Monday, October 30, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- The IILAA Strikes Back

Ridicule can work, my friends.

As many of you may already know, Leann Murphy yanked the IILAA website last night. At first, the content was replaced by an amusing (though not, I suspect, in the way Leann intended) nyah-nyah message. Second thoughts apparently prevailed, however, and the message was removed. Currently, the website consists of an opening page and a page of links, but the rest of the content is gone. (Fortunately the Cabal, ever watchful and prepared, has screenshots.)

So anyway, I logged in at Absolute Write this morning, and what should I find waiting for me but this Private Message (to fully appreciate it, you need to visit the link above).

"Hello old, ugly one,

Hello. I saw your post about IILAA.....and I just want to ask by which evidence do you and your friends on that website favor the idea of a scam?

I do know there are scams out there-people who take money and do not do their jobs......then again there are some writers who just plain....suck. They suck and they cannot handle disappointment or rejection so they turn their feelings outwards towards places who have made people like me successful.

I am not about hate...but I do wish to know why people try to attack others in such ways that are considered hateful.

IILAA is not Desert Rose...it is an organization which includes Desert Rose....I know...I have checked...I was skeptical too.....and as a published writer with Desert Rose, I will have to defend them in saying that I have never had a problem with them. It did cost a bit to get things going, but I do not expect ANYONE to work for me for free which is the essence of all those who post such hateful text.....I dont understand why people believe that they can get things for free.....it costs money to make money. The only ones I see making money are those who do and those who try-not those who complain that a scam is occurring which they cannot identify. This is also the mark of a mentally ill person. Sites such as the one I got your info. from seem to draw the attention of the mentally ill.....

I do not understand why sites such as the one you post on clone themselves all over the internet and act as if they know not about one another.....if anyone is involved in cyber-terrorism, scams or fraud-it is those websites who do those things. Having watched for a while now, I DO know that absolutewrite, writers beware, sfwa, and a few others are in fact run by the same people. It is called search engine bombing...and what it does is allows people to saturate the search engines with their content- until they search engine finds out-and bans them Some of us have connections that can make that happen at no cost. It is just a matter of code.

Yes this can be done....

I am keeping my identity secret for now because I do not wish to waste my time reading or sifting through the mounds of hate email I may recieve as a result of expressing my opinion. God knows that sort of thing is not allowed on the kinds of websites that you post. Are you sure they are not run by Islam?

I feel I may be wasting my time writing this and sending it out to eveyr single person I can find...maybe I am........just watch who you are in company with...there are people out there who are REAL scammers- and those like Victoria who are so good at scamming that they lead others to follow....trust me... I know all about her I would stay as far away from her and her organizations as I could if you dont want to end up in jail with her someday.

Have a great weekend!"

My response:

"Hi, Leann. If you believe you have the evidence to prove even one of your allegations, I invite you to make it public. I'd welcome the chance to refute it. I also invite you to have the guts not to lurk behind a cloak of anonymity. If you are really as Young and Fabulous as you claim, what do you have to hide? Other than your poor writing skills, of course.

Have a nice day."

So. Anyone think I'll be hearing from her again?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Victoria Strauss --The IILAA, or, What You Do When They Won't Let You Into the Club

...You set up your own.

There's a brand new literary agents' association in town, y'all. It's called the International Independent Literary Agents Association, and it ain't just playin' around. Its mission: "The International Independent Literary Agents Association (IILAA) is composed of independent agents who have formed an association for the purpose of better serving our clients. As individual and independent agents, the main priority and loyalty of each agent is to his/her personal clients, as it should be. We are proud that our members serve their clients first and foremost, rather than any organization or association."

Now, that is a very worthy goal. Cue applause. Writer Beware approves. We love agents who are dedicated to their authors and aren't afraid to say so. And look here--the IILAA website includes a description of an agent's job, for the enlightenment of potential clients. What a helpful resource! And, oh wow! There's a section on retainer fees! Hooray! Another literary agents' organization that takes a firm stance against this common form of writer exploitation!

But...oh dear. What's this I see? "Although reading/evaluation fees are still considered a no-no, a reasonable upfront fee became the norm. If you hire an attorney for representation, you are expected to be [sic] a retainer fee. This is now the case for literary agents." Hold on. That can't be right! But there's more of the same on the Publishing Myths page. "Most first time writers don’t receive more than $3,000 advances, although some receive as much as $5,000. The agent’s commission for these amounts isn’t enough to make it worth the agent’s efforts without some advance help with the marketing expenses for the writer. An agent’s expenses add up!"

