Friday, May 21, 2010

Writer Beware

I had a very interesting week, or should I say a very interesting experience.

Earlier this week an author got in touch to ask if I'd ever heard of an agent named, we'll say Agent Tangerine, cousin to Agent Orange. He was emailing because Agent Tangerine had gotten in touch with him and claimed to be with BookEnds. Well clever Author knew enough to do his research and since he'd never seen Agent Tangerine's name on our website, or anywhere else in our listings, he was checking to see if this was something he missed or if, possibly, this was a scam using the BookEnds name.

Having never heard of Agent Tangerine I was of course alarmed and asked Author to forward any information he had since she was claiming to work at BookEnds.

Author went one step further and got in touch with Agent Tangerine again to hear her side of the story. According to Agent Tangerine, she had opened an “agency business” she was calling “Book Ends.” She stressed that her agency was not to be confused with BookEnds. She did however, go on to say that she had worked with BookEnds for several years. She also claimed to have worked with the Bent Agency.

Wow. Not only was this upsetting, it was just plain creepy. None of what Agent Tangerine was saying was true. I had never heard of Agent Tangerine, she has never worked for BookEnds in any capacity, and we were definitely not in any legal battle over a website as she had claimed.

So I immediately forwarded our full email trail to both Jenny Bent and Victoria Strauss at Writers Beware to let them know about this. Certainly I was concerned about the reputation of BookEnds, but I was even more concerned that other authors were being taken advantage of.

About an hour later Author emailed again. It was a hoax. A big, fat hoax. Apparently someone Author knew was playing a "joke" on him, not realizing the lengths wise Author would go to to avoid being scammed.

So I thought about it. Should I feel like a fool? Who should I trust? Have I made a fool of myself by alarming another agent as well as Writers Beware?

There are a lot of fabulous agents in this world, there are also the few who will use any opportunity to scam unwilling authors. I cannot feel like a fool for alerting others (I also immediately let them know it was a false alarm). If this was really happening it needed to be stopped quickly.

As for the Author who originally emailed, I believe him. I believe that he was scammed and I feel bad for him. Authors work hard to learn the business and act professionally and this "joke" was just plain mean.

I refuse to feel like a fool about this and I hope Author does too. I commend Author for not jumping at a chance to have an agent, any agent, but for doing due diligence first. If this had been a scam agent he would have saved himself a lot of time and money by doing the research all authors should be doing.


Jessica

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you sure the author wasn't the one playing a joke on YOU? Perhaps there wasn't any third party involved, and this was author's pathetic attempt to get your attention.

Trust no one.

Liz said...

Wow - this is rubbish. Why anyone would do something so thoughtless is beyond me. Even if as "anon" says, it's a prank on you guys, whichever way it works...as my nephew would say: it sucks monkeybutt.

Project Savior said...

That was a very cruel joke, but you did not over-react. The only thing an agent is selling is their reputation and the author informed you that someone was trying to steal some of that.

Creepy Query Girl said...

You did the absoulte right thing in alerting 'writers beware'. I feel bad for the author too and his friend's a dumbass.

Philangelus said...

Wanted: New Friend. Must have responsible sense of humor. Editing skills a plus. email references and resume to gotburnedonce-at-smarter.now.dot.com

salarsenッ said...

Intense. You did the right thing. Better to be safe than sorry. And I agree--major creepy.

Daryl Sedore said...

Wow, a potentially scary situation diffused rather quickly.

Well done on your part regarding damage control.

This is what firefighters do; race to the call all prepared, hoses at the ready. Even if it's a false alarm, they're still ready.

Just like you and your response. Nothing wrong here but the prankster.

Kimber An said...

None of you were fools. You all acted prudently to defend yourselves and each other. It's the scammer/prankster who is at fault. Even if it's not a scam, it's not a nice joke to play on a hardworking professional, whether author or legitimate agent.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

This is why I don't like practical jokes... unless they are very well thought out they take a lot of good people's time and energy to sort out.

