Where Have You Gone, Bill Appell?

Victoria is out of town for a while, so I’m holding down the fort.

Does the name “Bill Appell” or “Denise Sterrs” mean anything to anyone here? I sure hope not! They were the “dynamic duo” who ran one of the biggest writing scams in history, the infamous “Edit Ink.”

Edit Ink was up and running in full swing before Writer Beware was even formed. We did some warning about it, and managed to dissuade some writers from submitting work to agents like Charles Neighbors and Kelly Culmer after we became aware of it, but by the time Writer Beware had been given its “go ahead” from SFWA, Edit Ink was already starting to crumble. The New York Attorney General had them on the ropes. Eventually they were shut down, and ordered to pay restitution to their victims, but they cried poormouth, because they had already spent all the money they’d made on a posh house, lots of cars, etc.

Bill Appell was the founder of Edit Ink. He was a swimming pool salesman in Buffalo, NY. Now if you’ve ever been to Buffalo, you probably know that in order to sell swimming pools for a living that close to the Canadian border, you’d have to be a pretty good salesman. Old Bill was a real snake oil specialist, and his wife, Denise, was every bit as bad as he was.

In its heyday, Edit Ink had several dozen questionable agents funneling manuscripts to them every day. They paid a nice little kickback for every manuscript sent on to them. “You’re getting closer to publication!” was their slogan, and they told all writers that the “rule” in New York publishing was that they HAD to have their manuscript “professionally edited” before it could be submitted.

Professionally edited, HAH! During their trial, expert witness and top literary agent Perry Knowlton, who had reviewed a number of Edit Ink’s manuscripts, and seen for himself the kind of editing they’d done, told the judge that the manuscripts he’d reviewed were hopeless, that no amount of editing could have salvaged those books, and that the level of editing was so sub-par as to be useless to a writer trying to achieve publication.

Edit Ink actually had a few real editors work for them, but that turned out to be more or less accidental. During the trial, one of the witnesses described Bill Appell coming into the room with an armload of manuscripts, seeing that everyone else was full up, and then putting them down on an empty desk, and yelling to the pool cleaner, “Hey! C’mon in here, I’ve got a job for you!”

And the pool cleaner was pressed into business as an “editor.”


My favorite Edit Ink story was the one told me by Mary Doria Russell. She’d completed a book titled “The Sparrow,” and had been unable to find an agent. She had the manuscript with one last agent, but she also had run into one of Edit Ink’s ads, promising to greatly increase the marketability of her manuscript. Feeling increasingly desperate, Mary overnighted her manuscript to Edit Ink on a Friday morning, and gave Bill Appell her credit card number to pay for the edit.

That afternoon, the agent called. The agent told Mary that they really liked her book, even though they usually didn’t handle science fiction, and they were thinking very seriously about taking her on as a client. During the chat with the agent, Mary mentioned that she’d sent her book to Edit Ink as a way to improve the writing so it would be professional enough to submit. The agent gasped, and told her, “Get it back! Get it back!” Stunned, Mary listened to the agent assure her that the quality of her writing was not only of professional quality, it was excellent, and that it sure didn’t need to be edited by Edit Ink.

Mary realized that she’d been had.

But this story (unlike most of the Edit Ink tales) has a happy ending!

Mary, who is a smart, savvy lady, called the credit card company and cancelled her credit card. She then left a message on Bill Appell’s phone, asking for her manuscript back, and telling him she’d changed her mind.

Appell called her over the weekend and argued vociferously that Mary was making a terrible mistake. Her book desperately needed editing, he claimed, or it would never sell. Mary stood firm. Appell grew ever more strident, but when she wouldn’t budge, he finally gave up.

Appell continued to call and write Mary every few months thereafter, urging her to change her mind, insisting that her book desperately needed his expertise. Mary told me it was fun for a while, especially after The Sparrow came out in a major printing, got wonderfully reviewed, won all kinds of awards, and was promptly optioned for a film. (By Antionio Banderas, no less!)

At some point, Mary tired of the game and told Appell to quit calling her. By that time, Edit Ink was on the ropes anyway, with enraged writers protesting to the NY Attorney General in droves.

That’s one of my favorite stories, and one of the few with a happy ending.

BTW, I’m working on the question I was asked about the B&N connection with iUniverse, trying to get some official statements out of B&N. We’ll see if they’ll talk to Writer Beware.

Write on, my friends.

-Ann C. Crispin


  1. Yikes…I worked for these people. Sorry if the quality of editing some received was not to par…But I'm hoping mine was. I've published 8 books of my own since — and none through vanity publishers — so the quality of the work they did (I did) couldn't have been too bad.

  2. Dave, my whole family lives yup near Watertown, lol – the water isn’t THAT cold.
    I can usually feel my feet for about three second after dipping them in.

    Can’t stand scammers. What pissed me off abotu edit ink was the sheer number of agents that scammed right along with them.

  3. Ah, Banff… famous not only for the glacial waters but, more recently, for that literary-festival scam artist, good old whatsername. iirc, she came up to Canada to escape the heat. But it caught up to her eventually, and where she is now, she can’t go wading.

    Jeb (whose story featuring the dreaded cold blue waters of the mighty Bow River will be out next month in an anthology called, appropriately, ‘Dead in the Water’)

    [word = qqash… I’d like some, I think]

  4. Wow. “The Sparrow” is an extraordinary book, marvelously written. But it goes to show how vulnerable writers–even fabulous ones who happen to write outside the box and struggle for attention from NY–can be to scammers.

    Once upon a time I faithfully each early May had my first swim of the year on a beach in Cape Cod Bay, where the Labrador Current ends up. Back when I was young and stupid. Funny…now I have much more internal insulation, but the thought of that annual swim no longer appeals. 🙂

  5. I “swam” in the Bow River in Banff, in Alberta, Canada. The Bow River originates in the Athabasca Glacier, which is only about a two hour drive through the mountains from Banff.

    I waded in, and looked down to see my legs. They had turned the color of uncooked salmon in about 10 seconds.

    My wretched SON then ducked me. (Yes, he’s still alive, but he almost wasn’t.)

    I didn’t warm up until I’d spent about half an hour in the Banff hot springs.

    A person could have a heart attack, and I suspect some have.

    -Ann C. Crispin

  6. Actually, apropos of nothing, there are many swimming pools in Buffalo NY, something I was horrified to discover during a 4th of July cookout at my uncle-in-law’s place where we were expected to swim in the icy water.

  7. Why yes, that’s true, Bernita. In Canada, the wind goes, “Eh?” before it slams into you. 😉

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