Masters of deception pervade every facet of our lives, so why not the writing life? Time and again scams are perpetrated on writers whose desire to get published overshadows caution. If you've been to Africa or watch Animal Planet, you're aware that predators prey on the weak and unsuspecting. We humans are no different.
During a period of left brain malfunction, I’d contacted the New York Literary Agency. Although they were listed as not recommended by “Preditors & Editors, ” a writers’ watchdog website, I wanted to believe some covetous rival had maliciously bad-mouthed them. They have an impressive Madison Avenue, New York address, a professional looking website and a reasonable, if not questionable, spiel as to why they operate differently from most agencies. The latter should have been my red flag. But when you don’t want to believe something, reason becomes clouded by delusion.
The Literary Agency Group is an umbrella for six other agencies, apparently under common ownership: Children’s Literary Agency, Christian Literary Agency, New York Literary Agency, Poets Literary Agency, The Screenplay Agency, and Stylus Literary Agency. If you run across any of these agencies, keep running. They have no tangible address and no phone number. Their Madison Avenue address is nothing but a mail drop. They are a “Catch Me If You Can” outfit that operates out of airports and phone booths. It’s no wonder they deride such respected organizations as the Association of Artists’ Representatives (AAR), among others.
My initial submission to The New York Literary Agency had been a synopsis of a manuscript. They fired back a reply faster than an automatic response website. In a boilerplate apparently cranked out to all writers, they assured me there would be no fees, and asked to see the complete manuscript. The normal waiting period for a traditional agent or publisher can be six weeks to six months. After I sent the manuscript they responded within a few days saying they would represent me, but with the caveat I pay a “polishing” fee to a third party in order to make the manuscript saleable.
At that point the clouds dispersed and I began self-flagellation with tree branches for having fallen for the come-on. No self-respecting agent or traditional publisher charges fees of any kind. This agency has since been denounced by countless writers who have been conned by their unprincipled practices.
Author Victoria Strauss presides over a website on fraudulent literary agents and dishonest publishers and unethical upfront fees and fake addresses and fake contests and everything you never wanted to believe about con artists who take advantage of unwary writers. Granted, Strauss is a successful author who would like you to buy her books. But her Writer Beware website, http://www.sfwa.org/beware is maintained on a voluntary basis by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. It contains considerable documented evidence on literary fraud and how to avoid it. You’ll also learn a whole lot about the industry in general, including vanity publishers, print-on-demand publishers and how they differ.
In the life and times of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna Ferber, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill and the rest—someone took care of business while the geniuses wrote. Today, unless you have the means, there is no escaping to the left bank of the Seine, or the sand dunes of the Hamptons to contact your muse. Publishing is a business and taking care of business is the writer’s job. Unless you are able to separate the predators from the valid editors—well, writers beware.
Susan Scharfman is a writer/editor at http://www.susanscharfman.com