You'll find them in all walks of life. Who doesn't know an elderly person who lost everything, thanks to a less-than-honest "financial planner"? Or someone who paid money for "fees" associated to winning a non-existent big prize.
In the writing world, the biggest scammers are fly-by-night publishers and agents. Everyone who manages the herculean task of finishing that first book is high on the dream of fame and fortune. They will get that work published (or so they think until the rejections start rolling in.) But all of a sudden, that dream has turned into a nightmare. They've found an agent who loves their writing--after they sent that agent $300, $500, $1000 for "expenses" associated with sending the work out. Shoot, I'd love anyone's writing if they were willing to pay me to love it.
Wake up, folks. Reputable agents do NOT take money up front. They do NOT charge you to read your work. They do NOT send your work to a book doctor (who just happens to be their husband). And any agent worth their salt should be willing to give you a list of their clients and what they sold for them. If they act like it's a big hairy secret, it's probably because they haven't sold jack squat.
Don't be stupid. Do your homework. There are lots of places to get information on agents and publishers (beware the vanity and subsidy presses out there). http://www.aar-online.org/ offers a list of agents who must adhere to a canon of ethics. http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/ lists agents to steer clear of. http://www.writers.net/agents.html is loaded with information.
And just in case you're really too naive (or lazy) to check for yourself, at least read this list and make sure you don't include them in your query list, and make special note of letter d:
From Writer Beware :
None of these agents has a significant track record of sales to commercial (advance-paying) publishers, and most have virtually no documented and verified sales at all (many sales claimed by these agents turn out to be vanity publishers). All charge clients before a sale is made, whether directly, by charging fees such as reading or administrative fees, or indirectly, for "editing services." Writer Beware suggests that writers searching for agents avoid questionable agents, and instead query agents who have actual track records of sales to commercial publishing houses.
a.. The Abacus Group Literary Agency
b.. Allred and Allred Literary Agents (refers clients to "book doctor" Victor West of Pacific Literary Services)
c.. Capital Literary Agency (formerly American Literary Agents of Washington, Inc.)
d.. Barbara Bauer Literary Agency
e.. Benedict & Associates (also d/b/a B.A. Literary Agency)
f.. Sherwood Broome, Inc.
g.. Desert Rose Literary Agency
h.. Arthur Fleming Associates
i.. Finesse Literary Agency (Karen Carr)
j.. Brock Gannon Literary Agency
k.. Harris Literary Agency
l.. The Literary Agency Group, which includes the following: Children's Literary Agency Christian Literary Agency New York Literary Agency Poets Literary Agency The Screenplay Agency Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency) Writers Literary & Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)
m.. Martin-McLean Literary Associates
n.. Mocknick Productions Literary Agency, Inc.
o.. B.K. Nelson, Inc.
p.. The Robins Agency (Cris Robins)
q.. Michelle Rooney Literary Agency (also d/b/a Creative Literary Agency and Simply Nonfiction)
r.. Southeast Literary Agency
s.. Mark Sullivan Associates
t. West Coast Literary Associates (also d/b/a California Literary Services)
Okay, you've been warned, so don't come crying when you hook up with one of the above and find you've wasted a year of your precious career, not to mention hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and no editor has ever seen your work. As for letter d, check out the writers' blogs. They're up in arms over that one. For a really funny take on it, go to http://p-n-elrod.livejournal.com/12120.html . To get the real scoop, no holds barred, visit Miss Snark's blog. What do you mean you don't know the url? It should be #1 in your blog bookmarks. Sheesh! http://misssnark.blogspot.com/ Also see what Kristin Nelson http://pubrants.blogspot.com/ has to say. From those two you'll find plenty of links to keep you busy, including a link to the new Absolute Write site-- Barbara Bauer had the old one shut down because someone posted something about her.
Folks, scamming is nothing new. But in today's world of the Internet and Google, there's really no excuse for getting taken. It only shows how desperate you are--or that you're lazy beyond belief. Take the time to check things out before you jump in. There's really no need to wear lead boots and a concrete vest in this day and age.