If the author was the prankster, shame on him, but if he was taken in, I think, as Philangelus says, he needs to get himself a new friend!

Everyone acted with perfect responsibility in this case.

Heidi Willis said...

I'd guess that the prankster had no idea what it was like to be an author or an agent, and I hope is appropriately appalled at the avalanche she started.

You can't be too careful in these situations. You did the right thing. And if the author was truly duped, he did the right thing too.

Jason said...

You definitely did the right thing. It's better to be safe in matters like this...

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Jessica,
I think both of you did the right thing and shame on the person who played the prank. Not funny. It might be a deal breaker if they were friends...

Amanda said...

That's not cool as writers take their work seriously. Writing is really a passion for us and jokes like that are rude and disrespectful.

While I have a sense of humor, I'm not laughing at this. Especially since it sent up the alarms.

Fawn Neun said...

I wouldn't feel foolish. Jenny and Victoria both seem like the kind of people that would both appreciate the heads up and understand your reaction.

And that is one cruel joke.

Kate Douglas said...

I think your reaction was right on target. If this was truly a cruel joke on the author, they really need to choose better friends. This business is hard enough without that sort of crap.

Paige said...

You have no reason to feel foolish. No matter who was being scammed, it was thoughtless and not funny. If you hadn't taken the steps you took, the "joke" would have gone on longer, and who knows how far out of control it would have gotten. Good job, Jessica.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Unless said author attempted to use his concern for your good name to earn some kind of reward (like a request for review of his work or what have you), then I don't see a reason to doubt his story.

I think you did everything right and I'm very pleased that you worked not only to protect your good name but our interests as aspiring authors. And while it may be too much for you to have words with his friends, hopefully said same author has kicked them incredibly hard in the junk, for which they most certainly deserve.

If my friends tried to pull something like that on me and embarrassed me professionally (which said author should feel embarrassed, not you), then they're not just playing a prank, they're messing with my career and my potential livelihood. There would be a reckoning for that kind of disrespect.

Malia Sutton said...

Wow. That's a mean joke. If it had happened to me, I'd be forced to get even with this prankster in a way he or she would't forget.

You don't screw around with things like this.

Dawn said...

Clearly the "friend" doesn't understand at all the ups and downs of this industry and how far a prank like that could go. I suspect I'd drop that "friend" if that's what happened to me. Thanks for making us aware.

Lisa_Gibson said...

Quite a cruel joke. Authors have to wade through the scams enough without some supposed friend thinking he's being funny. What a jerk!

Magdalena Munro said...

You reacted wisely and I'm sorry for the waste of your valuable time. I'm curious, though, if someone could open up an agency entitled Book Ends, LLC. You may want to copyright/tm that title just to keep it off the market to prevent possible confusion.

pauraque said...

Wow. Some friend.

Josin L. McQuein said...

My first thought is to applaud the guy who emailed you for not just letting it go and hoping no one found out it was a practical joke. I think that's what most people would have done just from being embarrassed or not wanting to get their friend in trouble.

You didn't overreact. If it had been a legitimate scam (<--- talk about your oxymorons)then acting quickly would have been the only/best way to protect anyone else the scammer might contact. (not to mention you needed to distance your very legit agency from the very scammish one to protect the reputation of your agents.)

Whoever came up with that "joke" should have their funny bone removed and then it should be used to smack them.

M Clement Hall said...

It's all rather silly, not to say mean, but as long as you have registered the name of your company, Federal and State, then there's no point in fretting.

MissV said...

The prankster should feel like a fool. If he had any guts he should be contacting you to apologize!

Watery Tart said...

It was a ROTTEN joke, but I bet if this prankster isn't in the publishing business, they have no clue just HOW rotten. Still--feeding on his friends hopes is lousy.

