Monday, December 21, 2009

Drewlie & Julia: Or, The Case of the Alias'd Literary Agent

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last August, I received several emails from writers who’d had a very strange experience.

They’d submitted to a literary agent in Boston called Sara Levine, only to be informed by Levine's assistant, a few weeks later, that Levine had died suddenly of a heart attack. The regretful assistant suggested they contact Levine’s colleague, Julia Levin of the Florida-based Julia Levin Literary Agency, who was taking over Levine's business. Other writers who'd submitted to Sara Levine were approached by Julia Levin herself, with much the same story.

No one had ever heard of Julia Levin before. Her profiles on MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook (the only info that could be found on her, online or off) indicated that she'd been in business since 2005, both on her own and as a co-agent with Sara Levine. In emails to prospective clients, as well as in a September Open House on Facebook, through which she hoped to add to her agency roster, she reported a number of recent book sales to major publishers.

However, there were some discrepancies. According to Sara Levine's LinkedIn profile, Sara had been an agent only since March 2009--which made Julia's claim that the two of them had been co-agents since 2005 a bit puzzling. On investigation, none of Julia’s listed clients turned out to be published. Her sales claims didn't check out either--not just because no trace of either book titles or authors could be found, but because she reported selling to imprints that didn't exist, or that didn't accept the kind of book she said she'd sold. And the physical address she gave for her agency turned out to be bogus.

Writers began to smell a rat, and to say so in public. Complaints appeared on LinkedIn. One fed-up writer posted on her blog about her experience with Sara and then with Julia. Questions erupted on Julia's Facebook forum. Why the inconsistencies in Julia's professional info? Why the fake address? The weirdness of Sara dropping dead and Julia emerging out of thin air began to look even weirder--could Sara and Julia, with only an “e” of difference between their last names, possibly be the same person?

Apparently it all got to be too much for poor Julia. By mid-September, she'd deleted all her profiles, and vanished from the Internet.

Then, toward the end of September, I started getting questions about another Florida-based agent called Drew Montgomery, of Drew Montgomery Literary Associates. I'd never heard of Drew before, but a bit of Googling turned up profiles on MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook. According to the info there, Drew had been in business since 2000, had trained at the Glen Cravits Agency, and had recently made a number of sales to major publishing houses.

Ah, but those pesky inconsistencies. Drew didn’t provide authors or titles, so her sales claims couldn't be verified--plus, some of the publishers' names were mis-spelled or not quite correct, something you'd think an experienced literary agent would not get wrong. There was no trace of publication for any of Drew's named clients. Attempting to research the Glen Cravits Agency produced no evidence that it had ever existed. Drew's West Palm Beach snail mail address turned out to be a Barnes & Noble store elsewhere in Florida. And, oh yes--Drew had just announced an Open House event on Facebook, in order to recruit new clients.

This all seemed eerily familiar, and within a few days, I found out why. The owner of an agent tracking website emailed me to say that he'd been recently contacted by the now-vanished Julia Levin about a listing, which he refused because she couldn't prove she'd made any sales. About a week later, Drew Montgomery approached him with the same request. Since she couldn't prove any sales either (in contradiction to her various profiles, she claimed to be a brand-new agent), he gave her the same response. He happened to notice something odd, however: Drew's IP address was identical to Julia's.

So it seemed that Julia was attempting to rise again, under an (another?) assumed name.

Through October, I got a trickle of email inquiries about Drew, to which I responded with the info above (in condensed form). Then in November, I posted a warning to an Absolute Write discussion thread about Drew and her agency. A few days later, someone claiming to be one of Drew's clients showed up to defend her wonderful, terrific, fabulous agent against AW's cowardly attacks.

Now, this isn't an uncommon occurrence on AW, where discussion of marginal agents and publishers often spurs the emergence of sockpuppets, who not infrequently turn out to be the agents or publishers themselves, posting under aliases. But this sockpuppet event was especially amusing, because not only was the sockpuppet posting from Drew’s IP address, she was using Drew’s previous name. That's right: To defend herself against criticism, fake agent Drew Montgomery chose to present herself as fake client Julia Levin--despite the fact that, six posts up, I'd provided a complete account of her exploits under that name.

