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Scam Takes Poetic License



by Luke Reiter  December 2, 1997

It took a work of fiction to reveal the truth about the Woodside Literary Agency.

According to New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, the Long Island agency advertised on the Internet, promising to help aspiring authors publish their new work. But the agency was reportedly less interested in reading the Great American Novel than it was in reading personal checks. The company was allegedly scamming unwitting authors into paying fees for reading and marketing their work.

Like all good books, however, Woodside's scam has come to an end. In a twist worthy of a best-selling novel, a group of writers held a contest, designed to see just how low the company would sink. Each drafted a poorly written excerpt of a story, and the worst was submitted to the agency for review. The winner, a fictional essay entitled, "Even Hitler Got the Blues," was intentionally ungrammatical and absurd:

Their not afraid. I felt like argueing because I was just a kid then and I thoguht this guy was crazy. When youre a kid you think you know everything and its not until youre an adult that you really do know everything. Now that Im grown up I look back at some of the things I thought and said and did when I was a kid and I just laugh all embarassed because I did really dumb things but when I was that age I didnt realize it they were dumb.

Messages were posted on Internet newsgroups, branding writers as bitter failures with poor writing skills.

As the authors predicted, Woodside reportedly contacted the writer to request the entire manuscript. The company also requested a sizable "reading" fee for the privilege of considering the work. Perhaps Woodside genuinely felt that there was a public demand for the fictional misspelled musings of a mass-murdering maniac. The Attorney General clearly doesn't think so.

Calling the company's actions a "scheme that would make Harold Robbins blush," Vacco announced last Thursday that he has filed suit against Woodside for false advertising, fraud, harassment, and other related charges. He further warned consumers about paying up-front money for manuscript review:

"This fake literary agency is targeting writers who are probably unaware that most legitimate literary agencies look at a writer's work for free and only charge if the book, short story, or poem is sold," he said.

According to court documents released Thursday, the Woodside Literary Agency reportedly advertised on Internet bulletin boards around the globe. Its advertisements were allegedly designed to lure unsuspecting writers into submitting manuscripts, playing upon their dreams of fame and lucrative publishing contracts.

At first, only synopses of texts were solicited , allegedly "reinforcing the false impression" that the review process was highly selective. In reality, however, the agency requested complete manuscripts from every author, regardless of the quality of writing. For the privilege of the company's consideration, authors were required to send a "reading" or "market research" fee of $75 or $150.

That fee, Vacco says, was an attempt to "defraud hopeful novices of their money." He claims that the agency did not carefully read and evaluate manuscripts as promised, and in some instances never even took them out of the envelope. Adding insult to injury, the agency routinely represented to paying authors that their manuscripts were "very marketable," and offered a marketing contract in exchange for an additional $250 fee.

Rather than "aggressively" and "relentlessly" seeking publishers for the work, as promised, the agency reportedly did nothing whatsoever, completely ignoring writers' complaints and requests for a refund.

The allegations don't stop there. Court documents further allege that, in at least one instance, the agency launched a public campaign to destroy the reputation of authors who tried to warn their colleagues. As payback for the warnings, messages were posted on Internet newsgroups, branding writers as bitter failures with poor writing skills.

In one case, "fraudulent and sexually provocative messages" were made to appear as though written by a female author. The woman's home address and phone number were also made public.

Now it may be Woodside's turn to pay. In return for its allegedly deceptive practices, Vacco has asked a New York court to put a halt to the agency's illegal acts and advertisements. He is further seeking monetary damages for authors who were victimized by the company.

Ironically, the Woodside Literary Agency may have finally accomplished the result it had promised all along. With the charges filed by the Attorney General's Office, New Yorkers and the world now have something new to read about.

If you have comments, send them to luke_reiter@zd.com.

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