I think you did the right thing every step of the way. CONSTANT VIGILANCE! (to quote my favorite paranoid)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Good on the author for being diligent, and on you for acting quickly. What a jerk of a friend to have! Practical jokes are fine at times, but not when you're playing with someone else's dreams or career. Don't feel foolish for this at all. The sad truth is that many of these cases aren't false alarms.

Jenny said...

Hi Jessica--
For the record, I was very grateful that you contacted me, and pretty creeped out by the whole thing. So definitely, thanks for letting me know.

Janet Morgenstern said...

Today is the last day for the seniors in the school at which I teach. They have been a very audacious bunch, and not in a good way, and can't possibly understand why no one appreciates their ideas of what constitutes practical jokes.

This sounds silly, but this prank angered me for similar reason your prankster exasperated you. I noticed they always had to go to the bathroom. Our school burned down in '08, so they have to hike over to other buildings to use the little cowboy's room.

I kept getting bizarre calls that forced me to stop what 40 people were doing, answer the phone, then try to get everyone back on board with what I was trying to do before the call, if I could remember what it was. It made class very difficult and was incredibly frustrating.

I don't think you overreacted. I'm feeling a little pissy on your behalf because someone would be so callous as to mess with a friend like that and cause your author to unknowingly waste your time.

All said...

That's a pretty horrible joke. You definitely didn't over react though. Better to report a few cruel jokers than let some even worse scammers get away with it because they *might* be joking.

Bernita said...

The only fool is the one who began this fraud.
Other agents and agencies would surely be glad to know this particular "prank" is circulating.

Blee Bonn said...

Thank goodness you reported it. It's always better to be on the safe side if you ask me.

I appreciate your awesomeness in looking out for everyone and being on top of it.

Lisa said...

That's a TERRIBLE joke. That poor author needs new friends for sure. When you are querying your emotions are all over the place anyway. Totally not cool. You did not overreact at all.

Kathy said...

I wonder whether, if the author had been a computer technician or teacher or lawyer seeking work, the friend would have pretended to represent a prospective employer.
Writing is a career. Unpublished writers are apprentices. Friends who don't respect that need to be either educated or scuttled.

Jeff King said...

Glad you took action, even thou it wasn't real, you did the right thing by far... If anything you have raised in my eyes, thx for caring.

wry wryter said...

As writers we try so hard to get someone 'with the power' to read our work. For an agent to show interest, is the glimmer some of us have been looking for from the first word to last rewrite.

If a friend did that to me I would be beyond disappointed, I would be heartbroken.

I cannot imagine someone being so cruel as to laugh in the face of someones dream :(
A pox upon them...wait, does that mean I am wishing them actual small pox, with oozing postules, pain and utter discomfort, with the results being little scar like holes in their faces...yup...or at least a zit or two.

Smelling The Poop said...

No need to feel foolish. You investigated the situation, which was the prudent thing to do.

mkcbunny said...

Wow.

Terrible "friend."
Brave author.
Awesome agent & Writers Beware team.

Ali Katz said...

Interesting. I had a similar experience a couple months ago and might have fallen for it, but an acquaintance happened to get the same letter. I tested it out by sending a well written but vague blurb for an unfinished novel I knew the agent would not be interested in and got a response asking for partial within the hour - an obvious hoax since the submission guidelines of the agency in question emphatically states they do not accept queries by email.

The email was very professionally done. What disturbed me was letter and the response came from the email address of an actual agent in the rather prestigious agency she purported to represent. I don't know how an email address can be forged.

In retrospect, maybe I should have notified them.

Anonymous said...

In my neighborhood, full of kids and pets and families, last evening a van was running around and around, up and down the street in the pouring rain through a huge lake of water in the road splashing water.
After multiple rounds, my husband got the license plate and called the police. The driver could be dangerous or intoxicated or immature.
Then the van stopped a block away and ten kids got out and about eight new ones from an a residence came running up for their "ride." It was some schmuck of a young dad, entertaining a bunch of kids.
"Fun and games" to one person could be dangerous or cruel or foolish to another.
It's hard sometimes to determine an idiot from a dangerous person. Better to be safe than sorry.
It's too bad this happened. I think you acted prudently.

