Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

August 29, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Another Update

This is getting tiresome, but...the Twenty Worst Agencies List has been updated again.

We've just discovered that Mark Sullivan Associates, also d/b/a New York Editors, has added another d/b/a: Manhattan Literary--apparently an editing/ghostwriting service, but which also claims to prospective clients that it matches writers up with agents.

How do we know? The URL for Manhattan Literary is registered to Mark Sullivan Associates.

August 24, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- A Junk Mail Agent

Some of you may have seen this recent article in the Times online, in which journalist Danuta Kean discusses a couple of fee-charging agents in the UK.

The first, Darin Jewell of the Inspira Group, charges £350 upfront for photocopying and postage. He has been around for a while; Writer Beware first began receiving advisories of his fees in late 2003. The second, John Hancock of the John Hancock Literary Agency, appears to be quite new--at any rate, Writer Beware has only just begun getting questions and reports.

Ms. Kean describes Hancock's basic M.O.--a direct solicitation (supposedly based on a "personal recommendation") with lots of scary verbiage about how hard it is for new authors to get published these days, culminating in a request for a £97 reading fee. However, she doesn't convey the hilarious junk-mail flavor of Hancock's pitch, which I reproduce below in somewhat abridged form.



and how YOU can be one of the lucky ones!

Dear Author,

If you've ever tried to find a publisher for your book you know how soul destroying it can be. The big publishers simply don't want to know and the smaller ones ask you for a fortune to publish.

Yet in a recent edition of Publishing News--the news magazine of the book publishing world--there was a series of articles about new authors who had signed lucrative publishing deals with major publishers.

Imagine what it would feel like to get a $100,000 advance!

Publishers are reluctant to reveal the exact sums paid to the authors for these books. And not all will have been advances of $100,000 but some may well have been.

So how is it that some authors can find publishers and you haven't? Is it because their books are so much better than yours? Possible--but unlikely. No, in every article there was a single phrase which explains why. Just three short words. These words are...

the agent was!

The key to publication is that simple. Get yourself a literary agent.

But the reality of this may bring you down to earth with a bump. For finding a literary agent has been just as difficult as finding a publisher. Many won't even consider new authors and those who do have long waiting lists. The classic Catch 22 situation.

Finding a publisher for your book is easier than you think

This is where I can help you. I have recently developed a literary agency specialising in new, unpublished authors. I am now looking for a limited number of authors whose books I will represent to publishers.

This is a truly unique opportunity. To have a literary agent representing you to the major publishers will increase your chances of publication enormously. Publishing doors which have remained firmly closed will open automatically.

Your opportunity to become a SUCCESSFUL author

Let me explain why this opportunity is available to you right now.

I know the book publishing business inside out--from both sides of the fence, as an author and a publisher.

At the age of twenty nine I wrote a book which sold over 100,000 copies. I then moved into book publishing itself and became Managing Director of a major publishing company.

I established numerous contacts, many of them personal friends, within the book publishing world. These are contacts I will put to good use with your book.

When I retired three years ago authors still approached me with manuscripts. I still love the publishing business so I used my contacts to place them. Now I have decided to expand this 'exclusive' arrangement a little. That is why I am seeking a limited number of new, unpublished authors.

Enjoy a deal that benefits you--not the publisher

When I receive offers for your book--usually including an advance against royalties--I will put them to you for your consideration. Your position as an author will be safeguarded and you will have the peace of mind of knowing that any deal negotiated will be to your advantage--not the publisher's.

This is important. I know of one very famous author who failed to protect her film rights in an agreement with her publishers. The book was made into a Hollywood film and the publishers--not the author--received several million pounds in rights. This is something I will make sure does not happen to you.

You will also be supported after publication. Book signing tours, magazine interviews and media appearances all need to be to your advantage. And you would be surprised at the size of the mailbag successful authors receive. When you have someone to take care of all of this it allows you the freedom to continue your writing and concentrating on enjoying the kudos of being a published author.

Take one simple step to find a publisher for your book

All you have to do is to send me your complete manuscript together with the enclosed Submission Form. But please, no preliminary letters or telephone calls. I have simply neither the time nor the inclination to engage in a dialogue until I have read your work.

Please also send a cheque for £97 made payable to John Hancock. I ask this for two reasons.

Firstly, because I intend reading all manuscripts personally and I value my time enormously. Secondly, I only want to deal with authors who are truly serious about publication and this is a way of weeding out those who are not fully committed.

If we reach an agreement for me to represent you then this fee will be refunded. Look upon this fee as a token of your serious intent.

Act now--this is an opportunity that may not be repeated

What you have here is a rare opportunity. It is almost unheard of for a literary agent to actively seek new authors. This is such an opportunity that is unlikely to occur again.

