Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Cruelest Hoax

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

There's been some Internet buzz over the past few days about an apparent scam in which an unknown individual, posing as agent Jodi Reamer of uber-agency Writers House, targeted an unsuspecting author with a fake representation offer, followed by a fake high-advance contract offer from a major publishing house, all in the space of a few hours. As quickly as the hoax evolved, it collapsed--just one day after announcing what she believed was her good fortune, the author, self-published YA writer Aaronni Miller, revealed on her blog that she'd been punk'd.

A statement by Writers House appeared to confirm the hoaxer's existence.
Writers House has learned that a series of fake emails claiming to be from WH agent Jodi Reamer have been circulating to self-published authors this week. "These emails, which contain a number of false statements, have not in fact come from Jodi Reamer and should thus be disregarded." One easy "tell": they advise that any e-mail from a non-Writers House address "expressing interest in representation is counterfeit.
Still, some people were skeptical. Could the whole improbable story have been a lie, or some kind of spectacularly ill-advised publicity stunt, with Aaronni inventing the hoaxer as a way of saving face when an actual client of Ms. Reamer confirmed on Twitter that there'd been no representation offer?

Naturally, I was intrigued. So I contacted Aaronni, and she was kind enough to share with me all the emails she received from the hoaxer, as well as screenshots of the fake Twitter account the hoaxer created to "apologize" after Aaronni posted about the hoax on her blog. I'm satisfied that the hoaxer was real, and that Aaronni was the victim of an extraordinarily cruel prank.

There were certainly some major red flags, as you'll see in the emails reproduced below--the biggest of which is that no one gets a book deal within a few hours of receiving a representation offer, where the editors involved have never seen the book before. You probably won't be alone in feeling that Aaronni should have known better, or at least should have been more cautious. But she's very new to the publishing game, and like many new writers who get mixed up with sweet-talking scammers, ignored some of her own gut feelings in the excitement of what appeared to be a dream come true. Plus, the hoaxer was fairly convincing, at least to start. This is the second email Aaronni received, after the initial contact praising her writing and telling her she had a salable book:
From: Jodi Reamer [jodireamer@ymail.com]
To: Aaronni Miller [email address redacted]
Sent: Wed, July 20, 2011 12:30:32 PM
Subject: Re: Possible Representation-Aaronni Miller

Fantastic. I'm at meetings for the rest of today, and tomorrow I leave the office for the remainder of the week to go on vacation.
I'm having lunch with a few of my editor friends tomorrow (one at Razorbill, have you heard of them?) and I'd love to show her some of your work.
Would that be ok?

Jodi

JODI REAMER
LITERARY AGENT
WRITERS HOUSE
21 WEST 26th STREET
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10010
http://writershouse.com/
OK? Why wouldn't it be OK? Aaronni said yes. Then, after just a few hours:
From: Jodi Reamer [jodireamer@ymail.com]
To: Aaronni Miller [email address redacted]
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 5:52 PM
Subject: Re: Possible Representation-Aaronni Miller

Great news: Razorbill loves your story. They want to buy it.

I want to send it to HarperTeen first, though, before we make any decisions. I really feel like your work is going to sell at auction!

Jodi
An actual publication offer! Aaronni must have been over the moon. And just imagine her feelings when, an hour later, this arrived:
From: Jodi Reamer [jodireamerr@yahoo.com]
To: Aaronni Miller [email address redacted]
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 7:12 PM
Subject: Offer from Razorbill and HarperTeen

Hi Aaronni,

Just heard back from HarperTeen. Okay, so here's the deal:

Ben Schrank at Razorbill can offer us a $120,000 advance, and Erica Sussman at HarperTeen can offer us $200,000.

I've decided that we're going to go with HarperTeen. Erica is going to get edits to you sometime in the fall, and that is also when HarperTeen will discuss release dates, covers, etc.

I'll send you your check in a few weeks! I generally take 75% commission, so you should be getting $50,000.

