Friday, January 29, 2010

Cris Robins and The Robins Agency: She's Ba-aaack!

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware 

Once upon a time, there was a self-styled literary agent named Cris Robins who ran a purported literary agency called The Robins Agency. For more than ten years, Robins charged editing fees, levied various upfront fees, and, as far as Writer Beware can determine, never made a single verifiable commercial book sale. Complaints about her were among the first Writer Beware collected when we began operation in 1998. Due to the volume of these complaints and the length of time over which they were received, we placed her on our Thumbs Down Agency List in 2006.

That same year, shortly after an unhappy recipient of her editing services won an $8,000 judgment against her for breach of contract, fraudulent business practice, and consumer protection violations, Robins closed her agency's doors. For a time, she continued to solicit her services to writers--in 2007, I got a number of reports from authors who received emails with offers of editing services and the "packaging" of manuscripts for submission to publishers. By 2008, however, Robins had gone silent. Writer Beware dared to hope that The Robins Agency was out of business for good.

But being a fee-charging agent is so easy and so lucrative that many of those who practice it find it difficult to give up. This week, I learned that Robins is once again soliciting writers with offers of fee-based representation.

Robins' email begins:
After a three-year hiatus, The Robins Agency is now accepting new clients. Oh, sure, we still offer a full editorial staff and exceptional literary agents to present your work to publishers and movie producers here and abroad, but this year we’re kicking off a brand new service that sells your books … when buyers want to buy them – like right now.

Our agency shook up the industry when we offered our clients an editorial service, rocked it even more when we charged a retainer for our services; and now, well, now watch out because this is going to be revolutionary!!
A bit of hyperbole here--Robins was prolific in her editorial referrals and her retainer, at $3,200 was astronomical, but her agency was far from the only one that followed such practices. Still, you've got to admire the spin.
Who ever heard of a literary agency that also published books?? Sure, you can find the under-the-table deals; but The Robins Agency is talking about above-board, in-your-face, quality work that lists on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, complete with cover designs, ISBN numbers, copyrights AND royalties to the writer.
Who ever heard of a literary agency that also published books? Well, actually, anyone who has ever seen Writer Beware's Alert on Writers' Literary Agency, a.k.a. AEG Publishing Group, a.k.a. Strategic Book Group--currently being sued by the Florida Attorney General's office for unfair and deceptive business practices.
Let’s talk about investment. How much are you willing to spend to get your work from where it is, to being sold? We understand that money’s tight right now; because we are looking for a few good works, we’re willing to cut our prices to find the best work out there.

Remember I told you we shook up the industry? Here’s how. Instead of sending you bills to cover expenses at the end of each month when you are under the impression that the agency works on commission, we charge a flat rate. We don’t call on Thursdays and tell you that if you want us to represent you on our trip the next day that it’s going to cost you $500. That’s not the way we work.
Um, that's not the way reputable literary agencies work, either. But never mind, we're spinning like a top here in our effort to make our predatory business practices look appealing.
Our base rate, a one year retainer was $3,250; for this promotion only we are dropping it to $2,500.

IF your work needs editing, our standard rate WAS $6 per 250-word page for a limited time, we’re dropping it to $4.50 per 250-word page.

If you want to take advantage of our e-book publishing offer, it will be going up to $950 on Feb. 1; but for this mailing, we’re charging only $750. Remember this includes cover art, inside layout, ISBN, copyright, and submitted to Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and possibly a few others to seize every available opportunity for your work.

I’ve thrown around a lot of numbers, let’s put them all together. Let’s say you have a 300 page manuscript (that’s 75,000 words); what do the numbers look like?

Editing services: $1,350 (a savings of: $450)
Agency retainer: $2,500 (a savings of $750) – it’s like getting the publishing FREE!!
E-book publishing: $ 750 (a savings of $200)

Grand total: $4,600 (a total savings of: $1,400!!)
Gosh golly, what a deal!

