Bogus agents are impersonating real agents
by Anne R. Allen
Bogus agents are ba-a-ack. Once upon a time, in the long-ago era when I was querying, fee-charging agencies and in-house editorial services were the problem. Their scams usually involved charging a “reading fee” (a no-no for legit agents) or referring writers to editorial services and vanity presses they themselves owned.
They also added to their coffers by charging “mailing and copying” fees. This was the pre-Internet age when we had to send manuscripts in hard copy. Those manuscripts needed Xeroxing and postage for expensive snails. Bogus agents overcharged writers for those fees.
These old-school bogus agents targeted unpublished authors who didn’t know how the process worked. In one of my very first blogposts, 13 years ago, I warned writers about these bogus agents., who had scammed a number of my friends. Much of the advice is still true.
But the new bogus agents are more brazen. And they mostly target published authors who have self-published or published with small presses without much financial success.
The New Bogus Agents Impersonate Real, Well-Known Agents
Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware reports that phony agents are cold-calling or emailing self-published authors and offering a range of scammy services, all of which are pricey, although they claim to work only on commission like real literary agents. But in the next sentence they will ask big bux for their other “services,” like:
- Republishing your book to send to “investors” or “get you a traditional publishing contract.”
- Filming a pricey book trailer
- Book-to-Film “licensing” (See my post on this heartbreaking scam And here’s Alli’s warning, including business names the book-to-film scammers use.) I hear from people every day who have been snagged by this scam.
- High-ticket, useless marketing services.
- Buying you an interview on a podcast or radio show nobody listens to.
The new wrinkle is the bogus agents pose as real, well-known literary agents. Essentially, they’re catfishing. They put out a mass-mailing to all the writers they can find, and paste in the bio and history of the real agent. They may even link to the real agency’s website. The phone number and email belong to the scammer, but the fact the agent is real can bamboozle a lot of writers.
However, if you pay attention, you’ll see some obvious red flags:
- Bogus agents don’t understand what real agents do — represent unpublished books to editors at big publishing houses.
- They don’t know the difference between a royalty and an advance.
- And assume a literary agent is a book marketer.
- Plus they make lots of grammatical oopsies.
A simple rule is: even if you’ve heard of the agency, and there’s a link to a real website, if an “agent” contacts you out of the blue, it’s a scam. Real agents have plenty of work plowing through the slush piles they already have.
Don’t Pay to Join Phony Communities
Recently, I’ve seen random ads for newly-formed “writing communities.” And I’ve had a whole bunch of questions from readers who’ve had invitations to join them. The companies behind some of these “communities” are vanity publishers who snag new writers with promises of mutual “support” and later sell them hugely expensive self-publishing packages. Others provide ghostwriting, editing, or other writing services. Some are bogus agents. They all say they provide a “community” where writers can help each other reach their goals — for a fee.
One Facebook page promised a “seven figure income” if a writer paid the monthly fee and learned their secret “tips” for becoming a successful author.
So if this no-name Facebook advertiser knows how to make a seven figure income writing books, why isn’t she writing them?
Maybe she’s making more scamming writers?
Some of these communities charge more than $100 a month to join. They promise “support” and “encouragement” in unspecific ways. Are you willing to pay that much to have other newbies critique your work?
And good luck trying to get your money back. Reports are that phone numbers will suddenly be out of service and emails will go unanswered.
Here’s the thing: if you want to join a community that will encourage you to achieve your writing goals, there are some wonderful FREE ones full of helpful people who are actually getting published.
A sampling of some great FREE communities:
- Kristen Lamb’s enthusiastic WANA (We Are Not Alone) Tribe has been going strong for years.
- Nathan Bransford’s forums provide communication and feedback from fellow writers, as well as Nathan’s excellent advice.
- The Gutsy Great Novelist Studio is new to me, but it looks like a fun, active group that will push you to finish that novel, and comes with C. Hope Clark’s approval.
- The Insecure Writers Support Group is a loosely knit, truly supportive community that has had the blessings of Writer’s Digest for years.
- NaNoWriMo — it’s not just for November anymore. Camp NaNoWriMo runs in April and July. And the Young Writers program works all year.