Jodi

JODI REAMER
LITERARY AGENT
WRITERS HOUSE
21 WEST 26th STREET
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10010
http://writershouse.com
Now, the hoaxer was knowledgeable enough, or research-savvy enough, to get the names of editors and imprints right (an area where scammers frequently trip up--pairing the wrong name with the wrong imprint, or using the names of people who are no longer with the companies). But s/he also started to get careless. Note the suddenly different email address, the outlandish advance amounts, the unilateral "decision" to go with one publisher over another without asking the client's opinion, and the absurd commission percentage.

Here, Aaronni told me, was where she really started to smell a rat. But, still in thrall to the dream, "I rationalized this by thinking that she (meaning Jodi) was busy and she made a mistake." Plus, when called on the commission percentage, the hoaxer quickly backtracked:
From: Jodi Reamer [jodireamerr@yahoo.com]
To: Aaronni Miller [email address redacted]
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 7:26 PM
Subject: Re: Offer from Razorbill and HarperTeen

Did I say 75%? Crap.
Forgive me, I meant 15%! You'll be getting a check of $170,000 in the mail. What's your mailing address?

Jodi
The hoaxer then went on to urge Aaronni to proclaim the good news.
From: Jodi Reamer [jodireamerr@yahoo.com]
To: Aaronni Miller [email address redacted]
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 7:29 PM
Subject: Re: Offer from Razorbill and HarperTeen

Since the deal already went through, you're free to announce this to your friends, Facebook followers, etc.
And again:
From: Jodi Reamer [jodireamerr@yahoo.com]
To: Aaronni Miller [email address redacted]
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 8:05 PM
Subject: Re: Offer from Razorbill and HarperTeen

I understand. :)
I'm excited to work with you in the future!

Now, go celebrate your book deal...

Jodi
Presumably, this was the aim of the hoax: to get Aaronni to humiliate herself by going public. Which she did, in an ecstatic blog post that same day. (The post has since been removed.) It wasn't long before she was dragged down to earth. "I finally realized (for good) this was a scam when people commented on my blog saying how strange it was that I had a book deal that I could announce and my agent cleared it. From there, I contacted Writer's House and I was told that Jodi was actually traveling on business; her assistant, also, had never heard of the two emails I gave to him when I called. I further knew this was a scam when the scammer made a fake Twitter account and apologized to me about everything."

The Twitter account appeared the same day Aaronni posted about the scam. Yet another nasty prank--but this time, Aaronni didn't bite. The Twitter account was soon deleted.

I'm reminded here of the Hill & Hill Literary Agency scam, in which writers were bamboozled by a possibly deranged scammer who fabricated elaborate "evidence" of submissions, publisher comments, and even publishing contracts in order to convince his clients he had sold, or was about to sell, their books. But though Writers House's response to Aaronni's experience suggests that multiple authors were targeted, I haven't been able to find anyone else who received the fake emails. It looks to me as if this prank was a one-time personal attack, rather than part of a wider scam.

Aaronni thinks she knows who did it--but not why. "The person who scammed me is someone who I follow on Twitter and he follows me; we've only talked a few times and none of those times involved an argument or ill-will."

So what's the moral of this tale? There's the obvious one, of course: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. And the less obvious one: Pay attention to your gut; don't let hope and desire blind you to a nagging sense that something's wrong. And the practical one: Arm yourself with knowledge before embarking on your journey to publication; the more you know, the safer you'll be. And the paranoid one: Never trust strokes of extreme good fortune until they can be verified. But writers are already paranoid enough, thank you very much; and most of the time, things really are what they appear to be. What happened to Aaronni is extremely unusual. I don't think that any aspiring writer needs to lose sleep over the possibility that it could happen to them.

There you have it: the true story of one of the meanest tricks I've seen played in my thirteen years of following this kind of stuff. Aaronni has gotten a lot of support online. If anyone out there is still skeptical of her story, hopefully this blog post will put their doubts to rest.

62 comments:

K. Victoria Chase said...

75%?!?! Now that is laughable. The hoaxer had to look up the going rate real quick...

