Monday, February 26, 2007

Victoria Strauss--The Scam-peror's New Clothes

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.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I'm disappointed that they don't have a Writers Literary Preditors Agency yet. :(

~Nancy said...

It's a wonder this guy manages to stay in business. But I suppose changing the business name(s) every few years is what puts some people off the track.

::sigh::

Linked to this entry this morning.

~JerseyGirl

Anonymous said...

He must be on a first name basis with the local tax office people, considering he has to go in and register a DBA each time he changes the names.

Speaking of taxes--I wonder what his 1040A and self-employment forms declare. If he's so cheerfully cheating neo writers he could be disposed toward cheating Uncle Sam.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, good dodge, Bobby. No one would ever guess.

Good point about the taxes, Anon; the
IRS ought to start investigating these scam artists. A lot of crooks have been caught through tax evasion.

It's good to know you scam-busters et al are hurting Bouncing Bobby and PA. Keep up the excellent work, and thank you.

adrienne said...

It's getting to the point of ridiculousness with this guy. What is his problem? This can't just be a money making thing, it's all about power. It's pathetic. And some day he'll get his due.

Frank Baron said...

I dunno about power. Ego is definitely involved though. Bobby likes to think he's clever and he sees every victim's cheque as an ode to his grey matter.

But Bobby is actually a bit of a dim bulb. It's why he leaves clodhopper-sized footprints over the net for the Good Guys to track.

He doesn't understand that it doesn't take smarts to con good-hearted people -- it just takes a reptilian lack of conscience.

Judy Schneider said...

Unbelievable! I'm not surprised he's starting up an agency with a Christian name (why would he leave that market untapped?), especially with his previous entry of "My Editor is a Saint." That's sick! Wonder what he'll come up with next. My Agent, the Angel?

Heather said...

You know, coming right off the internet towards this site, I would be impressed, right up until I read this part:

Q) My manuscript isn't finished....
A) As long as there is enough finished to determine your skills as a writer we are willing to look at your work. As mentioned previously, we take a long term view and we are willing to develop talent.


NO agent worth a damn is going to take on ANYONE who hasn't finished their damn manuscript, because they know it's a waste of time and effort to do so.

Anonymous said...

I am new to the industry and web searched for a Christian Agency - Found New York Christian Agency and the site said it was combined with New York Literary Agency. I did get the information on a critique etc. There e-mail said at some time we have to truest each other and the only fee is the crique fee. Just for info.
Thanks for this site - I wish I would have found it before the other. God Bless

Anonymous said...

Eventually they will go down. This article shows another local scammer exposed for the same things they do:

http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/news/investigations/ellis/article_1597148.php

Anonymous said...

http://www.ocregister.com
/ocregister/news
/investigations/ellis
/article_1597148.php

Nigel Waters said...

This is incredible.

I cannot believe that Robert Fletcher is still running his literary scam operation. Like a contemporary seven-headed cyber-hydra, I've watched it morph from Sydra to ST to Stylus, to NYLA, all the while amazed at his brazen cunning.

I recall reporting him and Sydra-Techniques to the FTC, which was an absolute waste of time. It is plainly obvious that the government doesn't care.

One has to admire the guy, he certainly has "chutzpah", and is apparently "bulletproof".

Incidentally, if you recall, I'm the guy who uncovered his securities fraud troubles with relation to byteaudio, and sent it out to those interested via a zipfile years back.

Nevertheless, I wish everyone good luck in getting that egotistical clown, I for one don't care anymore.

Shiva the Destroying Angel

irishcats said...

I must have sucker written on my forehead, how they see it I don't know, but I have not one but three scams artists try to scam me but fortunately I didn't loose any money. I found out first thanks to writers beware and P&E. What I want to know is: Is there any honest agents out there who want a new writer of suspense/thriller stories. I was published in 1973 in a text book.
Thank you
Irishcats

Anonymous said...

