March 11th, 2008

Summer with a book scammer

Wanting to be published is just liked wanting to lose weight: plenty of people are willing to try to get some money out of you along your journey.

I stumbled across this interesting account of a summer a young man unwittingly spent with a scammer. Disreputable literary agencies had a kickback arrangement with a book doctor. They would claim that a given manuscript just needed help from a book doctor, and then they could surely place it. And they helpfully directed would-be clients to a book doctor – who kicked back part of the fees the clients paid. Promised representation never materialized.

Here’s one paragraph from the account: “All told, between June 1995 and August, I completed two critiques, one line edit, and two line-edit/critique combos. I was directed to redo one of the line-edit/critiques when its author went off the deep end, claiming I hadn’t properly assisted him in his mission to proselytize through his fiction. (His manuscript was about two mute cave men named Urktoe and Uoktoe who spent the entire story hunting a Tyrannosaurus Rex. At the end, the angel Lucifer incongruously appeared from on high to teach them how to pray to God.) All of these jobs, of course, were performed on a ghostwriting or ghost-editing basis for Bill Appel, which explained why he never accepted follow-up phone calls from his clients, instead preferring them to mail in their questions so others could answer for him.”

Read more here.

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Eat, eat my pretties!

I found some Terro at our local A-Boy Hardwear. It's borax mixed with sweetner, with seems less toxic than some other choices. You're supposed to tear these cheesy orange cardboard squares off the box and put a drop of Terro on them.

Some of the orange squares are being ignored. Others are overrun with ants who are busy drinking the Kool-Aid, so to speak. There are many, many, many more ants than I had thought. Many, many more.

It reminds me of that movie Willard.

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Scammers - another version of the same sad story

If you're not published and you want to be, keep your antennae up. If someone tells you they are an agent, and they want money up front, run the other way. If they call after you, saying, "I"m just more honest than those other agents, and anyone who tells you I'm wrong is a liar!" run faster.

Some scams are more subtle. A few years ago I met a psychiatric nurse who had written a thriller about a stalker. It sounded pretty good. She went through Writers Market and found an agent who was in Cincinnatti. (Full disclosure: I still like the idea of an agent who is within driving distance of New York City. But that's not an automatic out.) He told her he loved the book. LOVED IT. And then he told her it needed professional editing before he could pitch it. And she could hire any editor she wanted. Almost casually he mentioned that he himself did editing, but again emphasized that she could pick anyone she wanted. And once it was edited, it would certainly sell.

Her excitement blinded her. She paid several thousand dollars for an edit. And she thought it did make the book better. He began sending it out to editors. He sent her photocopies of the rejection letters. They looked real when she showed them to me - the letterhead was right. But the letters were very brief, hardly longer than "Thank you, but this is not right for us."

When she emailed him and asked him what he would do next, now that most of the big houses had turned her down, he responded with a testy email. "If you are going to pester me, I can't get any work done." And by the time I talked her, she still hadn't heard from him.

Was it scam? Yes. Did he have any connections? I don't think so. Did he mean to cheat her? Maybe not totally. I think perhaps he did think he could sell the book. But he also ruined her chances of getting a legitimate agent interested.

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