Although the World Wide Web provides a host of new ways for writers to attract the attention of agents and editors as well as the general public, it has also led to new and more efficient ways to mislead and defraud veteran and novice writers.
Victoria Strauss, fantasy novelist and volunteer organizer of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Writer Beware site (www.sfwa.org/Beware/), told PW that the site was launched in 1998, as a "cautionary page that has grown in scope since I began documenting the practices of fake agents, book doctors and subsidy and vanity publishers." Strauss told PW that while the Writers Beware site focuses on the activities of disreputable literary agents, it also warns of corrupt "book doctors" and subsidy publishers that are sometimes affiliated with or even owned by the same crooked agents. And although writers generally know to avoid agents who charge to read a manuscript, said Strauss, other kinds of up-front charges ("marketing fees" for submissions or "evaluation fees" for supposed professional critiques) are less familiar and are also used to bilk unsuspecting writers out of large sums. The Writers Beware site offers a menu of very detailed warnings and descriptions of corrupt practices. It also includes case studies and court documents on a number of shady agents and editorial services firms that have been either indicted or convicted of fraud.
Strauss is also critical of a growing number of "display sites," online venues that charge authors a fee to post unpublished manuscripts in hopes of attracting agents or publishers. Although she is careful to emphasize that not all such sites are dishonest, she notes that even well-intentioned sites can make deceptive claims about their ability to attract legitimate editors and agents. She also notes that these sites are sometimes used by scammers to solicit new victims.
Strauss also noted the work of Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent, criminal justice professor at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, a true-crime author and publisher of the Fisher Report, information on what he calls "fee-based entrepreneurs--agents that never sell a manuscript." Fisher and Strauss regularly exchange and compare complaints and information about corrupt practices in order to update the Writer Beware site.
Strauss said the Writer Beware site gets 60 to 100 hits a day and she receives 15 to 20 e-mail inquiries a week, "positive comments as well as nasty ones from agents who don't like it."