Oh sadness, oh woe! I can hardly bear the disillusionment. Could it be that the IILAA isn't dispelling publishing myths, but perpetuating them?

Why should it do such a dastardly thing? Let's drop down the page a bit, to Purported Publishing Myth #5: "Websites such as SFWA, Writers’ [sic] Beware, Predators [sic] & Editors, along with associated blogs and chatrooms/forums are operated and monitored by people who are dedicated to you, the writer." According to IILAA, this is a myth because "The operators/monitors of these groups have an agenda...and it isn’t to protect you. Their agenda is to destroy the reputations, and therefore, the business of independent agents. They do not do this out of the kindness of their hearts, or because they truly care about you, the writer. They do this for a reason!"

Cue scary music. And just to enable you, the writer, to identify this Axis of Evil, this HYDRA, this SMERSH of the Internet, there's a helpful page entitled How to spot hate sites who [sic] prey on the insecurities of writers. There, the terrible truth is once again revealed: "There are numerous websites trashing agents. Because of the number of these websites, the average writer who is simply browsing the internet is not aware that most of these websites, forums, chatrooms, etc., are operated by the same group of people who claim to serve the interest of you, the writer. But honestly, do you believe that the operators of these websites spend so much of their time, effort, and money because they truly care about you? Or do they have an agenda."

Okaaaay. Now I get it. It's a CONSPIRACY. Me and Ann and Dave and Jenna and Jim and Snark and Teresa aren't the autonomous individuals we pretend to be: we're a covert cabal with a Master Plan. What, you thought I was going to tell you more? Uh uh, my friend. Like any good Master Plan, ours depends on absolute secrecy.

Speaking of conspiracies, let's have a look at the agents of whom IILAA approves (they aren't identified as members): the Top Ten Best Independent Literary Agents. (Actually, there are only nine of them. Psst--SammyK--there's a space for you.) Guess what? Writer Beware has a file on every single one.

- Barbara Bauer Literary Agency, Inc. Need I say more? All right, I will. According to Writer Beware's documentation, Barbara Bauer charges a $650 upfront annual fee (and has asked for as much as $1,000), plus expenses. Barbara has been around for longer than us, but we can't find any recent evidence of book sales.

- Capital Literary Agents. Also d/b/a American Literary Agents of Washington Inc. and Washington Literary Agency. Charges $250 for a 4-month contract, owns a vanity publisher. Has been ripping writers off since 1998, with nary a sale, as far as WB is aware.

- Desert Rose Literary Agency. Charges a $250-350 "office retainer." Is currently the focus of an investigation by the Tom Green County Sheriff's Department. No sales as far as WB is aware. (Desert Rose is the only agency on the list that identifies itself as an IILAA member. Probably not coincidentally, the server for IILAA appears to be located in San Angelo, TX, Desert Rose's home town.)

- Harris Literary Agency. Offers clients a choice of providing a large amount of submission material at their own expense, or paying $250 upfront. Guess which option most clients choose? To WB's knowledge, Harris has never made a sale to a major US publisher in the whole of its more than nine years in business.

- Martin-McLean Literary Associates. This agency charges $30 per submission, submits to inappropriate publishers, and has recently placed several clients with a notorious vanity publisher. I've blogged about Martin-McLean before.

- Milligan Literary Agency. Actually, this is not a literary agency at all, but a publisher. A vanity publisher.

- Mocknick Productions Literary Agency. Charges $450 upfront. Has been in business for nearly four years, but has no sales as far as WB is aware.

- Nancy Ellis Literary Agency. Unlike the other agencies on the list, Nancy Ellis has a sizeable track record of commercial sales. She's also the subject of two warnings from the Authors Guild.

- Sligo Literary Agency LLC. We haven't heard anything about Sligo since 2004, so this was a blast from the past. Currently, it's charging $175 upfront (since 1999, when we first started getting reports, its charges have dipped as low as $95 and risen as high as $250). To WB's knowledge, it has no recent record of commercial book sales (the few small press sales mentioned on its website date back to 2002 and earlier).

Uh...who was that with the agenda again?

Actually, I think it's backfiring. Not surprisingly, IILAA's launch has triggered a tsunami of ridicule. In San Angelo, someone's ears are burning.

