Among the most common scams targeting self-published and small press authors these days are fake literary agency scams.
These are slightly different from the agent/agency impersonation scams I’ve written a number of posts about, in that they don’t appropriate the identities of real people (most of the time). But that doesn’t mean they’re not equally deceptive.
They work like this.
- You’re contacted out of the blue by phone or email by someone describing themselves as a literary agent, offering to represent you or endorse you or otherwise transition you to a traditional publishing contract or have your book made into a movie. Sometimes they’ll even tell you they already have interest from a Big 5 publisher or a major film studio. The agent claims to work on commission only–no upfront fees!
- But wait–there are things you need to do in order to access that coveted contract or movie rights offer: re-publish your book, have a screenplay written, undertake a PR campaign, buy “book insurance”…the list goes on. If you don’t have those things on hand, or don’t know how to access someone to provide them, the agent just happens to know of a trustworthy company that can provide them for you. Of course, there’s a fee. But you have to spend money to make money, right?
- You hand over the payment: anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars. Sometimes that’s the last you’ll hear from your “agent”. More often, your payment tells the scammer you’re a willing mark. And so….
- You’re bombarded with offers to spend more money on book fair representation, bookstore promotions, book-to-screen services, New York Times ads, pay-to-play radio and TV interviews, and more. Every time you pay, you incentivize the scammer to ask again. The prices get higher, the services more fraudulent–all supposedly in aid of obtaining the coveted contract you were promised at the start. Eventually you may receive forged contracts from Big 5 publishers or production companies–always, somehow, requiring you to pay enormous sums of cash.
- Once you get suspicious and start asking questions, or balk at payment, or the scammer decides you’re tapped out, they ghost you.
I’ve heard from writers who’ve spent $70,000, $100,000, $300,000, and even more on such frauds.
There are three components to a fake literary agency scam.
- One (or more) fake agency
- One (or more) “trustworthy” service provider
- A parent company overseas, usually in the Philippines, that runs the scam with a brigade of sales reps using American-sounding aliases. This is where your money ultimately goes.
Here’s a real-life example.
Acquisitions NY purports to be a literary agency with a mission of “Empowering Authors Everyday…by providing contemporary solutions that have been tried and tested throughout time.” Its web domain was registered in July 2022.
If you visit Acquisitions NY’s website today, you’ll note that it’s bare of certain things a reputable agency’s website typically includes, such as a client list and a list of recent sales. In an earlier incarnation, those things were present…but oops…
Acquisitions NY removed the pilfered book images and testimonials, but continued to use them in solicitations for some time afterward, as you can see from this flashy document they were sending out as late as last December. (Here’s Virginia Lloyd’s testimonial page for comparison.)
In another theft, Acquisitions NY’s Who We Are page for some time falsely claimed real agent Ian Bonaparte of Janklow & Nesbit as part of its team. Again, they got caught out:
Ian’s (real) bio and (fake) photo are no longer on the website, but his name is still being used, as you’ll see below.
Acquisitions NY’s solicitations have varied over time, but the ones they’re currently sending out claim that authors have been chosen for “one of the most-coveted 10 spots” in the (entirely fictional) Mark Twain Literary Fund, which supposedly makes it possible for representation to be provided “pro bono” (which of course is not a thing). You can see the whole solicitation here, and the accompanying brochure here.
And remember that I said there might be more than one agency in a fake agency scheme? An outfit called Redhood Literary (web domain registered just 31 days ago as of this writing) is sending out solicitations that, despite slightly different wording and a different fictional “literary fund” (the Charles Perrault Literary Fund 2023), are otherwise virtually identical to Acquisitions NY’s. You can see Redhood’s solicitation here (note the BCC to email@example.com).
Here’s a screenshot of the relevant portion of Acquisitions NY’s solicitation:
Acquisitions NY and Redhood Literary are betting that the author won’t know how to find a “professional editor of your liking” to create the “trifecta documents”, and will be eager for a referral to a (supposedly) reputable firm to provide this service for them. Enter the second component of the fake literary agency scheme: the service provider.
In this case, that’s Bennett Media & Marketing, which identifies itself as a publishing, marketing, and editing company “formed to combat the enigmatic nature of traditional publishing.” Here’s its response to “Ian Bonaparte” at Acquisitions NY, who has referred a writer for production of the “trifecta documents” mentioned in the screenshot above.
I have documentation confirming that the writer (whose name and book title I’ve redacted) paid for these services, but it unfortunately doesn’t include the amount. Based on the price points of similar scams, my guess would be in the $2,000-3,000 range. (Subsequent correspondence between “Ian” and the author suggests the author may have had questions about the quality of Bennett’s output–as, according to this account, did another author who paid for Bennett’s services.)
That brings us to the third component of a fake literary agency scam: the parent company that runs the sales reps and reaps the profits.
Bennett Media & Marketing was registered as an LLC in May 2021 in Wyoming via MyCompanyWorks, a business creation service that sets up corporations and LLCs for both US and international clients. (I wasn’t able to find business registrations for Acquisitions NY or Redhood Literary, probably because they exist solely to funnel paying customers Bennet’s way, and don’t actually collect any money.)
Here are Bennett’s registration documents. Note Article VI, an additional clause that identifies the person in charge.
Now take a look at these Articles of Incorporation, applied for on December 1, 2021, for Crown Media Global Solutions OPC, a Philippine company that “engage[s] in the Business of Business Process Outsourcing, data processing and other portals activities for the internet”. (“Business outsourcing” is the bland term often adopted by Philippine companies that operate scams in the US and other countries.)
Notice anything similar?
I suspect it’s not a coincidence that a couple of months later, an amendment to Bennett Media’s business registration was filed to delete Article VI “in entirety”.
Crown Media’s website has been suspended for some reason, and as of this writing its Facebook page is no longer active, though it was alive and well yesterday with recruitment calls and posts featuring the month’s top sellers.
So there you have it: the anatomy of a fake literary agency scam, a trail of breadcrumbs linking two fake agencies, a predatory service provider, and a parent company in the Philippines.
It’s often not possible to trace a fake agency or agency impersonator back to its source. I’ve identified only a handful of such setups (see this list)–but I have no doubt there are many, many more. Crown Media is almost certainly taking in plenty of money–each person they convince to shell out for “trifecta documents” is a potential mark for more sales pressure driven by more false representations and promises–but it’s small potatoes compared to longer-established companies of this type–such as Innocentrix, which does or has done business under nine or more different names, and generates eye-popping revenue. Top sales reps for these companies can make as much as six figures in monthly commissions.