I have been going along with NYLA and submitted my manuscript; paid the fee for a critique and am now waiting for a sale. Silly me only started to research the company att his late stage. My concern is my copyright. They have my manuscript and I am tied to a 1 year contract. If only I had done my research earlier. They say that "anything that looks too god to be true..."

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous at 5/17/2007 10:17AM:

I was "almost" in your position by the skin of my teeth. WL has my entire manuscript. But I "hollered" at my editor when WL requested a fee to "polish" my manuscript because I had already paid my editor to edit and critique it. He yanked the cover off WL. So, I didn't sign the contract, and I respectfully declined their offer to represent me. WL has not responded to my e-mail rejection. I wonder why? =) But I'm worried they can sell my work, with or without, using another unwitting writer.

Victoria Strauss said...

But I'm worried they can sell my work, with or without, using another unwitting writer.

Don't give this another thought. A good agency won't risk ruining its reputation by stealing; a bad agency isn't interested in your work, only in your money. WL could not care less about your writing. Anyway, if it could sell anything, it wouldn't have to charge all those fees.

Theft is a perennial concern among new writers, but it really should be last on the worry list.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I too have been unbelivably gullible and handed over my 'independent critique' fee and signed the contract, completely taken in by the 'we have to trust each other at some point' comment, presumably I have to write off the fee,cancel the contract and as Victoria says don't have too many worries that they will publish my work as they are not in the least bit interested in that, well now I feel VERY stupid!!!

Anonymous said...

I fell for the same scam. I should have known, when they responded so readily to my childrens' book submission. They didn't even use a reference number, which should have been a big red flag. When Googling "Childrens Literary Agencies" WL Writer's Agency comes up first. Too bad Google couldn't put a stop to that!

I paid a $78 critiquing fee, however placed a stop-payment on it, so I am out $30 bucks to the bank, and a slightly bruised ego! (I think the contract I signed with them isn't worth the paper it was printed on, so this aspect doesn't intimidate me. They could care less about my story!)

Thanks for the great warning!

Al D. Wiser

Lorenzo said...

Hello there all scammed friends!

Below you find my letter to the infamous Bobby of Writer's Literary Agency. Enjoy!

"Dear Robert Fletcher,

This is really quite funny. It was only when a friend of mine asked me for the email address to "my" agent that I actually took the pains to check out the Writer's Literary Agency on the net. And found out what it is all about! Ironically, I believe the saga of your business practice would be a real hit on the contemporary literary market - it's hilarious! - so if you send me the synopsis of your life-story maybe we can work it out together. And sell it!!!!!!!!

All my life I have been fascinated by con-artists and I seem to have nothing against letting myself be duped by them from time to time. My only question is: with all this word of mouth on the net, is the number of gullible people like me really enough to allow you to make a substantial revenue from them? I mean, it only really takes a round on the Google to find out what the "agency" is all about. I don't know why I never did. Anyway, I am amazed at your energy. Maybe we could meet up sometime, have a drink and a good laugh (I won't hold it against you that you took some $100 out of my pocket, but the drink's gotta be on you!!), since I have business in West Palm, and Boca is just next to it? Let me know if you're up for it.

I believe one of the keys to your success (if ever there was one!) to be the long and detailed introductory letter that nobody would ever care to read through, with all its fine points, such as "our lawyers like it that way". "At some point we really have to start trusting each other" (hmmm... that's a goodie!). I mean, it must be absolutely essential to your strategy that a significant percentage of all the people seeking representation trusts you at face value - just as I did! Your business plan might thus be perfect, considering that writers so desperately want to believe they are finally appreciated by someone. Like Max Bialystok in "The Producers" you give hopeless script writers a "last thrill" on the way to the cemetery!

Wow, this has been quite a trip. I guess I just wanted it that way. Wanted to believe. I mean there is not even ONE listed published book on your website, and still we all just want to believe in you!!

All my best to Sherry, Georgina and the rest of the really very friendly staff. You've got some great family out there.

See you!

Lars"

Steven said...