Oh, and by the way, if you have a half hour of spare time and want a yuk, give a listen to Barbara Bauer's recent "special presentation" podcast. Hear Barbara and a rogue's gallery of fee-chargers (Tom Wahl of the Austin Wahl agency: $525 upfront (used to be $650), no discoverable recent sales; David Hiatt of the David Hiatt Literary Agency: $295 reading fee, no discoverable recent sales, worked with fraudulent vanity publisher Northwest Publishing) discuss "the crisis in publishing," a.k.a. all those meanie-weenies like Writer Beware who are criticizing agents who charge upfront fees. I'll close with Mr. Hiatt's assessment of Writer Beware and its sponsor, SFWA:

"The parent organization is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, and gosh, it's been my experience that there's a lot of writers out there that really do live in a fantasy land regarding the business of writing."

Yup. And the agents of IILAA will be waiting for them.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- e-LiteraryAgent: Something Else Not to Try

In the nanosecond-attention-span environment that is the Internet, everything old is perpetually new again.

Take, for instance, pay-per-click content sites such as Triond.com, where you can post your work (articles, videos, podcasts, photos) and earn a "royalty" from ad clicks. Such sites present themselves as something new and innovative--but in fact they're updated incarnations of a rather elderly idea. Way, way back in the dim and distant mists of Internet time (1998), when clickthrough advertising was supposed to be the Next Big Thing, an outfit called Themestream offered the exact same service. Problem was, clickthrough advertising wasn't as lucrative as everyone hoped it would be, and Themestream couldn't generate enough ad income to pay its content providers the promised royalty rates. After reducing rates several times, Themestream closed its doors in 2001. Similar companies (MightyWords, The Vine) died a similar death.

Will Triond go the same route? Or has it learned lessons from its predecessors that will enable it to survive? There's no way to know. The point is that this apparently brand new idea is not new at all, and didn't work very well the first time around. Yet writers, eternally searching for the Big Shortcut in the Sky--a new and better way to get an agent/get published/earn money from their writing--will probably jump eagerly on board.

Ditto for manuscript display sites--those websites that display your writing with the intent of somehow furthering your quest for publication, either by attracting agents and editors or by providing peer commentary which you can use to spruce up your ms. Several are currently touting themselves as new and revolutionary, but like the ad-click content sites, they're really retreads of an old, largely unworkable premise. I discussed this in a previous blog entry (in fact, some of the nouveau display sites I mentioned have already gone belly-up).

Yesterday I discovered yet another display site, e-LiteraryAgent. Unlike other such sites, which are aimed at agents and editors both, e-LiteraryAgent focuses entirely on reaching editors--in other words, it purports to be as good as its name. It wants to be your electronic literary agent.

The verbiage with which e-LiteraryAgent attempts to attract clients is depressingly familiar: "As you probably know, most publishers are reluctant to look at unsolicited manuscripts, and prefer to deal with agents. However, since agents typically receive about 15% of the author’s royalties, agents, too, are reluctant to sign newcomers. They prefer the 'blockbuster' authors who can demand million dollar advances." Fortunately, e-LiteraryAgent can help you bypass this (largely imaginary) problem. "[W]ith e-LiteraryAgent, you can reach hundreds of editors at any one time, there is no paperwork going back and forth, and we can approach editors throughout the world with one email." In other words, it's not just a display site--it's a query blaster. We already know what publishing people think of those.

According to e-LiteraryAgent, this approach "...saves everyone time and money—-and they can read your manuscript directly on-line, or print it out and read it at their leisure." But this is the same flawed logic the old display sites used--that displaying manuscripts online will somehow streamline the process, and that busy editors will find an online slushpile more attractive than the paper one already weighing down their desks. There's no rational reason why they should. The demise of those old display sites, and the failure of some of the new ones, proves that they don't.

The fee for eLiteraryAgent's service? It's steep--$195 a year. Other display sites charge less, including the big daddy of display sites, Authorlink, the sole survivor of the display site wars of the late 1990's. Authorlink also provides a lot more perks.

The man behind eLiteraryAgent actually has solid credentials, albeit in a specialized area. Fred N. Grayson runs American BookWorks Corporation, a packager that develops textbooks, test preparation manuals, and reference books for a number of major publishers. As legitimate as this company seems to be, however, reference and educational publishing are highly specialized segments of the market, very far from the trade publishing segment that is responsible for fiction and general nonfiction. Even if displaying manuscripts online and spamming editors were an effective method of marketing manuscripts, Mr. Grayson's educational/reference packaging expertise wouldn't necessarily translate into the expertise needed to market consumer books to trade publishers--or the ability to effectively negotiate trade book contracts and sell subsidiary rights (which e-LiteraryAgent claims the right to do--without detailing its terms--in the unlikely event that your book should sell as a result of a listing on its website).

