Avoiding the Scammers

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 31 2007

It’s rare that I find the need to write a blog post on scam agents because sometimes I live in a bubble, feeling that anyone who has done the work to reach my blog has also done enough research to know what makes a reputable agent. Well, recently I was proven wrong. . . .

I have written two novels—well, one is technically a manuscript and the other has been published by PublishAmerica (which I seriously DO NOT recommend). My questions pertain to that of my manuscript. You see, I submitted it to the New York Literary Agency almost a year ago, knowing that a sale was not guaranteed or that being a new author. Now, after a year, I feel that my manuscript is just sitting there, idling because my agent is unable to be bothered by it. I get a monthly report in a form letter saying “…this is a normal progression of a manuscript in our care…do not get discouraged…” And I can’t help but wonder if another agency would be better suited to handle my manuscript and other future works. I am in serious need some advice on the subject.

This email makes me angry, sad, and irritated. Irritated that the author didn’t bother to do any research at all. In a simple Google search of New York Literary Agency the first three hits were writers’ message board warnings about the agency, the third was the agency’s horrible Web site, and the fourth was Preditors and Editors saying, “New York Literary Agency, The: Strongly not recommended.” I’m also angry and sad that there are people out there taking advantage of writers who are just desperate to find a home for their works.

Once I got beyond that I decided I would check out the New York Literary Agency, and let me tell you that with just a little research into what makes a reputable agency, that site alone should have you running. Why? Well, here are just a few of the things I see wrong with it. Nowhere is there a list of clients, books, or sales. Instead they seem busy touting the types of manuscripts they receive and how they will market your book. They are located in NYC, where they meet with “buyers.” Buyers? What does that mean? The only people I know who meet with buyers are sales reps from the publishing houses. What about editors? You know. The people who buy the books from agents. Oh, and I could go on and on. Take a moment to look at their diverse list of clients. Doctors and lawyers! Whoo-hoo.

I can go on and on, but the smartest thing I can do is remind everyone that when researching agents there are a couple of key places to visit. The first is the above-mentioned Preditors and Editors, the second is Writer Beware, and the third is your heart. You know when something isn’t right, so listen to those guts of yours.

And please, feel free to add to the list of scam agents you are more than happy to warn others about.


On another note, BookEnds is closing early today to celebrate the Labor Day weekend. Have a safe and happy holiday, and we’ll see you again on Tuesday, September 4.


15 responses to “Avoiding the Scammers”

  1. Is it okay to ask an author how they like the job their agent is doing for them?
    I also notice in the bigger firms sometimes agents move around a bit. (Leaving one agency for another.)Is this a warning they didn’t fair so well in the last agency? Or is it common and a way agents move up?

  2. Avatar Chris Redding says:

    Have a nice weekend.

  3. Well … there’s the one suing me for making fun of her “agency.” I probably shouldn’t antagonize her by naming her again.

  4. We have a list of research sites for those trying to avoid being scammed on our blog. If anyone has suggestions of additions, please let me know!

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    There is a new super awesome website that streamlines the query process AND researching agents (which you should, obviously, do before sending a query. Why waste your time or the agent’s time with mistargeted queries?) It has been up since may, costs nothing, and I believe was developed by a writer. For each agent, it links to their site, P&E, links to other related sites, lists clients of agents, genres they are interesting, indicates whether they are accepting queries etc…. It is an invaluable tool for a writer searching for an agent. It really helps you find out about what agents are looking for, to see if they’re a potential match, and it also warns about agents who aren’t particularly reputable. I know my endorsement is glowing, but I have nothing to do with this site, other than being a happy user. It’s nice to finally have a pretty good single source for beginning an agent search. Oh, what is the site, you ask? querytracker.net Check it out. Have a great weekend, everyone.

  6. Avatar 'drew says:

    aimless writer: Yes yes yes. Talk to your acquaintances who have agents to find out what an agent-author relationship is like, and use this to guide your inquiry.

    Two things I’ve learned from my author friends that probably would have really helped the writer who went with NYLA. First, the query process is a two-way audition. You’re checking them out as much as they’re checking you out. If an agent or editor reads your stuff and believes you’re a good fit, then it’s their task to convince you that it’s a good fit. And a good agent or editor will. You should ask them questions to make sure they really get what you’re trying to do with your writing.

    The other thing I’ve learned from writer friends is that they generally call their agents and editors by first names. Your agent isn’t some faceless person at an agency; your agent is a person you will talk to a lot. When you find out a potential agent or editor’s name, google them. Find out what they like and what they do. See if they have a MySpace. If you don’t know a person, just a form letter, it’s not an agent,

  7. God, some people just hop from one scammer to the next. PublishAmerica and then Bobby Fletcher? What’s next, Barbara Bauer and Cris Robins?

  8. Avatar jodi says:

    ‘drew is right. Your agent/editor is on your side. Even if sometimes what they say hurts you. They’re people, and yeah–sometimes they talk without thinking, or hit send without editing, but the truest and most uncomfortable crit is the stuff that comes out on first–not second thought.

    BTW…have a nice weekend. 🙂

  9. Avatar catie says:

    I feel much as you do: upset that there are people willing to exploit others, but terribly annoyed with individuals too lazy to conduct a cursory search for scammers.

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I think it’s more a sign of desparation/denial than laziness sometimes. I belong to SinC and MWA, and occasionally, a member will ask about an agency that’s “not recommended.” I think these writers–who are obviously intelligent and know how to search Google–are running out of options. They’ve queried 75 or 100 agents, and are hoping to hear that NYLA isn’t a scam, after all.

  11. I’d have to second anonymous up above…at some point, authors simply want to find that vindication that says “I really CAN write.”

    Scammers know this, and that’s why they’ll use everything they can to convince you that your book is the best they’ve ever seen and ‘deserves’ a chance.

  12. Great post, Jessica–thanks for highlighting this issue.

  13. I second that vote for Query Tracker. What a great research tool!

  14. Avatar Keli says:

    All professions have decent and indecent members. I think you seldom feel the need to warn about low-life literary agents because they are relatively few in number. That could also explain why authors may lean on the forget-the-research part. Especially, if these faux agents are based in NY. Though it’s certainly no excuse.

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    WOW. Not only do they not have a list of sales or authors, but they actually have a page with supposedly “happy” emails– some of which you can clearly see frustration between the lines– and several others that thank the agent for the referral to a fee-charging editor! A definite no-no.

    I love how they say they help “polish” a manuscript and the next line says “we don’t edit”.

    I also love how in the FAQ’s they keep saying they have years of experience–and THREE BOOK SALES. Um, three? In years? They must really suck.