Friday, June 03, 2011

Clark, Mendelson, and Scott: New Name for a Fee-Charging Agency

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Every time I bemoan Writer Beware's overpacked file drawers, and wonder whether I should get rid of files for agents and publishers that have gone out of business (or at least consign them to the basement), I'm reminded of why it's important to keep that old information handy. When literary scammers vanish, there's a pretty good chance that they'll return in a different guise.

(Everything that follows is supported by extensive documentation in Writer Beware's possession.)

Once upon a time, there was a fee-charging literary agency called American Literary Agents of Washington, Inc. It was among the first agencies Writer Beware received complaints about when we started up in 1998. Writers reported being asked for a $200 fee (later increased to $250) to "defray submission expenses." The contract was for six months; once it terminated, you had to pay another $250 to re-up.

Needless to say, ALA never made any sales that Writer Beware could discover. As warnings about it started to spread, it did what disreputable literary enterprises so often do: it began conducting business under other names, including Capital Literary Agency and Washington Literary Agency. We got scores of complaints about these companies; when Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List was created in 2006, ALA/Capital/etc. was on it.

In 2001, I started getting reports of pay-to-publish offers to clients of the various agencies, from a company called Washington House. This, it turned out, was no coincidence: the Washington House URL was registered to ALA, though the writers who received the offers weren't informed of the connection. Washington House, a.k.a. Trident Media Company and Mandrill Publishing, charged as much as $3,500 for editing, and provided the level of marketing and distribution you'd expect from a less-than-reputable fee-charging publisher. Judging by the complaints Writer Beware received (similar to this one and this one), it was also somewhat unreliable in the production and payment department.

Again, as information spread, the names changed. Sometime in 2006, Washington House/Trident Media/Mandrill became New World Media/American Bookpress.

All these companies were owned by a man named Samuel C. Asinugo. In 2008, Asinugo was found guilty of forgery (a conviction that was recently upheld on appeal). It's likely not an accident--though I didn't know it till I began doing research for this post--that 2008 was the year in which Writer Beware stopped getting questions and complaints about ALA, New World Media, etc. Since then, I've heard nothing about any of these enterprises.

Until this week, that is, when a writer contacted me with a question about the reputation of a literary agency with the distinguished name of Clark, Mendelson, and Scott, which offers a six-month contract and charges $150 upfront for US submissions ($250 if you want your book sent to overseas publishers as well). The agency's website claims that it's staffed by "Scott Maxwell, Richard Mendleson [note the difference between that spelling and the spelling on the masthead], and Cindy Clark, all former publishing executives with diverse experience in the literary market." No information about that diverse experience is provided, but the website boasts that "we have over 650 titles in print"--which sounds pretty implausible for an agency that does not appear to have existed prior to May of this year, especially one with a badly-written intro page and typos on its submission page.

So, already pretty smelly. But it gets better. When I followed the book links on the agency's website to Amazon, I discovered that every single one was published by Washington House or Mandrill. This spurred me to check the agency's domain registration information, where I learned that the registrant is Peace Asinugo. It'd be amazing if those two things were coincidence, wouldn't it? Samuel Asinugo's name doesn't appear anywhere in the agency's correspondence or contracts, but the (error-ridden) welcome letter is signed by Project Director "Simon Aragon"--S.A.--a perfectly lovely alias that Asinugo apparently forgot to employ when setting up business listings on Angie's List and Manta.

I'm guessing that Peace is Asinugo's daughter. I wonder if she knows how her name is being used.

Asinugo's publishing contracts were for life of copyright, and left the decision to take books out of print entirely to the publisher--so it's quite possible that he still holds the rights to many, if not most, of the books he published (a number of Washington House and Mandrill books show up on Amazon as "temporarily out of stock," but others are "in stock and available," or orderable with a 1-3 week lead time). This, sadly, could explain the "650 titles in print" claim.

Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List has been updated to reflect this latest name change.

Edited 11/4/11 to add: Samuel Asinugo is also doing business as Franklin-Madison Literary Agency (with a similar M.O.). Details are here.

38 comments:

Janet Reid said...

You perform an invaluable service to authors AND agents with this list. Thank you!

S.M. Carrière said...

I second that Janet!

Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks. Will Tweet!

