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Much of what I’m going to talk about in this post, I think most of my readers already know. But I’m getting so many questions about these two scam “agencies”–both of which seem to be super-active right now with solicitations–and providing so many warnings about them, that I think a broader warning is in order.
First, though–because it’s relevant to what follows–some tips on evaluating a literary agency’s website.
1. There should be a website. A pretty basic starting point.
2. It should be grammatically correct, and free of spelling errors and typos. Also very basic points, but as you’ll see from what follows, their lack can be an important clue.
3. It should feature recent sales (this is how you can tell whether an agency is successful), with verifiable info (title, author, publisher) so you can assure yourself that the publishers are reputable (no vanity presses or “hybrids”) and the sales really are recent (you want an agency that’s selling books right now, no matter how successful it’s been in the past).
4. Not all reputable agencies’ websites include a client list, but many do; it’s an additional way to verify bona fides.
5. The agents should be named–with bios, so you can verify their backgrounds and experience.
6. There should not be any kind of upfront fee.
7. Also helpful: an agency history, including how long it’s been in business; clear submission guidelines; disclosure of commissions (standard is 15% for domestic sales, 20-25% for overseas and film [the extra is for co-agents’ commissions]); and recent media coverage.
WEST LITERARY AGENCY (AKA RIGHT CHOICE MULTIMEDIA)
West Literary Agency appears to be blanketing the internet with solicitations (at least, judging by the number of questions I’m receiving). “Agent” names–no doubt fictitious–include Rachel Williams and Celine Meyers.
Here’s one of West’s solicitation emails:
Pretty much all the warning signs you need are in this email:
– Out of the blue solicitation (not always suspicious, but much more likely to be than not).
– Reputable agents are highly unlikely to advance-shop the work of writers they don’t represent.
– As noted above, the overwhelming standard for commissions on domestic sales is 15%, not 10%. Bogus agencies sometimes offer lower commission rates, to encourage writers to believe they’re getting a better deal (a safe offer, since such agencies never actually sell any books).
– Reputable agents don’t double as PR people. (The “help” West offers involves large fees–the only kind of selling bogus agencies do.)
– No reputable agent charges a “$95 fee to sign you up” or indeed any other kind of upfront fee.
The contract attached to the solicitation presents additional issues. For instance, the solicitation indicates that commissions are 10%–lower than standard. But in the contract,
See the problem? Plus, if the 10% commission for subrights sales “includes” 10% for co-agents, West would be getting zero for those sales. Just saying.
Also, didn’t the solicitation mention a $95 fee? But in the contract,
$2 isn’t much of a discrepancy. But what does it say about a company that it can’t get its written materials to agree?
Last but not least, West Literary Agency’s website. (You should ALWAYS check an agency’s website before engaging with it.) (UPDATE 6/24/21: West Literary’s website is down as of this writing, so the link may not work.)
Other than the fact that it exists, the website fails every test mentioned above. Telltale grammar and proofing errors (like so many of the scams I’ve written about this year, this one is based in the Philippines and staffed by people for whom English is a second language). No sales. No client list (other than one featured author whose book, sadly, has been published and re-published by two notorious scammers). No agent bios–no named agents at all, or any verifiable information about the agency itself (though if you check its domain registration, you can see that it did not exist until 46 days ago).
And then there’s this:
I guarantee that when you look at a reputable agency’s website, you will not find a late night TV advertising-style LOW, LOW PRICE pitch like this.
UPDATE 3/3/21: The latest grammar-challenged solicitation from West:
Writers who ignore or refuse Sarah’s offer are contacted by “Victor Ross” of Right Choice Multimedia, who alleges that Sarah referred them for representation. Victor is in the movie biz; he even has an IMDb profile with what looks like several film projects. Like much of what scammers do, however, it doesn’t stand close scrutiny: all the projects are “in development” (which could mean anything but definitely means they aren’t movies), the production company for all four is West Literary Agency, and the names attached as writers and producers have no IMDb presence other than the projects themselves.
UPDATE 3/26/21: Right Choice Multimedia (aka West Literary) is selling “tickets” for a “commissioned literary agent” to write an “endorsement letter” that will be sent to traditional publishers, supposedly to enhance writers’ chances of being discovered. This endeavor is purportedly “sponsored by Major US Publishers.” This is one of the more egregious schemes I’ve seen; I unpack it here.