Josin L. McQuein said...

I had a feeling this was someone she knew who thought this was going to pass as "humor".

I'm glad Aaronni passed the emails along to you, so hopefully if she's not the only one this jerk sent things to the next person won't be so easily persuaded. Hopefully, she'll count this as a learning experience and not stop writing.

It would serve the creep right if this gave Aaronni enough of a publicity push to have a hit on her hands.

J.A. Souders said...

My heart goes out to her. That is absolutely the cruelest thing I've ever heard happening to a writer. Though I'm sure being scammed out of thousands is just a cruel.

I wish her luck and hope she continues writing despite this nastiness.

BuffySquirrel said...

Hilarious. Not.

Sasha White said...

Ouch! The heartache.

While there were definitely red flags, who isn't vulnerable when someone hits you where your dreams live?

I hope whoever did it gets what they deserve.

Anne R. Allen said...

There are some indie authors who get into a rigid either/or mindset and actually feel betrayed when a self-published author seeks representation. I wonder if this sadistic prank was the work of one of those?

In any case, it's just horrible.

KB/KT Grant said...

And don't you love how the heartless a-hole says they're just a teenager, as if that's a reason I forgive them for their douchery.

Jamie Mason said...

This is terrible. What a horrible letdown for her. Very, very cruel.

Lani Wendt Young said...

I admire her courage for being willing to share her experience - a warning and reminder to us all. Thank you Aaronni. Whoever did this to you is a disgusting individual and will one day 'get what they deserve'. I hope you keep writing - and the minute your first book is released? I'm buying one.

Rogue Mutt said...

Are you sure it wasn't one of those Nigerian-type phishing scams? Maybe if she'd held on long enough she would have been asked to submit bank information or Social Security numbers or something the Emailer could use to steal her identity.

Scooter Carlyle said...

The scam artist's plea for forgiveness, citing that he/she was just a teenager, doesn't ring true to me. It's not impossible, but I work with teens, and not many of them could have held up under scrutiny as long as it did.

That's just speculation, and I could be completely wrong. My heart goes out to the author, though. How cruel.

Lisa said...

I hope the hoaxer is aware that they potentially violated International and Federal laws regarding identity, fraud, harassment and the Internet?

And I hope the victim has contacted the FBI.

This is not ok. It is very much not funny, and the hoaxer is a creep.

CS said...

A teenager? Seems a little too sophisticated. A hunch tells me this almost had to be someone she knew, even possibly a fellow writer. Except for the ludicrous commission, they were far too well informed about names of specific agents, imprints and publishers to just be some kid, or a Nigerian scammer. (Plus, the spelling and grammar were actually correct). A truly baffling situation.

Madison Johns said...

I plan to post this on facebook. It's a very cruel hoax at a time self published writers are working so hard to make themselves look professional.

Lynne Kelly said...

Wow. That's about the meanest thing ever.

True, it does seem sophisticated for a teenager, but some who are book bloggers, for example, are knowledgeable enough about the publishing industry to pull this off. So it's possible. Still reprehensible.

Brandy B. said...

What an inexcusable act of cyber cruelty. Although she may feel cheated and even angry at the moment, the gift in this experience comes from being extra cautious in regards to Agencies and the people you've made connections with on the internet in the future.

Lucy said...

@ Lisa

She could contact the FBI, but without a significant financial loss involved, it's highly unlikely they'd investigate.

I too hope she lands the deal of her dreams--a real one, this time--and goes on to be successful.

Lisa said...

IANAL but I am the person who has had to contact the FBI on the behalf of faculty and students, at a university and members of an online community, the FBI doesn't care about financial loss; they care about people violating federal law.

In this case, the person has no safe
harbor, fits the criteria for a malicious stalker, and has essentially posed as another known person, "with intent."

These are all not legal, and, since the event took place on the Internet, it does by its nature enter the mandate of the FBI.

Also? I hope their own mss. rot in the circular file of eternity.