For now you have the chance of having a literary agent to represent you. This will improve your odds of publication enormously. But remember this is a very limited opportunity. Once I have found my quota of authors the chance will have gone.

I would urge you to send your material immediately.

Yours sincerely,

John Hancock

P.S. Don't hate yourself for missing this opportunity. Since writing this letter I have been in contact with two publishers who are looking for books in different genres. Your material could be just what they want.


I especially love the P.S.--the typical, ultra-tacky junk mail marketing ploy.

Obviously, the major scam marker here is the reading fee. Charging reading fees is a thoroughly discredited practice; in fact, it's so discredited that even dishonest agents don't generally employ it these days. But there are also a number of other warning signs. Let's count them.

1. Direct solicitation. (Rarely, a reputable agent may contact a writer who hasn't queried first, but this nearly always happens on the basis of published work. Reputable agents don't cold-call unpublished authors.)

2. Specialization in new writers. (The bulk of an established agent's list will consist of published writers--not because established agents are prejudiced against new writers, but because they regularly sell their clients' books. Someone who specializes in new writers usually does so because they're easier to fleece.)

3. Unverifiable claims of experience/success. (Of course you want your agent to be experienced and successful, but if he tells you he worked for "a major publishing company," he should identify it. A claim you can't verify is meaningless.)

4. Extravagant suggestions about your possible success. (Naturally your agent hopes that once he sells your book it'll become successful, but he won't encourage you to imagine you'll be the next Stephen King. Why? Because there are no guarantees--not even that your book will be published--and a good agent knows better than to make them.)

5. Claims of "limited" opportunity and pressure to act immediately. (Reputable agents don't employ high-pressure sales tactics.)

6. Promises to reveal insider secrets or little-known shortcuts that will magically transport you to the realm of publication. (There are no shortcuts, and magic is for fantasy novels. Sorry.)

Hancock does get scam points for one small innovation. He promises that the reading fee will be refunded if he agrees to represent--which means that all he has to do is to reject all comers, and he can pocket the cash without the bother of having to pretend to be performing any agent duties. What could be simpler?

Fortunately, I suspect that Mr. Hancock, whoever he is, won't find his scheme quite so lucrative as he expects. Nowadays, most new authors--even those who may not be aware that upfront marketing fees aren't kosher--know that reading fees are illegitimate. Mr. Hancock (not that I believe for one second that this is your real name), you are a tad behind the times.

The Society of Authors has posted an advisory about the John Hancock Literary Agency.

August 21, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Home Again

I'm back from vacation and embarking on the Herculean task of catching up with Writer Beware business, including this blog. Ann has also returned, but family matters will be keeping her busy for a little while, so I'll be holding the fort here.

My husband, Rob, and I spent our vacation with my brother Konrad and his family in Keystone, Colorado. My sister-in-law Brenda is an ace organizer and bargain hunter, and she was able to arrange a home exchange with the owners of a luxurious condo. We stayed in style at 9,600 feet (took us about 24 hours to get more or less acclimated to the altitude), and spent ten fabulous days hiking (to 13,000 feet--absolutely spectacular views, but a serious lung-buster for us flatlanders), biking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting. The weather was perfect--temps in the upper 70's during the day, pleasantly cool at night, thunderstorms threatening in the afternoons but all but one day free of substantial rain--and it was great to spend time with Konrad, Brenda, and my niece Chloe. A gorgeous, fun time that seemed to fly by in a heartbeat.

Returning home, I left Rob to get back to work (it's great being self-employed) and hooked up with Ann and her husband Michael, who were traveling around the Northeast on a camping vacation and had arranged to pass through our area. They whisked me off to sunny Cape Cod, where we stayed in a charming shingled cottage and crammed many activities into two-and-a-half days, including sailing out on a whale watch. We tracked a group of six or eight humpback whales; sometimes we were as close as twenty feet, and in one case two of them swam right under the boat. What a thrill! Afterward, we poked around Provincetown, and Michael took a nice picture of me and Ann in front of a house with an art-filled garden (that thing that seems to be rising out of my head is a mosaic snake).

Victoria and Ann in Provincetown
Ann and I didn't neglect Writer Beware business. We discussed proposals for a couple of articles we plan to write, and Ann, who has never visited my house before, got to stand in my office, a.k.a. the nerve center of Writer Beware, and look through the hundreds of files that fill a five-drawer file cabinet and two large Rubbermaid containers (Robert Fletcher's Sydra-Techniques/ST Literary/Stylus Literary, about which we've received more advisories and complaints--by a factor of at least ten--than any of the other agencies or publishers we're tracking, has a Rubbermaid all to itself).

Speaking of Writer Beware business...

