The IILAA, or, What You Do When They Won’t Let You Into the Club

…You set up your own.

There’s a brand new literary agents’ association in town, y’all. It’s called the International Independent Literary Agents Association, and it ain’t just playin’ around. Its mission: “The International Independent Literary Agents Association (IILAA) is composed of independent agents who have formed an association for the purpose of better serving our clients. As individual and independent agents, the main priority and loyalty of each agent is to his/her personal clients, as it should be. We are proud that our members serve their clients first and foremost, rather than any organization or association.”

Now, that is a very worthy goal. Cue applause. Writer Beware approves. We love agents who are dedicated to their authors and aren’t afraid to say so. And look here–the IILAA website includes a description of an agent’s job, for the enlightenment of potential clients. What a helpful resource! And, oh wow! There’s a section on retainer fees! Hooray! Another literary agents’ organization that takes a firm stance against this common form of writer exploitation!

But…oh dear. What’s this I see? “Although reading/evaluation fees are still considered a no-no, a reasonable upfront fee became the norm. If you hire an attorney for representation, you are expected to be [sic] a retainer fee. This is now the case for literary agents.” Hold on. That can’t be right! But there’s more of the same on the Publishing Myths page. “Most first time writers don’t receive more than $3,000 advances, although some receive as much as $5,000. The agent’s commission for these amounts isn’t enough to make it worth the agent’s efforts without some advance help with the marketing expenses for the writer. An agent’s expenses add up!”

Oh sadness, oh woe! I can hardly bear the disillusionment. Could it be that the IILAA isn’t dispelling publishing myths, but perpetuating them?

Why should it do such a dastardly thing? Let’s drop down the page a bit, to Purported Publishing Myth #5: “Websites such as SFWA, Writers’ [sic] Beware, Predators [sic] & Editors, along with associated blogs and chatrooms/forums are operated and monitored by people who are dedicated to you, the writer.” According to IILAA, this is a myth because “The operators/monitors of these groups have an agenda…and it isn’t to protect you. Their agenda is to destroy the reputations, and therefore, the business of independent agents. They do not do this out of the kindness of their hearts, or because they truly care about you, the writer. They do this for a reason!”

Cue scary music. And just to enable you, the writer, to identify this Axis of Evil, this HYDRA, this SMERSH of the Internet, there’s a helpful page entitled How to spot hate sites who [sic] prey on the insecurities of writers. There, the terrible truth is once again revealed: “There are numerous websites trashing agents. Because of the number of these websites, the average writer who is simply browsing the internet is not aware that most of these websites, forums, chatrooms, etc., are operated by the same group of people who claim to serve the interest of you, the writer. But honestly, do you believe that the operators of these websites spend so much of their time, effort, and money because they truly care about you? Or do they have an agenda.”

Okaaaay. Now I get it. It’s a CONSPIRACY. Me and Ann and Dave and Jenna and Jim and Snark and Teresa aren’t the autonomous individuals we pretend to be: we’re a covert cabal with a Master Plan. What, you thought I was going to tell you more? Uh uh, my friend. Like any good Master Plan, ours depends on absolute secrecy.

Speaking of conspiracies, let’s have a look at the agents of whom IILAA approves (they aren’t identified as members): the Top Ten Best Independent Literary Agents. (Actually, there are only nine of them. Psst–SammyK–there’s a space for you.) Guess what? Writer Beware has a file on every single one.

Barbara Bauer Literary Agency, Inc. Need I say more? All right, I will. According to Writer Beware’s documentation, Barbara Bauer charges a $650 upfront annual fee (and has asked for as much as $1,000), plus expenses. Barbara has been around for longer than us, but we can’t find any recent evidence of book sales.

Capital Literary Agents. Also d/b/a American Literary Agents of Washington Inc. and Washington Literary Agency. Charges $250 for a 4-month contract, owns a vanity publisher. Has been ripping writers off since 1998, with nary a sale, as far as WB is aware.

