Dodging Agent Scams

As an author who successfully sold a book to a publisher without an agent and negotiated my contract myself (if you like to call, “Yes, I’ll sign whatever you’ve got,” a negotiation,) I thought an agent would be the puppy on a leash route. I didn’t want to be at someone else’s mercy and really had no idea what an agent would do outside of negotiating a contract.

Not long into my book tour, I met other authors and got a good look through the fence at the doggy park. Let me tell you, it didn’t take me long to develop leash envy. So I’ve got my eye out for an agent that would fit my personality and goals. Oddly enough, even though I’ve been in the freelance business quite awhile, I still find a lot of agencies out ready to scam the hasty writer.

My first big taste of this came this week through the WL Children’s Agency, which I have since learned goes by lots of different names. I found it by clicking on a link from a reputable children’s authors guild, but I made the mistake of clicking a Google ad on the site. I should have known.

But I did click. I clicked and found myself at a professional looking site that said all of the right things and admittedly some of the things I wanted them to say, like, “You don’t have to spend your child’s physical therapy fund to come to New York and get rejected. You can get rejected from the privacy of your own home.” That sounded good.

I sent off a query and got a positive response right away, which isn’t actually out of the norm for me. If I get rejected, it usually comes a little later. I sent off the manuscript and only a week later got a positive response. That actually sent up the warning flags. I read over the e-mail skeptically. They were interested in representing me so they wanted to send me a “preliminary” contract, (a wha-?) but they wanted me to pay for a formal critique, not necessarily them, but they did have people they "recommended." The e-mail made the contract sound like this was the next step in being considered for their agency and after this round I would be up for an interview with the actual agent. They had a very informative e-mail as to why this was necessary and they would accept a critique from anybody with credentials, but it twanged like the only critiques with acceptable credentials came from the company they were recommending, a company that strangely shared similar initials to their own name, and had similar logos. Huh.

I called my friend Angela from Wicked Wordsmith http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html/ref=cm_plog_item_link?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.angelawilson.typepad.com%2Fwickedwordsmith%2F&token=563F38995AA2F46DCD2D7E97C2EB679D2AD4A7FE
and had her look it over, too. The same warning flags went off for her and she offered leads to research their validity. I decided to start with the guild site through which I had found this agency. Since they did not have any warnings about the company, I turned to the BBB. Still no warnings. I still wasn’t satisfied. The BBB at least recommended reputable agencies and this agency did not fall in that category either.

Finally, I checked out the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Of America, Inc site. They, thankfully, list the scam agents.


I immediately found warnings about the agency in question: WL Children’s Agency and all the other names the agency goes by. They have been under question for quite some time for referring people to their critique agency. They also have no reported sales with any major publishers although they make claims to such sales.

On the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site, I also found sample contracts to compare for legitimacy. The contract I would have been required to sign as a “preliminary” contract for their process of being considered--before speaking with the agent in question--was an actual contract. Should I have agreed to go further with the process, I would have been contractually bound to their agency.

So I’ll peer over the fence at the doggy park and try to figure out which therapy fund to raid to pay for a flight to New York. In the meantime, I write and speak at conferences. I'll work my way through the game instead of paying my way through. Someday, when I'm really ready to do this again, I’ll find an owner. I’ll have a nice pink leash and a collar with purple rhinestones. Of course, just posting this makes me a target for more scam agents. I'll ignore the phone calls and hordes of slick contract wavers beating down my door. A good agent doesn't have to seek me out.


Why The Cub Scouts Don't Like Me Anymore

Long, long ago, with my marriage fast approaching, Oprah handed over this advice: even the greatest marriage is six weeks from divorce. Meaning? If you go without significant conversations and emotional connections for six weeks, then you will suddenly want to yell, scream, cry and wish you'd never gotten married. Hubby and I kept that in mind. We made it through the long distance dating and long distance wedding planning. We made it through two complicated pregnancies. We made it through digging ourselves half way out of college debts larger than two years of our combined salaries. We both made sacrifices to see the other succeed in his/her dreams. We made it through learning our son has a form of Autism and all the medical appointments and therapies attached to that diagnosis. We thought we had this staying-together thing all figured out.

Then I had to promote a book.

“You have to have a website, if you want to book schools for school visits,” a friend from the school systems warned me as I put together my marketing plan for my book. “The more interactive, the better.” I called around to several design companies and gasped in sticker shock.