- Martha Ivery, a.k.a. Kelly O'Donnell, who in December 2005 pleaded guilty to 17 counts of fraud and perjury in connection with her scam literary agency/vanity publisher, was scheduled to be sentenced on August 14th. However, her sentencing has once again been pushed back, due to a request from her attorney for time to compile a psychological report. We're hopeful that this will be the last postponement.

- The infamous Melanie Mills, a.k.a. Elisabeth von Hullessem and several others, who on February 10 was sentenced to time served on five charges (including first-degree battery and aggravated assault) and deported back to Canada, sent us a cease-and-desist threat as a result of our ongoing series of posts about her. Per our usual procedure, we didn't respond, and have heard nothing further. FYI: she's now calling herself Remmi Mills or R.E.M. Mills (Raswitha Elisabeth Melanie Mills).

- Capital Literary Agency, formerly American Literary Agents of Washington Inc., is also doing business as Washington Literary Agency. URL's and website verbiage differ, but the upfront fee is the same ($250), and the Capital/ALA contract is virtually identical to the WLA contract, including a couple of distinctive features (such as a contract term of just 180 days) not found elsewhere. We've updated the Twenty Worst List to reflect the change.

- Probably as a result of the recent judgment against her, the supposedly judgment-proof Cris Robins of the Robins Agency has decided to come clean on her website and admit she charges $3,250 upfront.

That's great, and we approve. What we're not so thrilled about is the tangle of falsehoods with which she has garlanded this confession. Among other things, she claims that "other agents...will charge you on a monthly or quarterly bases [sic] for their expenses" (actually, reputable agents will let expenses accrue and deduct them from your advance--i.e., you won't have to pay a penny out of pocket--or else bill them to you as and after they're incurred); that such expenses typically include "travel expenses and overhead for their office" (bzzt--wrong again--reputable agents don't expect their clients to bear travel or overhead costs); and that such expenses "can add up to $4,500 to $6,500 per year" (only if you've got a scam agent. Expenses incurred by real agents who are actively submitting usually top out at a few hundred dollars).

By contrast, here's how the Robins Agency works. "Instead of giving you a surprise bill, or nickel-and-dimming [sic] you throughout the contract, we simply charge an annual retainer of $3,250 with a commission rate of 10%-15%. As this is paid at the time you sign on with us, there are no bad surprises, no unexpected bills, no phone calls asking for more money. Yes, we are expensive and we are worth it. More importantly, YOU are worth it." Gosh! Just like the L'Oreal ads! Although that's certainly appropriate, since the Robins Agency is as genuine as hair dye.

Oh, and one more thing: Cris touts the "editorial review" that each manuscript receives "to make sure it is in the best shape it can be," but neglects to mention that this will cost the client a couple of thousand dollars extra.

There you have it: all the "scam" news that's fit to print--for the moment. And now I'll get back to answering the Writer Beware email that has built up in my absence. If you sent me a letter between August 5th and 20th and are waiting for a reply, thanks for your patience, and you'll hear from me soon.

August 4, 2006

Writer Beware is on Vacation

Both Ann and Victoria are on vacation, so the blog will be on hiatus from August 5th through August 20th. We'll start posting again as soon as we return.

In the meantime, here are a few of our more useful and/or amusing posts:

How to Write a Query Letter

How to Evaluate an Agent's Website

Faking a Track Record--why you can't always take an agent's claims at face value

What to Look For in an Author-Agent Contract--from the writer's perspective

Become a Writer Beware "Ambassador"

The Five Worst Words You Can Say to Yourself, or, why a new agent needs relevant professional experience

Call Me Doctor and Other Irrelevancies--which professional credentials should impress you (and which ones shouldn't)

"I Can't Sell Your Book Because..." Common bogus excuses used by questionable agents

What Real Agents Do--Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

What Real Agents Don't Do--unprofessional practices commonly used by questionable agents

Top Ten Signs Your Agent is a Scammer

The Bizarre Saga of Melanie Mills--Stranger Than Fiction, We Promise: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

August 3, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 59 - Writing Productivity Tips

Hi, folks.

I wanted to make another "writing tips" post, because we've been doing a whole string of scam posts. Victoria has been great, keeping up with the blog. I've been so busy lately, writing, working on two book projects (one is a proposal with a collaborator, that I'll be finishing up today) and of course Winds of Vengeance, the sequel to Storms of Destiny. I'm taking my notebook computer with me on vacation so I'll be able to work while I'm gone, so as to not lose my momentum.

Which brings me to my first "writing productivity" tip:

1. Don't lose your momentum! Write something every day, if at all possible, even if it's only half a page. Doing that will keep your mind "on track" with your writing project.

I can't over-stress how important this is. Even if you go away on vacation, bring your most recent chapters or your current short story, and hand-edit and write a few paragraphs in your notebook, just doing a little every day. Your story will thank you, because you'll be able to return to it full-time with your brain still "in the writing groove."