I'm just saying said...

While reading this post, I discovered something odd. Almost every single reply was basically the same (except the few who thought the author was the one scamming, which I completely agree with). However, the overall consensus all seemed to show disgust for the misleading friend (or scammer which everyone you think it is), and quickly praised Jessica for her knight in shining armor warning to the other agent.

While it's understandable to take the steps that Jessica did, I was curious as to why all the entries all seemed so similar in thought; so I set out to find the answer. I began viewing other's profiles, and I have to admit I wasn't surprised to what I discovered. Most of the bloggers all seemed to be authors (like myself). The fact they were authors made perfect sense, because it's understandable that an author would follow an agent's blog (I obviously do). However, it left me wondering how many of the bloggers had submitted a query to Jessica (or was about to submit one).

My hypothesis is that all the post are all so similar, because they are all trying to get on Jessica's good side (which I hear agents like). I mean let's all face it; if you continuously say nice things about an agent (and your name is posted on your blog), then the agent is bound to remember your name eventually. Right? Hmm? I'll think about that; because if that's true, I do believe I'll start sucking up instead of speaking my mind.

I mean don't get me wrong, we all love to hear confirmation that we're right in everything we do (or at least on the correct path). However, it doesn't help if someone is agreeing with you to simply get something in return.

So my basic opinion of Jessica's post is this;

While reading the basics of this e-mail it was almost clear that the author was just trying to get their name in Jessica's mind (maybe even make her feel sorry for them). I think the author finally told her their friend was playing a joke because Jessica took it so seriously, and they got scared.

If I were Jessica, I would have had many questions, like; how would the friend know that the author submitted to Jessica? Where was the e-mail from? I mean did the supposed friend take the time to create their own website/e-mail, or was the e-mail address from Google or yahoo? I don't go around telling my friends what agents I submitted to, because then you have to go and tell your friends who you were denied from as well. It's just not something you do.

I just don't believe this author was on the up and up. So, I think I would have had doubts at first if I were Jessica (not to say it doesn't hurt to be safe rather than sorry). The author was supplying her with the false information, so it would have been easy to see how far the scammer was willing to go. Hopefully she could have learned the intentions of the scammer, so she could see what steps she truly needed to take to protect herself and the authors who believed in her. Then, the truth would have had time to come out before she started burning up the phone lines (or e-mail accounts), thus saving embarrassment when she had to tell the other agent that she had been miss-informed.

Hindsight? Look how much attention this one author has received now. Jessica actually devoted an entire blog to this author. All of us in return, have devoted our precious time and mind power contemplating the intentions, meaning, and even responses of others (yes that would be me). So do you think Jessica will ever forget this author? Hmmmm? My guess is probably not for a while.

Devon Ellington said...

Good for both you and the author for checking fact. Hopefully, Author will excommunicate this prankster from his or her universe -- there's nothing funny about this type of a "joke" -- it's cruel and hurtful to everyone involved, with obvious repercussions. No one needs someone like that in their lives.

As for the poster who suggests we're supporting your decision and the author's in your responses because we want to get on your good side: Guess what, bubbelah? Plenty of us already make our living doing this (writing) and support others in the business because we're all professionals, not because we're kissing ass.

Julie Weathers said...

1. I'm glad Jessica and this author both did their homework. Having been a writer in a previous life, you know, the one where your life goes south in a hurry and you worry about survival instead of writing, I queried a set of agents on my suspense and another set on my childrens books.