I'm well aware that much of what I've said above has been said elsewhere on this blog, on the Writer Beware website, and in the various writers' forums where Ann and I participate. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, and I fear that our readers will get bored with the repetition. The problem is that the Internet encourages a short memory span (how many of you remember Themestream?), and failed schemes risen from the dead and claiming to be "new" are too often taken at their word. Even for writers with longer memories, it's a huge temptation to assume that new and supposedly improved iterations of bad old ideas have promise--especially where those bad ideas key into writerly frustrations and desires by promising an easy way around an obstacle. I wish I had a nickel for every writer who has emailed me to say that they know Writer Beware thinks Bookblaster is a bad idea, but what do we think about eQuery Online? Or that they know fee-charging agent X is bad news because she's on Writer Beware's 20 Worst List, but mightn't fee-charging Agent Y be on the level?

So, apologies for the reptition...but some warnings need to be given many more times than once.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- More Reasons Not to Use Automated Query Services

Bored with writing query letters? Sick of all the pesky research required to find appropriate agents? Tired of sticking stamps on envelopes or looking up email addresses? Wouldn't it be great if there were an easier way?

Never fear--a growing number of online services feel your pain. For a not-terribly-exorbitant fee, they'll do it all for you: identify agents and editors, format your query, send it out electronically. All you have to do is sit back and wait for the requests for your manuscript to roll in.

At least, that's the theory behind such automated query services as BookBlaster, eQuery Online, and Book Writer's Market. A variation on the theme is instantqueryletters.com, a software package that generates query letters for you (you have to figure out where to send them, though).

I eviscerated one of these services, Bookblaster, in a previous post. The reasons why you wouldn't want to use BookBlaster apply equally to any automated query service. To recap:

- Queries are sent electronically. Many agents and editors want paper submissions. This is rapidly changing, but right now, in 2006, sending an equery to an agent who wants paper is a waste of phosphors.

- The services provide no concrete info on how their lists of agents and editors are compiled--so you have no way of knowing whether the people on the lists are reputable. In fact, the larger the list, the more likely it is that they are not reputable. Book Writer's Market claims to have a database of "over 900" US-based agents--pretty much a guarantee that lots of them are agents you wouldn't want to query. (The AAR, the professional agents' trade group to which most selling agents in the USA belong, has around 400 members.)

- Many of the services don't bother to target the queries they send out, which means that most queries will go to agents who aren't appropriate. Even if the service claims to match queries with appropriate agents/editors, it's unlikely that they'll do as careful a job as you could.

If these considerations aren't enough to convince you, here's another. Automated query services piss agents and editors off.

Agent Matt Wagner of Fresh Books detests Bookblaster. If you Bookblast him, he won't even bother to send you a form rejection. VP and Executive Publisher Joe Wikert of John Wiley & Sons calls BookBlaster "a goofy idea," and editor Brian Seidman of New South Books agrees. In a comment on Matt Wagner's blog, Mr. Seidman says: "I have a special 'rule' set up in my mail program, that when emails arrive from Bookblaster, they go straight in the trash. I always tell querying authors, there's nothing more valuable than doing research on a publisher before you send a query."

Miss Snark has weighed in on BookBlaster ("I wondered where those e-queries came from when I'm pretty clear I don't take e-queries"), as has agent Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency. "The whole point of the query," she writes, "is the illusion of personalization. As agents, we all know that you write the main crux (as in the pitch blurb) once and then you simply tailor the opening paragraph to the agent you are targeting. Mix and match and email away. The point is to be professional enough (and savvy) to take the time to tailor the query letter so the agent knows he or she is not just some random target."

BookBlaster identifies itself in a little tag at the end of its queries (making it even easier for agents and editors to delete them). Another of the automated services, eQuery Online, does not identify itself; its queries appear to be coming directly from the writer. However, it uses the same formatting for all its queries, plugging information provided by the writer into a basic template. If an agent or editor receives enough of these, s/he will start to recognize them--and s/he won't be pleased. Like, for instance, Dan Lazar of Writer's House, whose rant about automated queries is posted at Agent Kristin's blog. "These presumptive and overly-familiar letters are driving me nutty; and I’ve been talking to more and more fellow agents who feel the same way." Agent Nadia Cormier of Firebrand Literary is one of them--and she is seriously annoyed.

