conflict of interest: if an agent can profit financially by recommending editing, how can a writer trust that the recommendation is being made in his/her best interest?)

  • Charging upfront "retainers"--currently $3,250 for a year of representation (reputable agents don't charge these kinds of fees)

  • Misrepresenting the agency's qualifications (to potential clients, Cris claims to be one of the "top 10 agencies in the nation." She's currently claiming a sale--of her own book--to Adams Media, an established independent publisher that doesn't require authors to be agented. But before that, to our knowledge, the Robins Literary Agency had never placed a book with a commercial US publisher in the whole of its nine or so years of existence--not...one...book...EVER)

  • Misrepresenting typical business practice among reputable literary agents (in her phone sell to potential clients, Cris claims that charging huge retainers is standard. And check out the agency's FAQ page, where, among other gems of misinformation, it's stated that agents don't "usually" reveal their track records "as past performance has little bearing on the type of job they can do for you.")
Dave Kuzminski, Editor at Preditors & Editors, had the same request made of him. His response: a listing of contact information of three former editors who used to work for us, a haphazard accounting of our business manager, and two former clients. Yet, he provided no complaints of any kind and preferenced all of his information with they MAY be able to help you.

The results: NOTHING. Again, not one of the people Mr. Kuzminski said could possibly help this claim against us did; not one single letter, e-mail, or person was presented to uphold their allegations of wrong doing on our part.


(Dear me, copyright violation again!) I'm guessing that Mr. Dahl never responded to Dave, either.

Here's something else. Supposedly, we're talking about a complaint to the Missouri Attorney General's Office--not a claim in court, where rules of discovery would apply. Is it the policy of Attorney General offices to share complaint files with the objects of those complaints? Somehow I doubt it. So...how is it that Cris has Ann's and Dave's emails in her possession? Think about it.

And so it goes, they spread poison for no other reason than they can. They are the perfect examples of why information on the net is unreliable at best and harmful to the reader at worst. If they don't like the way we do business, fine. But, they have no right to rob their readers of opportunities they can't find elsewhere by spreading their unsubstantiated claims.

For a prime example of unreliable information on the Internet, I again recommend a visit to Cris's FAQ page.

If all the things they said about us were true, that would be one thing. But, when they are given the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and back down that just shows the validity to their claims is non-existent.

Money...meet mouth.

However, the validity of our agency rests in that we have never had a claimed filed against us that we've lost in any court, jurisdiction, or government agency. THAT has to say something about the way we do business. We've proven ourselves time and time again when we've had everything to lose; why can't they prove anything when they've everything to gain?

It's actually rather pathetic that while other literary agents call on things like track record and reputation to demonstrate their validity, Cris can only call on the fact that she's never lost a claimed [sic] in court.

So Cris--how about you put your money where your mouth is? Tell us how you've proven yourself "time and time again." Have you proven that you have a track record of sales to commercial publishers? Have you proven that you have standing in the industry? Have you proven that you do more for your clients than take their money and give them empty promises?

It's up to you, the reader, to decide - are you going to believe someone who can't back up their own claims, or are you going to stop and believe in yourself, your gut, and your work.

That's right, dear Reader--it is up to you. It's up to you to do your research. It's up to you to learn the right questions to ask, and to ask them without timidity. It's up to you to educate yourself about the publishing industry and how it works. If you do--if you believe in yourself and your work enough to put in the time and make the effort--you'll have no problem knowing whom to believe. We promise.

30 comments:

Dave Kuzminski said...

I can't help but wonder how she obtained those emails as well. Could she have been posing as an officer of the court to begin with? If so, I think that Missouri might be interested in that.

Jenna Glatzer said...

Dave, that's a great point. "Christopher Dahl" claimed to be a lawyer. This could get even more interesting.

FreeSpirit said...

The Robins Agency via Cris Robins almost took me several years ago. She loved my book, knew it would be a best seller and all I had to do was pay her some sort of fee. I can't remember the exact details but I do remember I couldn't afford to pay her what she asked for. I also remember that I asked if those costs could be deducted from the sale of my book and she told me that would be like her giving me her open check book. I replied that my paying her monthly fees was like me giving her MY check book. Yea, she hung up on me. Thank goodness for people like you who warn authors about these scum scam agents. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

James Goodman said...

These scummy characters just make my stomach turn.

They should institute public floggings for anyone who gets caught scamming. Now, that's some reality TV I could get into watching.

Jenna Glatzer said...

My error-- Christopher is very much for real. I've just spoken with him on the phone and understand the situation now.

Miss Snark said...

Check out the "client list". They haven't sold any of the projects listed.

It's easy to figure out these guys are scammers. They can't answer the number one question any author should ask any agent: "What have you sold".