J. Coleman said...

Thank you! I always come to check whenever I hear of new agents. Sharing the info.

Cindy Blog-A-Liddle said...

thanks so much for keeping us informed.

Rogue Mutt said...

These guys are like cockroaches, you just can't kill 'em for good.

Anonymous said...

Wow, once calling themselves Trident Media Company in order to be confused with the very legit Trident Media Group is super devious.

A. C. Crispin said...

How's that for internet sleuthing! A round of well-deserved applause for Victoria! Where would we all be without her?

Waytago, Vic!

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com

wealhtheow said...

You know, if someone like that could use his talents for persistence, persuasion, and creativity for good instead of evil ...

Marla Miller said...

JUST VIRAL-ED THIS-THANK YOU WRITER BEWARE!!!

Lucy said...

Why do I have a bad feeling we're going to see this guy again? And again...and again...and....

Bleh!

(Thanks, Victoria!)

Anna L. Walls said...

I shared - thanks for being in my world.

Mattias Kroon said...

It would be a nice idea to get some kind of ROI(Return On Investment) concerning those fees?

I am a member in several advertising companies, even if they are smaller, where you are paying for advertising and where you have the chance for a potential fair ROI at the same time.

Affilate marketing works!

Shawn James said...

Clark, Mendelson, and Scott: A formal sounding name to dupe the newbie writers into thinking they've got a big-time agent. Got to admit these guys are getting really creative nowadays.

But the golden rule of publishing always applies: Money flows to the author, not out of their pockets on the query-go-round.

Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this vital information. I sent my completed manuscript to this agency via email and they contacted me with an acceptance letter and contract with fees. I am grateful to have this site to cover my back. I will most definitely do my research HW before submitting to dishonest agencies such as this one.

Anonymous said...

continued from prior letter.....Cindy Clark, now signed her name on the acceptance letter as Cindy Patton....disgraceful!!!

Anonymous said...

It's always somewhat embarrassing when someone tries to scam you, though one thing did make me laugh: they addressed me as Mr. when I'm a Miss! Thank you for this!

Judy said...

I received an introductory letter and contract from this company today. I'm so grateful I found your post while researching the company. Thank you so much! You saved me money and much heartache!

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING THERE. I RECEIVED AN ACCEPTANCE LETTER FROM CLARK, MENDELSON, SCOTT AND I THOUGHT I SHOULD JUST CHECK. THANK YOU STEERING ME CLEAR OF THIS OUTFIT.

Anonymous said...

I also received an acceptance letter. They have my MS which makes me a tad bit nervous.

David Poulos said...

I, too, received said acceptance package, which is indeed signed by the notorious Simon Aragon. Bad sentence structure in the letter and contract were a dead giveaway, but still after over 50 query submissions, it's tempting when you see this stuff to be grateful.

Not much point in sending it back, especially if it makes other potential legitimate agents nervous to have the agreement out there, regardless of the $150. The submitted manuscript is self-published and copyrighted, so no worries there, but it does give one pause to know that these jokers are out there . . .
Thanks for a great service! Keep up the good work!

Bobby of The Teemates said...

Just received an acceptance letter about my Compelling work. All I need do is pay a fee of $150.00. Thank you for this. You just saved me 15 of my books profits
Bob Polhemus
LAY MY GUITAR DOWN GENTLY
Bobby of The Teemates

Michael Alexander said...

I Just got my agreement today, which of course I'm not sending in. Like many of you who sent in a full manuscript, I'm worried about it being in their hands. This actually is probably a good thing because now I really have to get a copyright. Thanks for the heads-up Writer Beware. It was my fault for not checking them out before I sent the book to them.

Victoria Strauss said...

Michael, you already have copyright--by law, you're protected from the minute you write down the words. Registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office is an extra step you can take--it offers no additional protection, but does allow you to sue in court if your work is infringed. However, infringement isn't something you need to worry about at the submission stage--a good agency or publisher won't risk its reputation by stealing, and a bad agency or publisher isn't interested in your manuscript, only in your money. Not until your work is exposed to the public--i.e., published--do you need to worry about infringement. It really is not necessary to register copyright for unpublished work.

Michael Alexander said...

