Innocent as doves, by Ben Jeapes

Image from Pexels ... but see below

I recently got an email that made my heart leap … for about half a second, until my basic analytical faculties kicked in and I realised it was a scam.

“This is [name pinched from a genuine bona fide literary agent] from [made-up agency name]. This is to inform you that we received a call from Traditional Publishing Company. They made an initial evaluation about your book entitled "The Teen, the Witch & the Thief" and they’re interested in the Book Acquisition Project.
I'm not sure if you realize it but you have a very good material and at the same time you were able to catch the attention of Literary Agents.
I'd like to know the best time to talk so we can discuss how we can make things happen. You can reply to this email or you can call me with my number.”

Take it from me, the only genuine thing there is the name of my book. How do I know the rest is a scam? 
  1.  Literary agents don’t solicit out of the blue.
  2. If a publisher really was interested in acquiring my novel, they would contact me direct.
  3. In the unlikely event of a literary agent contradicting my first point and actually soliciting out of the blue, they would do it in coherent English.
  4. “Traditional Publishing Company”? Oh, please. It could be the name of an actual company, but it’s such a generic phrase it’s almost impossible to do a search on. Given the rest of the email, it’s more likely the author hasn’t heard of indefinite articles, and doesn’t realise that you don’t capitalise phrases Just Because They’re Important.
  5. This is the funniest bit. “I'm not sure if you realise it but you have a very good material …” (Well, frankly, I did have an inkling it might be, which is why I wrote it and got it published. But thanks for the affirmation.) “... and at the same time you were able to catch the attention of Literary Agents.” Because the two – very good material, and snagging an agent's attention – are usually so incompatible?
  6. You will have to take my word for this as I’m not publicising them: if you went to their website, you would find the staff pictures all use the names of genuine members of the publishing industry, all of whom (a simple Google search shows) work in other companies, and staff pictures pinched from the Pexels image library, which is where my contact’s photo (above) comes from. (You knew you can search for images as well on Google … didn’t you?) Also, according to Whois, while these people claim to have been in operation for 20+ years, their website was first registered 20+ days ago.

What would have happened if I had nibbled their bait?

They would have charged money to take me on as a client to represent me to Traditional Publishing Company and, most likely, then simply disappeared. In the vanishingly small possibility that they really would have tried to sell my book to another company, I would still have ended up paying through the nose for an inferior, badly produced product that wasn’t half as good as the existing product I made myself with the help of a little basic typesetting and the services of KDP.

How do I all know this?

Because it’s an old, old story. Sharks circling the small fish in the pond. Chancers hoping that because you are self-published, you are ipso facto a clueless newbie, desperate for the respectability of a professional publishing deal and hopefully bigger money than you are currently getting. I cannot strongly enough recommend Writer Beware, a service that exists exactly to ferret out people like this .

Paul says, rather challengingly, “why not rather be cheated?” but he’s referring to legal disputes between Christians. A more basic, general principle comes from the Boss himself: for effective Christian witness, we should be wise as serpents.

Your basic defences against this kind of thing: knowledge; Google; Whois; Writer Beware.

You’re welcome.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace.


  1. Thank you, Ben, a sad and salutary story. Thank you for unpicking it so skilfully.

  2. The world is full of snares and pitfalls for the unwary! I hadn't heard of Writer Beware or Whois, s thanks for that.

  3. Although the situation itself is actually very tragic, this did make me laugh out loud, I have to say. "This is the funniest bit. “I'm not sure if you realise it but you have a very good material …” (Well, frankly, I did have an inkling it might be, which is why I wrote it and got it published. But thanks for the affirmation.) “..

  4. Timely, since a few inquiries from new names on the ACW Facebook page, indicate that more than one hopeful person has received such emails or in another way heard of the un-heard-of agencies (etc), and thankfully these people are sensibly asking about them on the platform. I have always sent them to the ALLi site (Alliance of Independent Authors), which publishes lists of who is good, and who is to be avoided among those advertising as agents, or publishers, but another source is a welcome addition and must cover 'trade'-like' versions, which ALLI may well not. Thanks!

  5. Very good, Ben! Funny (like Katherine, I snorted loudly over your very good material line) but also a salutary warning for us all.

  6. Second all of this, Ben. I was nearly caught out by a vanity publisher years ago. What gave them away? Appalling spelling and grammar in their offer letter to me. That made me think two things - (a) if they can do that with the offer letter, what on earth are they going to do to the book and (b) I'm going to check things out with the Society of Authors. I joined the SoA, dumped the vanity publisher, got my MSS back, and am now happily published through legitimate indie presses! And yes, Writer Beware is an excellent site.

  7. “...a very good material” ?? They could at least check misuse of the indefinite article. Unlike you, I'm afraid they do not have a very good material. It is a very bad material. It is a material we call Bigtime Spam. Great post! And a good reminder for all to be wary.

  8. I think this is exactly what happened to me with my last book, Waireka, Ben, so I really appreciate this post. The publisher, Ambassador International contacted me saying that they liked my book and wanted to publish it. Of course, then they asked for money for me to take 250 copies, not they said for publishing costs. In the end I had to take 200 but once I had them published they stopped helping or promoting me, yet they called themselves a traditional publisher! I also had trouble with my first publisher and ended up self-publishing as a consequence. Both experiences have put me off publishers for good!

  9. Ha! Ha! I have received this before too. Maybe because I did not believe in myself, I knew in my spirit it was not true. I didn't investigate it or anything else. Well, may God bring the geniune one our paths someday at His time for us all. Thanks for the eyeopeners!God bless you Ben.

  10. Wow. I never knew this was a thing. Thanks for this blog post. Shame the lengths people will go for a quick buck…

  11. It's so easy to be taken in by these things - thanks for the warning.

  12. I get many such emails and voice-mails promising to publish my book (already published) and to promote said book on their wonderful platforms - for a small fee of a thousand or so. Unfortunately, as an eager-beaver and 'innocent as a dove' I also fell for it the first time and my wonderful publisher was also a vanity publisher and cost me a loss. But my book is out there and I learned a lesson. Thanks for the check-site info, Ben.


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