Friday, May 26, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- The Barbara Bauer Show

Most of you visiting here will probably be aware of the most recent antics of "literary agent" Barbara Bauer, serial cease-and-desister and Big Number 3 on Writer Beware's Twenty Worst Agents list.

(If I seem a bit behind the eight ball with this post, I wasn't aware of any of this till yesterday evening. I was offline on Wednesday getting ready for a trip, and Thursday I was traveling--to visit Ann, as a matter of fact, and attend a conference. I spent yesterday evening and this morning just catching up with everything that's happened.)

In case you're not familiar with the situation, Barbara Bauer has been running around the Internet lately threatening people who've posted information about her fee-charging, non-manuscript-selling ways, including people who've linked to the Twenty Worst list. She has threatened legal action; she has even attempted to get people fired. Anyone who deals with disreputable agents knows that they don't follow through on their threats; they're cheap, they're liars, and they don't want to get involved in any situation that might result in disclosure of their dirty business practices. Response to Ms. Bauer's threats has been a large collective yawn. Unfortunately Ms. Bauer has continued her cease-and-desist efforts, no doubt on the theory that if you fire a thousand bullets you're bound to hit something eventually, and finally managed to find someone who took her seriously--the owners of the ISP where Absolute Write, one of the best writers' resources on the Internet, used to reside. To make a long story short, Ms. Bauer screamed, the ISP owners listened, and Absolute Write is now history.

There's a more detailed account of the whole unsavory episode on Making Light.

[In this space originally was a paragraph giving the ISP owners the benefit of the doubt. Since posting it, I've learned things that have convinced me that the ISP owners deserve a lot of the blame that's being heaped on them. I was wrong; all of you who let me know it are right.]

Even as I'm grieving Absolute Write (which I'm certain will rise again, through the efforts of its dedicated members and volunteer staffers, and the bravery of its heroic founder and editor-in-chief, Jenna Glatzer), I can't help taking pleasure in the unintended results of Ms. Bauer's attack. Sure, she killed a great website, but she crashed and burned in the process. In an incredible groundsurge of support for Absolute Write and the work of anti-scam groups like Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors, bloggers everywhere have been linking to the Twenty Worst list. When AW went down Ms. Bauer was probably rubbing her hands with glee, but right now she's got to be wringing them in horror as this meme proliferates across the Internet. Talk about viral marketing!

Ann and I would like to thank all the bloggers and others who've linked to the list as a gesture of support to AW and the campaign against literary scams. Through your efforts, the list is reaching a wider audience than we ever dared hope it would. Ms. Bauer is the catalyst for its spread, but ultimately this isn't about her--it's about all agents who prey on writers, whether they're deliberate scammers, clueless amateurs, or has-beens taking a sleazy route to easy cash.

The search for a new home for AW continues. Of course, a new host will cost money. Jenna isn't accepting donations right now, but there's a way we can help in case she needs them later. Consider buying her latest book, The Street Smart Writer. It's a terrific handbook for writers wanting to avoid the scams and schemes that infest the publishing world, and if you buy it from this link, Absolute Write gets a small percentage of the sale.

As I mentioned, I'm away from home at the moment, visiting Ann, so there may not be a new post until next week. Thanks again, and keep spreading the word!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 52 - Fun and Games at the BEA

Yesterday I spent six hours at the Book Expo America, wandering around the gargantuan DC Convention Center. I had been to the convention before, back when it was still the American Booksellers Association, known as the ABA. I remembered enough from my previous time there to bring a tote bag.

One tote bag wasn't enough. By the time I staggered out of there, when it closed at 6:00 PM, I had acquired another, larger, violently purple tote bag, and had filled it to the brim.

I will have to look over my largesse at some point, and I suspect some of that stuff will wind up being donated to the library sale, or finding its way to the round file.

