Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Every time I bemoan Writer Beware's overpacked file drawers, and wonder whether I should get rid of files for agents and publishers that have gone out of business (or at least consign them to the basement), I'm reminded of why it's important to keep that old information handy. When literary scammers vanish, there's a pretty good chance that they'll return in a different guise.
(Everything that follows is supported by extensive documentation in Writer Beware's possession.)
Once upon a time, there was a fee-charging literary agency called American Literary Agents of Washington, Inc. It was among the first agencies Writer Beware received complaints about when we started up in 1998. Writers reported being asked for a $200 fee (later increased to $250) to "defray submission expenses." The contract was for six months; once it terminated, you had to pay another $250 to re-up.
Needless to say, ALA never made any sales that Writer Beware could discover. As warnings about it started to spread, it did what disreputable literary enterprises so often do: it began conducting business under other names, including Capital Literary Agency and Washington Literary Agency. We got scores of complaints about these companies; when Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List was created in 2006, ALA/Capital/etc. was on it.
In 2001, I started getting reports of pay-to-publish offers to clients of the various agencies, from a company called Washington House. This, it turned out, was no coincidence: the Washington House URL was registered to ALA, though the writers who received the offers weren't informed of the connection. Washington House, a.k.a. Trident Media Company and Mandrill Publishing, charged as much as $3,500 for editing, and provided the level of marketing and distribution you'd expect from a less-than-reputable fee-charging publisher. Judging by the complaints Writer Beware received (similar to this one and this one), it was also somewhat unreliable in the production and payment department.
Again, as information spread, the names changed. Sometime in 2006, Washington House/Trident Media/Mandrill became New World Media/American Bookpress.
All these companies were owned by a man named Samuel C. Asinugo. In 2008, Asinugo was found guilty of forgery (a conviction that was recently upheld on appeal). It's likely not an accident--though I didn't know it till I began doing research for this post--that 2008 was the year in which Writer Beware stopped getting questions and complaints about ALA, New World Media, etc. Since then, I've heard nothing about any of these enterprises.
Until this week, that is, when a writer contacted me with a question about the reputation of a literary agency with the distinguished name of Clark, Mendelson, and Scott, which offers a six-month contract and charges $150 upfront for US submissions ($250 if you want your book sent to overseas publishers as well). The agency's website claims that it's staffed by "Scott Maxwell, Richard Mendleson [note the difference between that spelling and the spelling on the masthead], and Cindy Clark, all former publishing executives with diverse experience in the literary market." No information about that diverse experience is provided, but the website boasts that "we have over 650 titles in print"--which sounds pretty implausible for an agency that does not appear to have existed prior to May of this year, especially one with a badly-written intro page and typos on its submission page.
So, already pretty smelly. But it gets better. When I followed the book links on the agency's website to Amazon, I discovered that every single one was published by Washington House or Mandrill. This spurred me to check the agency's domain registration information, where I learned that the registrant is Peace Asinugo. It'd be amazing if those two things were coincidence, wouldn't it? Samuel Asinugo's name doesn't appear anywhere in the agency's correspondence or contracts, but the (error-ridden) welcome letter is signed by Project Director "Simon Aragon"--S.A.--a perfectly lovely alias that Asinugo apparently forgot to employ when setting up business listings on Angie's List and Manta.
I'm guessing that Peace is Asinugo's daughter. I wonder if she knows how her name is being used.
Asinugo's publishing contracts were for life of copyright, and left the decision to take books out of print entirely to the publisher--so it's quite possible that he still holds the rights to many, if not most, of the books he published (a number of Washington House and Mandrill books show up on Amazon as "temporarily out of stock," but others are "in stock and available," or orderable with a 1-3 week lead time). This, sadly, could explain the "650 titles in print" claim.
Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List has been updated to reflect this latest name change.
Edited 11/4/11 to add: Samuel Asinugo is also doing business as Franklin-Madison Literary Agency (with a similar M.O.). Details are here.