Writer Beware: 2020 in Review (Not That Anyone Really Wants to Review 2020)

It’s time again for Writer Beware’s annual look back at the schemes, scams, and assorted crazy sh*t we encountered in 2020 (and I’m not even talking about the pandemic).


Scammers lie, cheat, and misrepresent. They may claim credentials they don’t have, or professional relationships they don’t possess. But this is a new trend: multiple scammers impersonating real, reputable literary agents and publishers in order to defraud writers.

The Impersonation Game A scammer posing as Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass Literary Agency attempts to cheat an unsuspecting writer out of $1,400 (which of course the real Jennifer Jackson would never do).

A New “Beware”: Scammers Impersonating Reputable Literary Agents It’s not just Jennifer Jackson. In a scheme that traces back to two Philippines-based publishing and marketing scammers, several other agents’ names have been appropriated.

Alert: Scammers Impersonating Major Publishing Houses Fake publishing offers, supposedly from HarperCollins (which of course involve large fees), courtesy of another overseas scammer.

Dissecting a Scam: The Literary Scout Impersonator Publishing/marketing scammer Chapters Media–which is also impersonating a roster of agents–steals the identity of Clare Richardson of Maria B. Campbell Associates in an unusually elaborate scheme that cost one writer $13,000.


Sadly, there’s never a shortage of stories like these.

Mass Contract Cancellations at Mystery Publisher Henery Press Out-of-the blue cancellations trimmed Henery’s list by dozens of authors and books. Though the cancellations were a surprise, the publisher had been showing signs of trouble for a long time.

Small Press Storm Warnings: Lethe Press, Seventh Star Press Multiple complaints about payment problems, contract breaches, and toxic culture from authors at these two small presses.

Small Press Storm Warnings: Filles Vertes Publishing Long-standing problems–late payments, missed publication dates, missed production deadlines, and serious communications issues–spurred a flood of staff resignations and author rights reversion requests, and ultimately the publisher’s closure.


The shady underbelly of the publishing world is chock-a-block with schemes to take authors’ money, by fair means or foul. Here are some especially foul examples.

Junk Book Marketing: Pay-to-Play Magazines Compilations of ads, interviews, and “feature articles” sold to writers at enormous prices, these faux magazines are not distributed or circulated to the public in any meaningful way.

Should You Pay to Display Your Book at BookExpo? The short answer: no, because such offers at best are useless, and at worst are scams. BookExpo no longer exists, and most book fairs have gone virtual during the pandemic, but this is something to keep in mind once the world goes back to an approximation of normal.


The good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

Publishing Contracts: Six Ways You May Be Sabotaging Yourself How writers get screwed: by making assumptions about a publisher’s intentions, letting their emotions overrule their business sense, and forgetting that, in the author-publisher relationship, the publishing contract is the bottom line. This post offers some suggestions for changing damaging ways of thinking.

Bad Contract Alert: EMP Entertainment and A&D Entertainment These Singapore-based companies are just two of many that are actively soliciting writers with offers to distribute their work to reading platforms like Webnovel, or to publish on their own mobile reading apps. Beware: their contract terms are terrible.


The Internet Archive’s Open Library Project–a huge repository of scanned print books available for borrowing in various formats–justifies its existence with a novel (and disputed) legal theory called Controlled Digital Lending, which it claims allows it to create new digital editions of in-copyright books without seeking owners’ permission.

In March, as the coronavirus pandemic was taking off across the world, the IA abandoned one of the key provisions of CDL to create the National Emergency Library–basically, the Open Library with restrictions on borrowing removed–in order to address what it described as “unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials” (never mind that such materials are already widely available for borrowing online via local, state, and university libraries). Publishers and authors’ groups responded with outcry, accusing the IA of “using a global crisis to advance a copyright ideology that violates current federal law and hurts most authors” and ultimately initiating a lawsuit.

Copyright Violation Redux: The Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library  Controlled Digital Lending, what it is and why this theory–and its practice–is harmful to writers.

Four Major Publishers Sue the Internet Archive Over Unauthorized Book Scanning As of this writing, the suit is ongoing.


If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll know that I’m no fan of contests–not just because they often involve big entry fees (even the legit ones), but because they so often have author-unfriendly rules and guidelines. Although all these contests are past and closed, the “bewares” they represent are fairly common, and you may encounter them elsewhere.

Contest Scam Alert: Legaia Books Online Book Competition When is a literary contest not a literary contest? When its purpose is to make money for the contest sponsor, or to assemble a list of likely customers.

Contest Beware: “Lovecraft Country” Short Story Contest From HBO and The Root (a publication that should know better), a writing contest with egregious rights grabs.

Bad Contest Terms: T.A. Barron’s “Once Upon a Villain” Flash Fiction Contest This contest features another inappropriate rights grab–what happens when you let lawyers loose on contest guidelines.


Vanity publishing–and the misinformation and deceptions vanity pubs use to ensnare writers–never seems to go out of style. Unfortunately.

