A New Scam or New Business Model?

A few months ago I posted a blog about a story I had heard from another author (read it here). In that blog, I generalized the details of the author's experience as they were contacted by a group essentially offering representation for their book to a major publisher. The author chose, wisely in my opinion, not to engage with the group's services.

Now, fast-forward three months and last week I was contacted by a different author who was sharing with me an almost identical story. And like the earlier author, this author had chosen NOT to engage with that group's services.

The interesting thing about this contact though was that even though the offer/pitch was practically identical to the first author's story was that it came from a different group. The first author reported that someone from Maple Staple contacted them while this latest author said it was someone from Brilliant Books Literary.

Two different people from two different companies making almost identical pitches to two different authors. It just sounded too convenient to me.

But what are the offers, you might be asking.

Well, that's the rub. No real offer was extended to either author. Neither group ever mentioned an upfront price for services. Neither author pursued the offers to the point of getting contracts. Nobody really knows what would happen if these groups were taken up on their pitches.

But the meat and potatoes of the pitch is that both of these groups were offering their services as literary agents to the authors. Supposedly, Harper Collins, in both cases, was interested in their books for publication and someone at Harper Collins reached out to these vanity publishers who were unaffiliated with the books & authors in question to have them represent the authors in their publication deals.

If that doesn't sound fishy right off the bat then I don't know what would.

In one case, the author was told that Harper Collins had already approved their book for publication but their advance would be determined by current sales figures. The agent reaching out to that author asked the author to submit all kinds of data. It was the typical data one might expect to submit when trying to attract a lit agent. It was not what I would expect to submit to someone already wanting to be your lit agent for an approved deal.

In both cases, the authors were told that Harper Collins had already reviewed their books and were interested in pursuing publication but at the same time, neither group could explain to the authors how Harper Collins acquired their books, why Harper Collins had contacted them versus their current publisher, and more. These are some of the reasons why the authors felt the pitches may not have been 100% legit and passed.

Regardless, both offers suggested that whatever the author got in advance from Harper Collins would belong to the author minus a 10% agent rep fee. To some, this might seem high but the average percentage for a lit agent is 15%. And maybe that's their angle, they're asking for a smaller percentage to entice you to sign with them, but neither author mentioned that "savings" detail as part of the pitch.

At the end of the day, what the representatives from Maple Staple and Brilliant Books Literary were offering flew in the face of what many of us know to be the standard model for lit agents and publishing deals. Most lit agents don't work for publishers. They work for a lit agency that deals with multiple publishers. Major publishers like Harper Collins doesn't reach out to smaller publishers not affiliated with a book to ask them to represent an author they don't have a contract in place with.

Or do they? Is this a new model for representation?

I can't say. All I know is that this sounds very reminiscent of the "a major studio wants to turn your book into a movie" pitch that so many of us have gotten and a few of us have lost money to. To me, it sounds too fishy to be true. To me, this is too suspect, especially considering the sources and their backgrounds. To me, I wouldn't touch one of these offers with a 40 foot pool attached to the end of a crane with a 100 foot boom at full extension. For those not good at math, that means I wouldn't touch one of these deals with a pole from a 140 feet.

I will admit though that there is still much about the publishing world that I don't know. I don't claim to be an expert in any way, shape, or form. All I know is what I have learned through my experience and research over the last few years and what these authors recounted to me is in direct opposition of what I know to be true. But just because something is different than what I know doesn't automatically make it untrue or untrustworthy. Only when all of the details are looked at in total can one begin to make a decision for themselves about the potential risk and/or value associated with offers made by others. In both of these cases, the authors looked at the data in totality and opted not to pursue the offers further. It would have been the same decision I would have made after considering all of the facts.

If someone asked me if I thought this was a scam, my answer would be this:

While I won't use the word scam, I would urge extreme caution before moving forward. Any contracts provided to you need to be reviewed by a qualified lawyer BEFORE being signed. Do NOT agree to anything over the phone or via email until said contracts are reviewed. NEVER provide these groups with banking information. ALWAYS research a group's background that INITIATES contact with you to sell or offer services for your book because they have an agenda that may not be in your favor. Just because they aren't asking for money upfront during the first few contacts does not mean that a request for money isn't coming or that any promises of big payouts to you are real.

Everything about the offers described to me from these authors feels dishonest to me. If these are real offers, they represent a major shift in the lit agent/publisher paradigm. If this shift were real, I would think there would be articles published all across the web by authors, agents, publishers, and more talking about this stupendous upheaval of the status quo that creates a more competitive market for the agents while putting more money in the pockets of the authors. The fact that the Internet hasn't exploded with these posts makes me think the model presented in these offers isn't valid.

Be safe out there and stay vigilant. Don't let others capitalize off your books and you. Protect your work. Protect yourself.

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