Neither Mr. Lazar nor Ms. Cormier identify the source of the obnoxious queries. The reason I know they're coming from eQuery Online is that agent Ashley Grayson of the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency, who has been receiving the exact same emails, eventually became irritated enough to trace them to their source, and was kind enough to pass that information on to me. He has given me permission to quote him: "The act of authorship is one of relentless creativity. Why any writer would want to hand off the presentation of his or her work to a marketing flack is beyond me. When I see the same (cereal box) language reappear in queries, I simply reject without further reading."

So there you have it, writers: yet more proof that in the strange, inconsistent, frustrating world of publishing, there are no shortcuts.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 64 - Grammar DOES Count, My Friends...

Today, while helping a writer who had been scammed by Bouncin' Bobby, I exchanged a series of emails on what real publishing is like, what real agents are like, and why it's important to write and submit in a professional manner.

While this exchange was going on, this writer asked me to look at the first few pages of her story to see if I though it was ready to submit. I usually avoid doing this, because, in my experience, most aspiring writers really don't want to know your honest opinion of their writing. What they really WANT, as Robert Silverberg once cannily observed, is "five thousand words of closely reasoned adulation."

But I felt very sorry for this writer, who was polite and sweet and had been raked over the coals by Bouncin' Bobby. So...I agreed to read the first few pages of her story and tell her whether it was actually ready to be submitted (in other words, ready for her to try agent to get a real literary agent).

My response was a definite "sorry, no. It's not ready." I then went on to give her a few of the reasons why her story wasn't ready for submission. The reasons were the usual ones: lots of telling, almost no showing, clumsy style, stilted dialogue, etc. And, I also observed that she didn't know how to use commas, her other punctuation was faulty, words were frequently misused/misspelled, tenses were incorrect, and subject-verb agreement was shaky -- in other words, she needed a refresher course in English grammar and proper usage.

Since this writer was a nice lady, who is genuinely eager to learn, she didn't pout or get mad, bless her. But she did question my last comment, saying: "But I thought editors were there to fix the grammar. Why do I need to do that?"

Ahem.

(Note: This post is probably on way too low a level for most of our readers. Jane Yolen may safely skip this, and you too, P.N. Elrod. And so may a great many of the other readers. But the few who are reading this and wondering at this moment what's wrong with what the aspiring writer said, should LISTEN UP, because you need this post DESPERATELY.)

Here is the way of the world, my children, from the mouth of the Great Beware:

Editors are congenial souls, for the most part, who don't mind taking a pen and fixing the occasional typo, or incorrect tense usage, or subject-verb agreement. Anyone can make a boo-boo from time to time. Writers are expected to make such boo-boos RARELY. They're expected to use spell-check, and to proofread their work with great attention. But nobody is perfect, and editors understand this.

That said, editors just don't have time to give your manuscript a close read and red-pencil every line. Getting your manuscript relatively error-free is YOUR job as the author. It's NOT the editor's job.

And if correcting basic grammar isn't the editor's job these days, it sure as hell ain't the literary agent's! I suspect most literary agents who spot a fairly major grammatical mistake in the first paragraph of a manuscript are quite put off, unless the writing is stupendously wonderful in every other respect. Two such mistakes on the first page, and I would bet the agent stops reading.

It goes without saying that a query letter that has any significant grammatical or spelling errors is an instant rejection. (But I said it anyway, yes.) Query letters, I tell my students, must be LETTER PERFECT.

What can you do if people keep telling you that your grammatical skills are faulty? This is a thorny problem, I admit. Here are a couple of possible solutions:

1. Investigate some adult education classes in basic grammar. Maybe for people studying for their GED, or to get up to speed for college.

2. Buy some books on grammar and proper usage, and read them, study them, and then use them while checking over your old drafts. Review all the parts of speech, start from the ground up, if necessary.

3. Try your newly acquired editing skills on someone else's writing. It's much easier to spot another writer's mistakes than it is to find your own. A writing critique group might work for this.

4. If all else fails, find a topnotch editor with excellent teaching and grammatical skills and pay him/her to tutor you until you can read your own drafts and spot your mistakes. This could be costly, but without it you're nowhere.