Called on this inept bit of attempted subterfuge, Drew/Julia did not back down (the caps are all hers).

I have no idea what is going on here. I have never been, nor have I ever claimed to be a literary agent. I AM NOT A LITERARY AGENT AND WOULD NEVER IN MY LIFE SAY THAT I AM A LITERARY AGENT. I AM A WRITER. I WRITE BOOKS AND THAT'S ALL I DO AND DREW MONTGOMERY IS MY LITERARY AGENT. I HAVE NO IDEA WHY OUR IP ADDRESSES MATCH OR WHY PEOPLE SEEM TO THINK DREW IS ME OR THAT DREW IS THIS OTHER JULIA. IT'S A MYSTERY TO ME. ALL I KNOW IS THAT DREW IS AN HONEST, HARD WORKING, DEDICATED, AND PROFESSIONAL AGENT WHO IS TRYING TO DO HER JOB DESPITE ALL THIS IDIOCY ABOUT HER NOT BEING WHO SHE SAYS SHE IS. BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER. DREW MONTGOMERY IS A GOOD AGENT AND I AM HAPPY TO BE HER CLIENT. PEOPLE SHOULD CARE MORE ABOUT FINDING THE REAL SCAMMERS AND LEAVE GOOD AGENTS LIKE DREW TO THEIR JOB.

JULIA LEVIN


You can imagine what happened next. Julia-Levin-the-client vanished in a puff of smoke, just like Julia-Levin-the-agent. Within a few days, Drew Montgomery was gone as well, all her social media profiles deleted.

Since then, I've been keeping my eye out for recurrences. There’ve been none so far...or have there? Doing research for this post today, I discovered something ominous: a LinkedIn listing for Drew Montgomery at The Montgomery Literary Agency. A sensible person might think it wise not to use that name again (even though she has changed the name of the agency)--but Drew, or whoever she is, has not proven herself to be very sensible. Or perhaps she’s just thrifty with her aliases.

What is it that cops say? It's a good thing so many criminals are so dumb.

35 comments:

Gwen Stickle said...

Thanks for the heads up. I really appreciate all your effort in helping writers like me to avoid trouble.

Jane Smith said...

Victoria, reading your post I wondered if it was April Fool's day and not nearly Christmas. This is one of the best stories I've read yet on how doubtful agents behave.

If I didn't know how meticulous you are in your research I'd wonder if you'd made this one up. It's one of the best ones, and you've made my Christmas with it!


Thanks for this. Have a lovely holiday. And let me know how the story of Drewlie and Julia develops, because I'll be waiting to watch this unfold.

annerallen said...

If you put this in a novel, everybody would say it's waayy to far-fetched. Using the same aliases over and over? Totally unbelievable. What crook would be that stupid? And the language of those emails and posts--giving absolutely no specifics of what this "good agent" has done, or why Sarah/Julia liked the initial novel--not believable. A real crook would throw in some facts to avoid suspicion. Right?

Truth seems to be not only stranger than fiction, but stupider.

C.E. Petit said...

Unfortunately, this is just the con artist's extension of the "I don't have to be faster than the bear -- just faster than you" meme:

A con artist doesn't really have to be smarter than the cops -- just smarter (or more sophisticated in a narrow area) than the marks.

Kimberly Unger said...

What I can't fathom is *why* all the subterfuge and mucking about? Is this person looking to steal others finished ms and submit them to pubs under their own name? Are they selling ms on the sly overseas? Are they looking to break into the industry as an agent by having a laundry list of work to rep? What could possibly be the end-game here?

Bradley Robb said...

Victoria,

I love it when you get all detective on these people. I'm thinking that perhaps you should get a magnifying glass for the holidays.

Thanks for keeping the internet safe.

steeleweed said...

I sense an idea for a mystery novel lurking somewhere in this tale...

Valerie Geary said...

This just gives me the willies!! Thanks for keeping us informed!

Deb said...

One wonders what's the point? She (1) doesn't actually exist; (2) doesn't have a name she consistently uses; (3) is or isn't an agent. What's to gain for this person or persons? I suppose if any writers successfully contacted this non-agent agency, they'd be asked for money, and that would vanish quick as a rabbit plans a family.