He (they) stay in business because there are so many people that think they can (or wish, desire to etc.) write. Thankfully there are warnings throughout the web that are fairly easy to find. I typed "writers lit" and Google offered "writers literary agency scam". That was my first clue. Glad I didn't send my book. "Whoever is faithful in little will be faithful in much." The converse is also true.

Anonymous said...

I feel like such an idiot. I just sent them an agent query letter, a synopsis, sample of my book, and artwork. I am so disappointed. I started work on this project in 2000. How stupid. I was just so anxious to have someone see it now that it is finished. I should have looked them up before I submitted my work to these cretins. Is there anything I can do to make sure they do not steal my work? I have save the email showing the attachments.

Liam said...

Thanks for scaring the pants off of me. While I already had a critique to offer I did not take the offered service. After reading all this, and other sites, I sent an email stating a concern and then found this phone number where I left a message.
Good luck to all of you writer's.


For more information please email Publisher @ WritersLiterary.com or call 888-808-6193.

Anonymous said...

I just read over the initial response letter sent to my girl friend. I can see that there are some problems. Critique fees in the thousands? wow

Missha said...

www.StrategicBookPublishing.com well now that I fugured that the WL literary agency is a scam and fraud which gets me very dissapointed I guess that the publisher that they got me in touch with whom had the same format in their home page and submission form which the LW...so I gues this is the new face and cover of this huge fraud no?....
Hope I can help so noone will get also as dissapointed as I ... now to search again for someone willing to read. I¨m very dissapointed I want to cry...

Anonymous said...

I just found this agency 10 minutes ago and thought it sounded good... too good in fact to be true, so I googled it after I left the site and I'm glad I did. NOTHING but bad stuff has been written about this agency. Any agency that charges a fee (including 'referring' you to an editing agency) is always a scam. Thanks for the heads up guys! I sent in my query already because I'm curious to see when and how they start asking for the money because I guarantee you that they will, and when they do, I'll post it here to prove once again, they are a scam.

r.

Anonymous said...

thanks to this blog, i have avoided this scam, I have decided it's time to fight back agianst scammers - join the fight http://catchtheconmenandshamethem.wordpress.com/

molly said...

I'm feeling lucky! I found an agent for my first book and almost imediately was invited to forward my manuscript. Well, call me sceptical but it just didn't seem the same as other publishers/agents as they all seemed to be inundated with manuscripts - and not too encouraging as far as their strict rules for submissions were concerned.
Wl agency were different, so helpful, encourageing, caring, and willing to take time with me to assist, should my work be less than acceptable for publishing. Of course, I would be delighted to have my book published andd call myself an author - wouldn't we all? so part of me was still tempted.
Since the site stipulated that they don't have a contact address, or even a phone number, I thought I'd check it out - and discovered this page....So I'm feeling lucky!

Thanks to all reports, I'm so grateful.

Amanda said...

I also have been scammed as my book was published this year. So far, I have just paid editing costs! I am also concerned about copywrite as I want to cancel my contract. I live in Dunedin, New Zealand and had a strange email from a man in Florida called Samuel Peterson. I wonder if there is a link. I do beleive money dose not necessarily buy happiness and Robert will get what he deserves. As Stan sais from Australian Idol, 'there is a little black box somewhere out in the ocean that reveals all the things about us'

Amanda Pringle 'As One'

Anonymous said...

Well Writers Literary Agents haven't changed a bit. I got as far as getting a contract sent to me and getting an email from the critique agency, strangely that was from the same company. That sent up a massive red flag for me so I checked them out. I'm very thankful for all the info out there on the "bad guys" I feel sorry for all those who have been stung by this guy, surely he can't keep going too much longer can he??

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I just fall for this. I've already paid them my critique fees, and now they are asking me to pay for editing. Knowing my editor did a good job with my work, and I asked for another re-read just to be sure. It was there, he told me they were a scam!! But you know what, I'm going to make it a hell for them, because now that I know, I'll be writing to them and making them pay for what they are about to do to me!!