December 18, 2005

Scamming Scum

I’ve been working on the redesign of the site whenever I have a spare moment – I think I’ll divide the main site up between the blog, my writing and my coding. I want to have a consistent interface which still visually breaks the site into these different sections. The design for SM will remain pretty much the same but I’m adding two new layouts for the other sections – at least, that’s the plan.

In between working on the layout, I’ve been reading up on more scams by fake agents and I must say, it just makes me wonder about humanity all the more. Anyway, before I get into that, I guess I should talk about my own brush with a fake agent. It all started with a standard query. Usually, I would e-mail an agent a query but the Robins Agency had an online form for people to submit queries. So I submitted via that. I must admit, I made one mistake before querying them – I neither checked them out via Google or checked one of the online lists such as Preditors & Editors which provides a list of scam artists who pose as agents. (But I’m wiser now :p). The very next day, I received this response:

Dear Fahim,

Yes, we’d like to take on your work; however, we limit the number of clients we accept to only those with marketable works and who are in a position to pay our annual retainer fee of $3,250 (US). Although many agents charge $4,500 to $6,500 per year for expenses on top of their commission rate of 15% – 20%, we’ve found that we can do a superb job for only $3,250 with a commission rate of 10%-15%.

As to what you can expect. The process is rather simple (as compared to rocket science :) ); we bring your work in, take it through editorial to make sure it is in good shape; take it through marketing and research to find not only direct sales opportunities, but indirect as well (i.e. film, tv, foreign markets); put together a marketing package, then start the submission process. When a buyer is found, then the negotiations begin.

You are informed each step of the way as to what we are doing with your work; and are a key player in the sale negotiations as well. We normally answer e-mails within 24 hours and telephone calls the same day … that is, if you don’t reach us when you call.

What you won’t get is the typical attitude of most agents (you work for them, not the other way around); you won’t get someone cutting your work up because they can, not because it may be needed (yours doesn’t need it); you won’t get an agent selling you or your work short just for their commission check; and you won’t have to wonder what is being done with your work as you’ll know.

Many agents do not provide the scope of services that we do; and they expense back to you (monthly or quarterly) about $4,500 to $6,500 annually.

We think that we provide a solid service for the monies charged; more importantly though — our clients feel they are getting more than their money’s worth.

If this is the way you’d like your agent to work — for you, not the publisher — and if this is within your budget, then let us know and we’ll get the paperwork in order and start straight away. I look forward to seeing how far our agency can take your work.

With regards,

Syd Michaels
********************************
Robins Agency
*******************************

Now the above is, in a manner, fairly straightforward – they do tell you that they charge an annual fee of $3,250 and as an aspiring author, I half-thought, "hey, if they can deliver on what they promise, that might not be so bad" even though I knew that most reputable agents did not charge an up front fee. However, I did decide to do some checking up on them online at this point and what I found was various posts on different forums where people said that they’d paid the Robins agency and then had not heard back from them or that Cris Robins herself would call a writer who’d signed up with the agency and cry (yes, cry) on the phone asking for money.

Now, I have no idea as to the veracity of any of these claims. The Internet after all is the one place people seem to feel secure about making all sorts of bogus claims and indulging in mindless slander. However, there just seemed to be too many instances of the Robins Agency being mentioned as a scammer for it to be just slander. Besides, the Preditors & Editors list (which *is* reputable) mentioned them as well. So, while I still wanted to cling to the hope that they would actually sell my book for me, I decided that these really weren’t the people I should be going with. So I sent them off the following e-mail:

Dear Syd,

Thank you for getting back to me. However, a few things about your response did not ring true with me – such as the fact that you claim that my work would not need any cutting based on just a few pages of my manuscript. I am in search of an agent who believes in my work and wants to sell it. You asking for $3,250 yearly up front to represent me seems to indicate that you do not really believe in my work but are simply doing it by rote. So thank you but I think I will pass. Regards,

Fahim

Two days later, I got the following from Syd:

Fahim,

I did not say your work would not need any cutting based on anything; fact is, I said we’d take it through editorial to make sure it is in good shape.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, Fahim. You get what you pay for — this is a business, not a wish factory. We pick up works we BELIEVE we can sell; but belief doesn’t pay the light bills.

We know we offer the most fair, complete, and honest service on the market. We would have like to work with you to realize your dreams.

Best to you,

Syd

And that was the extent of my dealings with them. Now this might just be conjecture, but the last response to me felt as if they were trying to make me feel bad about rejecting them and perhaps go back to them begging for another chance. Well, not a chance :p

Of course, this encounter was pretty mild compared to some of the others I’ve been reading about online. The agents appear to come after the people who posted negative comments about them, threaten law-suits, stalk the people, mail bomb them, call their neighbours up to get their unlisted numbers – the whole works. Then there are those who actually defend these people – saying that those who complain about them don’t have the talent to make it and so they are simply trying to bring down good people providing a solid service.

I can’t speak for any of these people but what I can say is this – if an agent wants money from me up front to sell my book and also wants a chunk of the money that I’d get for my book, then there really is something wrong. I agree, there is no free lunch – but that works both ways. I don’t see why I should provide a free lunch for an agent to potentially do nothing after taking my money. Their incentive is the commission that they get, my incentive is the (potential) fame and fortune in selling my book. An equitable trade, wouldn’t you say? :p

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Tags: Internet, Site, Writing
Posted by Fahim at 8:31 am   Comments (2)