You guys do great work...I applaud you.

C.W. Cale said...

Just when I'm ready to start querying, I find this blog! ~Whew! Thanks guys!

heidi said...

Cris mentions how she's never lost a court case.

Big woop. I've never lost a court case. Then again, I've never been to court.

Has she ever been to court and won?

Now, it's one thing to set up a non-standard practice, and another thing to be doing something illegal. If they want to charge fees for being an agency, I don't that's illegal, and therefore, nobody's got a solid leg to stand on in taking them to court. However, I would certainly say it's not ethical to charge fees upfront, before any creative work has been sold.

Maybe that's why nobody's been able to take them to court; Cris & co haven't done anything illegal, just ethically questionable.

Now, if their actions are illegal, why hasn't someone taken them to court yet?

I must confess, I know little of the laws concerning agency regulation in the US, as I live in Australia.


wordverf: beepy fun!

Anonymous said...

Of course reputable agents don't charge $3000-something in advance. They'd have no incentive to sell anything if they make money for taking you on.

No wonder this agency doesn't want to inform us of their track record. I doubt they even have one.

Anonymous said...

And claiming you've proven yourself because you never lost a case in court is pathetic as well.

The majority of reputable agents don't even see the inside of a court.

Jim C. Hines said...

What a fun website they have, too! I'm getting a few giggles from the FAQ page in particular.

Apparently my agent can take "A commission on sales you have made before they have accepted you."

And "you do have to have an agent to open the doors of the bigger publishing houses..."

I can think of three people who sold directly to DAW and Baen right off the top of my head.

My personal favorite: "Fact is, nearly all agents charge something in some way, and those who don't, are large enough so they don't need to accept new writers to their stables. As a new writer, you don't have previous sales where that commission can offset the expenses of your newest work."

That one just makes my head hurt.

Setting all that aside though, they have enough truthful info woven through their pages that I can see how people could be taken in.

Guess there's nothing to do but link to your post and spread the word :-)

Cris Robins said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Had I known the response to my post would have generated the interest in our agency that it has, I would have done this years ago!

Our phones are ringing off the hook, our e-mail inbox is being flooded with submissions, and the hits to our site are going through the roof. Some of those who you turned away months ago are even coming back! And we welcome all of them for consideration.

The responses are all positive! Some of the responses we are getting include:

 Don’t they know to infringe on copyright laws you have to say it’s yours?
 Don’t they know you get a copy of every thing submitted in a complaint, any complaint?
 You ONLY charge $3,250? My last agent charged me much, much more!
 If they are going to pick apart your own sale, what would they do to a client of yours? Don’t tell them!
 If you don’t lose in a complaint, you win; or don’t they get that?
 Can’t they read where you list the clients’ work that is FOR SALE, not sold?
 These guys are the experts in the industry and they can neither read nor understand?
 Don’t they have anything better to do with their time?

Those are just from the writers – the doctors, lawyers, judges, professionals and executives who have been looking for a professional agent who knows how to give them the respect and customer service they can’t find with other agents.

The publishers who have contacted us are even more impressed with our attitude as they’ve been looking to work with another agent who doesn’t come with excuses but delivers on their promises. (Our requests for submissions are higher than ever!)

I really cannot thank all of you enough. I couldn’t buy this kind of publicity. People aren’t stupid; they know there is no such thing as a free lunch; and now, you’ve given them the outlet they’ve been looking to find.

Please, keep up the good work!

With grace,

Cris Robins

www.robins-agency.com
robins-agency@sbcglobal.net
[314] 569-9838
(Just in case anyone didn’t have it. :) ]

Victoria Strauss said...

And I'm the Queen of Sheba. Wait! Did someone say "Your Majesty?"

Cris, you missed your calling. You should be writing alternate history.

ALC said...

Good One, Ms. Strauss!
This woman must be a real piece of work to think that anyone with an IQ above that of the average house plant would be patently stupid enough to buy any of that ridiculous hype. (Couldn't you just feel her grasping at straws trying to {re-word} the commentary in your blog to come up with even remotely believable retorts?)

A. C. Crispin said...

Cris, you mendacious vessel of ineptitude and venality, we can all tell that your post was the frustrated blatting of a scammer deprived of victims.

I have a challenge for you. Name just ONE sale you've made of a "client's" book to an advance and royalty paying commercial publishing house.

This is where you won't be able to respond, as there isn't a single one in all these years you've been scamming authors.

Not. One. Sale.

NONE, ZIP, NADA.

I think that about says it all, Cris. The one charge you can't answer (at least, truthfully) and can't weasel your way out of. The one thing that any author who has half a brain should check before signing on that dotted line.

How many sales, Cris?

You know as well as I do, and the answer is: NONE.

End of discussion.