So why would you want to pay a track recordless "literary agent" $4,600 for representation and epublishing, when reputable agents charge no fees at all and you can epublish for free on the Kindle? BECAUSE YOU CAN MAKE SO MUCH MONEY, STUPID!
Now, I understand that you may be sitting there thinking that there’s no that you’re going to spend $4,600 to take a chance on your book. So, let me ask you, how hard would it be to sell 1,000 books?? According to the news reports over 12 MILLION e-books were sold last year. Hmm. What if your book only sold 2,000 copies?? At roughly $4.95 per book, you just DOUBLED your investment.

Doesn’t look quite so scary now does it? And that’s ONLY if all we sold were the e-book copies. What would happen if while your e-book was selling, and other publishers were considering buying it for print? Would THAT be a bad thing? We didn’t think so either.
Depends on how you define "bad."

There you have it. And, writers, you'd better hurry--'cause Cris Robins only has room for fifteen lucky new clients, and prices go up on February 1.

34 comments:

DebraLSchubert said...

Victoria, Thank you SO much for this PSA! Gosh darn it, if I didn't already have an agent, I would be salivating like a hungry wolf at this supreme opportunity!

Makes me sick - she should be in jail.

kd easley said...

Wow, what a scam. It's like she's channeling Billy Mays.

Beth said...

What's really sad is that there are probably 15 desperate people out there who will get scammed by these guys, and they won't know any better until it's too late.

Kat Harris said...

Thank you!

Richard White said...

I swear, some days I feel like I should be armed with a silver-tipped wooden stake, garlic, holy water and a big honkin' sword.

Some of these "agencies" are like a cross between a cat and Dracula, the way they keep popping back up from the dead to suck money from the veins of their victims.

barrettmanor said...

Holy cow! That's all I can type. I need to go find my jaw. It dropped so hard it rolled off somewhere...

Richard Mabry said...

I came here as the result of a Tweet by my agent, Rachelle Gardner, and was horrified that this scam not only exists but has apparently received CPR and has a second life.
Thanks for the info. I hope the word gets around.

GalaktioNova said...

Just the other day a friend asked me if I could recommend a publisher that wouldn't charge too much...

Oh gosh. Thank you so much!

Jm Diaz said...

Got this via a retweet by Janet Reid, and boy, am I glad she did. It's just outrageous that some people may actually fall for this. "new one born everyday" comes to mind, and makes me a bit a sad.

Sam Albion said...

wow, I'm lovin' your blog- these shysters need scam-baiting... mmm... I smell an action coming on...

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

Goodness, they just don't go away do they? I wonder if they'd keep attempting it if the FBI or some similar branch kept a list of these people...

christine tripp said...

>What's really sad is that there are probably 15 desperate people out there who will get scammed<

Beth, make that 1500 and that's probably more like it:(
What is it PA says? We have taken... uh, I mean helped over 100,000 authors (or something close to that)
A scammer in the publishing industry will never be lacking for naive and hopeful authors, sadly.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

The sad thing is, there are so many writers who don't know enough about scams like this who will absolutely get taken in...

Thanks for the updates!

Victoria Strauss said...

One of the reasons I write these posts is for Google. This blog has a pretty high page rank, so if I've posted about someone or something, writers have a good chance of finding that info if they do some online research.

Sharon Mayhew said...

Victoria--Great information here...I wonder how many writer's don't know about you, the Thumbs Down List, P & E, and Query Tracker...Don't you hate people that take advantage of people's lack of knowledge!

Jill Edmondson said...

You've got to be kidding me. What a slimy vulture.

Thanks for the alert!

Jill Edmondson

christine tripp said...

On Absolute Write there is often the question... why do you harp on and on about Publish America, hasn't it all been said. Authors are adults and they should be able to take care of themselves.
Well, no, a new author is born every minute (or at least a new, hopeful, author)
These posts by you Victoria and the on and on and on posts at AW prove at least a chance that a new author stumbles upon them.
A wonderful resource and though your posts still may fall on deaf ears, at least you tried.
What I often wonder is how many of us were "taken" before the internet and the community of authors/publishers/agents who blog.
Obviously many survived and made it but how many were raped?

Emily Cross said...

Just wanted to say thank you to you victoria and all the writer beware gang! I haven't started looking at L.Agents yet but its great comfort to know that you have our backs!

