-The Scam, The Sting and the Dirty Little Secret (of unscrupulous literary agents)
-Writers’ Resolutions (12 Rules for Writers)
-The Odds of Success for Writers and Others in The Arts
-Banned Books (or Why You Need to Read)
The Scam, The Sting
and The Dirty Little Secret
An Insider’s View of the Book Publishing Industry
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the persistence of one of the three authors of this piece, the following true-life story caught the attention of not only the Attorney Generals of two states, but a major network news station in a large U.S. metropolitan city. The news station was so interested in the story that they sent a reporter on the trail of the literary agent in question, and ran a two-day feature of the story during their prime-time news hour.
Though this story played out several years ago, the scam is as fresh and as salient today as ever before. The writers of the piece you are about to read have all gone on to become successfully published authors. Their identities, as well as the identity of the literary agent, have been kept anonymous. The important point: they could be anyone.
The book publishing industry has a dirty little secret. It is a secret that is so well kept that few members of the book-buying public are aware of it. In fact, most readers curl up with a copy of their latest find, or browse the aisles of their favorite bookstore, completely oblivious to the pain and misery that is embedded within this industry.
The book publishing industry is really comprised of two businesses. The first is in the business of producing and selling books to the general public. The second arm of the industry is in the business of theft, deceit, and fraud. This second, ‘scammy side*’ of the book publishing industry is surprisingly large, exceedingly profitable (conservative estimates are in the multi-million dollar range) and as protected from legal/penal consequences as their legitimate counterparts.
The legitimate side of the book publishing industry is a grueling one for most writers. The vast majority of writers have realities that are nothing like the serene, confident, poised authors interviewed on television talk shows. For most writers, the reality of the mainstream publishing industry is one of constant rejection, negativity, and almost totally void of positive reinforcement. With a business-as-usual 99% rejection rate by publishers and literary agents alike, it is a business that can cripple the faint of heart. (Even for those writers who are fortunate enough to have their books published by mainstream publishers, the income from book sales for the majority of writers is usually far too meager to sustain life.) When you factor in the piranhas who prey on the already fragile hopes and dreams (not to mention bank accounts) of writers who have exposed their souls in their writing, well, let’s just say the effects can be devastating. As one writer put it, “What is the most depressing to me now is that my writing self-esteem is completely deflated because the only agents I can land are scam artists who accept everybody!”
The book publishing industry’s alter-ego is not just causing financial loss to writers. It is a grueling business filled with rejection. (Overnight success stories are rare.) This makes writers an easy target. With so much negative response to their work, many writers have a difficult time holding on to the hope of ever seeing their work successfully published unless they self-publish. Writers who fall prey to the all too common hustle of con-artists not only lose money, but pay a much higher emotional and spiritual price. As one veteran writer and victim said, “I don’t remember how much she [the scam agent] bilked me out of. It was too much. But even as a pretty broke writer, the killer for me is the way she played with my (and so many other people’s) hopes and dreams. Writers, regardless of skill, invest hopes and dreams into every paragraph…I gave up a lucrative business career to become a struggling writer because of the hope she gave me. I jeopardized retirement comforts, my kids’ college education, and, at times, undermined my own self-esteem…I remember my excitement over [hearing the scam agent’s talk of] best-seller and film possibilities, I felt vindicated. Now I know it was all bullshit.”
The illegitimate side of the book publishing business is propagated by con-artists posing as literary agents, publishers, and independent editors. Their victims are unsuspecting writers and their methods for financially duping and deceiving writers are very slick.
There are some commonly known scams that have been playing out within the book publishing industry for decades. The first type is when the con-artist agent tells the writer that his/her work holds “a lot of potential, but needs some editing.” In this same communication, the scam agent typically implies that once the editing services are sought out by the writer, the agent will then represent the writer’s work. These scam agents then recommend either their own editing services or an outside editing service which offers kick-backs to agents for the referrals. The cost for these so-called, ‘editing services’ often run anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Once the editing services have been paid for, the scam agency commonly ignores all future communication efforts by the writer. A similar scam has been popularized by unscrupulous literary agents who require a ‘reading fee’ to consider manuscripts; after the fee is paid, the acceptance rate is zero percent from those who are true con-artists. There are also scams run by a small percentage of unscrupulous publishers who charge entrance fees for questionable ‘writing contests’ that never seem to be traceable.
