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.

December 8, 2020

Attack of the Fake Literary Agencies: West Literary Agency, Stellar Literary Press and Media


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Scroll down for updates

Much of what I'm going to talk about in this post, I think most of my readers already know. But I'm getting so many questions about these two scam "agencies"--both of which seem to be super-active right now with solicitations--and providing so many warnings about them, that I think a broader warning is in order.

First, though--because it's relevant to what follows--some tips on evaluating a literary agency's website.

1. There should be a website. A pretty basic starting point.
2. It should be grammatically correct, and free of spelling errors and typos. Also very basic points, but as you'll see from what follows, their lack can be an important clue.
3. It should feature recent sales (this is how you can tell whether an agency is successful), with verifiable info (title, author, publisher) so you can assure yourself that the publishers are reputable (no vanity presses or "hybrids") and the sales really are recent (you want an agency that's selling books right now, no matter how successful it's been in the past).
4. Not all reputable agencies' websites include a client list, but many do; it's an additional way to verify bona fides.
5. The agents should be named--with bios, so you can verify their backgrounds and experience. 
6. There should not be any kind of upfront fee. 
7. Also helpful: an agency history, including how long it's been in business; clear submission guidelines; disclosure of commissions (standard is 15% for domestic sales, 20-25% for overseas and film [the extra is for co-agents' commissions]); and recent media coverage.

WEST LITERARY AGENCY

West Literary Agency appears to be blanketing the internet with solicitations (at least, judging by the number of questions I'm receiving). "Agent" names--no doubt fictitious--include Rachel Williams and Celine Meyers.

Here's one of West's solicitation emails:


Pretty much all the warning signs you need are in this email:

- Out of the blue solicitation (not always suspicious, but much more likely to be than not).
- Reputable agents are highly unlikely to advance-shop the work of writers they don't represent. 
- As noted above, the overwhelming standard for commissions on domestic sales is 15%, not 10%. Bogus agencies sometimes offer lower commission rates, to encourage writers to believe they're getting a better deal (a safe offer, since such agencies never actually sell any books).
- Reputable agents don't double as PR people. (The "help" West offers involves large fees--the only kind of selling bogus agencies do.)
- No reputable agent charges a "$95 fee to sign you up" or indeed any other kind of upfront fee.

The contract attached to the solicitation presents additional issues. For instance, the solicitation indicates that commissions are 10%--lower than standard. But in the contract,


See the problem? Plus, if the 10% commission for subrights sales "includes" 10% for co-agents, West would be getting zero for those sales. Just saying.

Also, didn't the solicitation mention a $95 fee? But in the contract,

$2 isn't much of a discrepancy. But what does it say about a company that it can't get its written materials to agree?

Last but not least, West Literary Agency's website. (You should ALWAYS check an agency's website before engaging with it.) 

Other than the fact that it exists, the website fails every test mentioned above. Telltale grammar and proofing errors (like so many of the scams I've written about this year, this one is based in the Philippines and staffed by people for whom English is a second language). No sales. No client list (other than one featured author whose book, sadly, has been published and re-published by two notorious scammers). No agent bios--no named agents at all, or any verifiable information about the agency itself (though if you check its domain registration, you can see that it did not exist until 46 days ago). 

And then there's this:


I guarantee that when you look at a reputable agency's website, you will not find a late night TV advertising-style LOW, LOW PRICE pitch like this. 

UPDATE 3/3/21: The latest grammar-challenged solicitation from West:


Writers who ignore or refuse Sarah's offer are contacted by "Victor Ross" of Right Choice Multimedia, who alleges that Sarah referred them for representation. Victor is in the movie biz; he even has an IMDb profile with what looks like several film projects. Like much of what scammers do, however, it doesn't stand close scrutiny: all the projects are "in development" (which could mean anything but definitely means they aren't movies), the production company for all four is West Literary Agency, and the names attached as writers and producers have no IMDb presence other than the projects themselves.

STELLAR LITERARY PRESS AND MEDIA

Stellar Literary appears to be soliciting at least as energetically as West Literary Agency, if not more so. 