Remember, if there is a "how to write" topic you would like me to address in the blog, just drop me a line at my email address: anncrispin@aol.com

Happy writing!

-Ann C. Crispin

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- News of the Weird

Many years ago, my husband and I met a couple who seemed like people we might want to get to know better. After we'd gone out to dinner together a couple of times, they told us that they knew about a terrific business opportunity that could really increase our income. Rob and I were just out of college; he had an entry level job and I was submitting my first novel. More income sounded great. However, when we asked for specifics, our new friends clammed up. They couldn't just tell us, they said. They had to show us. And they couldn't show us at their house--they had to come to ours. OK, we said, that's fine, but we'd at least like to know the name of the business. Uh uh, they said. That information couldn't be revealed unless we agreed to let them make their special visit.

By now, I'm sure that some of you will have guessed that the business was Amway.

Recently, on a writers' message board, I came across a series of posts announcing a fabulous promotional opportunity for writers of small press-published books (I'm not changing the subject--bear with me). A brand-new book club called BookWise was just getting underway, with the goal of eventually selling more books than Barnes & Noble online. Along with bestselling books published by commercial publishing houses, it planned to feature books by lesser-known authors. Anyone wanting to get involved was urged to contact the author of the posts for special information available only by email.

The messages, with their vague claims and repeated requests for direct contact, triggered a feeling of deja vu in me. So I did a bit of research, and located the BookWise website. (There's also another, less official-looking one.) Clicking on the "What is BookWise?" link took me to an animated trailer that crashed my browser; luckily, the FAQ page is plain old text.

So...what is BookWise? Quoting from the FAQ: "BookWise is a book club / network marketing company with a structure that is unique to both the book and network marketing industries. BookWise takes the best from both worlds to help our Associates build a library as well as a financial opportunity."

That's right. It's a multilevel marketing scheme. It's Amway for books.

Here's how it works. To join the club as an Associate, you pay a $39 enrollment fee. Thereafter, you're charged $35 per month (plus applicable taxes and shipping), with an annual renewal fee of $30. For that, you get a starter kit (a BookWise business guide, instructional CDs and DVDs, BookWise bumper stickers, BookWise brochures to hand out to your friends, and more) plus a variety of perks, including one hardcover book, the ability to buy additional books from the BookWise catalog at wholesale price, a newsletter, reduced fees at BookWise conferences, various online tools for managing your BookWise business, and "a minimum $1 donation to literacy and other charitable projects throughout the world."

As an Associate, you can re-sell the books you purchase from the BookWise catalog. You can sign up other Associates, and receive a commission on the books they buy, plus a one-time signing bonus. You can sign up Preferred Customers (people who want to participate in the book club but not the multilevel marketing scheme) and receive a commission on the books they buy. And if the Associates you've signed sign up Associates in their turn, you'll receive commissions on the books they buy. Commissions are paid to nine levels down. You're eligible to attend an annual conference, and if you're really successful (at least $50,000 monthly in commissionable sales), you get to go on an all-expense-paid annual retreat to some exotic location "for training and pleasure." (Hmmmm.)

I'm sure that it was a cinch to get publishers interested in this venture. It's not a bad thing for authors, either (some authors, anyway; the wording of the website suggests that the focus will be on bestsellers); and encouraging reading is great. Yet despite BookWise's noble mission statement (The Mission of BookWise & Company is to increase literacy, reading and access to great books through neighbor-to-neighbor book selling. We champion the spirit of the corner bookstore and embrace the values of the independent bookseller with a passion for great literature and the personal connection with friends who love to read), it's not hard to see that the main incentive for those who join the club won't be books, but the promise of cash. That's the lure of multilevel marketing schemes: not the product, but the scheme itself, and the opportunity to sell it to others. Certainly this seems to be the intent of my message board poster, a large part of whose website is devoted to BookWise dogma. In using small press-published authors' bottomless hunger for promotion as bait, you have to give him credit for coming up with a very smart angle. (The source of his claim appears to be one of the Associate perks: "A free downloadable book from a new [hoping to be discovered] author." This perk isn't available till 2007, and there's no word on how the authors will be chosen.)

It's also interesting to note that except for the CEO, Richard Paul Evans of The Christmas Box fame, none of the company's founders appear to have any connection to the book world. They're all entrepreneurs and marketers. None appear to be associated with not-for-profit organizations, either, despite BookWise's emphasis on charity.