You'd also think by now they'd realize we writers TALK TO EACH OTHER. Sheesh.

Nominee for the Darwin Award, anyone?

--Deb said...

It amazes me what people will do ... and think they CAN do ... just because they're on the other side of a keyboard.

A year or two ago a woman who sold hand-dyed yarn to knitters told everyone that she couldn't meet her orders because she had cancer, but would still try to do so in her weakened state, and of course, everyone immediately said, "Sure, we understand. We'll be patient." Well, the service got worse and worse, and then came the news ... the woman had died, but her husband would now try to keep the business running ...

Except ... it wasn't true. She had never been ill, was certainly still alive (because knitters with internet access were spotting her at the bank or in grocery stores). She was just apparently really bad at running a business.

Sigh. Do these kind of people get points for originality? No? I didn't think so. At least the stories are entertaining ... so long as you're not one of the schmucks who got sucked into the lies. Thank you for keeping track of these!

Victoria Strauss said...

Kimberly Unger said,

What I can't fathom is *why* all the subterfuge and mucking about?

It's Literary Agent, the Role-Playing Game. Granted, Drew/Julia was unusually dumb in the way she went about it, but there are a lot of other players out there.

In this case, the con artist wasn't smarter than the marks, which is why she torpedoed herself. Twice.

One thing you never need to worry about with dishonest or amateur agents is that they'll steal your manuscript, or secretly peddle it overseas, or any of the other variations of theft that writers worry about. If they had even the remotest ability to sell anything, they wouldn't need to do what they do.

Victoria Strauss said...

--Deb, your yarn lady isn't the only one to use death as an excuse for nonperformance--I know of at least two literary agents who claimed to be dead in order to get pesky clients off their backs. One later blew her cover by forgetting which clients she'd reported her death to, and answering the phone when they called. The other later turned up in Canada, under a different name.

Jeannie said...

"What could possibly be the end-game here?"

Fees to authors. Kick-backs for referrals to other scam artists. There are a lot of ways for someone like this to make money without ever selling a manuscript.

Lynnette Kraft said...

Weird. I imagine that happens more than we even realize - well, maybe not quite that - but we live in a world of weirdos.

This is my first time to your blog and I'm going to take a look around.

So nice to meet you!
Lynnette
Dancing Barefoot on Weathered Ground

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

Psueicide (n): 1. The act of faking your own death on the internet. 2. The act of killing off your internet sockpuppet.

Anonymous said...

What I find weird is that these people think they can get away with it when they know people like you are on the hunt.

Why use the same aliases, same agency names and same modi operandi? Sometimes they just make your work to spot them too easy.

C.J. Atsavinh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C.J. Atsavinh said...

Oh this is one of the reasons that fantasy can be a dangerous tool in a fool's hands. This person is obviously a fool. Who would believe a true agent would portray themselves in such a way? Thank goodness you are out there researching such things and looking out for us. A professional agent knows they have to present themselves in a appealing why to get decent clients just like we, as writers, have to impress them with our talent.

I can't wait to see the rest of this unfold. It's like watching a Soap Opera. I can't stop laughing.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! (I couldn't resist not using caps. I was inspired.)

S.M. Carrière said...

Thanks once again for your work and the information. You're doing writers everywhere an incredible service.

Susan Quinn said...

This is why people fear the evil genius - if you had some smarts, you might actually be able to get away with stuff (unless you get Writer Beware on your tail!).

True story: A bank robber escaped from police custody in our neighborhood (really, it's a nice neighborhood, I swear, but I digress). He was being transferred from one jail to another and gave the cops the slip. A manhunt ensued, during which the bank-robber roamed from town to neighboring town, hijacking cars and generally scaring everyone. Finally, he decided to raise some funds to finance his escape by . . . robbing a bank . . . the same one he robbed the first time!

Needless to say, he was caught. I guess he was thinking, "It worked before . . . "

Thanks for giving us the heads-up!

Donna Gambale said...