Here's an example of what you might receive from "Senior Literary Agent" Charlie Dunn or Aaron Williams.


Red flags: 

- Solicitation.
- Grammar lapses and typos.
- Pengiun. Need I say more? 
- It's HarperCollins Publishers, not Harper Publishing. Not a mistake you'd expect a real agent to make.
- Note how the solicitation defaults almost immediately to a pitch for re-publishing the recipient's book. You hire an agency to get you published, not to publish you itself. Also, as I've said in other posts about scams that push re-publishing offers, re-publishing an already-published book so that another publisher can publish it a third time makes absolutely no sense (and is not how things work, in any case). 
- What recommendation? Who made it? Here's Stellar's nonsensical reply to one writer who asked:


Note the ongoing problem with the spelling of Penguin.

Like West, Stellar offers an author-agent agreement, which looks fairly standard until you get to this:


I'm imagining all the subagents lining up for that 3% commission.

On Stellar's website, the whole "literary agency" pretense comes crashing down. There's nothing there that you'd find on a real agency site: no word on who is actually part of the "team with a vision", no sign of the "countless" writers the team has supposedly guided "from query letter to published book for over 20 years." No sign of the books, either. In fact, from the fractured English...


...to the pay-to-play publishing packages...


...to the gigantic markups on marketing services (a Kirkus Indie review will cost you $575 at most if you buy it yourself)...


...it's the very portrait of a scam. 

Stellar has been around a bit longer than West, but not 20 years longer. Its domain was registered just this past August. 

SOME FINAL WORDS

For many of my readers, all of the above will seem very obvious, and these warnings may seem redundant because you've heard them so often. 

But I'm hearing from an awful lot of writers who've been solicited by these two scammers, and sense that there's something off (at least enough to contact me) but are tempted enough, or unwary enough, to believe West and Stellar just might be real. I worry that there are many more who won't smell a rat. 

Some tips to protect yourself:

- Be an informed writer. Understand how literary agents (and publishers) really do things--preferably before you start trying to get published (I provide some suggestions for that here). It's a step that too many eager new writers skip.

- Be suspicious of direct solicitation. It's not always a scam. But it's a scam often enough that it should always prompt caution.

- Don't take anything at face value--not solicitations, not offers, not websites. Research. Do some digging. See if you can verify any claims (and if there's no way for you to verify them--no staff names or book sales to back up claims of success and expertise--be suspicious). You can contact me at Writer Beware, and I'll tell you if I know anything: beware@sfwa.org

- Don't ignore warning signs like the ones identified above. I'm constantly amazed, for instance, at how many writers overlook the glaring English-language errors in scammers' emails and websites (a product of the scams' overseas origins: most are based in the Philippines). If an agent purports to be able to rep your English-language work, they should be able to speak and write correct, grammatical English. This isn't bias: it's professional competency. 

- Beware of shortcuts. If you're a celebrity, you may be able to skip the intervening steps between a completed manuscript and a publishing deal. But for regular people, there's no sure-fire way to shorten the process or jump the line. Don't trust anyone who tells you that there is. 

For lots more information on literary agents, including how to vet them, whether you need one, and links to helpful resources, see the Literary Agents page of Writer Beware. 

UPDATE 12/16/20: These agency scams are like cockroaches: if you can see two, you know there are dozens more you can't.

Case in point: Authors Legacy, which has no website or Facebook page (as of this writing, at any rate) but is busily soliciting writers with transparently bogus offers (among other things, there's no such thing as a "Literary Agency License").

Bogus offer 1

Bogus offer 2

12 comments :

Desertphile said...

Good gods. Charging their victims around ten thousand dollars for a book that might not sell any copies, for services real literary agents do on commission. >ANGRY!< The average self-published book, if it is a "good book," is about 300 copies sold. A *GOOD* book must sell 300 copies for about $35 a copy JUST TO BREAK EVEN with this vanity press--- and the odds are excellent that their victims will never write a good book.

Anonymous said...

Got a solicitation from West today.

Victoria Strauss said...