Thanks!

Nicola Morgan said...

Incredible. Almost literally. Thanks for continuing to warn all the new aspiring writers who won't have heard about scams like this. It's outrageous.

Snarky Agent-man said...

Not only will something like this waste your money and time, but it could jeopardize your chances of getting a legit agent in the future, as many will not take a self-published author seriously. Why would they need our help if they want to do itcon their own (and already got scammed by an "agent" into doing it)? It's an unfortunate truth, but when we have 300+ queries a week, it is a factor to consider

Dennis Latham said...

We won't call you on Thursdays...we'll call you on Wednesday instead. I like the retainer fee...does that mean they act as your literary attorney when they rip you off? I wonder if she has an ad in Writer's Digest where many of the scammers used to dwell.

LTBROWN said...

Thanks so much, Victoria. After all, our email addresses are family now. I had to get in here. I'm going to stay close to this blog and up on who's getting the thumbs down. It's amazing how awful some people are. Thank God we have you and Writer Beware.

wealhtheow said...

That's really incredible. Folks, we have found a whole new definition of chutzpah.

You know, the way she's Newspeaked predatory practices into industry-shaking innovations and outrageous fees into fantastic limited-time-only deals is kind of brilliant, in a deeply wrong sort of way. If only such people could be persuaded to use their talents for good instead of evil ...

LTBROWN said...

You said that right, wealtheow.

Anonymous said...

Who's a real scam agent
Miss Snark is a real scam agent
Who'a a real scam artist
Mis Snark is a real scam artist

LTBROWN said...

Keep 'em coming Victoria!

Anonymous said...

"Imagine if you only sold 2000 books..." Yeah, seeing how most self-published books never sell more than 500, that would be a feat in itself.

Let's see how much you need to spend if you can't get a traditional publisher interested (note that last part of the sentence):
Editing: I can do it myself, but there are plenty of friendly people who are willing to do this for less than $200.
Cover design: I'm not that arty, but again this is something that doesn't have to cost a lot for less than $100 you can have good cover art.
Distribution: $30 to register an ISBN perhaps a little more if you need to get it stocked by a wholesaler or distributor.

In short: You can be done for $500. Their "services" are simply overpriced.

annerallen said...

Just yesterday I tried to refer a newbie author to this blog, after she told me she "had an agent waiting to sign me up," for an unfinished first novel. She scoffed, telling me "I don't read blogs; they're a waste of time."

She's probably about to become a client of the Robins agency. Unfortunately, some people seem to WANT to be scammed. It's all so sad.

LTBROWN said...

Very good points anonymous and for another 2k, you can print it. So I certainly see more value doing it myself, which is what I'm doing.

And Annerallan, I've met a few like that, as well. Mostly those who've gone to blogs and met up with said scammers. Or those who are trying to convince you that you need to add their services. That's one of the main reason's this blog is better. They'd be damned if they came here and I'm sure they know it. Extra plus for Victoria, Writer Beware and this particular blog. Anything worth having is worth working for, is what my mother instilled in me. And doing all of the work, so someone else can reap the benefits is never one of my goals. Not unless their my offspring.

S.M. Carrière said...

Thanks so much for the heads up Victoria. You're a blessing to authors everywhere!

K.L. Townsend said...

Thanks again for these blog updates. The spin on this makes me sick.

DeniseC said...

Victoria, thanks for the diligence in getting the info out. So happens, I was "salivating like a hungry wolf" (in the words of DebraLSchubert) when contacted by first WLA, then their "sister" publishing company Strategic Book Company. I am blessed to have read this blog before being sucked in!

scooter ward said...

I feel like such an idiot. I was burned by this fraud the first go-round. I sent in two manuscripts and some artwork. The artwork was "stolen by an agent who left the agency with your work." I was told I was in a group of three finalist for Time Warner to make a movie of my manuscript. All the while, I was pouring money into her pockets for services (actually, it was my Dad's money). Her last requests for money was astronomical. My family and I realized this agency was a hoax. My naiveté is gone, but the stench of burning flesh remains.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for your comment, Scooter. When did this happen, and how did you hook up with Robins?