As if the querying game weren’t hard enough, writers increasingly need to watch out for fake agents/agencies.
These fakes are set up by scammers as fronts for referral schemes. The aim is to draw the writer in by offering commission-only representation–no fees! Ever!–and then refer them to a “trusted company” for some costly service they supposedly need before their book can be pitched to film producers or traditional publishers: a marketing campaign to raise their profile, a developmental edit, a “professional review”, a screenplay…the list goes on.
Many such scams don’t bother fleshing their fake agents out with any realistic details: they’re just a name and a title on a solicitation email. Others, though, get more elaborate, with whole networks of imaginary agents complete with photos, CVs, even websites. Here’s one such scheme I’ve written about in the past.
That scheme was–and is–relatively easy to identify, because all its fake agents use the same email address. Other networks, unfortunately, are harder to spot.
Not to worry: Writer Beware is on the job.
(See the update at the bottom of this page. This scam operates under several additional names.)
HARPER LITERARY: THE FAKE
The Harper Literary fake agent network includes three personas (at least, that I’ve discovered so far, thanks to authors’ questions and complaints): Samantha Riley Rose (or, depending on the solicitation, just plain Riley Rose), Rehan Lightwood, and Kaylae Miller. Someone has gone to some trouble to flesh out these personas, giving them individual websites, Twitter feeds, and even Facebook pages.
On closer inspection, of course, it all falls apart. The Twitter feeds consist of the kind of generic, non-personal content that screams “bot generated”. The websites feature stock images (here’s Rehan Lightwood on his website, and here he is on Shutterstock; the original stock photo has been lightly altered to remove the beard and give him slightly different hair and features, but it’s still obviously the same picture), specifics-free biographies to foil verification attempts, and easily disprovable claims, such as Rehan’s claim to rep Damon Lindelof. And that’s not even mentioning the atrocious design template that all three websites share.
Interestingly, Harper Literary itself has no web presence–likely to enable Riley Rose and crew to easily adopt a new fake agency name if the need arises.
Note this success claim from “Kaylae’s” site, because it will become important later:
UPDATE 6/6/22: A fourth fake agent to add to the group: Amanda Williams of the Amanda Williams Literary Agency. Amanda’s website looks different from the other three, and doesn’t reference Harper Literary. But her contract is identical, as are portions of her followup email. And her friendly-looking photo has been inexpertly Photoshopped onto a stock background.
BANTAM: THE SCAM
So what are these fake agents up to?
A few weeks ago, I began getting questions about solicitations by an outfit called Paradigm Talents. In addition to the familiar menu of re-publishing and junk marketing that’s the bread and butter of so many solicitation scams, Paradigm Talents solicits authors with offers like this:
See the logo just above? That’s the name and logo of a real talent agency, which the scammer has appropriated so that if the author is savvy enough to do a websearch, they’ll get results that seem legit. Notice, though, the extra “s” in the company’s name within the email itself. It’s these kinds of small discrepancies that can give a scam away.
If the author responds, they’re told that a $30,000 offer from “Bantam” is on the table. Just one catch: Bantam will only negotiate with literary agents. So sorry, hopeful unagented author, we at Paradigm don’t provide that service. Best you find an agent pronto!
Shortly thereafter, in an amazing display of synchronicity, the author gets a call from…a literary agent! Offering representation!
Naturally, Riley only works on commission–she’s a Real Literary Agent! Even better, she confirms the interest from Bantam.
Now, the author is clearly meant to assume (as several of the writers who contacted me did) that Bantam is this Bantam, the Random House imprint. But remember that $3 million “Bantam Wings” success claim from Kaylae? Here’s what the author receives next:
Here’s Bantam Wings. Although it boasts its very own bantam logo…
…it is very obviously not the other Bantam, with a website boasting an impressive array of scam markers: poor English, no verifiable info about company or staff, an “in business for years” claim contradicted by a web domain registration that’s less than four months old (so much for Kaylae’s $3 million sale in 2019), and weasel wording about whether authors have to pay (see the FAQ section).
Payment there certainly will be, though. That, after all, is the whole purpose of a referral scam, where the agent claims to work on commission only and it’s some totally unrelated company that demands fees for service. The Bantam Wings letter previews those potential fees. All the authors I’ve heard from to date have smelled a rat at some point in the process, so I don’t know the exact amount of money involved–but it’s a safe bet, based on other scams of this type, that it runs into four figures.
THE WIDER WEB
The Harper Literary network isn’t just a referral scam, but a double-barreled one: Paradigm Talents refers to Harper Literary, which refers to Bantam Wings, which is the endgame of this particular scam setup but is itself almost certainly one of several operations run by a parent company even farther back in the shadows.
To give you a taste of this web of complexity, Paradigm Talents also does business as Warner Media Talents, which doesn’t just rely on its name to confuse potential victims, but claims the real Warner Media website as its own:
Samantha Riley Rose, aka Riley Rose, also solicits as Fox Media or Fox Media Films (check the scam listing in the sidebar for other companies with Fox in their names, which may or may not be different iterations of the same outfit). Note the link in Riley’s signature to the real Fox, and the fact that it’s not matched by the domain of her email address–again, even in the absence of major scamsign, small discrepancies like this give a scam away:
Samantha or Riley or whatever also solicits through Book Bureau USA, which masquerades as a publishing directory for authors but is really a hub for scam companies, which are camouflaged by burying them among legit company listings. This is from Riley’s author-agent contract:
UPDATE 7/25/22: As often happens once the rock is turned over, the websites mentioned above have started to go dark. Rehan Lightwood’s site is gone, as is Bantam Wings’. Kaylae Miller and Samatha Riley Rose survive, for now.
However, the scam marches on. Thanks to documentation shared with me, I’ve been able to trace Harper Literary/Bantam Wings back to Legaia Books, a scam I wrote about in 2017. Legaia has closed that name down and is now operating as Get Started Books. Likely it does business in the Philippines under yet a different name, which I’ve yet to discover.
The full list:
Fox Media Films
Get Started Books
Right Choice Multimedia (I’ve written about Right Choice Multimedia here)
Warner Media Talents
West Literary Agency (I’ve written about West Literary here)