Desert Rose Literary Agency. Charges a $250-350 “office retainer.” Is currently the focus of an investigation by the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Department. No sales as far as WB is aware. (Desert Rose is the only agency on the list that identifies itself as an IILAA member. Probably not coincidentally, the server for IILAA appears to be located in San Angelo, TX, Desert Rose’s home town.)

Harris Literary Agency. Offers clients a choice of providing a large amount of submission material at their own expense, or paying $250 upfront. Guess which option most clients choose? To WB’s knowledge, Harris has never made a sale to a major US publisher in the whole of its more than nine years in business.

Martin-McLean Literary Associates. This agency charges $30 per submission, submits to inappropriate publishers, and has recently placed several clients with a notorious vanity publisher. I’ve blogged about Martin-McLean before.

Milligan Literary Agency. Actually, this is not a literary agency at all, but a publisher. A vanity publisher.

Mocknick Productions Literary Agency. Charges $450 upfront. Has been in business for nearly four years, but has no sales as far as WB is aware.

Nancy Ellis Literary Agency. Unlike the other agencies on the list, Nancy Ellis has a sizeable track record of commercial sales. She’s also the subject of two warnings from the Authors Guild.

Sligo Literary Agency LLC. We haven’t heard anything about Sligo since 2004, so this was a blast from the past. Currently, it’s charging $175 upfront (since 1999, when we first started getting reports, its charges have dipped as low as $95 and risen as high as $250). To WB’s knowledge, it has no recent record of commercial book sales (the few small press sales mentioned on its website date back to 2002 and earlier).

Uh…who was that with the agenda again?

Actually, I think it’s backfiring. Not surprisingly, IILAA’s launch has triggered a tsunami of ridicule. In San Angelo, someone’s ears are burning.

Oh, and by the way, if you have a half hour of spare time and want a yuk, give a listen to Barbara Bauer’s recent “special presentation” podcast. Hear Barbara and a rogue’s gallery of fee-chargers (Tom Wahl of the Austin Wahl agency: $525 upfront (used to be $650), no discoverable recent sales; David Hiatt of the David Hiatt Literary Agency: $295 reading fee, no discoverable recent sales, worked with fraudulent vanity publisher Northwest Publishing) discuss “the crisis in publishing,” a.k.a. all those meanie-weenies like Writer Beware who are criticizing agents who charge upfront fees. I’ll close with Mr. Hiatt’s assessment of Writer Beware and its sponsor, SFWA:

“The parent organization is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, and gosh, it’s been my experience that there’s a lot of writers out there that really do live in a fantasy land regarding the business of writing.”

Yup. And the agents of IILAA will be waiting for them.


  1. I got hosed by Sligo Literary Agency about 10 years ago. I believe I was probably one of many who helped finance their move from the East Coast to Indian Wells, CA. Interesting bunch. Of course I was glad to pay the up front fee for photocopies, etc. The only time I heard from them was when I called or wrote constant e-mails. The final one I got was from Mr. Bollinger himself. I had asked what they were doing to get my book published and who they had contacted. His response was short and simply listed about 5 big firms with one word after the name, along the lines of “declined”. They were a complete scam back then . . .

  2. Dave: “Well, you could always report them to their ISP for obscene graphics.”

    I dunno – I really liked that graphic.

    Too dark to make a good background for the text, but it was very nice for what it was.

    Someone on Absolute Write has tracked down the artist of the stock image.

    I wonder if it was paid for?


  3. “The parent organization is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, and gosh, it’s been my experience that there’s a lot of writers out there that really do live in a fantasy land regarding the business of writing.”

    Oh yes! The wicked, wretched, and weathered landscape is filled to brim with all sorts of nasty drooling monsters of epic proportions, vile and nasty horrors risen from the deep twisted minds of a delirious madmen (or writers with an unhealthy amount of coffee at their disposal) that are only rivalled by the nasty creatures found in real world.

