Industry & Advocacy News
April 6, 2023
Scams are not new to the publishing world, but unfortunately, new technology has made it easier than ever for fraudsters to victimize authors by posing as agents, publishers, filmmakers, or the like. In a world in which people regularly conduct business at a distance, scammers based in other parts of the world are deceiving authors throughout the U.S. and around the world. The problem will only grow with the growth of generative AI, which excels at mimicry. Authors, as well as the publishers, agents, and filmmakers whose names are used to conduct scams, need to be on the alert.
A common scam these days is for a fraudster to pretend to be a legitimate publisher, agency, or organization. One that we previously wrote about is Silver Ink Literary Agency (also known as Silver Literary Agency and Global Review Press), which pretended to be a literary agency and approached authors claiming that one or more respected publishing house was interested in publishing their book. They would claim that the author would receive a substantial advance from the publisher if they worked with Silver Ink and paid fees for services such as “content evaluation” and “professional review.” Silver Ink even used the Authors Guild’s name and logo on a purported “Letter of Intent” that falsely advised authors that the Guild was interested in acquiring their books for one of our “key publishers,” naming Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and others.
Our counsel sent a cease and desist letter to Silver Ink in July 2021, and we alerted our members and other authors (as well as the publishers) about the scam. While Silver Ink removed the Guild’s name from its solicitations, it nonetheless continued to fraudulently represent itself as working with major publishers and take money from authors under the same false pretenses. Sadly, Silver Ink was able to defraud a number of elderly and vulnerable authors of their limited incomes. We took this to the FBI and FTC, but the FBI advised us that the more than $120,000 in damages we brought to its attention was still below the U.S. Attorney’s threshold for prosecution in the District of Northern Nevada (where Silver Ink’s stated office was located). After the Guild reached out to Silver Ink and advised the FBI about its operations, Silver Ink took down its website and claims to no longer be doing business.
Despite our efforts to warn authors and have action taken against scammers, more and more authors are being approached by people claiming to represent agents, publishers, and even prominent film and TV producers. One member recently reported that he had been approached by someone claiming to represent a prominent film director, saying the director was interested in adapting the member’s book. The member paid thousands of dollars in fees to the scammer based on these misrepresentations. We brought this scam to the attention of the director’s attorneys, who have stated that they will be taking action against the perpetrators. In our online forum, other members have described similar approaches being made to them.
Another recent example was a self-published author who was defrauded by someone claiming to be a Hachette employee. This person told the author that an agent had given him a copy of her book. Despite the fact that the author did not actually have an agent, she nonetheless paid this individual more than $14,000 for purported “printing” and other fees. The author even flew from California to Hachette’s New York office to meet with the fraudster. Needless to say, no one at Hachette had heard of her or her book, or the names of the supposed Hachette employees that the scam artist had provided her. We can imagine her distress not only at learning that she had traveled across the country for nothing, but also that she had been deceived and defrauded in such a cruel manner.
We have also heard about an elderly author who was approached by someone claiming to be a senior literary agent at PageTurner Press and Media (which has already been written about at Writer Beware). This supposed agent told the author that Basic Books was interested in acquiring his book and that he would have to make certain advances to PageTurner to get the book published. When PageTurner asked for a final payment of $150,000, someone claiming to be Basic Book’s editorial director called the author to confirm Basic Books’ interest in the book and to convince him that the publisher intended to finalize the agreement. In the end, the author was reportedly defrauded of a total of $800,000. . We hope that in this case law enforcement will deem the amount of damages sufficient to pursue.
We continue to push the federal and state governments to take action to protect authors, especially elderly and vulnerable authors, and work with publishers and other entities to keep an eye out for and fight against scammers. At the same time, we want to make sure that authors everywhere are aware of these scams so they can be on the lookout and protect themselves and their loved ones from falling victim to them.
As a reminder, these are some basic principles for recognizing publishing scams that authors should keep in mind: