In 1998, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America founded Writer Beware, a program aimed at exposing scams, educating writers and maintaining a database of questionable literary agents, publishers, editorial services and literary contests. With the Internet making it easier than ever for publishing con artists to operate, Writer Beware has never been busier. The organization has played a part in getting fee-charging literary agents arrested, breach-of-contract judgments entered against vanity publishers and, outside of its usual beat, it has filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon for requiring all print-on-demand books it sells to be printed by BookSurge.
Earlier this month, the watchdog group won a significant victory against literary scammer Robert Fletcher of AEG Publishing, Literary Agency Group, Strategic Book Publishing and other companies. Writer Beware had been receiving complaints about Fletcher and his holdings—which include a literary agency, editorial services provider, self-publishing company and book marketing firm—since 2001. According to the complaints, Fletcher's literary agency claimed not to charge authors, but then it billed clients for editing, critiques, entry into a database and other “services.” The complaints also said Strategic advertised that it was a “traditional publisher” and implied that authors would not have to pay any fees, which the complaints said turned out not to be true. Writer Beware's “Alerts for Writers” section of its Web site (sfwa.org/beware) warned countless writers of Fletcher's scams.
Fletcher, who goes by at least 50 aliases, filed a libel and defamation suit against Victoria Strauss and Ann Crispin of Writer Beware last year, claiming that the warnings they were providing to writers about his companies constituted defamation. In March of this year, the suit was dismissed due to Fletcher's failure to respond or prosecute. Strauss and Crispin then filed a motion in Massachusetts Superior Court seeking recovery of their legal fees and expenses. On August 11, they received the ruling that their motion had been granted. The ruling read, in part, “This Court finds the claims asserted by the plaintiffs [Fletcher and his companies] to be wholly insubstantial, frivolous, and not advanced in good faith.” Fletcher and his companies have been ordered to pay all Writer Beware's legal expenses and court costs. “This is a significant victory for Writer Beware, and for writers everywhere,” said Crispin.
Although PW was unable to reach Fletcher by phone, he responded to several e-mails. Fletcher defended himself, claiming that the lawsuit was “a waste of corporate resources so I killed it.” Fletcher agreed industry self-regulation is important, but asked, “What happens when a company or individual is wrongly tagged? It is... impossible to remove negative comments about a company, even if proved baseless.” According to Fletcher, his company has published more than 1,000 authors and sold 50,000 books, acting as a “blend of a traditional publisher and AuthorSolutions” wherein some manuscripts are published following a traditional model and others are published through a joint-venture subsidy program. He charges a flat rate of $895, and writers are told the cost up front.
According to Writer Beware, Fletcher, who lives in Boca Raton. Fla., and his companies remain the subjects of an active investigation by the Florida Attorney General's Office.