Groucho Marx's famous joke about not wanting to belong to any club that would invite him to be a member is a good maxim to keep in mind when an agent, publisher, or other literary enterprise approaches you out of the blue. On occasion, such an expression of interest can be legit (everyone knows a discovered-at-Schwab's-Drugstore-type publication story, and some of them are even true), but it's far more likely to be something you really don't want to get involved with. For instance, Author Identity Publishing, the vanity short story compilation publisher that's been emailing writers lately with invitations to submit.
Unfortunately, Author Identity isn't alone. Over the past couple of weeks, a brand-new crop of direct solicitors has come across my desk.
- Leading Brands Publishing. (Obnoxious website alert--if you click on this link, you might want to switch off your speakers to avoid the irritating sound effects). This company out of Dubai offers "a complete range of premium services to meet your company's publishing needs." Though this wording, along with the rest of the website, suggests that Leading Brands specializes in custom publishing for corporations, it is also energetically contacting individual authors to offer publishing services. "Are you sitting on the next bestseller or revolutionary book, and don't know how to get it published?" the pitch letter begins. If so, Leading Brands promises to help you "get published in a relatively short period of time, generating income and creating awareness at the same time, without potentially costing a single Dollar [sic]."
As you might imagine, this is not quite the whole story. Writers who request more information receive a much longer letter, revealing that in fact, there is a cost: anywhere from $1,500 to over $7,000. The letter is so poorly worded that it isn't totally clear how things work (major red flag: a professional publisher should be able to write a comprehensible business letter), but the upshot appears to be that the publisher will recoup the cost by publishing an ebook first and keeping all proceeds, after which authors will be able to pay $15 per book for a run of printed books.
It seems to me that Leading Brands is screwing itself as well as its authors with this deal--good luck getting that kind of income out of an ebook. More important, if you want to pay for publication, you can get a far more cost-effective package--not to mention, a proven and reliable service with clear and understandable parameters--from an established POD company like Lulu or iUniverse. The Leading Brands website is short on specifics to support its claims of custom publishing expertise, and though the company's owner, Mars Mlodzinski, appears to have genuine credits as a magazine editor, he has none that I can discover as a publisher. He's also a veteran of at least one apparently defunct business startup. This may not bode well for Leading Brands, which to date does not appear to have published a single book.
- Sterling Literary Agency has been contacting writers who have profiles at WritersNet with the following pitch: "We're Sterling Literary Agency and we are looking for talented new authors to represent. We represent both fiction and non-fiction. We do not charge any upfront fees. Best of all, we have a super competitive introductory special. Any author we sign up between now and Thanksgiving Day will get our special 7 percent commission rate on domestic sales."
What's wrong with this picture? As I've already discussed, there's no such thing as a bargain agent. Especially, there's no such thing as a reputable agency that offers "specials," as if it's Wal-Mart. If an agency is that desperate to sign up clients, something's not right--either the agency is so obscure that it's not getting submissions (big warning sign: an established agency, or a new agent with the right experience, will not need to beg for clients) or its clients are its main source of income (i.e., there's a fee involved).
It's possible that the folks at Sterling are clever enough to have deliberately chosen a name that resembles the name of a reputable agency (Sterling Lord)--dishonest agencies sometimes use this tactic in hopes of confusing potential victims. But it could just be a clueless coincidence.
- J & M Solution: Project Writer. This outfit has been soliciting writers who have posted work at several manuscript display sites. It isn't really clear what kind of publishing is being offered, and the promises of income ("no printing involved, so you get more compensation") are ludicrous. As is the website generally. Really, this is more sad than scammish--either English isn't the first language of the person behind it, or he (or she) is close to being functionally illiterate.
J&M's URL is registered to Michael Markgraf, who has this listing, among others, on eBay. It must be seen to be believed.
Not to whack a dead horse or anything, but this is one of the dangers of using manuscript display sites. Reputable publishing people rarely use them. Less-than-reputable people frequently do.
- Michele Glance Rooney. This "agent" has been direct-soliciting writers with offers of representation for some time now, but a recent rash of reports suggests that she's stepped up the pace of her spamming. Rooney has been doing business under one name or another since at least 2000, and in that time I'm not aware that she has ever made a sale. She's on Writer Beware's 20 Worst List, and has been discussed (not flatteringly) at Absolute Write and on various blogs.