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Taking Money from Writers - the Easy
I encountered one of these people early in my writing career. A few weeks after submitting my manuscript, I received a call from one of the "agents" from the Robins Agency. Wow! A personal phone call? I'm sure most of you can imagine how excited I was.
Until he told me that he could edit my manuscript for a fee. It was $150 to start, possibly more, he'd let me know once he got started.
It was a good thing I'd been doing a little research on the web since I'd mailed my manuscript. I knew to ask if the agency had ever sold a manuscript to a major NY publisher. (Something I should have researched before mailing a submission to their agency.) His answer, "No."
That was in 2000. Guess how many major NY sales the agency has made for their clients since then?
That question has been posed to Cris Robins on more than one occasion, but I've never seen a response. Anne Crispin and Victoria Straus of Writer Beware have certainly asked it often enough. We're all assuming the answer is NONE.
While the lack of response
doesn't surprise me, I was floored to learn that the
agency has been charging astronomical representative
fees. $3200 per year? When Cris Robins posted a thread to
the Writer Beware blog, she didn't dispute this amount.
The blog with Anne and Victoria's responses can be read
Because of these sorts of fees, the Robins Agency has been on the P&E http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/ website as "not recommended" for years. During all those years, anyone posting negative comments about the agency has been threatened with lawsuits.
However, when Cris Robins' did not follow through on her promises to edit and represent Christopher Dahl's manuscript, he brought legal action against the agency. On 7/25/06, he won his case. The Washington Superior Court in King County has awarded him "$8,320 for breach of contract, fraudulent business practice and consumer protection violations."
Unfortunately action such as this is rarely pursued. Many scammed writers don't have the money to hire an attorney to file a claim against their disreputable agent. Those that do have the money aren't always able to admit publicly (or even to themselves) that they've been the victim of a scam. No one likes having their hopes and dreams dashed.
The best way to avoid making the decision whether or not to press charges against your agent is to do your research. Know who you're querying and if they have a good reputation in the publishing business. Remember, the internet and printed market listings can be great sources of information, but you should always take the time to look deeper. Look at their websites, but look past the hype. (Cris Robins used to have a very impressive website. As of 1/28/07, only the front page is active now and all links have been removed.) Look for a client list. Look for books the agency has sold. An agent's income is based on commission for retail sales of the books they're represented, so legitimate agents often have sales pages or links to sales pages on their websites.
Fiction Factor has a lot
of articles over how to find an honest agent: http://www.fictionfactor.com/editors.html
I was lucky. The first scam agent I encountered sent me a sales pitch so full of grammar and typing errors that I knew he wasn't legit. That mistake saved me. I started researching what a legitimate agent did and how they went about it, so when the Robins Agency called, I knew to ask how many sales they'd made.
But what if I hadn't received that poorly written scam letter? There's a chance Cris Robins might had gotten a lot of my hard earned money, and even more importantly, she might have destroyed my dreams of being a published writer.