Would you forward it to me, if it's in email? beware@sfwa.org . Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Victoria, thanks for all your great work. Just a minor nitpick, the first solicitation email does list $97 fee, not $95 as you claim, so there is no mismatch with the contract. Other than that, great write up of the scam.

Anonymous said...

Why would an agent (found in Publishers Marketplace but no Member page) request my agent submission history? From my first question put out in one of this agent's client message box, there was only a three-hour turn around to the agent himself requesting my first fifty pages and a history of previous agent/publisher submissions.

BTW, the agent website has only one page with no links to anything, only a notice that says "By Referral Only" with a phone number and a short article link on this page about deals made.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 12/30,

An agent does need to know which publishers your ms. has been submitted to (if any) because that potentially closes off submission opportunities for them, and may affect their decision on whether to offer representation. If you've had an agent in the past, it's also helpful for a potential new agent to know that as well. But there's no reason why they should know which other agents you've queried.

It's odd for an agent's website to be so uninformative. Email me the agent's name, if you like; I'll see if I have any information. beware@sfwa.org

Unknown said...

I was approached by a Victor Ross. I wrote to him, and told him that I am broke, unemployed, and can't pay him. Truth helps right?.

Unknown said...

I got an unsolicited email from "Michael" at West Literary today. I thought it might be a scam, so I googled it and landed here. I am amused to note that they apparently haven't updated their website, as they're still touting their $97.00 one day special. I pasted the email below with my book title redacted:
------------------------

This is Michael, from West Literary Agency, we represent authors to major book publishers and production companies in the US and UK. Your book --REDACTED-- qualified as part of the shortlisted titles that passed the 2020 guidelines and market research from different Literary Agencies all over North America. All books who are entered are exclusively invited to the 2021 Review of the Literary Agents and to be passed on to multiple major publishing companies in the US. Your book if you decide to join this year's entry, will have an opportunity to be read by Major Book Publishers here in the US, a number of these publishers is guaranteed to receive a copy of your book's endorsement and will have the opportunity to acquire your book before it launches in December's Final 2021 Top Ten Books list.

If this is something that you're interested in please let me know. Let us schedule a phone discussion, what's the best time and phone number to reach you?

I look forward to speak with you.
------------------------

Unknown said...

I got the same email as above yesterday from "Michael" at West Literary Agency. I'll paste it below (and redact my book's title). The email overall sounded suspicious to me, but the most suspicious were the lack of a last name and the bad grammar. A quick Google search brought me to this post.

----------------------

"This is Michael, from West Literary Agency, we represent authors to major book publishers and production companies in the US and UK. Your book [REDACTED] qualified as part of the shortlisted titles that passed the 2020 guidelines and market research from different Literary Agencies all over North America. All books who are entered are exclusively invited to the 2021 Review of the Literary Agents and to be passed on to multiple major publishing companies in the US. Your book if you decide to join this year's entry, will have an opportunity to be read by Major Book Publishers here in the US, a number of these publishers is guaranteed to receive a copy of your book's endorsement and will have the opportunity to acquire your book before it launches in December's Final 2021 Top Ten Books list.

If this is something that you're interested in please let me know. Let us schedule a phone discussion, what's the best time and phone number to reach you? You may also call us at (847) 957-6946 so we can discuss the best publishers that matches your book's genre and your options in our program.

I look forward to speak with you.

Thanks!"

Anonymous said...

I just got one of these from West Literary Agency.

It's a scam. And a scond order one -- these guys aren't even vanity publishers. They're just parasites.

Marsha Ward said...

I received the same email today from West Literary Agency as Unknown 2/27/2021, with two exceptions. Michael now has a last name (Ferry), and he's cleaned up the penultimate sentence to correct "speak" to "speaking". Does this mean these scammers are getting smarter as they go? Horrors!

I have half a mind to reply with "Hahahahahahahaha!" I'll try to restrain myself.

blackpassenger said...

Yeh, I got an email from Right Choice Mulitmedia, promising to find me a traditional publisher for my book, 'Black Passenger Yellow Cabs.' I then rang the number and spoke to a filipina sounding person. I promptly assured her that, I was born on a night, but not last night.

 
Design by The Blog Decorator