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com

Jim C. Hines said...

Maybe it's just me, but I find it peculiar that not one of those gushing blurbs of praise actually disputes anything Ann or Victoria have been saying.

It reminds me a bit of the Publish America boards, the fairly desperate attempts of people to rationalize and justify PA practices in order to convince themselves they haven't been scammed.

BTW, *my* last (and current) agent only charged me--

Wait. He didn't charge me anything at all. And he's sold two of my books to DAW, and made three overseas sales, all in the past 12 months.

And he's a fairly new agent.

But I'm sure people are much happier shelling out $3000+ in order to get that sought-after sale to xLibris.

Bernita said...

That's pathetic, but then so is a twisting, writhing viper when it's pinned by a pitchfork.
Thank you, Victoria, A.C., and Dave.
QED.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for standing firm against a lot of shrill flack.

For my part I'll take the word of two writers over that of an "agent" who has an agenda of parting me from my money.

Perhaps this person should get a real job, but why bother when there's one born every minute and she's one of the two to take him?

You guys keep swinging.

December Quinn said...

Oh, dear. What a pitiful batch of obfuscation. I wonder how long it took her to come up with that.

Why are doctors, lawyers, judges, "professionals" (because apparently lawyers, doctors, and judges are not professionals) and executives looking for "customer service" from a literary agent?

Sam said...

After being scammed by one agent in the beginning of my career, I can only say thank you to Victoria and Ann for their hard work and unflagging determination to help uninformed writers (such as myself).
To scammers like Cris all I can say is shame on you.
I bet your phones are ringing off the hook - with clients calling to pull out of your 'agency' and get their money back.

Cheryl Mills said...

They wouldn't tell me what they've sold, stating that they were afraid I would tell you. That's about all I need to know!

T said...

It's funny how Cris says "Web site traffic is through the roof". 36,000 hits over ~ 3 years =
12,000 hits per year or
1,000 hits per month or
32 hits per day

Which, according to her stat numbers - http://www.sitemeter.com/?a=stats&s=sm5robinsagency - is overinflated by a little more than 2 fold.

She had one spike of 38 visits on 03/24, which dropped right back down 2 days later.

12 hits a day is nothing special. Most of the companies I deal with average ~ 200 hits per day (not page views, those should be 1.5 times the hits). "Popular" sites can garner well over 2 million hits in a single day. Mildly popular sites can garner 500,000 hits per day. And run of the mill popular sites should run a bill around 50,000 hits per day.

Heck, my sports blog (when I used to run it) came in around 50 hits per day - and I only ran that for 6 months (on and off)...

Sminklemeyer said...

My mom always said the proof is in the pudding. And here is her client list...

http://www.robins-agency.com/clients.htm

There are just a bunch of names and "these titles are for sale." As a writer, it's your dream to get published. And I hate to see people taking advantage of other's dreams.

Anonymous said...

I particularly love her interpretation of the AAR rules on her FAQ about agent fees.

I'd suggest a visit to the AAR website to any who wonder at the fees listed on Cris' website.

Now, if only I could suggest such a thing at AbsoluteWrite...

Jenna, I wish you the best getting your site back on-line. Huge fan. Huge.

Anonymous said...

Oh my! Cris Robbins is a head case. They need to lock her up and throw away the key.

Anonymous said...

I agree. She should be put in prison for what she has done, taking people for their hard-earned money. What can we do? I for one would love to see them throw her behind bars.

Anonymous said...

I am so dissapointed. My fiance is a very talented writer looking for an agent and when she called with her sweet talk we got very excited. Thank god we found this site. First of all we don't have the 3K to shell out but we certainly were thinking about it. My fiance is serious about getting published and finding an agent and I stand behind him 100%. Cris should be ashamed of herself...leading on serious writers. How aweful!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I worked for this woman, once upon a time, long, long ago, and I suspected what has been decided by the courts of Ms. Robins. I was hired as a 'literary agent', read many of the slush manuscripts which came into the office, and recommended representation for a small handful of authors. The others, I did offer editing services to, but not wholeheartedly. I did, however, for those handful of authors, give my best efforts in getting them seen by publishers. However, it became quite clear that Ms. Robins had an agenda for pushing only those projects she wanted pushed, and there was one author which I still believe to this day should be published. One day, perhaps I'll find a way to help him attain that golden prize. For now, I just want to apologize for ever being associated with the Robins Agency.

James Macdonald said...

If Cris Robins' claim to the validity of her agency is that she's never lost a lawsuit, the judgment against her in Washington Superior Court (King County) for $8,320 for breach of contract, fraudulent business practices, and consumer protection violations, means that her agency isn't valid.

By what's probably not a coincidence, her web page is down hard.

crazyloko said...
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