January 28, 2004
Editorial Service Kickbacks? Reading Fees? Protect Yourself! By Diane Craver | printable version
All kinds of scams are committed everyday. We read in the newspaper and see on television about people of all ages being taken advantage of by dishonest persons. But I never thought I'd be a victim of a well-known New York agent. I hope you haven't experienced what I did several years ago. I still get a sick feeling whenever I read about the people I put my trust in.
In 1995 when I had my first contemporary romance about three quarters finished, I sent it to a New York agent, who I'll call Greed E. Liar. I thought she had to be good because she was a syndicated columnist in a well-known trade magazine. After receiving several rejection letters from other agents, I was extremely excited when Mrs. Liar wrote me a long, personal letter about how she liked my writing and saw potential in my novel proposal. However, she said she felt my work needed editing before she could take me on as a client, and recommended that I contact Edit Ink to help me with revising my manuscript. She said she would then take another look at it.
While I was thinking about whether to contact Edit Ink, I received a very professional-looking brochure from Bill Appel and Denise Sterrs of Edit Ink. I saw where Bill had listed that he had been an instructor at Writer's Digest, and Denise had been an editor at a romance publishing house, so I thought they had to be reputable. I was very impressed when I read how their services would help a writer get published. It never occurred to me that Greed E. Liar had been unethical in giving them my name and address without my permission.
I called Edit Ink, and Bill said for $500 he would edit my first hundred pages, but I had to act quickly or the price would go up. I was convinced this would help my book get published, so I went ahead and paid the money and sent the pages. Several weeks went by and I heard nothing. I called and the receptionist said there had been a fire so they were delayed in their editing. I didn't believe it. When I called again, I was told that Bill and Denise had the flu. I attended a Romance Writers of America (RWA) writing conference in Cincinnati and talked to someone there who actually edited books published by Writer's Digest. I asked him about Mr. Appel and Edit Ink. He told me he had heard they didn't deliver what they said they would, and he didn't think Bill was ever a writing instructor at Writer's Digest, and had only done a little freelance work for them.
By now, I wanted my money back. I felt terrible that I had been so stupid, and knew I had given my money to crooks. I called Greed E. Liar and told her what I had heard about Edit Ink. I told her I still hadn't received my critique and line editing back. She promised to call them immediately.
Now, here is the strange part. I actually received 11 pages of constructive comments back from them. Also an editing was done on each page with what to cut and change. And, there's more. I did have a question a couple of months later about one writing suggestion made by Edit Ink on how to improve my manuscript, and they wrote me a couple of pages explaining how to accomplish this. Greed E. Liar never did take me on as a client, but I strongly suspect she got a kickback when she referred "prospective clients" to Edit Ink. And, I suspect she never intended to take me on as a client. I eventually learned that Edit Ink was paying agents 15% for "referrals."
An agent should never get a kickback when recommending that a writer hire an editor. Agents should make their money selling manuscripts to publishers for their clients, not collecting money from the writers (and kickbacks from editors!) before a book is even published.
I don't know why I was fortunate enough to receive any feedback from Edit Ink at all when others were treated so badly. Maybe Greed E. Liar told them to deliver what I paid for, knowing I was planning legal action. I don't know. However, I still feel betrayed by Mrs. Liar because she referred me to Edit Ink, but then refused to take me on as a client.
I've heard that Greed E. Liar is no longer an agent. Also it's been reported that the owners of Edit Ink were prosecuted in New York. You can read the National Writer's Union statement about Edit Ink at: http://www.nwu.org/alerts/970823.htm
Unfortunately, there are other book doctoring services out there that are paying agents for referrals (kickbacks). If an agent ever says, "I might/will take you on as a client if you hire this company/person…" be very wary. Any agent who asks you to spend money as a condition of their review or acceptance of your manuscript should be avoided.
You can hire a reputable editor for $15 an hr. and up. Their services can be well worth it. Or, form a writing critique group with other writers. You can also take a writing course or get editing books. And, remember, traditional publishers have professional editors on staff, so your final manuscript will be professionally edited by the publisher anyway.
Another sign to be wary of is the agent who uses the word "Christian" in marketing materials. Unfortunately, a writing friend of mine was a victim of a scam by a "Christian" agent. This agent touted her Christianity on her website and stated she only represented inspirational and wholesome books. My friend was impressed and paid the $700 to be represented by this agent. She was used and never received anything from this agent, but she caught on to the scam before she paid any more money.
Also, watch out for agents who charge reading fees. Some say they spend so much time reading manuscripts that they feel it necessary to charge fees up front, and this doesn't mean they aren't ethical. But, when an agent charges a reading fee, how much money do they make from their reading fees, and how much do they actually make from selling their clients' manuscripts? When an agent doesn't charge reading fees, they work harder to get you a publisher. And, if an agent is receiving enough submissions with accompanying reading fees, what is their incentive to market books to publishers?
Why are so many of us taken advantage of by these corrupt people? Writers want so much to get published, and when a bad agent expresses an interest in us and tell us how much they like our writing, we want to believe their lie. They know how to build our egos up to get us to pay money, and we lose our common sense, thinking if we listen to these agents, our work will be published.
Here are some good sites to check before querying an agent:
* A list of Agents and Publishers Not Recommended.
* The Association of Authors' Representatives
(The AAR does not include any fee-charging agencies as members.)
* Writer's Digest Books publishes an annual Guide to Literary Agents, which should be available at your library, or check Amazon.
* WritersWeekly.com has a searchable database where you can find naughty agents, publishers and other people preying on writers. Go to the Whispers & Warnings section of WriterWeekly Forum or search for specific names at http://www.writersweekly.com/whispers_and_warnings.php.
Diane S. Craver resides in Ohio and enjoys life with her husband and six children. She is a contributor to the Cincinnati Down Syndrome Newsletter and has written numerous nonfiction magazine articles. The Romance Rag, an online magazine, will publish Diane's short story, "Second Thoughts" in an upcoming issue. Diane is also the author of How To Run A Profitable Preschool Without The Hassle and The Christmas of 1957. The Christmas of 1957 inspires us to realize that obstacles can be overcome at any age. To learn more about Diane and her writing, visit her website at: http://www.dianecraver.com.