In addition to visiting the "booths" (huge, carpeted areas with tables and chairs, even the occasional sofa or bar) of my publishers, especially HarperCollins, I also wandered by several places where I suspect the fact that I was wearing my navy Writer Beware polo shirt made them uncomfortable. (evil grin)

Cynthia Sterling of SterlingHouse publishing (and she also owns and runs Lee Shore Literary Agency, which holds the honorable mention No. 21 spot on Writer Beware's list of Agents to AVOID) was there, with quite a fancy layout, including free beer and pretzels as one of her lucky (ahem!) authors autographed his book. They didn't see me coming in time to put anything in my beer, but the whole time I was listening to the persuasive (yeah, right!) spiel of the fresh-faced young fella who was trying to sell me on becoming a SterlingHouse author (totally oblivious to the "HarperCollins" appellation on my badge), none of upper management (Cynthia, her head editor, and a "Mr. Sterling" who was probably her hubby) cracked a smile.

I was a very good girl, listening politely to the spiel, leafing through what they called a "book marketing catalogue" while drinking the beer the bartender handed me, and nibbling a pretzel.

Then, before I could be construed to be a nuisance, I ambled off again, after thanking the (still oblivious) nice young man.

My next stop on the "Let's just rattle 'em a bit" tour was good old Royal Fireworks. This publisher will also make the soon to be released Writer Beware's 10 Worst Publishers to AVOID list. They acquire books for no advance, pay a pittance for royalties, and THEY MAKE THE AUTHOR SIGN OVER HIS OR HER COPYRIGHT TO THEM.

Need I say more?

The proprietor of the Royal Fireworks booth and his wife both watched me as I ambled in, put down my tote bags with a sigh, and proceeded to take about 20 books off their display shelves, flip them open to the copyright page, nod slightly, and then put the book back and go on to the next. By the time I had done this for about 20 books, (and the old gentleman watched me like a polar bear watches a plump seal baby the whole time) I think my point had been made -- and all without saying a single word.

I know he remembered me. We had an exchange of words some years ago when he scammed an elderly SFWA member. (Scamming the elderly is particularly loathesome, isn't it?)

Except for the big bestsellers, authors are kind of the lowest of the low at the BEA. Really. There aren't many editors there, just the occasional publisher and tons of marketing salespeople. I did manage to meet a couple of the HC people responsible for selling my book, and talk to them about the trilogy, the next book, etc.

Let's hope they remember, and it does some good when Winds of Vengeance comes out.

Next year the BEA will be held in New York and I've already discussed signing at the Meisha Merlin booth. They are a small press that has acquired my StarBridge backlist (7 books) and bought 2 new books in the series.

If the first release is out by that time, it would be fun to be able to sign at next year's BEA. I haven't signed books at one of those shindigs since V came out, in 1984.

Have a good week, boys and girls!

-Ann C. Crispin

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- PODs Under Fire

A lot of you will probably already have heard of AuthorHouse's recent troubles. According to yesterday's Publishers Weekly, a Kansas jury has found the POD publisher guilty of publishing a book that libeled bestselling author Rebecca Brandewyne (Paperback Poison: the Romance Writer and the Hit Man by Brandewyne's ex-husband Gary D. Brock and his current wife, Debbie Brock). Despite the fact that AuthorHouse’s contracts contain a provision absolving the company of any liability for "loss, damage, injury, or claim to any kind or character to any person or property" resulting from the books it publishes, the jury held it liable, and ordered the company to pay $230,000 in actual damages. Punitive damages have yet to be awarded.

What does this tell us that we don't already know? Not much. It's not exactly a news flash that AuthorHouse doesn't read the books it publishes (not even when, as is apparently the case here, the author actually informs the company that the content may be libellous). Why should it? Whether you call it a vanity publisher or a self-publishing service, its services are provided to whomever is willing to pay--and apart from certain technical considerations, quality and content are irrelevant in a pay-to-publish model. Plus, AuthorHouse apparently believes it's protected not just by the waiver in its contract, but by the First Amendment. On that basis, the company is considering an appeal.

