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Editing Firm Accused Of Swindling Writers

by Wendy J. Woudstra   

 
 


New York state filed suit Friday against a firm of "book doctors" accused of bilking aspiring writers out of millions of dollars by promising to polish their manuscripts and bring them closer to publication.

Aspiring authors are easy prey for those who know how to exploit their ambitions and egos, and Edit Ink, run by William Appel and Denise Sterrs, were pros. Appel and Sterrs have been accused of fraudulently generating $5.5 million in fees through the scam.

The firm and its network of phony agents and publishers lured would-be authors through ads placed on the Internet and in literary publications such as the New York Times Book Review.

Form letters that blatantly played to the fragile egos of writers were sent to each of thousands of aspiring writers who submitted manuscripts. They were told their works showed "great promise and excellent commercial possibilities, but needed professional editing before it could be published."

The letters referred writers to Edit Ink, which would bring the manuscript "closer to publication" for $5 a page. While hopeful authors were told only the most promising submissions were referred to Edit Ink, the same form letter was sent to every writer, and the manuscripts were not read.

The supposed publisher or agent would then receive a 15 percent kickback from Edit Ink for every manuscript submitted for editing, Vacco said. Once the manuscript was edited and supposedly submitted for publication, authors received a letter saying the work could not be published after all.

The scheme began to unravel when desperate writers began checking with the publishers to whom they had been told their work had been submitted, and learned that not only had the manuscripts not been received, but the publishers had never even heard of the agents.

Appel and Sterrs are accused of false advertising, deceptive business practices and fradulent or illegal conduct. The civil action seeks unspecified damages, penalties and fines. Edit Ink has been effectively shut down by a temporary restraining order.

This certainly isn't the first lucrative scam aimed at writers has appeared, and it won't be the last. The Internet is providing a new vehicle that many of these companies can exploit. In November of last year Woodside Literary Agency, another New York predator, was shut down for using the Internet to find new writers that they could milk for exorbitant reading fees.

And if you're in Canada, tune in to CBC on January 13th for a Marketplace exposé of the practices of Commonwealth Publications, another company that uses the Internet to find new 'clients.' For those who can't tune in, I'll post a summary of the show later in the week.


by Wendy Woudstra