The scam we will focus on here is just as insidious, but far more difficult to detect until the con has been run and the so-called agent becomes ‘unreachable’.
Method of Operation: (a) The scam artist poses as a literary agent and pretends to read the potential client’s manuscript under the guise of possible representation, (b) Next, s/he offers glowing letters about the book and offers a contract to represent the book for publication and requires the writer to pay a fee for (insert your favorite lie here: administrative fees, fees for so-called ‘photocopies’ to send off to publishers, long-distance calls with movie producers, etc.). (c) After the check is cashed, the so-called agent then disappears, moving on to the next victim.
This scam is very hard to detect because unpublished writers are often told that legitimate agents do, indeed, charge for expenses. In this way, the scam artist’s request for such fees does not seem unreasonable. However, those knowledgeable in the business can tell you that such expenses are normally charged to the writer after they are incurred and the charges are substantiated with expense logs and receipts. Experienced writers sometimes may negotiate having these expenses deducted from their first advance. Neither of these scenarios includes paying an agent an undocumented, up-front fee.
Unfortunately, new writers often do not realize this distinction. Furthermore, many writers who have been victimized later admit that they figured no person in their right mind would bother carrying out such an elaborate scam just to receive a check for a couple hundred dollars. However, literary agents report receiving approximately 500 queries and requests from writers to be represented each and every month. Some agencies report receiving 250-500 such requests EACH WEEK. If only a small percentage of writers ‘accepted’ by these scam-artists writes a check, these so-called, agents may pull in $250,000.00 a year, with the possibility of even MORE…even if the scam agent only makes $100.00 to $200.00 per manuscript. Pretty good money for only writing a letter offering to ‘represent’ someone!
The Set-Up: In order to fully appreciate the following documents surrounding the sting you will need a little background information. We had been busy working to inform and assist several federal governmental law enforcement offices, state penal/legal agencies, and media organizations to investigate certain so-called literary agents for fraud. One agent in particular, we will call her Ms. X, who worked her scam out of the Los Angeles, California area, appeared to us to be a master at this fraudulent technique and particularly insidious in her method of operation.
Throughout our communications with investigative agencies we were repeatedly reminded that they needed proof that this agent was engaging in a ‘systematic effort to commit fraud and deceive clients.’ While there were numerous victims willing to step forward to give testimony to the practices of this agency, we needed additional evidence to clearly demonstrate our claims that this so-called, agent was indeed, in the business of committing fraud.
We needed something more. A hook. Something that could demonstrate without a doubt that this so-called, ‘literary agent’ does not even READ the manuscripts sent to her.
Enter Richard Hulligan…as good a pseudonym as any.
And then…the product. Using our own money, time and resources, we took four long nights to write the most incoherent, most absurdly ridiculous, absolute worst piece of garbage that ever passed through a printer.
Two of us wrote straight through from about 7:00 in the evening until 3:00 in the morning for four consecutive nights to complete an entire manuscript of 239 pages. We used a combination of four types of writing techniques:
(1) Bad voice-recognition software. Voice-recognition software that had been ‘untrained’ and recognized only 25% to 50% of the words spoken. The other 50% to 75% of the time, it printed out a string of bizarre and strangely-connected words and non-words that were not even remotely close to what we had said.
(2) Plain old-fashioned plagiarism. For the ‘factual’ portions of the manuscript we did a direct copy-and-paste, lifted straight from Microsoft’s old encyclopedia software, Encarta. This portion was intentionally written in such a way that even a grade school child could recognize this most obvious ‘lifting’ of text.
(3) Repeat, repeat, repeat. We filled in a lot of the pages of the story by simply copying large portions of texts, and then pasting them over and over again in random parts of the manuscript.
(4) Good ol’-fashioned bad story-telling. We created a story-line that rested on the premise of the Russian Revolution, as told from the perspective of a Cabbage. We called our epic tale, “Quoth the Cabbage.” The plot unfolds as a poor cabbage farmer and his family enter into desperate times as the revolution nears. The farmer grows mad from worry, leaving his wife and ten children to pick up the pieces.
Meanwhile, the cabbages in the farmer’s field see they are the only ones who can save the Russian people, and begin to create a plan. When a band of runaway orphans escape to the cabbage field one night, the vegetables seize the moment…as the orphans huddle together to stay warm, small dolls begin to emerge from the center of the Cabbage Patch and tell the orphans of the cabbages’ plans.