The implications, though, could be significant. If the verdict stands, will POD services feel the need to vet incoming manuscripts for libellous material--not to mention other lawsuit-inspiring problems such as plagiarism? What would happen if the PODs were forced to actually READ the manuscripts submitted to them? Imagine the additional staff they'd have to hire. Imagine the legal fees they'd incur for examining suspect works. Imagine the potential dent in profits. Imagine the fee hikes that might result! Imagine the companies that might shut their doors, feeling it wasn't worthwhile to continue under such a burden.

AuthorHouse isn't the only POD on the spot right now for not exercising adequate care with its product. Booksurge, a POD dogged by persistent reliability issues (which apparently have not been much improved by its recent purchase by Amazon), is also feeling some heat. The company and its parent are being sued by one of its clients for producing a book riddled with errors, typos, and out-of-sequence pages. The client, who happens to be a well-known local lawyer, is seeking $11 million in damages. Not only is Booksurge not reading the manuscripts it publishes, it evidently isn't proofreading them, either.

Writer Beware's favorite POD, PublishAmerica, is also on the hot seat (again. PA's previous brushes with the legal system include a successful arbitration action by one of its authors, and a trademark infringement suit by Encyclopedia Britannica over PA's use of the PublishBritannica name for its UK branch). According to documents filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court, the multitudinous relatives of Jacqueline Shumacher are suing her and PA for libel in connection with her book, White Trash Tales of the Paranormal. Yet another problem that might have been avoided by pre-reading, for yet another publisher that we know doesn't scrutinize the manuscripts it publishes.

Not that I expect that the arrogant people over at PA will be chastened. Despite proof to the contrary, they seem to believe themselves above the law. Don't look for them to start reading manuscripts any time soon, no matter what happens to AuthorHouse.

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

Edited to add: Over at Scrivener's Error, intellectual property attorney Charlie Petit has an entry about the AuthorHouse verdict.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 51, Sticking With It

Hi, my friends:

Lately I've been dealing with family illness while trying to make significant progress on my new novel, Winds of Vengeance, so I haven't been around much. I really appreciate Victoria stepping in and blogging so excellently.

Since I'm in the middle of a major project -- well, I consider writing an epic MAJOR -- I thought it might be of interest to discuss just how how a writer keeps up progress and enthusiasm while just basically writing one word after another, one sentence after another, one paragraph after another, one page after another. How do you keep up your enthusiasm so the project doesn't seem too overwhelming, and you keep making forward progress?

Well, for me it helps to set goals. I set a weekly goal for myself, and do my damndest to stick to it. If I achieve the goal, I try to reward myself in some small way -- buying a new hardcover book, for example, or taking my husband out to a new film we want to see.

Of course there are times when you're not going to achieve your goal. These are the most dangerous times for a writer. If you've slacked off writing for a couple of days, or a week, because of some kind of personal crisis, etc., it seems like it's pulling teeth to get back to it -- at least for me.

What I've learned about that is that you should then assign yourself a mini-goal. Promise yourself you'll write JUST ONE PAGE, or that you will write for just TWENTY MINUTES, or something of the sort. An easy goal, one you can envision achieving.

It often helps if you set up a "buddy report" system with a sympathetic friend. Tell your friend what your interim goal is, and then promise to REPORT on what happens. If you know that you have to make a phone call, or send an email, and actually tell your friend what you did, it can spur you into achieving that small goal.

And taking that first step to get back on the wagon is the most important thing. That way, you can at least think to yourself, "Hey...I wrote today. That's better than I did yesterday. I am making progress."

Of course the best way to proceed is not to interrupt your flow. Even if you have to write a page by hand, try to write something every day. It's really crucial in helping you focus on a project. I recently bought a notebook computer, and it's a big comfort to me to know that I can take this notebook with me when we go to visit my parents on the Eastern Shore, or camping, etc. And that every day I will be able to make some forward progress -- and that, even more importantly, my mental FOCUS on the project won't be lost.