I've heard of these scams but never learned about one in such detail. I'm honestly amazed at the ridiculousness of it all. Thanks so much for sharing! And Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

AN the biggest scam and hoax of all was miss snark the literary agent, invented by a bunch of shills for the pubishing industry

Eileen said...

Victoria, after reading your post and then the link (when I was supposed to have been writing, of course) I have another "hunch" to add to this sad, but comic scenario. I don't think that the eponymous writer "Julia Levin" who gave her elevator speech for her romance novel is a "she" but rather a "he." Notice that the protagonist is actually the guy, the reformed "poacher" (not to mention the irony of poacher to the would-be writers/agents dead and alive).

Yes, I'm throwing this "gut" feeling into the mix. Thanking you for keeping writers informed and amused by scams (even those of us who believe we are too sophisticated to fall for the likes of any of them), and getting back to getting started writing.

Happy Holidays!
Eileen

Anonymous said...

Gees, in this day and age? Maybe someone could have gotten away with this (whatever the final goal is) before the internet, but now? The multiple personas reminds me of a now defunct publisher whose company started with an M -- she had something like 23 Myspace personas who all talked to each other about how wonderful she was.

The writer thing caught my attention though. There was one author out there who really wanted to be with a NY house but was getting nowhere so she became an "agent" and signed several other authors who wanted that golden carrot. What better way (she seemed to be thinking) to get her foot in the door with a publisher than to sign other authors and appear to be trying to have them signed.

This whole story had my head spinning and that was with it being well told.

What a nutball.

G said...

Thanks for the fun filled heads up.

Comforting to know that there's people like you to help newbies like me (who is once again testing the publishing waters after a three year hiatus) successfully navigate the turbulent seas called publishing.

Maryann Miller said...

It is so disheartening to read that yet more people are trying to take advantae of writers. This type of phoney agent scam has been going on as long as I have been in the business, and that's a long time.

Thanks goodness there are people like you who research this and put warnings out there.

Marian said...

I was also wondering what Sara/Julia/Drew got out of the charade. I guess even if clients weren't actually paying, the fact that they needed her and were grateful to her might have been enough for someone attention-hungry.

behlerblog said...

Victoria, thanks for exposing yet another scumbag. What I can't figure out is why these nutjobs do this. They aren't charging the authors money, are they?

If there is no financial gain, what's the point of this charade? Do people do this because they are escapees from Ma 'n Pa Kettle's Down Home Nuttery, and they're late for their personalized straight jacket and lobotmy?

Sally Zigmond said...

You are totally right to warn us all about this person. I wonder, however, whether s/he is mentally ill?

Someone with delusions of being a literary agent, maybe but hasn't a clue what one actually does? Or maybe someone with a severe personality disorder who likes to create havoc?

Such an individual causes problems for many people but the real victim is him or herself.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

As a writer of non-fiction I found this story stranger than any fiction could be! It had me laughing, but it is also quite sad, and I tend to agree with Sally Zigmond that this person just might have a mental disorder which could benefit from treatment. Some people crave attention and seek it in bizarre ways. I have to, in the end, feel sorry for this person. Yet that does not excuse the fraud perpetrated on innocent victims.

What a weird world. Happy New Year, Victoria, and keep up the great work!

Bethany Wiggins said...

Why would someone do this??? What an idiot. Thank you for keeping us informed.

maudelynn said...

I am so confused as to why someone would do this. What would the faux agent gain? Such odd behaviour on her part. Thank you for letting us know about all of this.

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

I know a writer who got stuck in this scam - and she caught on and moved on, and warned others, thank goodness. We shared the news on Backspace.

I also saw at least one problematic agency advertising on the Huffington Post Books section - and alerted their editor.

You'd think scam agents would find something else to do - thank goodness for eagle eyes and sites like this.

Happy New Year. KIM

Anonymous said...

Levin/Levine/Mongomery is now using the alias Jane Dowry and is using the name as the name of her "literary agency". http://www.janedowaryagency.mozello.com/

This is a create-your-own website.

This is the dumbest con I've ever seen because she puts her name Julia Levin in parentheses beside her new alias.

Two volumes short of a trilogy.

Anonymous said...

It's sad that this con artist is getting away with this. I hope Victoria writes another blog about her (or update this one).