Me said...

I love the crappy change of email address. And wouldn't you expect the real agent to have an agency-based address anyway?

For someone new to the wide, scary world of publishing it may not have seemed quick to Aaronni, but yeah the 75% (sorry, 15%) com rate should have rang the hoax alarm.

Embarrassing for everyone but Aaronni. Good luck to her.

Liz said...

Not only was it extremely cruel, it was ill-timed, as it was nowhere near April 1. My sympathy to Ms. Miller, the victim of this cruel prank.

Anninyn said...

What an awful trick to play on someone. Sure, there were red flags but when everything seems to be going the way of your wildest dreams, a trusting person will often go along with things until it's too late.

Anonymous said...

Her name sounds familiar. I am just wondering if it is the same Aaronni who is (or was) a member of the Harper Collins author site, Authonomy. If it is that would explain the hoaxers knowledge of Harper Collins.

I say this because at times the forums there degenerate into unmoderated slanging matches and there have been many instances of grudges been taken outside the forums to destroy names.

One thing she could do is to look at the email header to see where the IP is resident. It won't give the users address, but maybe it would give some idea of the county and it would give some clue.

S.M. Carrière said...

Oh, that poor woman! I'd be in tears. That is by far the cruellest thing I've ever heard. Money is one thing, but heartbreak is quite another.

I do hope she recovers quickly. My heart goes out to her.

I do hope, Aaronni, that you continue to write and that your dreams do come true!

eliana23 said...

I wish all the best to Aaronni. Yes, she should have been more cautious but I think we can all understand getting caught up in excitement.

R.M. Prioleau said...

That's terrible. I can't believe someone would be bored enough to stoop that low like that.

wordslikesilver said...

That's awful! Prayers go out to her...If that had happened to me, I would have been heartbroken! And I completely understand her ignoring her gut because if that had happened to me I still would have probably gone along with it.

Whoever did that should be ashamed.
I hope Aaronni keeps aiming for her dream.

I agree with Josie, I hope it gives her more publicity though.

Destiny Booze, Novelist said...

Oh my gosh, I hurt for her! How must that have felt? That was nothing short of viciously cruel.

ajkulig said...

My heart is breaking for her. I obsessively worry that one day I too will fall into trap. It's easy to see from the outside all the red flags. I am imediatly put on alert by the name droping in the first email posted here, but if I woke up to it in my inbox I'd probably be to on high to notice.

David M. Brown said...

This is incredibly, incredibly cruel.

I can't imagine anyone would consider this funny or justified in any way - it's just a nasty and pointless stunt.

I wish Aaronni Miller all the best for the future! Perhaps she should turn the tables and turn this horrid scenario into part of the storyline for a best-selling novel!

Anonymous said...

Is this the same Aaronni Miller who started this POD publishing company a couple years ago?

Joe Iriarte said...

*shrug*

So what if it is? It's already established that she's self-pubbed. Doesn't mitigate this horribly cruel prank.

Anonymous said...

Of course it doesn't matter. The prank was a horrible one. I was curious is all.

Steven E. Belanger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven E. Belanger said...

This is terrible beyond words. I was scammed by an "agent" after I finished my first MS. when I was 21, after I'd sent her a few hundred bucks. The scammer sent me fake notices, false summaries, even a Christmas card. If I'd known then what I know now...

Frances Grimble said...

Strikes me as the kind of thing a hacker would do just to prove they can. Like the people who send bots into chat groups to see how many live/real people they can pick up.

It's unbelievable how nasty some people can be on the net. I am glad Aaronni had the courage to tell the story and hopefully, make sure the hoaxer does not try to pull this on anyone else.

Victoria Strauss said...

Steven, was the "agent" Christopher Hill?

T Moore said...

There are some people who enjoy destroying someone else's life just to build themselves up. And there are psychopathic liars. Mental illness, however, does not excuse what was done. The only recourse is to report any such hoaxes to the FBI to prevent them from happening again.

GalaktioNova said...

