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June 19, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- News of the Weird

In which Writer Beware continues to bring you choice tidbits from the fringes of the publishing world.

eBay has attracted its share of writing weirdness. Writers trying to sell their unpublished manuscripts, writers trying to find investors to finance their writing, writers bidding for the right to write one page of a collaborative novel...the list goes on.

Here's a new one: a literary agency that attempted to auction off the chance for representation. (Here's a link to the cached version of the auction listing, for when it drops off eBay.)

The auction, offered by the UK-based Westwood Literary Agency, urged writers to "bid for a literary agent for your manuscript...a one-time chance to get your manuscript noticed." And why was this thrilling opportunity up for grabs? "We are offering this chance because a.) we are taking in new authors, b.) we are dissatisfied with the quality of the current manuscript submissions and c.) we have decided to try this as a new marketing technique to attract new talent."

What was the payoff for the lucky high bidder? "Upon winning, you will receive a revision contract, free manuscript revision and will work together with us towards improving your manuscript to make it more appealing to potential publishers, after which you will be taken into the client database for a whole year and your manuscript will be made available to publishers in the UK and the US. If this is what you've always dreamed of, this is your chance to become a published writer."

And just in case anyone was wondering: "This is not a scam."

Whew. Glad we cleared that up.

It doesn't really need saying that bidding on literary representation (I can't write that with a straight face) amounts to an upfront fee. But there are less obvious ironies here, and also some clues as to this agency's regular M.O.

According to the Terms and Conditions section of the bid listing, "Bids will only be accepted from authors who have a finished or nearly finished manuscript written in English." That's the only restriction. There's no mention at all of, oh, let's say, manuscript quality (which is kinda odd, seeing as how they're so dissatisfied with the quality of their current submissions). So no matter how bad a manuscript is, they'll take it on if its author is high bidder--as long as it's in English and most of it is complete.

What kind of literary agency doesn't care about its clients' writing ability? For that matter, what kind of agency is so desperate for new clients that it runs an auction to "attract new talent?" All together now: A FEE-CHARGING AGENCY!!

The clues are there, if you read between the lines. Westwood's website, of course, makes no explicit mention of fees. However, there's some suggestive language on the FAQ page: "We also...offer a revising service should you be taken in our client database to ensure that all manuscripts that hit a publisher’s desk are of a high standard." (That's not the only warning sign on this website, by the way. For those who want to play "spot the red flag," there's plenty of material.) And from the eBay listing (my emphasis): "Upon winning, you will receive a revision contract, free manuscript revision, and will work together with us towards improving your manuscript."

So if you're the high bidder, editing is free, free, free! (Well, sort of). Does that mean you'd otherwise have to pay? Writer Beware hasn't yet received any advisories about Westwood, but I'd say it's a safe guess. Dollars to donuts, this agency's main business is selling editing services.

But wait--both the agency website FAQ and the Terms and Conditions of the bid listing qualify this a bit. From the FAQ: "Although we offer revisions and our agents and authors often work closely together, it is not possible for us to go through manuscripts and at the same time correct bad spelling or grammar mistakes as this takes twice or three times the time." And from the bid listing: "Poor grammar or spelling mistakes will not be corrected." So...your ms. will be edited, but if you've got spelling and grammatical errors, tough noogies.

Just what kind of editing is this? How will leaving bad spelling and poor grammar intact make manuscripts "more appealing to potential publishers?" Could it be (gasp) that Westwood's owners don't give a rat's ass about how appealing their clients' mss. are to potential publishers? After all, once the check for the editing fee clears, they've made their dime (or their 10p). There's not a lot of incentive to get out there and sell their clients' work.

Just in case anyone is tempted to bid, the auction is closed. According to the notation on the auction listing, "The seller ended this listing early because of an error in the minimum bid or reserve amount." Yah. No one placed a bid.


Edited to add: Since posting the above, I've gotten two reports from authors who contacted Westwood and were asked for an "administration and revision fee" of 50 pounds/75 euro/$100, because "hardly any manuscript, [sic] which we receive is truly free of any mistakes, and we spend a great amount of time polishing manuscripts before sending them to publishers." I love it when I'm right!


Anonymous said...

Virginia, how could you possibly doubt them? They edit for ... um ... one inch margins! All around, too! With a ruler! Then they put it on e-bay for publishers to bid on!

Unbelievable. Thank God no one bid - or bid enough. One wonders why they insisted on English only. Perhaps they wanted to be sure they could read the check. We could ask them when they come back - and they will be back. They have a very low opinion of the intelligence of writers.

Anonymous said...

"this takes twice or three times the time"

I don't think I'd want somebody who doesn't have the sense to say "two or three times" or at least "twice or thrice" to edit any manuscript of mine.

