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Another author had a great post up today on scams that aspiring authors should avoid. Here I'll admit to a deep, secret shame: when I first started writing, I got suckered by two out of the three scams that he lists. If you want to read all about what happened with me, see below.

Years ago, when I quit procrastinating and started actually writing instead of just talking about it, I submitted one of my poems to a "contest" site that had a big grand prize listed. I didn't win, but I received a very flattering letter telling me that my poem was so wonderful, the site wanted to publish it in their anthology.

*cue Jeaniene putting on her OMG-I'm-a-success rose-colored glasses*

I forked out the fifty or sixty bucks to get a copy of the anthology featuring my wondrous poem (sounded reasonable to me the time), looked into attending their very expensive convention, and decided I'd attend so I could go after a career in poetry. It was only when I began Googling more information about the convention - and the company behind it - that I found several articles and blogs about how they were a scam.

*cue Jeaniene realizing she's been had*

I put the poetry site into my Spam filter and ignored their future, repeated requests to have more poems published in expensive anthologies I would have to buy. Around the same time, I got the idea that eventually became HALFWAY TO THE GRAVE. When I finished writing it, still full of newbie enthusiasm (read: stupidity, since I began shopping it without revising it), I started querying agents. I knew enough now to avoid the ones who charged up-front reading fees, but I still didn't know enough to spot the more clever scams.

A newer agency I'd found in Writers Market, who didn't have any warnings against them that I could find, sent me a letter back requesting my full manuscript. Two weeks after I sent it, they sent another letter - a contract for representation.

*cue Jeaniene putting her OMG-I'm-a-success rose-colored glasses back on!*

In the contract, it stated that the agency charged no representation or reading fees. Nope, no fees at all - except for copying the manuscript, postage, courier fees, and faxes for when they submitted it to publishers (yes, faxes; this was 2004.) Sounded reasonable to me! I called the agency, thanked them for the offer of representation, and asked (as I'd seen it recommended online) about how many sales they averaged a year. I was told between six and twelve, though because they were new sales, the books/information wasn't up on their website yet. They did have one verifiable sale, and they were members of the AAR, so I thought I'd covered all my bases. I signed on the dotted line and sent the contract back, feeling a bit superior over how it had taken me no time at all to find an agent. Really, what were all those other writers complaining about? (yes, my stupidity knew no bounds).

Fast forward a few months during which I never heard from my agency, except for them to send me bills. Turns out, it averaged over a hundred bucks each time they copied the manuscript - charging per page - and sent it to an editor. After six months and several hundred dollars, I asked for a status on my submissions. No reply. I asked again. No reply. I called and left a message. No call back. Finally, I was sent a terse email stating that all the publishers they'd sent my book to had rejected it, so they were going to send it out to another round of publishers - at over a hundred bucks a submission again. I replied back and asked to see the previous publisher's rejection letters/emails. No response again.

By this time, I began to realize that yet again, I'd been had. I didn't want to admit it, because I'd been so excited to get an agent and I really thought I'd smartened up since that whole poetry incident. But my bank account balance was a pitiless reminder that I'd spent a lot of money I couldn't afford for nothing other than this agency's verbal assurance that they'd sent out my manuscript to several publishers. And, I noticed, those "other deals" they'd talked about never appeared on their website, nor could I find any record of them on a great resource I'd discovered: Publishers Marketplace.

*cue Jeaniene putting salve on her wounded pride and starting over*

I fired the agency and resolved never to tell anyone about it. I did report my experiences to Preditors and Editors, though, and they put a fee-charging warning on their site about the agency (which, by the way, was eventually kicked out of the AAR and then closed down without warning or refunds to their current clients). Then I braced myself and had a friend critique my book - which, as smart authors know, is something I should have done before querying! My friend told me bluntly that my beginning sucked and nothing interesting happened until chapter four. I was stubborn, though, and only deleted the first chapter, since I felt the other backstory was absolutely necessary ("Jeez, you're an idiot!" many of you may be thinking, and you'd be right. Smart authors revise ruthlessly! Say that over and over, writers!). Then I sent my book out to more agents.

*cue Jeaniene getting a lot of form-letter rejections*

Grumbling, I cut another chapter, revised, and sent out again.

*yet more rejections*

I cut another chapter, revised, and sent out again.

*two partial requests that turned into rejections*

I revised again and started my book at what had previously been chapter four.

*cue Jeaniene getting two requests for fulls that turned into two offers, one of which she took.*

Some of you may be wondering, "Did you tell your new agent that you'd been signed by another agency for the same book before?

The answer is no. I truly didn't believe - and what happened to the agency later seems to bear the proof - that they'd submitted my manuscript to any publishers, even though I'd paid them quite a lot of money to do so. It was a lesson I learned the hard way, twice: Legitimate places don't charge up-front fees. This can't be stressed enough. Some agencies will charge postage fees - NOT copying your manuscript fees, phone fees, fax fees, etc. - but just postage. It's minimal, and legitimate places will usually deduct those fees from the advance on your first sale, which is fine. If you're paying for more than that, and paying it before you sell anything...be afraid. Be very afraid. I will add a strong caveat that if you've been repped by a reputable agency before, you must to tell a potential new agent where your manuscript has already been shopped, so as to avoid annoying editors by submitting something to them that they've already rejected.