Oh, the world has its fair share of sick people jealous of talent. I'm not surprised. But wait a sec... who contacted whom first? Because for this creature to contact poor Aaronni, it/he/she at least had to know whom Aaronni had queried. Ah, I see, Aaronni must have blogged about it which was how the scammer learned whom she'd submitted the story to.

75%!! I think not :-)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if it's the same blogger who is Teisha Little.

Poor Aaronni, my heart goes out to you.

Trish Jensen said...

Isn't this illegal? Somehow? Kid or not, this person has truly and cruelly harmed another human being. This author needs to be given the facts. WHO DID THIS? WHY DID HE/SHE DO THIS? I very much applaud the author for admitting she'd been fooled, as a warning to others. That was a brave thing to do. I wish her all of the success in the world.

Lili said...

In the Twitter comments, I get the sense this person is putting on another fake persona to give the impression of being young, scared, naive, etc. The text-speak and missing punctuation could be because of character limitations, but combined with the clumsy syntax ('disgusted in myself') - which doesn't match at all with the fluency of the fake e-mails - they make me think this person is still taking the mickey.

What a scummy thing to do.

Eliza Osborn said...

Wouldn't Jodi Reamer have a stake in this as identity theft as well?

Weronika Janczuk said...

The email addresses were certainly a "tell," but they're not an end-all, be-all; just FYI: http://bit.ly/pSbfNr.

Thanks for the wonderful post, Victoria, and for taking the time to do some work to show more than the story itself.

Caitlyn.Young said...

Here's a good rule of thumb.

Agents who seriously want to offer representation will call you on the telephone. If you get e-mail first, it'll ask for your phone number and the best time to call.

Trust me on this. Although I never did secure representation, I have been called with the offer that if I would do some revisions, I might be taken on--more than once, by three different agents.

They like to announce good news by phone.

If you get e-mail, it is generally one beginning, "I am sorry to say that I didn't love the manuscript as much as I had hoped."

msmariah said...

Wow, if you can think of it, a scammer is doing it. Thanks for the heads up.

Scott Bryan, Annabelle's scribe said...

That's terrible! I feel so bad for her.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to unerstand why anyone would pull a nasty trick like that on a fellow human being, but as my old gran used to say: 'Some people are just gits."

Jon Gibbs
http://jongibbs.livejournal.com

Theresa Milstein said...

I'd heard a little about this, but had no idea how it all went down. Thanks for the info. And the warning.

Nobody has offered me representation of a publishing contract, real or otherwise, but I hold out hope.

kindlescribbler said...

unbelievably cruel. On the bright side, maybe she'll gain fame from the incident and get a real deal!

Doug Brunell said...

A horrible prank, for sure, but not the worst that can be done. I definitely feel for her, though. Hope she remembers that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Joe Iriarte said...

Nah. The best revenge is a life well lived.

Lydia K said...

My heart goes out to Aaroni. She's a lovely person (I met her on Twitter and learned of her story as it unfolded) and very brave for sharing her story so no one else gets scammed.

As for the scammer? What a pathetic piece of trash.

Robyn Campbell said...

I was so sorry to read of this. So heartbreaking. Any of us could have been scammed like, Aaroni. We must be diligent.

Sherry Auger said...

How can someone be so cruel? The rush and then the let down can be crippeling. (sorry about misspellings no spell check here.) I hope she gets a deal soon for her sake.

Scarlett said...

Who could be so cruel?
And i am sure it wasnt a teen i'm a tween and a teen next year but i know a lot of them and they wouldn't be bothered to do all that and get all the names and i doubt they'd be that cruel.
They would also probably had said it's a hoax/joke much sooner and might even have bragged about the prank.
Grammar and spelling is good and when typign i usaully get a lot of typos i dont bother to correct so if this was a teenager i'm sure there would be one or two typos. i am 100 percent sure it is an adult and as previouslyt pointed out when pretending too be a teen they used chat speak but htey diddn't in the emails.
Just them addign insult to injury.
The person who did it was mean and i hope the FBI make sure he gets punished for hte cruelty and heartbreak he caused.