As the story unfolds, the orphans are instructed by the dolls from the Cabbage Patch to instigate and orchestrate the Russian Revolution. Once this is accomplished, the orphans are caught and banished to Siberia. Coincidentally, Siberia is precisely where the farmer’s wife has brought her children and husband she has reunited with to start a new life. The story ends as the orphans (who now live with the farmer and his family) guard their special dolls from the Cabbage Patch and share hot bowls of sauerkraut.
DID WE MENTION THAT THIS MANUSCRIPT WAS REALLY BAD??
The Good, The Bad, and the Editorially-Impaired: We sent a query for this piece-of-garbage manuscript out to five ‘good’ agents (agents with a long-standing reputation of being legitimate) and five suspected ‘bad’ (or questionable) agents, including Ms. X and her Publication Group.
Not surprisingly, all five of the ‘good’ (legitimate) agents took a major pass, while all five of the ‘bad’ (questionable) agents requested to see either the entire manuscript or portions thereof. Some were especially enthusiastic. We couldn’t resist. We packaged up hard copies of that manuscript and in a New York second headed for our local post office with the following:
COVER LETTER accompanying the manuscript, “Quoth the Cabbage”:
Thank you for asking to review my book, Quoth the Cabbage. It is lucky for me to have found an agent who recognizes something good when it comes along.
I am sure you are going to think it is good. Several of the guys over here at the VFW think it is great, along with three of my neighbors. The wife thinks it is sure to be a bestselling novel and that it is the best way to learn about such important history because the story is so interesting.
I have done many years of research on the Russian Revolution and the novel is jam-packed with historical yet entertaining (according to the wife) facts. At the same time, you will note I have taken artistic license in creating a stream of conscousness type style to depict the insanity of the times. I also might say that I think I have done an excellent job at capturing what the thoughts and feelings might be of a cabbage existing during these trying times.
As for the future film rights, I am thinking that someone like that Steven Spielberger fellow might really take a shine to it. If you know him, you migght want to think about contacting him first. Though the Disney people might also be a good possibility.
I’ll close here because I am sure you are anxious to get to reading it right away. I have supplied a SASE for you to tell me how you like it. I did not put in one of those large envelopes because I am that sure you are going to love it and will therefore not need to be returning it to me.
I will be looking forward to hearing what you think
Response to Our Manuscript: Three of the questionable agents responded by referring the manuscript to an infamous editing service. (This editing service was later busted by the New York Attorney General’s Office.)
Even better, two of the agents receiving the entire manuscript absolutely loved it! But of these two, Ms. X took the cake. Ms. X and her Publication Group sent a contract offer for “Quoth the Cabbage” and wrote a rave review. Here is an excerpt of what this so-called, ‘literary agent’ said holds the potential for being the next Best Seller and Block-Buster Hit:
EXCERPT FROM THE NOVEL MANUSCRIPT “Quoth the Cabbage”
Page 9 (ms. 239 pgs.)
Starving children, to a well who’ve cabbage and Leopold amazement. Leopold side than he called to who is why beliefs can lock them normal room me a half that factor. Let’s see what to take that route. It calls. ” What we see what the bizarre how can this powerhouse so much what we absolute rule! It is there is not right it stands now rights of blocked astounded. Then they had conducted a job as a Leopold rather
And they willing to ~ together in Moscow and the assault at a packed in army troops of nails. But now you weep, and their guns the law’s ban. It is true. All is easy to see what color was up wheat belt will it. It. Why it’s up and what’s it’s to be? What is the Russian way of life to come to? It’s yours to uncover, Leopold thought. For as we meet state appears to get harsher and harsher for the common man just trying to put food onto the table.
Ahh, but then the rotten colder to draw the snow in the Russian winter wheat went by the wayside. He would recall. Leopold with that lot of vegetables; and ten markets expect to win the cabbage. Are cabbage happily for him was not to meet all was nine and the cabbage can Play a news didn’t a vegetable ago at the wheel lock and Leopold would be quite happy but never to retire the vegetables rate it seemed to want to Wall replies maybe they went to a better, his colleagues cabbage tempo ” toward new pair to cabbage wanted to use, vegetables perhaps weeks Jacobs also lives. Then what’s the word. It was beaten disappear insulted a clever in its ability to help the czar.”
(Quite a piece of work, huh?)