So...try some of these productivity tricks if you're having trouble writing and completing projects.

Consider doing the following:

1. Setting a daily and weekly goal of what you want to accomplish. Don't be too ambitious in the begining, because you want to be able to ACHIEVE that goal.

2. Reward yourself when you achieve your weekly goal. That gives you something to look forward to while you're staring at the cursor and wondering what the heck to write in the next paragraph.

3. If you do lose momentum, get right back up on the wagon and get rolling. Set an interim goal that is easily achievable. Anything to get yourself writing again.

4. Try to keep your focus on your book and your story. Let the flow start. Instead of lines on a page, try to envision your story unrolling before your eyes like a film, instead of as just words and sentences on a page. Stephen King calls this "falling through the hole in the page."

Anyhow, hope this is helpful. If anyone has any comments on how they "trick" or cajole or induce themselves to keep plugging away at a long project, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks!

-Ann C. Crispin

Friday, May 12, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- More People Out There Don't LIke Us

One post back, I wrote about this guy who's scattering scurrilous messages around the Internet about me and Dave Kuzminski. At the time, I'd only found two of these, but in fact there are more--five in all. Here's another one. And another one. And still another one.

Guess what. We still don't care.

Since ol' John, whoever he may be, has accused us of "knowingly" posting false information for personal reasons, I thought it might be helpful to discuss Writer Beware's standards of documentation as well as our definition of questionable practice.

We define "questionable" as nonstandard practice not in writers’ best interest. This includes:
  • Fees of various kinds (agents who charge reading fees, evaluation fees, retainers, “marketing” or “submission” fees; publishers that require writers to pre-purchase their books or to pay for some aspect of the publication process)

  • Conflicts of interest (agents or publishers that recommend their own paid editing services, agents who send writers to publishing operations they own, independent editors who pay kickbacks for referrals)

  • Abusive or nonstandard contract terms (an agent who claims a financial interest in a client’s future work, whether or not the agent actually sells it, or a publisher that charges all kinds of expenses against royalties)

  • Unprofessional practices (agents who “blitz” submit or use their clients’ own query letters, publishers that make writers responsible for getting their own books into bookstores, independent editors who claim that manuscripts have to be "professionally" edited in order to be competitive)

  • Nonperformance (agents who’ve been in business for more than a year and still have no sales, publishers that don’t fulfill their contractual obligations)

  • Dubious qualifications (an agent, publisher, or independent editor who sets up in business without a relevant professional background--such people are often well-intentioned but simply have no idea how to do the job)

Most of the reports we receive involve one or more of the issues outlined above. We ask writers to substantiate their reports with documentation wherever possible (letters, e-mails, contracts, websites, brochures, publicity information, etc.) and we don't start a file on an agent, publisher, or independent editor unless we've received at least two substantially identical reports, or a single report with documentation. Most of our files contain at least a dozen separate reports. Many contain a lot more. Our largest file (which gets bigger every week) has upward of 300 reports.

Occasionally we hear from people who have general gripes about the submission process, or are upset by something that's fairly routine--long turnaround times, for instance, or failure to return manuscripts. These things aren’t enough to put someone on our watchlist--while they’re regrettable, they happen a lot, and writers have to be prepared to deal with them. We also sometimes hear from writers who are angry that an agent didn't manage to sell their book, or didn't call them often enough with updates, or sent a dismissive rejection letter. We don’t often regard issues like these as documentable complaints, because they're general problems that anyone can encounter in the ordinary run of things (and often involve unrealistic expectations on the writer’s part). Occasionally, with multiple similar reports, they do add up to a pattern, and if so we feel a warning is in order. But that's rare.

