In which Writer Beware continues to bring you choice tidbits from the fringes of the publishing world.
eBay has attracted its share of writing weirdness. Writers trying to sell their unpublished manuscripts, writers trying to find investors to finance their writing, writers bidding for the right to write one page of a collaborative novel...the list goes on.
Here's a new one: a literary agency that attempted to auction off the chance for representation. (Here's a link to the cached version of the auction listing, for when it drops off eBay.)
The auction, offered by the UK-based Westwood Literary Agency, urged writers to "bid for a literary agent for your manuscript...a one-time chance to get your manuscript noticed." And why was this thrilling opportunity up for grabs? "We are offering this chance because a.) we are taking in new authors, b.) we are dissatisfied with the quality of the current manuscript submissions and c.) we have decided to try this as a new marketing technique to attract new talent."
What was the payoff for the lucky high bidder? "Upon winning, you will receive a revision contract, free manuscript revision and will work together with us towards improving your manuscript to make it more appealing to potential publishers, after which you will be taken into the client database for a whole year and your manuscript will be made available to publishers in the UK and the US. If this is what you've always dreamed of, this is your chance to become a published writer."
And just in case anyone was wondering: "This is not a scam."
Whew. Glad we cleared that up.
It doesn't really need saying that bidding on literary representation (I can't write that with a straight face) amounts to an upfront fee. But there are less obvious ironies here, and also some clues as to this agency's regular M.O.
According to the Terms and Conditions section of the bid listing, "Bids will only be accepted from authors who have a finished or nearly finished manuscript written in English." That's the only restriction. There's no mention at all of, oh, let's say, manuscript quality (which is kinda odd, seeing as how they're so dissatisfied with the quality of their current submissions). So no matter how bad a manuscript is, they'll take it on if its author is high bidder--as long as it's in English and most of it is complete.
What kind of literary agency doesn't care about its clients' writing ability? For that matter, what kind of agency is so desperate for new clients that it runs an auction to "attract new talent?" All together now: A FEE-CHARGING AGENCY!!
The clues are there, if you read between the lines. Westwood's website, of course, makes no explicit mention of fees. However, there's some suggestive language on the FAQ page: "We also...offer a revising service should you be taken in our client database to ensure that all manuscripts that hit a publisher’s desk are of a high standard." (That's not the only warning sign on this website, by the way. For those who want to play "spot the red flag," there's plenty of material.) And from the eBay listing (my emphasis): "Upon winning, you will receive a revision contract, free manuscript revision, and will work together with us towards improving your manuscript."
So if you're the high bidder, editing is free, free, free! (Well, sort of). Does that mean you'd otherwise have to pay? Writer Beware hasn't yet received any advisories about Westwood, but I'd say it's a safe guess. Dollars to donuts, this agency's main business is selling editing services.
But wait--both the agency website FAQ and the Terms and Conditions of the bid listing qualify this a bit. From the FAQ: "Although we offer revisions and our agents and authors often work closely together, it is not possible for us to go through manuscripts and at the same time correct bad spelling or grammar mistakes as this takes twice or three times the time." And from the bid listing: "Poor grammar or spelling mistakes will not be corrected." So...your ms. will be edited, but if you've got spelling and grammatical errors, tough noogies.
Just what kind of editing is this? How will leaving bad spelling and poor grammar intact make manuscripts "more appealing to potential publishers?" Could it be (gasp) that Westwood's owners don't give a rat's ass about how appealing their clients' mss. are to potential publishers? After all, once the check for the editing fee clears, they've made their dime (or their 10p). There's not a lot of incentive to get out there and sell their clients' work.
Just in case anyone is tempted to bid, the auction is closed. According to the notation on the auction listing, "The seller ended this listing early because of an error in the minimum bid or reserve amount." Yah. No one placed a bid.
Edited to add: Since posting the above, I've gotten two reports from authors who contacted Westwood and were asked for an "administration and revision fee" of 50 pounds/75 euro/$100, because "hardly any manuscript, [sic] which we receive is truly free of any mistakes, and we spend a great amount of time polishing manuscripts before sending them to publishers." I love it when I'm right!