Anne R. Allen said...

The hoaxer is still at it. I just heard from another victim. The hoaxer is very sophisticated and targets each writer specifically. He/she knows the titles of their books and pretends to have read them. I've just retweeted and Facebooked this again. Please spread the word. This guy needs to be stopped.

Anonymous said...

The person who did it is a sociopath. If the author knows who it is, then they should block all contact with them. The culprit is getting off on the response and the control and the drama.

I am commenting anonymously because I've seen enough horrible stuff on the internet and don't want to invite any more.

Cas Peace said...

This kind of thing isn't new, unfortunately, but even so this was a particularly cruel and nasty scam. Just goes to underline how careful we all must be. It's the old adage of "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably IS too goos to be true". I too was scammed early on in my writing career when I paid what seemed to be a credible agent a "reading fee". They promptly absconded with the money, and I know I wasn't the only victim. Anyone submitting to pulishers/agents should research them thoroughly first. Preditors and Editors (http://pred-ed.com/) is a great website for highlighting problem agents and publishers and I'm sure there are others. It's definitely "writer beware"!

Anonymous said...

First off, this is a cruel and unusual prank. Offering a new writer a dream come true deal, then take it all back as some game is vary sinister. But, strange as it sounds, can this do some good? Yes this new writer had been tricked into a cruel prank, but look at all the sudden support for the writer that came out of it. It's fascinating that plant life can grow out of animal/human droppings, otherwords good things coming from bad situations. But of course this doesn't always happen.

Teen, Adult, age doesn't matter when everyone has equal value. Though I can agree that kids and teens are getting more socially awkward yet maybe I'm just getting older. After reading the whole thing, who knows of the prankster's attentions but the prankster. It could be out of pure cruelty and jealousy of someone's talent, or it could be someone's way of helping a writer be noticed. Whatever the case maybe, it has done both jobs, something good has grown out of a pile of shit.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty hilarious. What gets lost in all the "outrage" about the "cruelty" of the "hoax" is the depraved greed and relentlessness of the self-published. There's a reason they're susceptible: they suck. I have no sympathy for these people that couldn't take the hint in the first place that their time and efforts, such as they were, were better spent elsewhere than besetting the marketplace with more unnecessary printed matter.

Anonymous said...

I think Victoria Strauss is a louse I won a million dollars from Jodi Reamer and she got me the best deal ever--right in the toilet at Writers House!Yes, she took doubleday into the toilet and promisesd my book would be a best seller, so they liked what they saw!

Sophie said...

I think the comments that "Anonymous" keeps oozing are troll/ish and irking on the edge of possible jealousy?

The writer/victim isn't drowning in world-wide publication humiliation-hell as hoped- a back-lash of empathy has and will help her get back on her feet faster. I'm sure that's causing "ScamSucking-Liar" to feel her pants on (back)fire.

The plan was an epic fail- instant karma- the rest is yet to come if the victim fights back using every possible aspect of the law (these were Federal laws broken- there's no makeover or appearance on Judge Judy... it's the police, the FBI, criminal court, civil court, the list continues. Maybe even the FTC as this can be considered a web scam).
And don't forget possible jail time.

Apology unacceptable, IMO, and again sent using another false identity (more laws broken, because the illegal actions were repeated).

*The way society is today, people are doing anything and everything to grab onto/suffocate their 15 minutes of fame... we won't know if it was the writer/victim playing attacker unless she admits to it or it's discovered at a later date.

Not saying this is the case, I've unfortunately met my fair share of evil, manipulative people- but who's to say she didn't create those addresses herself, send herself emails from those @domains, then signed into her regular email and replied...

(My friends would tell me I watch too much TV, but it comes from being a writer- I tend to map out all possibilities, from all angles.)

The first email offer shown definitely had rough grammar issues- caught a red flag there immediately.
And 75% commission? I'm guessing greed trumps stupidity. Usually does.