“You need to do this yourself,” hubby said a zillion times. “How hard can it be?” He said the same thing when he was sure he could teach me how to ski. I still have the scars to prove the value of a ski instructor. Finally, one night as the whole family collapsed through the back door, he just said the words we’d both been thinking: “We can’t afford to put this much money out front.”

I blinked at him, standing there in our small 9X9 kitchen. “I don’t know anything at all about designing a website and the book is going to be out in four weeks. It has to be done sooner than that.”

“We don’t have a choice if you want to make money at this.”

“Fine, but if I’m going to do this, you have to be completely in control of the kids. You’ll have to cook. You’ll have to clean. You’ll have to do homework. And no running off to plan Cub Scout events!”

“Whatever it takes!” he promised. “We’ve come too far to let this get away from you.”

I headed toward the office. He headed downstairs to plan all the activities for the coming campout. He’d already forgotten.

Over the next three weeks, I let the dishes pile up. I ignored the flowerbeds. I didn’t check the kids’ bags when they came home from school. I forgot to schedule flu shots. When they said they were hungry, I said, “Go ask your dad.” I focused on the mind-numbing ambition of getting the website not only figured out, but assembled from scratch, still trying to keep an upbeat voice whenever the kids came around to tell me bits of their day. I plowed through, pulled together any friends who were willing to give pointers, and learned over and over why website designers get paid the big bucks.

Hubby, the-always-willing-to-help-out-guy-who-promised-etc., however, proved to be the-always-willing-to-help-out-the-person-who-asks -nicely.

Bill, the Cub Master, could ask nicely.

While the fiery storms of getting the site buttons to click back and forth blazed around me, Bill would call and say, “Hello, Sara Ann. Is Hubby-O there?” I wanted to reach through the phone and strangle him with all the campout props piled all over my boxes of books. But I didn’t have time.

“Sure, Mister Bill-O.” I’d hand the phone to Hubby with that don’t-you-dare-say-yes glare, but inevitably he’d tell Bill-O, "Sure. No problem."

So as I continued to plow through the website, then the school visits, the online marketing, mailers, and all of the hundreds of other jobs that were required to market this book, Hubby continued to plan Pack costume parties, sell popcorn outside of Wal-Mart, work the Christmas tree lot, help the boys make the cake for the cake decorating contest, and sneak wood into the basement for the derby car – sneak because by that time my reminders of his promise had become more than warning glares. He was worried I might drive away and never look back.

But I didn’t. Who could really leave the dad who allowed his son to make a derby car that looked like Sponge Bob body-surfing down the hill, thereby loosing all aerodynamic properties and forfeiting the trophy he won the year before? Who could leave the guy willing to build a cardboard Mystery Machine and dress up as Shaggy so the kids could be Fred, Daphne, and Scooby Doo?

I did remember the six weeks rule. After six weeks of not understanding each other’s goals you have to reconnect or fall apart. By this time the school was calling with concerns and the eating-out bill had skyrocketed. Hubby-O was just as worried as I was that our marriage may not make it through this new phase of our lives. I think he was probably a little scared that I would murder him with a forty-pound box of children’s books. We had to start talking again rather than throwing schedule updates over the kids scarfing down more McNuggets.

Boyd made the sacrifice to call Bill and resign his post as assistant Cub Master – just until we got past the worst of the marketing. Bill tried to understand, but I think he resents me secretly. I even think I see a little bit of anger flash through all the Cub Scout eyes when I pass them in the halls at school. “There goes the mom who didn’t want her husband to help with Cub Scouts. She’s the evil woman.” All the while, I secretly missed Bill’s chipper voice on the phone, ”Hello, Sara Ann. Is Hubby-O there?” Weeks of sleepless nights and being too busy to see even my best friends led me to appreciate that chipper voice.

The worst of the marketing passed. Hubby called Bill up again and started volunteering. Though I was relieved when he resigned, I was just as relieved when my schedule eased up and he could go back to helping the pack.(Albeit, I made him promise not to neglect homework for the sake of popcorn sales and he forgot that promise, too.) The other Cub Scouts eased up on the glares, glad I finally “released” Hubby back to regular duties. Best of all, Hubby brought out the super-seller in our son. I came back from an out-of-state book tour to find my son had sold more popcorn merchandise than I had sold books. I’m taking our little scout with me next time so that he can ask, "Would you like to buy a book?" In the meantime, Hubby and I are finding pockets of time together. He's taking me out tonight without the kids...to use that restaurant coupon we received for referring people to our chiropractor, who incidently is also a Cub Scout Dad.