Pay to Play Alert: Europe Books / Europa Edizioni / Gruppo Albatros Il Filo To all appearances a traditional publisher, Europe Books actually requires writers to buy 200 copies of their own books, at four-figure costs. It is currently heavily soliciting authors.

James Paul Amstell: A Vanity Publisher By Any Name Also actively soliciting for submissions, Mr. Amstell’s vanity outfit calls itself Book Publishers London…the third in a procession of shifting names.


Agencies in Turmoil: Threats of legal action from Red Sofa Literary, mass firings at Corvisiero Literary Agency.

Attack of the Fake Literary Agencies: West Literary Agency, Stellar Literary Press and Media: Unlike the agent impersonators, these “agencies” aren’t assuming others’ identities–but they’re still fake as hell.

Dissecting a Scam: Fact & Fiction Literary Agency: In which I uncover the facts of this “agency’s” many fictions.

Beware: Pigeon House Literary / Druella Burhan: Scammers hurt writers…but so do incompetents.


Be careful out there!

Audiblegate: How Audible-ACX Returns Policy Penalizes Writers: Audible-ACX allows some customers to make unlimited returns, encouraging cheating, and doesn’t report returns on authors’ sales statements, resulting in an inaccurate picture of sales. Thanks to writers’ activism, both practices have recently come to light.

Spooky Phishing Scam Targets Traditionally-Published Writers: Someone is stealing contracted but not-yet-published manuscripts, and nobody knows who or why.


Sometimes, writing for this blog is hard (I often cover complicated issues). Sometimes, it’s a lot of work (I research all my posts, but some need more than others). Sometimes, though, it’s just plain fun.

Space Kadet: The Twisted Tale of a Sad, Sad, Internet Troll: To writers who frequent Twitter, especially #WritingCommunity and #amwriting, Gary Scott Kadet will need no introduction. A vitriolic and insanely prolific troll, he has used a dizzying array of sockpuppet accounts to stalk, harass, and obsessively demean writers, agents, and editors. When, quite accidentally, I had my own encounter with him, the results were…interesting.


  1. Thanks for the heads up on Toni Cruz 253-528-3988. I was also contacted by her for possible representation. She didn’t get a chance to ask me for money, though I don’t doubt that she would have. These people have no conscience.

  2. https://twenty20literarygroup.com/our-literary-agents/

    Are these legit? I got a call from – 253-528-3988 , a Tony Cruz supposedly working for the this agency and kind shyly talked about representing me and that I needed to send my Manuscript and pay $900 immediately because there is a book show coming up in NYC. I refused and asked her to send the details of the contract so I run it through my lawyer. I told her I don’t send manuscripts on a first day contact basis.

    1. This is a scam–I’ve gotten a number of reports of its solicitations and demands for fees. It goes a bit further than many scams in creating a roster of fake literary agents (among other signs of scam, several of these imaginary agents are said to have started work with 20/20 as far back as 2017…but the 20/20 web domain was only registered this past July. Additional scam signs include the sale of publishing packages and marketing, neither of which reputable agencies do.

      Reputable literary agents don’t require writers to pay anything upfront or buy anything as a condition of representation.

      1. I just got a call from this number 253-28-3988. The caller ID said Washington University. I let it go to voicemail. Said they wanted to represent my book and to call them right away. I googled the phone number, and that led me here. Thanks for looking out for writers!

  3. I think I got the same call. It is definitely the same phone number. 845-213-6870. He called himself Bryan Archer. Otherwise, everything else you said sounds exactly the same. Shame! Its sounded so promising accept for the fee and the wire transfer part…LOL.

  4. Eileen Watkins,

    It is a scam. I've heard from someone else who got the identical approach. This is part of the many scams run by Chapters Media, which has been impersonating reputable agents and recently started inventing its own faux agents, even going so far as to build them rudimentary websites. If your friend responds, they will be asked to pay for PR, "book insurance", re-publishing, and other fake services.

    I'm collecting the names of these faux agents (I've found three others so far). Would you ask your friend to contact me, and share with me whatever email or emails "Chris Archer" has sent? beware@sfwa.org . All information shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence. Thank you!

  5. A friend has been approached by an agent named Chris Archer (no idea whether male or female) who claims that my friend's book, previously self-published, was "endorsed to me for representation on Traditional Acquisition." I guess that means it was referred to her/him for its potential to be marketed and reissued through a traditional publisher. This person concludes the pitch with "I am a commission based agent and I will only get paid when we close deals with your book being acquired so let me know if you would like to discuss more details on how we could work together as business partners call me back at 845-213-6870."
    Sounds like a scam to me. What's your advice, based on your experience? I'm at Eilwatkins@aol.com

  6. There is no shortage of people who will take good things and use them for greed. I am so glad Writer Beware is back and on top of things. Thanks for the effort – research and passion.

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DECEMBER 31, 2020

James Paul Amstell: A Vanity Publisher By Any Name

JANUARY 15, 2021

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