So we’re very careful to distinguish between genuine bad practice and writers’ sour grapes, and to back up our warnings with as much documentation as possible. We want to provide balanced information that writers can depend on--and to do this, we must be as responsible in our data collection and our dissemination of information as we expect agents, publishers, and independent editors to be in their business dealings.

Or to put it another way: we have a lot more to lose by lying than some pseudonymous rumor-monger on the Internet does.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Another Scammer Bites the Big One

In 1999, I started getting complaints about a guy with the unfortunate name of George Harrison Titsworth, who ran an agency called Helping Hand Literary Service in San Angelo, Texas. Mr. Titsworth sought clients by placing ads like this one in free weekly papers such as Pennysaver:

WRITERS WANTED by literary agent that specializes in getting unpublished writers published. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children's. Free evaluation. Helping Hand Literary Services.

Writers who ignored the multiple red flags (real agents don't advertise; real agents don't represent poetry) and submitted to Helping Hand got an offer of representation, complete with a glowing acceptance letter. "I don't normally have this much to say about a submission," the letter began (and yes, every potential client got the same letter, customized with their name and book title). "You are a talented writer with a great deal of potential...Plus, it doesn't hurt a bit that I found 117 [or 150, or 200, depending on the letter] publishers that buy material like yours." As with those junk mail letters we all know and loathe, there was a PS, and sometimes a PPS, to sink the hook: "There are two ways to break into the publishing industry: Follow the same paths as other successful writers and hope for the best, or write something totally unique and find your own path into the industry. I believe you have done the latter...and, in my opinion, have done it quite well." Or, more briefly: "It appears to me that you have put a great deal of effort into this work. I look forward to hearing from you soon."

There was just one catch, as you might expect. Writers had to hand over an "expense reimbursement" of $100, $200, or $300, depending on how many "publisher contacts" were desired. Those who coughed up the cash received a "submission packet:" a set of pre-printed publisher address labels, a cover letter on agency letterhead ("Dear Editor, I am interested in placing my client's manuscript with your company for publication..."), a return envelope addressed to Helping Hand, and a sheet of instructions. Writers were directed to stick a stamp on the return envelope, place the letter, envelope, and accompanying materials (the writer's own query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters) in a manila envelope, affix the pre-printed label and sufficient postage, and drop the packet in the mail. "Do not put your return address anywhere on the material," the instruction sheet admonished. "It makes the publisher think you are trying to circumvent us and upsets them."

Actually, what upset them was being bombarded by substandard, inappropriate material. Again as you might expect, Helping Hand accepted anyone who was willing to pay their fee (quality not a concern) and didn't invest much effort in researching publishers. The agency quickly became notorious among editors and their assistants. Its submissions were routinely ignored. Some editors went so far as to contact the agency to instruct it never to send anything, ever again!! Needless to say, no pubishing offers ever materialized.

So callous and egregious was this scam that many of the victims--and bear in mind that Helping Hand's solicitations were targeted to the most inexperienced and ignorant writers--eventually caught on. In 2002, to dodge mounting complaints, Helping Hand magically morphed into Janet Kay & Associates (Janet Kay Titsworth being George's wife). Though the name changed, the M.O. (including those fulsome acceptance letters) remained the same...and the complaints kept on piling up. Meanwhile, George and Janet continued to rake in victims, and even expanded into vanity publishing, setting up a POD publisher called JanGeo Ink and offering contracts to literary agency clients after a few rounds of fruitless submissions.

Sounds more or less the same as any other literary scam, right? In this case, though, there was one crucial difference: the San Angelo police took an interest. In early 2002 an investigation was opened, which culminated in February 2004 with a raid on the Titsworths' home. Manuscripts and supporting materials, many in unopened envelopes, were seized and placed in evidence--enough of them to fill two 8' x 11' jail cells. Not seized, unfortunately, were the Titsworths, who maybe had been tipped off or maybe were just canny, and had done a bunk.