Back to Rob's and my brush with a multilevel marketing scheme...our would-be sponsors came over as planned. They revealed to us the Secret Name of Amway (which wasn't a surprise: a friend had clued us in ahead of time), demoed some products, gave us a catalog from which we could order more, and explained how we could become Amway distributors ourselves. To be polite, we bought some cleaning fluid (it was more expensive, and worked no better, than the stuff we'd gotten at the supermarket), and said we'd consider it. I think Rob actually may have, for about five seconds. When they followed up a few days later, we told them we weren't interested. To their credit, they took us at our word. We never heard from them again.

Thus speaketh the Mighty Beware. Namaste.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 63 - Some of Our Faithful Readers...

...are the scammers themselves.

It's true. Writer Beware has proof that if we mention a topic in here, or put an agency on our 20 Worst Agents List, the scammers read about it and react.

Several of the scammers who are currently on the 20 Worst Agents List have changed their names, probably as an attempt to get victims after the "prey" was warned off by our listing them. It's a good thing Victoria updates the list frequently, listing each new incarnation of the agency.

And scammers do attempt to address criticisms or ridicule we've leveled at them. Several times, as you've seen, they have actually come to the blog itself to make their displeasure known. Sometimes it's just a shill, like that poor schlub who continued to defend Barbara Bauer despite having lost thousands to her over a period of years.

Cris Robins has shown up here, and Barbara Bauer. We also know that Melanie Mills reads the blog. I suspect the fact that her listing on Lulu.com was pulled is related to Victoria's last post.

It's also interesting to note how this blog, and our warnings, are reflected in the boilerplate "correspondence" some scammers send out. Bouncin' Bobby, (who holds more spots on the 20 Worst Agencies List than anyone else, what a dubious honor!) has a special email he sends out to victims who begin to question his operation after a visit to Writer Beware sites, or after corresponding with me or Victoria. In his email, (written under various names or aliases) he slams the "watchdogs," claiming that both Victoria and I are "unsuccessful writers" who are jealous of his success record. He also claims that the most successful literary agencies average ONE book sale a year. He points to his "track record" of having allegedly made FOUR "sales" (and if you dig, you find out this claim is, at best, shaky, and in at least one of the cases, a fabrication) in five years of operation, as proving that his agencies are the cream of the crop.

Fortunately, most people who get this apologia have awakened and begun sniffing the java, and Bobby's rationalizations only hammer the nails into the coffin of their determination to sever all ties (and, more importantly, NOT to pay him any more!).

If you think about it, being slammed and threatened is sort of a bass-akwards compliment. If Writer Beware didn't constitute a tangible threat to their income stream, the scammers surely wouldn't bother.

Of course, Vic and I dream of the day when EVERYONE will be in the know, and the scams will wither and blow away, dried up and starved under the spotlight of public exposure and knowledge.

If that day ever happened, maybe we could hang up our verbal guns, retire our database, and spend more time than we currently do on our own books. Wouldn't that be great?

But I don't see it happening any time soon, unfortunately. Right now we often feel like we're playing "whackamole." As soon as one scam agency is finished, either from being starved out of existence by lack of victims (and income) or investigated and put out of business by the authorities, it seems like two more spring up to take its place.

Ah, well, that's okay. We're in it for the long haul.

Hope everyone's writing is going well! Remember, if you have any writing questions you'd like addressed here in the blog, just drop me a line. I love writing little essays on writing topics. You can reach me at: anncrispin@aol.com or c/o the Writer Beware email address, beware@sfwa.org

Have a great week, y'all!

-Ann C. Crispin

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- MM Rides Again

Re: Ann's musings on writers who become scammers...how about scammers who become writers?

Remember crazy conwoman-turned-literary agent/fake writers' conference organizer Melanie Mills, a.k.a. Elisabeth von Hullessem, a.k.a. Lisa Hackney, currently going by the rather unwieldy sobriquet of Raswitha Elisabeth Melanie Mills (Remmi for short)? Remember how, having finally been extradited back to Arkansas from Canada to face the six charges (including first degree battery and aggravated assault) she dodged in a 1999 bail jump, she attempted to shop a manuscript called The MM Journals, supposedly based on her life story? Since she sent it to legitimate agents, it's reasonable to suppose that her ambition was commercial publication.

She seems to have gone a different route.

Be sure to check out the photos at the bottom of the page. I think it's a safe bet that she is not the blonde in the bustier.