Ms. X’s RESPONSE TO THE MANUSCRIPT “Quoth the Cabbage”:
I enjoyed “Quoth The Cabbage” immensely. It has wit, and a charming style, and considerable and fascinating information. It is joyful and exciting reading.
Contract is enclosed and self explanatory.
I will do a multiple submission to five of the majors; it has become an acceptable practice among my confreres, and it also tends toward possible negotiating benefits in the event two or more express interest.
We have a long-term arrangement with a copier who, at the rate of .10 cents per page, uses my signature quality heavy paper and includes packaging, addressing and FedEx-ing (I pay the Fed-Ex). Five copies of this manuscript of 239 pages (five copies = 1185 pages) at .10 cents per page is $118.50. Adding California’s sales tax of $9.75 raises the total to $128.25. If this figure is comfortable for you, with the return of my copy of the signed contract, please include a check in this amount, made payable to The XXX Publication Group.
There may be film possibilities, with a little luck. Please–no hurry–prepare a one page synopsis, and a more detailed one of perhaps eight pages, for use as a screen presentation; we submit to both venues simultaneously.
(Ms. X’s signature)
(Wow! Film possibilities? Now that adaptation we would have paid to seen.)
Not so funny if it happens to you: Responses such as the one from the scam literary agent featured here speak for themselves. Less obvious are the voices of the writers ripped off by these con-artists who pose as literary agents. Those people whose confidence, trust and self-esteem have been seriously damaged by piranhas who prey on the hopes and dreams of others. As one of the victims of the previously-mentioned agent said, “It’s not so much the money you lose. That you can get over. It’s really the way these scam agents leave a writer completely ‘Mind-F%&^ed’.”
A Final Word: The proof is in the cabbage soup. As hard as it may be to do, when somebody tells you that your work has charm, wit, and film possibilities, don’t go writing that check and rehearsing your Today Show interview until you check them out thoroughly. There are a lot of sharks out there, and some of them are hardwired to bite at anything that moves.
Editor’s Note: Book Gravy has been granted the rights to use that brilliantly horrible manuscript, “Quoth the Cabbage” for the purposes of uncovering other scams within the book publishing industry. If you know of a questionable agent or publisher who you believe should get the *Cabbage Test*, contact us.
12 Writers’ Rules to Live By
Whether it is stagnation, rejection, depression, or just plain life itself, at any point in time, many writers would admit that they are not exactly where they want to be. This can be true for both new writers as well as seasoned old-timers procrastinating about whether to even leave the starting gate again. So, in the spirit of encouragement and helping writers take a proactive approach to getting their manuscripts to that all important *next stage*, here, from one of our writers, is a list of things to remember…
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As committed and dedicated writers, we resolve to:
1) Limit our bouts of depression to those times when we (a) have no time to write, and/or (b) have received a minimum of five new rejection letters. Whenever possible, we will also try to coincide this with times that the Today Show features new authors who have just received million-dollar advances (preferably for self-help books on learning to love failure).
2) Resist the temptation to visit Psychic web sites to ask when we will be getting a substantial publishing contract.
3) Stop reading the New York Times Bestseller List and imagining that the authors were unconnected and discovered by some ingenious literary agent tunneling through millions of books on Amazon.
4) Refuse, no matter how enticing, to send our manuscripts off to any agent whose only big sale was a nonfiction book entitled, ‘Everything I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned from My Friend the Crack-Whore.’
5) NEVER refer to ourselves as *writers* to: (a) potential landlords, (b) employers, (c) loan officers, or (d) anyone who might ask the question, “Really? Have you written anything I might have actually read?”
6) Acknowledge that Captain Morgan is NOT our friend, does NOT make our writing more creative, and, in fact, is not even a real person.
7) Remember that the opening passage to the next chapter cannot, no matter how many times we look, be found inside the refrigerator.
8) Start to actually appreciate that all the clerks at the post office know us by name and have taken to wishing us *Good Luck* every time we drop off another package containing a manuscript.
9) Stop expecting (a) speedy responses from anything called a *slush pile*, (b) anything good to come from agents who send back letters smeared with pizza stains, and (c) that our idea of 3-4 weeks will ever be the same as an agent’s.
10) Remember that the IRS does NOT recognize the cost of coffee, Prozac, or Absolut Vodka as legitimate business deductions.
11) Reassure ourselves that the thousands of dollars we have spent on editing will be tax-deductible just as soon as those first royalty checks roll in.