This was before Agent Beware. While I got a lot of requests for partials and fulls on the suspense, I also got a few who referred me to a professional editor and then they were sure they would be interested. I, foolishly, sent in the first 100 pages and my very hard earned $500. You iron a lot of clothes at $8 a dozen to make $500. It was a scam, of course. I got a lot more help by just joining a good online writer's forum than I did from the "editor."

I did get an agent for the suspense.

The childrens books were another story. I had several agents call about those. Yes, I made the mistake of querying more than one project in the query. The first one who called was my dream agent. I have a practical joker friend who liked to ask me if I was rich and famous yet, so when dream agent called, I hung up on her.

"Tell Tommy I don't think he's very funny," and then I just hung up.

The agent, bless her, called back and quickly said, "Ms. Weathers this really is Dream Agent, I'm at (this address), please don't hang up."

So, yes, this crap happens and it's good to be cautious.

Someone made the mistake of sending out 140 queries at one time. She has a really nice story, but the query wasn't that great. So, in one mad dash of querying, she burned all her bridges for the agents who would be a good fit for her book.

Recently, an agent from an odd state, well, the state isn't that odd, but not many agents are from there, emailed her. My friend had given up and self-published. The agent loved the book and wanted to rep her. Friend is ecstatic. Time goes by and no further response. She emails the agent and gets a response from another person. Agent X died, but agent Y loved the book also and still wants to rep her. She needs to do some work on the book, but Agent Y is positive she can sell it. Wait for it. Wait. YES! If friend will just send $, they can get her ready for the big name publishers.

2. For Just Saying. I'm not really good at buttering people up. I'm too uncouth to know the finer points of it, and it just looks like I am basting someone in preparation to eat them RAWR!!!!

I tend to avoid it. I don't even approach agents and editors uninvited at conferences. They seem to have plenty of admirers hanging on their every word and I'm sure sometimes they just want to sit down at the bar and relax.

So, Just Saying, while you think everyone who agrees is kissing buttocks. Sometimes, the consensus is just pretty obvious.

Let's take it a step further, though. Let's say this author queries Jessica and, yes, she does remember the author's name. Jessica is now going to say, "Sign on the dotted line because you saved me from a fate worse than death!" Doubtful. Jessica is going to read the material and if it's good, and fits what she's looking for, AND she thinks she can sell it, she may ask for more.

I rather doubt agents sign someone who can't write because the writer bought them a drink or ten or warned them of a possible scam.

Rats. I just spent 250 words on a blog response that could have been spent with a hunky erotic dancer or a cowboy with an open shirt and jeans so low I can see heaven from here.

Good job, Jessica. It's always best to error on the side of caution. Unless you're a bullrider.

Julie Weathers said...

And, yes, that should have been err, not error. I r a righter.

Anonymous said...

There's no reason to feel silly -- if it hadn't been a pathetic prank on the author, acting so quickly would have saved possible future authors. Kudos, and shame on the idiot who thought it was funny.

Honestly, what's wrong with 'Is your refrigerator running?'?

LivelyClamor said...

Whoever did put this together seems to have planned it well enough to cause scam-level confusion about the Hypothetical Agent's identity and connections. That seems to go way farther than just a prank on whim.

I won't speculate on who started it.

Lawyer,
wannabe writer (but nowhere near ready to submit anything),
just so you all know.

Barbara Martin said...

Jessica, there's no need for you to feel like a fool. It's better to have taken the steps you did to inform the pertinent parties of the information you had been provided with.

Anne R. Allen said...

I missed this post, but found it through a search of the blog. I fear there's more to this. I've been getting anon. attempts to post on my blog things like "BookEnds scammed me" and "BookEnds isn't worth the huge reading fee they charge." I've been deleting them, but now I wonder if something nastier than you realized is going on. Disgruntled rejectee, maybe?

BookEnds, LLC said...

Interesting Anne. I think that if someone has been experiencing those kinds of things from a BookEnds they should alert Writers Beware so it can be investigated. It sounds to me though that it's a spammer if they are posting anonymously.

--jhf