A warrant was issued. In September 2004 George and Janet were captured--in part because, like many literary scammers, they were unable to resist a repeat performance. They set up a new fee-charging agency called Harrison & Co (George Harrison Titsworth--duh), whose website included some of the distinctive verbiage that had been on the Helping Hand/Janet Kay website, and whose intake materials were identical. The ever-watchful folks at Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors spotted the similarities and alerted the San Angelo police, who were able to track the Titsworths down and bring them in. Released on bail, they set up yet another scam agency (At Your Service Literary Agency, this time with a New Mexico address). Unbelievably, they didn't bother to revise their intake materials or to vary their M.O.--which led, once again, to exposure by Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors.

A grand jury in Tom Green County indicted the Titsworths in December 2004. After several delays, a judgment was handed down on April 25, 2006. In exchange for pleas of guilty to one count of theft under $100,000, George and Janet were spared prison time, receiving a sentence of ten years' probation each and an order to pay restitution of $159,320.62. In addition, each will pay a $60 per month Community Supervision fee; and the proceeds of a pending civil lawsuit against them will also be applied to restitution.

The news that the Titsworths were going to be allowed to make a plea, and wouldn't do substantial jail time, broke last fall, and produced a bit of a furore among certain people who'd been following the case. These people felt strongly that the court should have tossed the Titsworths into a cell and thrown away the key.

Sure, it'd be nice if these unscrupulous con artists wore orange jumpsuits for the next ten years or so. Realistically, though, literary fraud is hard to prove, and an expensive trial might have come to nothing. This way, the Titsworths are convicted criminals--no chance of an acquittal. Their victims will receive about $100 in restitution each--not a lot, but more than would have been available had the Titsworths used the money (an insurance settlement from an auto accident) to mount a defense, and also more than is received by victims of most literary scams (zero). And probation is no picnic. The Titsworths won't be able to leave Tom Green County without written approval; they must refrain from "the voluntary inhalation or ingestion of any substance calculated to cause intoxication," and submit to urinalysis and/or breathalyzer testing at least weekly (and at their own expense); they must be home by 10:00pm and can't leave home before 6:00am; they must attend psychological counseling sessions and complete an educational program on financial responsiblity (again at their own expense); they must refrain from criminal activity and avoid other criminals; and if they violate any of these provisions, they go straight to jail. Which means, among other things, that they shouldn't be thinking about starting up another scam literary agency or publisher anytime soon.

All in all, I'd say it's a pretty satisfactory outcome.

Of course, the Titsworths have already proven themselves somewhat deficient in common sense where literary scams are concerned. So we wouldn't be too surprised, one of these days, to hear about George Kay Literary Associates, or GeoJan Publishing Unlimited. Watch your step, Janet and George...the Eye of Writer Beware is on you.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Someone Out There Doesn't Like Us (And We Don't Care)

In Ann's and my line of business (the scam-busting business, that is), we inevitably create some resentment (to put it mildly) among the people we warn about. Here's one typical example. Here's another.

An alert Writer Beware reader recently let me know that someone calling himself J.G. Goodman has posted some unflattering comments about me and fellow scam-buster Dave Kuzminski in the forums at SFReader.com, a speculative fiction-oriented website. Searching on a few key phrases quickly located a practically identical screed from a John Goodman on Written Road, a publishing-and-writing-oriented blog. By chance, I'd also seen an earlier negative comment about me from one Dave King on the Rumor Mill, a message board for writers sponsored by the ezine Speculations (you have to scroll down a bit; it's Message 483801). I might have assumed that it was unrelated to Mr. Goodman's rantings, had not ol' Dave written me the following "neener, neener" email:

Vicky,

Have you seen this thread?

http://www.speculations.com/index.html?t=69948

Now you can see how difficult it is to remove anonymous postings of this kind.

J.R.


I knew it was Dave because of the "daveking@..." email address, but note the signature. Another J.

So who is J.G. Goodman/John Goodman/Dave King? Which disgruntled agent or publisher does he represent? I have a theory.