12) Always remember that the words, “The fantastic book you have written is sure to be a Bestseller and a box-office hit” should NEVER be followed by the words, “Send your check at your earliest convenience.”
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(Reprinted with permission. This article has been previously published under different titles and has appeared in various venues including Writer’s Ink, the Frankly Speaking column, Publish or Perish, and the Write Connection. )
The Odds of Success for Writers and Others in The Arts
The statistical odds for achieving financial success in the arts–that is, the ability to sustain life solely on one’s artistic pursuits without needing to get a day job–has been grim and getting progressively worse for several decades. This is especially true for the unconnected–those people who lack the necessary insider connections and must rely solely on their talent, hard work, persistence and cleverness.
The old adage ‘only pursue artistic endeavors for the passion and personal satisfaction it brings’ has never been more true.
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Approximately 40 percent of musicians and singers actually find work doing their craft, but only part time; they are frequently paid only meager wages. Almost half of those people working as musicians and singers are self-employed/independent contractors.
The number of qualified musicians and singers exceeds the number of available openings.
The vast number of people who desire to perform as musicians and singers will continue to greatly exceed the number of openings.
Talent alone is no guarantee of success: many people start out to become musicians or singers but leave the profession because they find the work difficult, the discipline demanding, and the long periods of intermittent unemployment unendurable.
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In the most recent industry data collected, about 61% of writers with degrees in their field who had planned to be novelists worked for newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers, 25% of writers worked in radio and television broadcasting, and about 7% of writers were working as news analysts or reporters. Of these, more than one-third of writers were self-employed, many working as independent contractors in the above mentioned fields.
Competition continues to be stiff for writing jobs in large metropolitan and national newspapers, broadcast stations and networks, and magazines.
About one-half of the salaried jobs for writers and editors are in the information sector: Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers; radio and television broadcasting; software publishers; motion picture and recording industries; Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data-processing services; and Internet publishing and broadcasting.
The number of qualified writers seeking permanent employment in these fields exceeds the number of available openings.
The number of job openings in the newspaper and broadcasting industries—in which news analysts, reporters, and correspondents are employed—is sensitive to economic ups and downs because these industries depend on advertising revenue.
Thousands of people work as freelance writers, finding occasional work and earning some income from their articles, books, and, far less commonly, television and movie scripts.
Most fiction and nonfiction writers support themselves with income derived from sources other than writing.
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Approximately 63% of people making some income as artists are self-employed.
Of the artists who are not self-employed, many work in: advertising and related services; newspaper, periodical, book, and software publishers; motion picture and video industries; specialized design services; and computer systems design and related services.
Some self-employed artists offer their services to advertising agencies, design firms, publishing houses, and other businesses on a contract or freelance basis.
The number of qualified artists exceeds the number of available openings.
Craft and fine artists work mostly on a freelance or commission basis, and most find it difficult to earn a living solely by selling their artwork.
Only the most successful craft and fine artists receive major commissions for their work.
As the use of technology grows, there will be fewer opportunities for artists working as illustrators.
Salaried cartoonists will have fewer job opportunities because many newspapers and magazines are increasingly relying on freelance work.
Most artists find it difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling paintings, photographs or other works of art.
Additionally, like other self-employed workers, freelance artists must provide their own health coverage and other benefits
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Reports gathered from industry sources reveal that for unconnected artists (those lacking strong recommendations from established industry insiders) there is an estimated average 99.99% rejection rate from longstanding conventional industry institutions for publishing a book (on average 15,000 ms. are rejected for every one accepted), being offered a music contract, securing art gallery representation, or having a script accepted for film.
Banned Books (or Why You Need to Read)
See Links to Full Text of 25,000 Books Online…Books that have been Banned at One Time or Another
(Category: News and Politics)
BANNED BOOKS ONLINE
Welcome to this special exhibit of books that have been the objects of censorship or censorship attempts. The books featured here, ranging from Ulysses to Little Red Riding Hood, have been selected from the indexes of The Online Books Page. (See that page for over 25,000 more online books!)
This page is a work in progress, and more works may be added to this page over time. Please inform firstname.lastname@example.org of any new material that can be included here. Note that the listings are meant to be representative rather than exhaustive. Also, many recent books that have been banned or challenged have not been included here, because they have not been made available online. (But see below).
Read a banned book today!
Click to See Banned Books:
Books that were Suppressed or Censored by Legal Authorities