In the past week, I’ve gotten two questions about solicitations from a literary agency called Fact & Fiction.* As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, it is rare for agents to cold-call writers…but that’s not to say it absolutely never happens.
Here’s the solicitation.
Unlike other solicitations I’ve been writing about lately, this one is actually somewhat credible–at least if you don’t look too closely. It mentions the writer’s work (I’ve redacted their book title, along with their name). It provides a rationale for reaching out that’s not blindingly bogus on its face. Aside from the one typo, there are no glaring English-language errors. It doesn’t ask for money.
Of course, it’s odd that a literary agent would boast about being top of the slush pile–since the whole point of having an agent is avoiding the slush pile. And a request that a manuscript be “professionally edited” should always spark caution (for reasons that are explained here).
Still, an eager or inexperienced writer could be pardoned for mistaking this for a serious approach. Even I, when I first saw this email, didn’t immediately tag it as a scam; I thought it might be a marginal agency looking to expand its client list. There are a lot of these; since they lack contacts and expertise, they specialize in placing books with smaller publishers, including many that don’t typically work with agents. Whether it’s worth paying a 15% commission for placement with a publisher you could have approached on your own is an open question–but at least (most) such agencies aren’t overtly fraudulent.
Then I looked at Fact & Fiction’s website.
The instant I saw that last sentence, I knew I probably wasn’t dealing with a marginal-but-honest agency. Book-to-screen scams–where an unscrupulous operator cold-calls writers, claiming to be able to bring their books to Hollywood’s attention for enormous fees–are among the most common solicitations these days, now that the book fair display racket has become a non-starter due to the pandemic. Any time you see “book-to-screen”, warning bells should start to ring. (Another red flag: Fact & Fiction’s page for this supposedly robust program is…blank.)
There’s more. On its About page, Fact & Fiction claims to have started up in 2005…
…yet its web domain is only 86 days old.
Perhaps that explains why Googling the agency’s name (and various permutations thereof) turns up absolutely nothing, including any trace of its “satellite office in Los Angeles, California” (its Manhattan address does exist, but–surprise!–it’s a virtual office.) A successful agency–especially one in business for so many years–should have a much bigger online footprint, even if it’s publicity-shy.
As for Fact & Fiction’s “topnotch literary agents”, who are purportedly named and pictured in this extremely bogus-looking organizational chart…they too are a big bag of nothing. Publishers Marketplace has never heard of any of them. Websearches on the more distinctive names turn up no references to agents, publishing professionals–or, in some cases, actual living humans–anywhere online.
Also MIA: a client list, which most reputable agencies’ websites will prominently feature. Conveniently, this makes it impossible to verify either the multitude of publisher “partnerships” or the august array of awards and honors touted on the agency’s home page. (Psst, SFWA: they’re using the Nebula logo.)
What about a sales list? Agents are usually eager to proclaim their sales; it’s an indication of success and a form of advertising. But Fact & Fiction doesn’t mention sales, either.
That, however, is a recent development.
When I looked at Fact & Fiction’s website on Tuesday of this week, it included a “Gallery” link to a page of book covers, mostly YA and middle grade novels, many by well-known writers such as Sarah J. Maas, Ann Aguirre, and Jennifer Echols. It wasn’t explicitly stated that these were books the agency had sold–but that was definitely the implication.
Given the degree to which Fact & Fiction was proving to be fiction rather than fact, I was dubious. I contacted one of the authors, who confirmed that they’d never heard of the agency. I also put out a tweet, which resulted in more confirmations:
.#YA authors and agents, you might want to check this page: https://t.co/ARtExAB8M9 . Apparent scam “agency” Fact & Fiction claims to rep multiple books it does not actually rep. Pls contact me if you or your clients are there–I’m planning a blog post at #WriterBeware this week
— Victoria Strauss (@victoriastrauss) September 14, 2020
I don’t know if any of the authors or agents contacted Fact & Fiction themselves (there is an email address on the website), or if whoever’s behind the scam watches Twitter–the many Philippines-based scamsters are well aware of me and my warnings–but when I checked in on Wednesday afternoon, poof! The “Gallery” link was gone. (Though not the page; it’s apparently just the link that has been removed.)
The only thing missing from this so-fake-it’s-almost-awesome picture was a demand for money…though I was sure I’d hear about that in due time. And I did–that same Wednesday, even sooner than I expected–from a writer who was asked for editing fees. Fortunately the writer smelled a rat, and was able to initiate a dispute with their credit card company to get their money back:
Here’s Mr. Jan Carlo Carpio. Guess where he’s from?
And here’s Andie Millstone, the day after the writer got their refund, trying to salvage the scam by persuading the writer that it was all a big mistake, and their “dues” actually needed to go somewhere else:
“Partner editing firm” Beacon Books Agency is–you guessed it–one of the Philippines-based publishing and marketing scams listed in this post. It’s not uncommon for the scams to operate under multiple names, and for writers recruited by one name to be routed to a differently-named company for payment.