Victoria thanks for your comment. I suspected as much, but just the thought of my incredibly original epic manuscript (joking) in the hands of such people gives me the willies. But, like I said I made two mistakes. The first was sending the whole book in right away and the second was not checking them out after I found out they were interested. So lesson learned, but thanks you made me feel better. Michael

C. J. Rains said...

Thank you so much! I queried Clark, Mendelson, and Scott when I saw they accepted poetry submissions and received an invitation to submit the very next day. Now, I am once again disheartened because it is so hard to find an agent who accepts poetry. I have worked long and hard writing enough poems for a book, and the thought of them getting into the wrong hands is scary to say the least. Again, thank you!

Victoria Strauss said...

C.J. Rains,

Apart from celebrity projects and writers who are already well-known, successful literary agents rarely represent poets. Even in the best of circumstances, poetry collections are a tough sell, and the poetry market, which is dominated by small presses, simply isn’t lucrative enough to make it worth most agents’ while. Agents who claim to represent poetry are nearly always either inexpert or fraudulent.

Poets generally get their start by selling individual poems to reputable markets. Once they've built up a track record, they can submit their collections to small publishers on their own.

See my blog post for a more detailed discussion, plus some good resources for poets.

Ik Jones said...

You are wrong on Clark, Mendelson, and Scott. They were not affiliated with Samuel Asinugo, and my research shows that the Samuel Asinugo who was involved with the companies you mentioned, wasn't convicted of any crime. Dude, you have to be careful. You simply gather information from the net and put it out. It's irresponsible.

Dan Hanover said...

They are an amazing bunch. Their scheme is to charge $150 per submission, and state up-front they have to contact at least 35 publishers. That comes out to a cool $5250 to play.

Their letter is a botched mess.

.C.S.Poulsen said...

Thank you for your sleuthing. I was just approached and asked the marketing man to prove point-blank that they were not a vanity agency.

He actually replied and said that he had nothing to do with the publishing part of the company but only the marketing. He seemed surprised that I would not send in my material to be "reviewed" by an editor.

Having baited a 'Nigerian prince' for some months, I couldn't resist sending a copyrighted story to them and await their review. I don't have the time now that I had during the Nigerian prince scam so I won't take C, M and S any further. I will post anything interesting here at your site. So glad to know that you are patroling for we who simply don't have the time for scammers. All the best to you and thanks again! C.S.Poulsen

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that as I e mailed them if they charged for reading, an Angie replied yes, but wouldn't say how much, so I've e mailed her back to ask how much.

SUDHIR PANDE said...

Dear Ms Strauss

Hats off to you for your research. Thanks for warning us all.

Sudhir Pande

Anonymous said...

you need to update you information, and please take the name Peace Asinugo out of your writing! thank you!

Deep Metaphysical said...

I got an email from clark, mendelson and scott to send in my manuscript through email. They said if they select my work, they'll send me a contract and i'll have to pay $250. I'm an India based author looking for an international agent, i've been had before, can anyone suggest me some genuine agents who'll select my work based on quality?

Victoria Strauss said...

Deep Metaphysical,

Rather than suggest specific agents (which is hard to do when you don't have a reading knowledge of someone's work--agents have differing tastes and specialties and it's really best for the author to choose whom to target), I prefer to recommend a research procedure that helps you focus your efforts on agents who'll be appropriate for you, as well as to avoid the disreputable ones (it's really very easy to avoid disreputable agents once you know the warning signs).

Also see the Literary Agents page of Writer Beware, which offers extensive information on literary agents, info on what to watch out for, and a list of helpful online resources.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone reported this Clark company to the FBI? Or has anyone listened to the answering machine message of the phone number it has given? That along is a dead give away.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this info. Their latest scam is http://newyorkbookagent.com/?q=node/2 and I did get fooled. I sent my complete manuscript to them. Fortunately, I have not paid anything yet - thank God and thank you! Will share this post.
cheers!

Manohar Bhatia's Blogs said...

Thank you for your info on Clark...etc.Yes, I did send my manuscripts to them and they were quick to send me a contract with a demand of US$150.00 for US publishers and US$250.00 for overseas publishers.Before I could send the money, I just thought of checking on google and thereby hangs the tale!
Thank you Ms Strauss for cautionin g me against such unreputable agents.Perhaps its a game of a rat trap...how rats get caught is the name of the game.
Manohar Bhatia.