If you're reading this and you've also spent a lot of money on an agency or on a "cost-sharing" publisher, then I'd strongly recommend that you get out now. Don't spend any more of your money thinking you're "almost there". All the money I spent before got me nothing except feeling like a chump. It is much harder to go through the normal query process, and rejection can frustrate you into wanting to try a "quicker" way with a fee-paying arrangement, but 99% of the time with those, you don't end up published or successful. You just end up poorer, wiser, and *grin* still ashamed enough about your former gullibility that it took three books on the shelves before you admitted in public that you'd been taken by scammers - twice. But hey, if this keeps even one writer from getting involved with a scamming company - or encourages another one to get out of what he/she may now be realizing is a scam - then it's worth it. Yes, I was dumb. Yes, I got used, more than once. Yes, I got out of it and got past it. You can, too.


( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 18th, 2009 01:18 pm (UTC)
Ugh. I think it takes a special class of bastard to prey on people's hopes and dreams like that. I hope karma hits them with a sledgehammer.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
It might have. They closed down; hopefully not to reopen again under a different name (that happens).
Feb. 18th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
Love this post.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Feb. 18th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
You are so brave for posting this - thanks for sharing your experiences.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Hope it helps some people learn the easy way, instead of the hard one.
Feb. 18th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
Yes, thank you for sharing. One thing that con artists depend on is their victim's shame over being bamboozled. Otherwise that agency would have had warnings posted before yours.

A friend of mine told me a story about her sister-in-law, who had lost her family in a horrible tragedy. Somehow, a self-proclaimed medium milked over $300,000 out of her, pretending to communicate with her dead children. When she realized she'd been had, she was too ashamed to turn the medium in. Her family eventually discovered it because of the missing money.

My point is that shame (or even just feeling foolish)is a powerful emotion. I'm sure it took a lot of processing to get past those experiences. Kudos to you for stepping up to help us aspiring wanna-be's!
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Okay, THAT'S tragic what happened to your sister in law. Mine was just annoying by comparision. It's such a shame that some people prey on others in disgusting ways.
Feb. 18th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
I bet the poetry site is poetry.com, I've heard so many bad things about them.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
No comment :-)
Feb. 18th, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
***Some agencies will charge postage fees - NOT copying your manuscript fees, phone fees, fax fees, etc.***

Actually, this is in a lot of ligit agency contracts these days. Now whether they end up charging you for these things is another story entirely, but it's been in three of my contracts. :/
Feb. 19th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
A clause on "reasonable out of pocket expenses" is in my agency contract, too, Jordan. I think the warning, though, applies to those agencies who demand reimbursement out of the author's pocket before anything is sold.

Any sort of reimbursement of agency expenses should come out of money made on the sale of your books.
(no subject) - jordansummers1 - Feb. 20th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frost_light - Feb. 20th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellymeding - Feb. 20th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
That should be 'legit'. Typed too fast. *g*
Feb. 18th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
I actually had a research paper I did about the putblishing process recently and I had read about scam agencies. I couldn't believe there were actually people out there like that.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
There are lots of places running scams on writers :( Writers really need to research and be savvy about places before saying yes. It's so tempting to rush when you're taling about your dream career, but that can have bad consequences.
Feb. 18th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
Excellent post. Thanks for caring enough to share.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
Here's hoping the post means a few more people will say no when approached by those scamming places.
Feb. 18th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing the story. Hopefully the more people are aware the less these people are going to be able to make from these scams.

I hadn't realised that the poetry thing was a scam - a friend of mine had a similar experience but didn't have the money at the time to buy the anthology. I'll have to ask him if he ever had anymore contact from them.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
Awareness is the goal. Forewarned is forearmed and all that.

It's a scam any time you have to pay someone to be published - unless you're actively seeking to be self-published and you're aware of what that entails. If you're in an anthology (poetry or otherwise), you may not get an advance for your contribution from the smaller presses, but you WILL get a free copy of the publication. That's standard. Anything else reeks of ripoff.
Feb. 18th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
Frost My Cookies
Reading this post frost my cookies. I am so sorry that happen to you. I would love to get in the book business not as a writer, but may be work for a publishing company. If I ever do want to tip my toe in the writing world this is good stuff to know. Thank you for sharing. I really hate when people take advantage of other people. Always gives me a reality check.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Frost My Cookies
It's good to know about these things, because even if you're not a writer, you may have a writer for a friend, and then you could save him/her a lot of future grief :)
Feb. 18th, 2009 11:51 pm (UTC)
What Ass Holes!
That sucks. I hope u got a choci bar afterwards or a big tub of Ben & Jerrys ice-cream (and if not better late then never) Cyber space Goodies for u)

Though that sucks 4 u im glade u told us writters in the making we all need these hints and tips to find the right agents.

Hugs and Loves, (With cyber goodies) :P
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:50 pm (UTC)
Re: What Ass Holes!
Thanks, Beth!
Feb. 19th, 2009 12:46 pm (UTC)
WOW! How ruthless!! Thanks for sharing this with us. BTW, I just finished reading Halfway To The Grave and I loved it. I just coerced my best friend into reading it too. I bought it for her, as a bribe to get her to read and critique my MS :) Oh, I changed my first chapter after I heard you at Comic Con. Thanks!
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:50 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it! Good luck with your writing. And thanks for the panel clip from ComicCon! I linked in it my recent post :).
Feb. 20th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC)
http://paranormalromance.org/pearl/finalists.php Hey you're nominated for an award.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I saw that! I won "honorable mention". I was very excited, especially considering the other awesome books in my category.
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( 32 comments — Leave a comment )