    And when the protagonists of the tale decide to publish a book, it goes *poof* and appears miraculously on the shelves of the book stores and libraries! They didn’t pay for it or anything like you’d kind of expect would be the risible course of action in real world where you kind of pay for every darn sneeze (these days, if you dare to walk out from your home, you pay 50 coins for hello and 20 for goodbye, right?); they just kind of packaged it and dropped it off at the post office – and then all of a sudden it’s there! Mysterious effects of vaguely plausible nature! It’s like magic!

    Yep, it clearly fulfills all criteria of weird fantasy tales if you ask me…

  4. Notice to all Members: turn your Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring to F-22. Annie’s secret message awaits!

    Or, to make it easy: anyone who posts on these blogs is automatically added to the list of Members.


    T2 behind the curtain

  5. Quoth c.e. petit: Or maybe that just means I’m the bestest conspirator of them all, manipulating all of these lovely ladies as my “fronts” while I turn authors into retainers…

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    Please help. I am a poor widow who has been turned into a lawyer’s retainer in Nigeria, and desperately need to be transferred to an American bank account, where I will no longer suffer the agonies of foreign watermarks and odd colors and sizes. Perform an act of mercy and e-mail your bank account information posthaste, I beg of you.

    To prove my legitimacy, I offer this: Have you ever seen TNH and Jaws in the same room at the same time? Notice how one of them was…wavery? Holographic projections, my friends.

    Please hurry. I do not fit into American billfolds as I am, and fear the change may become permanent.


  6. Dang it! I read obscene graphics and of course I have to go take a look. Nary a graphic to be seen, obscene or otherwise. :

    All right, back to writing.

    word ver: wjxoqrmv <- what you get when the baby gets her grubby hands on the keyboard.

  7. Thanks so much for your blog about the IILAA from one who narrowly escaped the clutches of the NYLA (but not without some bruises.) New writers are so anxious to be recognized and represented that they tend to “suspend their disbelief” and hear what they want to hear, at least until they wake up and realize what is going on. Keep up the good work.

  8. Well, you could always report them to their ISP for obscene graphics. In fact, you should. That will give them one more thing to deal with.

    Never make life easy for scammers.

  9. They must be switching to Plan B, whatever that is. When I visited half an hour ago, it was code 404 for every page.

  10. Well, I just had a look at the site, and there is some content.

    I guess you Evil Caballers hacked it or something. No reputable association would put up something like that. Would they?

  11. Victoria, you and your buddies ROCK! I’d laugh at this new grouping of scam artists except that I’m so damned sick and tired of them exploiting the hopes and dreams of others…I wish we could just take them down in one fell swoop. But there would be a dozen to take their place.

    Keep on with the good work!

  12. URGENT to Pinky and Other Secret Cohorts–

    Our cover has been blown. Repeat, our cover has been blown. Someone has figured out that we are Dan Brown, and has leaked the plot of our next multimegabloatogonzo bestselling novel, The Cabal Conundrum. Meet me in four shakes of a lamb’s tail in the hidden room in the secret clubhouse, so we can plan our approach to damage control. They must not discover how we plan to make money off them!!! The password has been changed and the handshake is different too, but you know the drill.

  13. My understanding is if we can screw ten scam agents, we win a toaster. Is that true? I hope so, as I hope one day all scam agents will be toast.

    For an article on the ST Literary Agency, and its apparent children, the New York Literary Agency(ies), please check out my “Monday Report” in the archives of the Underground Literary Alliance website.

  14. Does googlebombing count as furthering your agenda? Because I might have to stop. I can’t have you telling us n00b writers all these neat things, you see–not with a clear conscience.

  15. Sligo Literary Agency gives an address on a non-existent street in my (rather small) home town. I’ve just checked with the planning department to see if there’s going to be a new development with that street name. Nope. The address is pure fiction. Chances are the agency is, too.