- CritiqueCircle.com — it’s one of the largest and longest-running writing support groups on the Web.
You can get all the benefits of advice from seasoned authors as well as your peers for no money whatsoever, why pay $1200 a year to an unknown, self-styled “guru” to encourage you to write?
Pay-to-Play Anthologies: New Variations on an Old Scam
I have written that getting into anthologies can be good for a writer’s career. But not if you have to pay to be in them!
I’ve now heard from several unpublished writers who have had offers to publish their work in pay-to-play anthologies and wanted to know if I advised them to take the offer.
Short answer for unpublished writers: NO!
Writers should get paid for their work, not the other way around. There’s no way these writers will ever get their money back. Two different writers I know were asked to pay over $1000 to publish a 2000-word short story. Outrageous.
Here’s the thing: if a bunch of authors who are not ready for prime time are published in this book, who’s going to read it? Do you personally want to read a bunch of beginning writers’ stories? Ask a writing teacher how much fun that is.
This is a variation on the venerable poetry anthology scam, which is over 100 years old. These used to be promoted by tiny ads in the backs of magazines. Everybody was invited to submit a poem, and everybody’s poem was accepted. The publisher crammed the unvetted verses into a big, fat book that contributors could buy for an exorbitant fee. They spent big $$ for a book full of truly bad poetry “to gift to friends and family.”
Anthologies are mostly useful for marketing,
Anthologies don’t generate much direct revenue. But if you’re a newly published author and can get a piece in an anthology that includes some successful authors in your genre, you’re getting some fantastic advertising. In this case, paying for a share of printing and marketing costs is an excellent investment. Often these are charity projects where the proceeds go to a designated charity, which simplifies the bookkeeping. So no, you don’t get royalties, but you get some great targeted advertising for a relatively low price
Contest anthologies can be good too.
The Insecure Writers Support Group runs a highly recommended anthology contest. Each year it has a different theme and genre. Well known agents and publishers judge the contest, so you might snag a contract here as well as a get chance to be published alongside established authors. It’s traditionally published, so you’re not expected to pay for publishing or marketing costs.
Fake Conferences: A New Scam
I recently heard from one of these. You get invited to speak at a virtual conference for a big honorarium. Yay! But you have to pay a hefty fee upfront for “visual equipment.” You pay the “fee” and everything disappears. There’s no such conference and the person who contacted you never existed.
Bogus Agents and other Scammers Are Always Out There
I strongly recommend subscribing to the Writer Beware blog to keep up to date on the latest scams, including bad contracts, bad marketing schemes, and phony publishers. Also check Alli’s Watchdog Alerts from John Doppler.
When you see a newbie falling for this stuff, say something.
Do keep in mind that if any offer sounds too good to be true, it is. Run away fast. Even if they’re saying the flattering stuff about you and your book that you’ve been longing to hear.
Next week Ruth Harris will be writing about Imposter Syndrome, and how it can actually help a writer in some instances. But one way it doesn’t help is that it leaves a writer open to scammers like these. If you think you’re a fraud, these liars will make you feel you can become truly “legit” if you join in their scam. Don’t fall for it.
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) August 21, 2022.
What about you, scriveners? Have you run into any bogus agents recently? How about offers for pay-to-play anthologies and phony groups? Any invitations to speak at non-existent conferences? Do you have friends who have been scammed by these people? Have you run into any new scams recently? Do you have suggestions for other free online support groups for writers?
BOOK OF THE WEEK
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: This prequel to the Camilla mysteries romps through the glitzy 1980s, when 19-year-old fashionista Camilla loses everything: her fortune, her gay best friend, and eventually her freedom.
When she’s falsely accused of a TV star’s murder, she discovers she’s made of sterner stuff than anyone imagined — herself included.
Snarky, delicious fun! The Camilla Randall mysteries are a laugh-out-loud mashup of romantic comedy, crime fiction, and satire.
Perennially down-and-out socialite Camilla Randall is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but she always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way. Usually with more than a little help from her best friend, Plantagenet Smith.
featured image: Pixabay