There's this vanity publisher--let's call it American Book Publishing--run by a shady character--let's call her C. Lee Nunn. ABP charges a "setup fee" and appears to derive most of its income from persuading its authors to buy huge quantities of their own books. Over the years we've gotten nearly 40 complaints about it--a lot, considering that Ms. Nunn imposes gag orders on writers who break their contracts, and at one point threatened writers with a $10,000 fine if they "disparaged" the company. ABP is the subject of a warning on Writer Beware.

The warning really chaps Ms. Nunn's hide. Periodically, she emails Writer Beware, or gets others to email us, trying to find out exactly what we know (or possibly to tempt us into making actionable statements). The emails usually purport to be from anxious writers researching the company--but certain key details and questions (such as a request for the case numbers of the police investigations of which ABP has been a target) tip us off to who's really responsible.

Toward the end of April, I was contacted by an individual who claimed to be investigating ABP for "a book publishing industry trade organization." He had some questions for me. Not entirely to my surprise, these were the very same questions Ms. Nunn and her shills always ask.

Deciding to string him along for a while, I wrote to ask which publishing industry trade organization it was. This produced a blustery and not entirely straightforward response. He was "not allowed to disclose that during an open investigation." I, on the other hand, should hold myself to a different set of ethics: "Since you report this information, please follow the industry standard of reporters in providing these types of background details upon request."

I replied that it was also standard for people writing official reports to reveal their affiliations to those whom they wished to question. Mr. Wentworth was not amused. "It should not matter which organization I've been asked to get this information for," he huffed. "I'm beginning to also conclude that perhaps what the company stated in their defense to me is much more true and likely. That you made a phone call to a police department and then falsely reported it as a 'police investigation of the company' to shock and scare their authors into contacting you with their worries and attracted their most inexperienced authors." And why would I do such a thing? Mr. Wentworth claimed to know the truth: "I asked the company the same questions I asked you, and they stated that you had tried to get on their payroll as contract administrator and when they refused you, you followed up on your threat to post this false report."

(This is a fairy tale, by the way, though Ms. Nunn appears to have convinced herself that it's true. It was alleged in the lawsuit she tried to file against Writer Beware in 2003 [which miraculously vanished once her attorney discovered that Writer Beware had full documentation for its warnings], and she claimed it again last year when she contacted SFWA's legal counsel to demand that I be disciplined. He challenged her to provide evidence, and didn't hear from her again.)

By this time I was bored with the exchange, and wrote to tell Mr. Wentworth that I knew what was up and wasn't going to play anymore. He fired back a final salvo. Since I'd refused to be "forthcoming or cooperative," dire consequences were in store for me. "I have no choice but to report that you are intentionally deceiving the writers community and public with this false information...Unfortunately once the report does become published, it will become public information as I have stated and will be talked about in the writers community that you represent yourself as being a trustworthy expert. The news of this report will have a negative effect and impact on your career and your credibility...Victoria this is probably the most decisive day in your career."

Ooooh. I'm shakin' here.

I didn't reply, and that was the last I heard from Mr. Wentworth. Or...was it?

Obviously there's no "industry trade organization," and no report. It's just Ms. Nunn again, fishing for info with the same old stinky bait. But since I didn't bite, maybe she (or Mr. Wentworth, if he's a shill and not an alias) sallied forth onto the Internet and posted the pseudonymous comments linked in at the beginning of this entry--trying, in the only way available to her (or him), to have "a negative effect and impact" on my credibility.

So what do you think, boys and girls? Is it working?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 50 - The Sun Sets on Desert Rose?

Hi, folks. Been gone a while, due to illness in family.

At any rate, this morning I got a call quite early from a Sergeant John Walker from the Texas police force (yes, I confess I was picturing Chuck Norris the whole time we were chatting!) to ask me if Writer Beware would post a notice to writers who have been scammed by Desert Rose/Leann Murphy to get in touch with him.