  16. animejune: I’d be careful. Most of the evidence suggests that SammyK is a scammer agent. For all we know, he’s already on the IILAA list. Not that you can’t read his website, but I’d take anything you saw there with about an eighth of a grain of salt…

    There’s a big difference between calling amateurs for not doing their research and actively supporting (as Sammy does) the ‘right’ of agents to charge fees. Just as there’s a difference between being snarky (Miss Snark) and being a jackhole (Sammy).

  17. Oh, Ms Strauss, go easy on SammyK. His blog is for ranting. I read both of your blogs, and I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. They help keep me in perspective.

    Your blog goes on about how scamming agents can be asshats, but SammyK’s reveals how writers who expect the wrong things can be asshats as well.

  18. I suggested to Dawno that the Cabal needs an Official Name for public use now, since it has been ‘outed’: as opposed to the Unutterable True Name, which of course is kept secret under pain of having one’s Literary Glands paralyzed (Writer’s Block).

    It is also most disconcerting that this Independent Group has discovered The Agenda. It means, of course, that some of them may actually have learned to read. We may have to stop mentioning The Agenda in our Blogs, etc, and confine it to our clandestine Meetings in AW’s fora.


  19. Looks like you’re busted. You like destroying independent agents because there’s nothing worse for writers than agents who perform a service to the writing community in getting their clients advances of $3-5K.

    You don’t have to know anything about the publishing industry to spot a few inconsistencies in this site. (BTW, I loved the background graphic.)

    – I understand ‘salesman of the month’ type schemes where someone who is particularly successful gets dragged into the limelight. I don’t see how an organisation that pretends to serve a large membership (international, too) can have a ‘ten best’ list containing nine names and not even giving contact points for the rest of the membership. Hello?

    – The Sligo Agency lists as one of their employees ‘Dianna Nelson, co-agent Nelson Literary Agency’. Those in the know will realise what’s fishy with that, but anyone with half a working braincell will realise that an agent working for two rival agencies will have considerable conflicts of interest every working day, so it ain’t gonna happen.

    – hate sites: regardless of the facts of the situation, those paragraphs sound just so terribly _wrong_.

    – I don’t know how Nancy Ellis has gotten into this position as she seems to be the tragic case of a genuine agent who took a wrong turn somewhere; but if you compare her website with the others it’s pretty easy to see how much you can trust the other eight. (The downside is that even although I’ve been clued up, there was nothing about her site and sales record that ran up the warning flags. No sales in my genre/no writers I’ve recognised, but that was all.)

  20. Sorry, I didn’t realize you had an agenda. If I’m supposed to be paying to read your propaganda you should probably tell me where to send the check.

    Will a twenty cover it?

  21. Regarding the “server from the same town” as Desert Rose. I can take it a step further and show the two websites are on the same physical server.

    Doing a reverse DNS shows a total of 35 domains hosted on the same server as Desertroseagency dot com, including this IILAA. You can do one at domaintools dot com, though you have to register.

  22. They say that scammers make the best targets for other scammers. I wonder how these “agents” can work together and if they each have a secretly plan to destroy each other.

  23. Awesome, I’ve been soo looking forward to Victoria’s blog about this!

    After editing legal manuscript all day, looking at the comma placement in the IILAA site copy gave me a headache. As a yet unpublished writer, I am so thankful to you, Victoria and Ann, for your “cabal” to destroy the scammers’ businesses.

    Did I ever wonder why some people put in so much of their personal time and effort? Yes, and it makes me grateful that you all believe that goodness is its own reward!

  24. I just can’t figure out how those people interact with each other without it being like some moustache-twirling, mad cackling, secret-evil-conservatives-from-The-Simpsons meeting. 😉

  25. The big question now is whether this would fall into the RICO act? I wouldn’t mind seeing nine scams fall in one fell swoop.

