How do you dodge bad publicity on the Internet? You change your name. Or at least you do if you're a certain many-tentacled "literary agency" on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List.
But first, a brief history lesson.
Once upon a time, there was a small non-fee-charging literary agency called Sydra-Techniques. In 2000, it was sold to a dark wizard named Robert Fletcher, who'd previously gotten in trouble for some very bad magic in the state of Washington (he was fined for securities fraud). Fletcher waved his staff of sorcery, and poof! Little Sydra-Techniques was transformed into a fee factory employing a boiler-room approach, with writers getting identical form emails and responses depending on what questions they asked or where they were in the process. Complaints Writer Beware has received over the years include requiring writers to buy a critique as a condition of representation (the critique company is described as a "sister" company but in fact is part of the agency), recommendations for paid editing costing as much as $2,000, recommendations to buy other paid services (a website for $140, children's book illustrations for $300, an "Aggressive Agent Program" that charges around $19 per publisher submission), and disseminating outrageous misinformation (such as the claim that most agencies have only one or two sales to their credit) in order to entrap victims. Writer Beware has never found a commercial sale for any of Fletcher's agencies in the entire time they have been in business, despite the agencies' claims to the contrary.
Things might have moved along merrily for our black magical fee factory had it not been for fearsome white wizards Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors, whose public and private warnings about Fletcher's activities caused him to change the agency's name twice in an effort to dodge bad publicity: in 2002 to ST Literary Agency, and in 2003 or thereabouts to Stylus Literary Agency. This bit of name conjuring wasn't enough to keep him ahead of the fast-spreading news of the agency's dubious dealings, though, and in early 2005 Fletcher worked the same trick on a much larger scale, inventing a parent group called The Literary Agency Group, under whose evil umbrella nestled five brand-new baby agencies--Children's Literary Agency, Christian Literary Agency, New York Literary Agency, Poet's Literary Agency, and The Screenplay Agency. An editing service was also part of the happy family: Writers Literary & Publishing Services Co., previously called My Editor is a Saint. Stylus was initially included in this group, but over the ensuing months it was allowed to fade away like a forgotten enchantment, no doubt in hopes that the complaints associated with it would also disappear.
But Fletcher had worked his magic too well. While it's frustrating that the most callous and egregious scams never lack for victims, the flip side is that they piss people off a whole lot more than scams that operate at a lower level, or take more trouble to fool their victims. The links above are just the tip of the iceberg of Internet discussion of Fletcher's operations. Word has definitely gotten around.
So it's not really surprising that Fletcher is yet again dressing his empire up in new clothes. Introducing Writers Literary Agency, whose URL was registered just this month (and whose website template is a variant of the one used for the other agencies). According to WLA's About Us page, "The Writers' Literary Agency & Marketing Company has recently acquired The Literary Agency Group." Uh huh. A name change is in the works for the other agencies as well; per the Submissions page of WLA's website, they will all get a prefix. So instead of Children's Literary Agency, it'll be Writers Literary Children's Agency. There's also Writers Literary Poets Agency and Writers Literary Screenplay Agency. A similar metamorphosis may be in the works for Christian Literary Agency, though as yet there's no sign of it. As for New York Literary Agency, "Writers Literary New York Agency" is a bit of a mouthful. Given the notoriety of that particular branch of the operation, I wouldn't be surprised to see it fade away, a la Stylus.
So there you have it: yet another new face for this old trick. For the good of writers everywhere, please link to this post, or publicize the information in it. I'm off to update the Thumbs Down Agency List...again.