I’ve amended my scam list to include Fact & Fiction and its relationship to Beacon Books Agency.
Writers, I can’t say it enough. While it is very rare for reputable agents, publishers, or PR companies to phone or email authors out of the blue with offers of service, invitations to submit, claims you’ve been recommended by nameless book scouts or referred by Amazon (yes, I’ve seen this), or anything else–for scammers, solicitation is a primary recruitment tool.
Any contact of this type should make you extremely cautious. Resist the appeal to your emotions (the scammers are counting on you not doing so), and don’t respond before thoroughly investigating whatever company or individual has targeted you. Carefully peruse the company’s or individual’s website (and be wary if they don’t have one). Do a websearch; are there complaints? If there are claims of success, can you find independent evidence to corroborate them? Ask a question on social media. DM me on Twitter or drop me a line at Writer Beware.
The best remedy for scams is not to fall victim to them in the first place.
* Not to be confused with the identically-named advertising agencybased in Boulder, CO.
Less targeted to Victoria than to authors who might stumble across this comment:
Those agency organizational chart headshots are almost definitely AI-generated through a service such as This Person Does Not Exist. While they've certainly spent a sizable chunk of time generating in search of images that look passable at first glance, there are certain giveaways (the odd fabric behind "Holly Hofbeck," the grey blur on "Pamela Cortes's" jawline, "Sierra Lewis's" right earring blending into her hair). The most glaring of all: look at "Ariel Horowitz" and "Stefan Schwarz." It's the same face template, lightly tweaked!
As AI becomes more sophisticated in replicating the human face, it would behoove us to look for indicators like these when it comes to researching those whose existence is not otherwise verifiable (especially those for whom there is only one image–the generated image–accessible online). Scammers are moving past stock photos and stolen LinkedIn headshots due to the increased power of reverse image search engines (which were all but useless to your average Internet user just a few years ago). As a Millennial who grew up with catfish and finstas, I am concerned that older or otherwise less tech savvy authors will be exploited due to their lack of familiarity with these tactics. If you are unsure about an image like this, especially if it purports to serve as proof of identity for someone whose other credentials (like domain name or agency affiliation) set off your bullsh*t detector, don't be afraid to scrutinize it for oddities–when it comes to publishing con artists, there is a good chance that person truly Does Not Exist.
Any information on Horizons Literary Management?
Authors with prizes from Hugo, Nebula, Edgar, Orange, National Book Award, Man Booker, Pen-Faulkner, and a grant from the MacArthur Foundation and mention in Oprah's book club.
I can't believe I've never heard of these guys before! < sarcasm
Poet_Deanna, what do you mean by your comments? As Victoria said, your friend paid for services he would have gotten for free from a reputable agency. I don't know why you keep insisting that you know better although you quite clearly dont't know much about the matter under discussion. You should go make yourself an agent if you're such a smartass. You're probably just assuming that every valid criticism online is a threat because it doesn't agree with you.
It does happen, but it's rare. In any case, a direct contact is statistically much more likely to be scammish than real. As I mentioned in my post, reputable agents don't often direct-solicit–but direct solicitation is one of a scammer's main tools.
It’s not that uncommon for agents to contact author-illustrators, not necessarily offering to rep, but asking to see manuscripts. I can see how they would be less likely to contact just-writers as writing is less likely to be displayed online. As an author-illustrator I’ve had it happen twice, and one was a well-known agent. I did not end up with representation from them,, but they are out there prospecting.
Victoria, what do you mean got ripped off? As I said, his manuscript was edited following Chicago Manual. He didn't pay much, he said. I don't know why you keep insisting on it being a scam. you should go make yourself an agent if you're so bitter. you're probably just assuming every agency you see online is a threat.
Thanks for responding. Unfortunately, your friend got ripped off. Real agents work directly with their clients on pre-submission editing (at no cost to the client). They don't routinely refer clients to expensive outside editing services.
What Fact & Fiction is doing is a classic referral scam: the agent refers the client for editing to an associated business, which they either own themselves or that pays them a kickback (see Writer Beware's Literary Agents page for discussion of this and other disreputable scam tactics). In this case, the company to which writers are being referred, Beacon Books Agency, is itself a scam. If Beacon Books performs the editing at all–which many of these scams don't; they just take the money and run–they probably just run the manuscript through a spelling and grammar checker. That's not even remotely worth the four-figure fee your friend probably paid.
@Victoria Strauss, he mentioned the fee was for the editing of the book – something like manual or style of the book and not to the agent. I guess my friend asked for help from his agent to have someone edit his book before they pitch it to traditional publishers. that's what he said..
Poet_Deanna, can you be more specific? What was the service? How much did your friend pay? (Real literary agencies don’t charge fees.) Didnthey sell your friend’s book?
I have a friend who signed up for this company. They did fulfill the service, not to mention the editing went quite well, so I'm not sure about this being a scam.
Thanks for the timely warning. These scammers are always improving their scam.