2. NEVER end your writing for the day by completing a scene or a chapter. Nothing's worse than facing a blank screen the next day! When I finish my day's writing, and it happens to be the end of a chapter, or the conclusion of a scene, I ALWAYS make a scene transition sign (***) and then start in on the next section I've outlined. I can then block move what I've written into the proper chapter as soon as I've set it up.

I make sure I write at least one page into the next chapter or the next scene, so it's set up and I know exactly where I'm going the next day when I start.

3. When you're feeling unsure about what to do next, RE-READ and EDIT. I do this to get my mind back in the groove. I'll have to do it anyhow, so I just do it at that time. By the time I've re-read and edited a chapter, my train of thought has crystallized in my mind, and my path is clear. Usually.

4. Dealing with "block." Someone once told me this tip, and I can't for the life of me remember who. If you are really blocked -- you haven't been able to write for days or weeks or months and your train of thought is totally derailed, etc., try this: print out the last five pages of your story. Then delete those pages off your computer. Then, type them in again, polishing and editing as you go along.

By the time you get back to the end of the five pages, your mind ought to be working on your story again!

5. Review your synopsis. I always write a very detailed one. This suggestion doesn't work for every writer. Not everyone can work from a story outline/synopsis. But for those who can, reviewing the next section of what you have to write can help tremendously.

6. If all else fails, and you just can't write in your normal place try going ELSEWHERE to write. Take a laptop to a cafe, or outside, if the weather is nice. If you don't have a laptop, try writing by hand in a notebook, then transcribing into your computer. Sometimes this will work when nothing else does, to get your creative flow going again.

(It recently worked for a good friend of mine. I got to be a hero for suggesting this!)

So, okay...there are the tips I tell my students. They often ask me what schedule I use, how much I write every day, etc. I suppose they are hoping they could exactly copy what I do. This probably won't work. I tend to be a very slow starter, who goes faster and faster as I get closer to the end of a project. By the end of a project, I'm cranking out ten pages a day, or more, often.

But at the beginning, I'm often lucky to write a page or two. Then I have a long period where I just write four or five pages a day, for many, many weeks. (Especially when working on this Exiles of Boq'urain trilogy, since these the books are very least for me.)

So I rather doubt my working habits would be of any help to anyone. I'm kind of quixotic, I suspect.

Okay, before I go, a couple of things. First, I must apologize to you, and to Victoria, for being so scarce here in the blog. My campaign against Robert Fletcher is taking up a lot of my Writer Beware time, and generally, it's sucked up the time I'd usually give to making blog posts. I owe Victoria a lot for keeping up this blog.

So...if you have been scammed by Robert Fletcher or any of his scuzzy "literary agencies" (Childrens Literary Agency, Christian Literary Agency, Poet's Literary Agency, The Screenplay Agency, Literary Agency Group, Stylus Literary Agency, S.T., or New York Literary Agency)*, PLEASE consider making an official complaint. If people don't complain, Robert Fletcher will just go on and on, scamming more writers. Write to me, and I'll tell you exactly what do do:

Secondly, I'm about to go on vacation for most of the month of August. I'll try to check my email, but it will sporadic. I'll be gone for most of August, then back only a few days before Dragoncon, so then I'll be gone for another five days.

Thirdly: if you are an aspiring writer, and you're going to Dragoncon, I still have the "scholarship" slot open in my Basic Writer's Workshop. Writers, you could take the two-day workshop, which runs Thursday August 31st and Friday, September 1st, from 9-5, for FREE. I'm looking for someone who would love to attend, but basically can't afford the $135.00 fee to Dragoncon. You'd still need to have your Dragoncon membership to attend the workshop on Friday, but it is possible to buy a one day workshop ticket to the convention. The website for Dragoncon, where you can read a syllabus for the workshop, is

This chance is being offered on a first-come, first served basis. You can write to me at: to inquire about availability.

If the slot is filled, I'll try to get back in here and make a short post to that effect.

(Usually, the head of the Dragoncon Writer's Track nominates a worthy aspiring writer for this scholarshop, which I offer every year. This year, however, she didn't have a candidate. So I'm making the offer here.)

Okay, I guess that's all for today. I hope all of you will stay well (and cool!) and keep writing. Enjoy August!

-Ann C. Crispin

*Remember, some agencies with similar names may be legitimate. Scammers do this deliberately to create name recognition confusion.

August 2, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Another New Alert on Writer Beware

Writer Beware has added an Alert on Quiet Storm Publishing to its Alerts for Writers page.

Quiet Storm and its owner, Clint Gaige, are the focus of complaints of publication delays, nonpayment of royalties, poor quality product, and nonresponsiveness to authors' questions and concerns. Members of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime are seeking restitution through the West Virginia courts for $3,000 owed to members by the publisher.
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