STELLAR LITERARY PRESS AND MEDIA
Stellar Literary appears to be soliciting at least as energetically as West Literary Agency, if not more so.
Here’s an example of what you might receive from “Senior Literary Agent” Charlie Dunn or Aaron Williams.
– Grammar lapses and typos.
– Pengiun. Need I say more?
– It’s HarperCollins Publishers, not Harper Publishing. Not a mistake you’d expect a real agent to make.
– Note how the solicitation defaults almost immediately to a pitch for re-publishing the recipient’s book. You hire an agency to get you published, not to publish you itself. Also, as I’ve said in other posts about scams that push re-publishing offers, re-publishing an already-published book so that another publisher can publish it a third time makes absolutely no sense (and is not how things work, in any case).
– What recommendation? Who made it? Here’s Stellar’s nonsensical reply to one writer who asked:
Note the ongoing problem with the spelling of Penguin.
Like West, Stellar offers an author-agent agreement, which looks fairly standard until you get to this:
I’m imagining all the subagents lining up for that 3% commission.
On Stellar’s website, the whole “literary agency” pretense comes crashing down. There’s nothing there that you’d find on a real agency site: no word on who is actually part of the “team with a vision“, no sign of the “countless” writers the team has supposedly guided “from query letter to published book for over 20 years.” No sign of the books, either. In fact, from the fractured English…
…to the pay-to-play publishing packages…
…to the gigantic markups on marketing services (a Kirkus Indie review will cost you $575 at most if you buy it yourself)…
…it’s the very portrait of a scam.
Stellar has been around a bit longer than West, but not 20 years longer. Its domain was registered just this past August.
UPDATE 5/9/22: Stellar Literary is still soliciting with re-publication offers, but now it’s using the name and biographical information of a reputable agent, James Mustelier of The Bent Agency (it is also making multiple false claims to have brokered deals for trad-pubbed books, including former Attorney General William Barr’s One Damn Thing After Another). This kind of impersonation is not uncommon with Philippines-based solicitation scams.
UPDATE 2/17/23: Stellar is impersonating Scott Miller of Trident Media Group. How do I know? The text of Fake Scott’s email is identical to others sent out under Stellar’s name.
SOME FINAL WORDS
For many of my readers, all of the above will seem very obvious, and these warnings may seem redundant because you’ve heard them so often.
But I’m hearing from an awful lot of writers who’ve been solicited by these two scammers, and sense that there’s something off (at least enough to contact me) but are tempted enough, or unwary enough, to believe West and Stellar just might be real. I worry that there are many more who won’t smell a rat. (Note: West and Stellar are not isolated examples: they are part of a scam phenomenon that burst into being in 2014 and has been growing exponentially ever since.)
Some tips to protect yourself:
– Be an informed writer. Understand how literary agents (and publishers) really do things–preferably before you start trying to get published (I provide some suggestions for that here). It’s a step that too many eager new writers skip.
– Be suspicious of direct solicitation. It’s not always a scam. But it’s a scam often enough that it should always prompt caution.
– Don’t take anything at face value–not solicitations, not offers, not websites. Research. Do some digging. See if you can verify any claims (and if there’s no way for you to verify them–no staff names or book sales to back up claims of success and expertise–be suspicious). You can contact me at Writer Beware, and I’ll tell you if I know anything: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Don’t ignore warning signs like the ones identified above. I’m constantly amazed, for instance, at how many writers overlook the glaring English-language errors in scammers’ emails and websites (a product of the scams’ overseas origins: most are based in the Philippines). If an agent purports to be able to rep your English-language work, they should be able to speak and write correct, grammatical English. This isn’t bias: it’s professional competency.
– Beware of shortcuts. If you’re a celebrity, you may be able to skip the intervening steps between a completed manuscript and a publishing deal. But for regular people, there’s no sure-fire way to shorten the process or jump the line. Don’t trust anyone who tells you that there is.
For lots more information on literary agents, including how to vet them, whether you need one, and links to helpful resources, see the Literary Agents page of Writer Beware.
UPDATE 12/16/20: These agency scams are like cockroaches: if you can see two, you know there are dozens more you can’t.
Case in point: Authors Legacy, which has no website or Facebook page (as of this writing, at any rate) but is busily soliciting writers with transparently bogus offers (among other things, there’s no such thing as a “Literary Agency License”).