Anonymous said...

And of course you didn't mention the biggest red flags of all. A quick perusal of the site shows no sales or names/credentials.

Bernita said...

This agency's name seems in line with something you stressed earlier about name-immitation.
There is a Canadian agency of good repute called Westwood Creative Artists.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

*bangs head on the wall and tries to remember not all people are this insane*

It's hard to leave me speechless but this time it worked.

Diana Castilleja said...

"This is not a scam"

*snirk* and I'm not human....

Enough said....

WWWWolf said...

Ouch! "This is not a scam!"

I mean, when I haven't had my morning coffee, you can keep telling me of all sorts of intricate schemes and I won't bat an eyelid. You can get a comparable reaction from a lot of people, actually, with or without coffee. (Luckily for me, you can't make me do a thing before I've had the coffee, and after that, I have no problem telling something's very wrong. =)

But here's the problem: if you say these magic words, even the thickest people of the bunch will get reserved.

Nice work setting up a scam. But they undermined the whole thing with this... artless... move.

Tawny Taylor said...

"Yah. No one placed a bid."

Actually, this is encouraging! If they can't find suckers--er, clients--they'll eventually go belly up.

Keep spreading the word, Writer Beware! It's working!

none said...

What could possibly be wrong with an agency with zero sales to boast of and that's nonetheless run out of a luxury flat in Harrow? Tsk, you suspicious bunch!

Anonymous said...

The depths to which they'll stoop...

Anonymous said...

Good grief - at least nobody placed a bid.

Y'know, there are a lot of folks out there who don't have the foggiest clue how the publishing industry works. A number of people I know who aren't terribly 'net savvy told me they'd always thought authors had to pay to have their books published. They were shocked when I told them, nope, it does not work that way.

Thank goodness ignorance has a cure: knowledge. Knowledge is not only power - it's protection.

Anonymous said...

:Boundlessly grateful, yet wholly unable to handle with the sudden fame, Colonel Gabriel swoons dead away:

Anonymous said...

I visited Westwood's site out of curiousity. They claim they are a busy agency. Well if they are so busy, where's their list of books sold? A client list?

Sam said...

LOL - thank goodness no one fell for this!

Janny said...

I, too, had the experience of telling someone about my novel and then having them ask earnestly, and in all seriousness, "And how much did that cost you?"

No matter how many times that happens, it's always eerie. It's always weird. And I always want to ask what cave they've been hiding in for all their lives. Silly me, I thought it was common knowledge that authors MADE money when they published books, not SPENT money on them...

Maybe a course in "how book publishing is supposed to work" (!)would be a nice elective in some of those highbrow English-major programs that people can go through, graduate from, and still remain...clueless.

It's a thought!

Anonymous said...

One more piece of evidence in how decadent, smarmy the whole publishing biz has become--I thought I had just about heard & seen it all, including the last (& I do mean my last sucker-go-round seduction) alleged Writers' Conference I attended in San Diego last winter. It was a scam that choked barrels of bucks out of us naive starving writers just for the opportunity to allow N.Y. editors & publishers to warm their frozen A-Type egos (and other anatomy) in the S. California sunshine. We were ordered not to ask any conference participants (?!) to read any of our work or to encumber them by asking to take a ms. back with them, or to even approach them, although we were allowed to ask questions after self-congratulatory name-dropping panel "discussions" where I got the impression the audience was supposed to ooh and ahh on cue. There were also pitch sessions (for an additional money barrel, of course) if a writer wanted to get the name of an agent to submit his or her ms. No one was interested whether or not the "pitcher" could only sign an X on the check. I'm ashamed to divulge the cost for lending myself to such mega-bunco.

Now this literary agency fiasco to add to all the other offenses against those rare few who have worked at mechanics & craft and who may possess some talent, too (offenses like "writing classes" that merely create publicity or ego-boosting for down & out writers; the zillions of writing programs keeping colleges afloat by offering degrees to shlemiels who may never have publishing credits; writing "contests" that charge anywhere from $10 to over $100 in "reader" fees; groan! I can't go on...).

Your warning probably won't prevent this "agency" from cleaning up. Betcha not only will they get a small fortune out of this ploy, but they'll post such "offerings" regularly.

What a sick, sad time for real writers.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe some people – the nerve!

In any event, most sound people will check Westwood's so-called UK website and see that there is no real representation of who it is that's behind it all. And there's no address, or phone number – just an email link.

It might be just me, but if I go to a website and I can't tell if there is a real human being behind the website, so to speak, and I wanted to order something/hire an agency, then I'll click away.

When people go a long way to hide their identities it usually means trouble.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an "Agency" operating under the name "Arcadia Agency" and run by an Athena Churchill who charged £70 per submission. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this isn't her again operating under a different name.

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