Thanks to Victoria of the lightning fingers, the notice went up within the hour.

Who is Leann Murphy? She is the person who runs the scam agency called Desert Rose, currently listed on the 20 Worst Agents list on Writer Beware. Leann, it seems, worked for Janet Kay and George Titsworth of Helping Hand/Janet Kay Literary Agency fame, and learned all of Janet and George's evil ways. She's been merrily scamming writers for a couple of years now, charging $250 in upfront "marketing fees" for a 6 month period, or $300 for a year's "representation."

Leann Murphy has, needless to say, never sold a book to a commercial advance and royalty paying publisher. She wouldn't know a real New York editor if she fell over one on the streets of San Angelo.

So...if you are reading this, and you are a victim of Leann Murphy's, or know someone who was scammed by Desert Rose, please contact:

Tom Green County Sheriff's Office
222 West Harris
San Angelo, TX 76901
Attn: Sgt. John Walker

His email is: johnny.walker@co.tom-green.tx.us

The Sergeant is a very nice fellow. We had a chat about how cruel writing scams are. Sgt. Walker knows Detective Brian Elkins, of the San Angelo (city) P.D. Matter of fact, Detective Elkins was the one who suggested the Sergeant give Writer Beware a call.

(Detective Elkins was the police officer who hunted down and brought Janet Kay and George Titsworth to justice. After they initially fled, minutes ahead of an arrest warrant, Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors were able to track Janet and George across the great State of Texas by keeping track of each new scam literary agency they started. While being actively hunted by the police, or awaiting trial, they started something like four new scam literary agencies.)

Well, now it's dear little Leann's turn. The police have officially opened an investigation into her little scam. Leann, maybe it's time to get outta Dodge...err, San Angelo?

If you do, don't start any new scam agencies. We'll spot you, honey.

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Editors and Agents

A couple of posts back, Jill Elaine Hughes left an interesting comment:

It might be interesting, Victoria, to get some respected editors to do a post on how they prioritize agented submissions based on the quality/reputation of the agent. I know that if you're repped by Donald Maass or Ethan Ellenberg, you can get read right away; mid-tier agents get placed in the middle of the pile, and scammer agents like BB get relegated to the slush pile. Or so I've heard. I'd love to hear more about how editors deal with these marginal agents.

As I understand it, Jill is correct. Top-tier agents get top priority. Midrange agents, and agents the editors don't know but who seem professional (i.e., a literate cover letter, an appropriate and not obviously substandard submission, no unnecessary furbelows or folderols like author photos or a marketing plan for a novel), get mid-level priority. The obviously incompetent agents, or the agents the editors have run across before and know from experience to be incompetent, get a glance at most. At worst, they go straight to the form rejection pile.

Editors definitely remember bad agents. A few years back, Ann and I did an article on the getting of agents for Writer's Digest. As a sidebar, we asked a number of editors and editors' assistants at major publishers some questions about how they deal with agents--including whether there were agents whom they ignored or who got bottom priority because the agents habitually submitted inappropriate or illiterate or totally unprofessional material (for a rundown on unprofessional submission techniques, see my What Real Agents Don't Do post). Not only did every single person we talked to say yes, they named names. A few of the agencies we hadn't heard of, but most were on our watchlist--and several are on our "20 Worst" list.

The few editors whose houses accepted unagented manuscripts also told us that unagented writers get more consideration than known bad agents--that is, very, very little consideration compared to that given to established writers or writers repped by top agents (remind me to do a post on why you shouldn't submit unagented to a major publisher, even where the guidelines say you can)--but at least not an automatic trip to the reject pile.

Yet more evidence--as if there weren't already enough--that a successful agent is the only kind worth having, and that it's just a waste of time, not to mention money, to hook up with a disreputable or amateur agent.

Any editors who'd like to weigh in on this issue, post a comment here or email us (beware@sfwa.org) and we'll be glad to reprint it.