  26. Oh dear, David Hiatt?

    Back in 1999, I met the man at a writer’s conference, and HE pursued ME. I still have a copy of the contract he sent me, asking for $350 up front. I–ahem–declined. I’m sorry he’s still around, because it means he’s making money off somebody. What a creep.

  27. ” Agents, in turn, because they were not longer a luxury, and were now a necessity, started charging retainer fees in an effort to help cover their expenses. Agents had now become inundated with the massive amounts of manuscripts.”

    Okay, poor grammar & typos aside (what literary professionals they must be!!!), this argument is completely illogical. If agents are now a necessity doesn’t that mean that no one makes a dime without going through one of them? Doesn’t that put them in a very pretty place without the need of a retainer fee? The only agents who would be charging retainers fees to their ‘clients’ would be the ones who are willing to A) take on more than they can handle, B) represent writers in whose work they have no real confidence {very unprofessional, doncha think?} or C) see A & B.

    Also, they were very adamant about the ‘agenda’ that groups like WB have, but they never bothered to explain exactly what that agenda might be.

    “But honestly, do you believe that the operators of these websites spend so much of their time, effort, and money because they truly care about you? Or do they have an agenda.”

    Let’s see… hmmm????
    they spend so much of THEIR time, effort and money…

    While con artists like these bozos spend all of their time trying to get MY money…

    Do they (WB) have an agenda? Well, do they? Uh, hello??? You didn’t answer my question. And I noticed that there’s (conveniently) no place on YOUR website for me to pose the question to you personally.

  28. You have to give these people some credit for their ingenuity. It’s a sleazy, slimy, vile, vicious conman type of ingenuity, but it is ingenuity.

  29. I’d say these people make me tired (and they do) but it’s because they are so dang resurrectable. Cockroaches of the literary world. You bang ’em with a shoe and they just come back for more. They feed at night.

    So keep shining the light on them, Vic and Annie and all you co- conspirators.

    I’ll just stand here on the sidelines, yawning in admiration.

    jane yolen

  30. So does turning clients into retainers take special equipment or do you just use the Power Of Your Mind(!) to do it?

  31. I wonder what it feels like to BE a retaining fee?

    (btw, I STILL think the site looks amateurish and is hard to navigate)

  32. Darn it. I couldn’t make Nixon’s list of enemies, and now I can’t make the IILAA’s list of conspirators.

    Or maybe that just means I’m the bestest conspirator of them all, manipulating all of these lovely ladies as my “fronts” while I turn authors into retainers…

  33. I listened to that podcast this afternoon and was very glad that I wasn’t sipping on a beverage at the time. (OTOH, it may have given me an excuse to clean my desk.)

    I’m absofarkinglutely stunned at the vast quantity of misinformation. Apparently the destruction and deployment of a googlebomb requires a serious amount of technical expertise.

    And wait a minute? Is it true that people are making money off of this? Where? How come I don’t have any? I’m about to drop a serious amount of dough on a car repair. If I go drop a fair-sized googlebomb on the internets, I could pay for this! Why slave over a hot keyboard writing ad copy all day when I could game Google? Doh!

  34. I am honored to have a mention as one of the ridicule-heapers in this secret conspiracy!

    Please-please, may I come to the next meeting so we may plot downfalls, revenge, and other keen Rube Goldberg machinations that hush-hush cabals do in their spare time?

    I can bring Dr. Evil and Mini-Me—Mini makes a killer chocolate martini!

    Hugs & Mayhem– Pat

  35. Dear Secret Cohort,

    I’ve ammended section B-9 of the Master Plan. Please tell Viper and Steel Toe to meet us in back of the library stacks in the Unnamed Agenda section, where we will plot to keep “independent agents” down and sip chai tea.


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OCTOBER 24, 2006

e-LiteraryAgent: Something Else Not to Try

OCTOBER 30, 2006

The IILAA Strikes Back