I hate to look foolish; perhaps this is because I'm a Capricorn, perhaps it is just my nature. A situation has recently come to light which has caused me deep embarrassment -rightfully or not- and my initial reaction was to lay low about it. However, after much consideration I realize that keeping a low profile about it is very selfish, and perhaps by opening up the truth will help others.
Ever since my first professional published work came out I had occasionally looked into getting a literary agent. Small presses and ebook publication is fine up to a point, but my dream is to be signed with a large and established publishing house. Early last year my endeavors increased. As with most writers I've got my glut of rejections; enough to fill a couple of fat scrapbooks. Anyway, I at last heard good news from what I believed to be a real agent, one who wanted to accept me as his client. Not just an "agent" but an entire agency. Things appeared legitimate with this agency and I was offered a contract. By the contract details the agency was to receive a 10% agent's fee for any contracts they negotiated for me.
After the contract was signed the submission process began. My agent had a list of several large houses where he said my manuscript would be submitted. Alrighty. The agent sent me regular bulletins, updates and reports from the publishers he was supposed to be in contact with. Alrighty. Things began to sound promising as one after another these publishing houses expressed interest. Then came news from the agent that Crown Publishing had made a verbal offer. Whoa!!! Talk about being ecstatic!! I was informed by the agent that business meetings were on the agenda, some for which I had to attend. Details about an advance were relayed to me. The offer was to be made official early in January.
Come January I was informed by the agent that Crown was backing off from the offer until the summer. Why? The explanation to this was murky, but my impression was that it had something to do with Crown being tied up with other contractual obligations and because of this was, at the time, unable to follow through. Ok, so I waited again. Disgruntled, but I tried to be patient. Come summer I was informed that the matter was broached again with Crown. My agent ended up telling me that Crown's position had not changed, and basically we would just have to wait for the offer to be physically "on the table", and that Crown, supposedly, was still being murky. To say the least I was very angry. A verbal offer from a reputable company? Money discussed? It just didn't seem possible that fate could be so cruel and keep me hanging like this.
But happy, happy news(?)- in the meantime my agent was still reporting interest from other publishers: Avon, Harlequin, Kensington, Headline, and Ballantine to name a few. According to the agent Avon had in fact narrowed my manuscript down along with four others for a spot in its upcoming line. Kensington had initially rejected, he said, but the chief editor was passing it along to their sub-divisions of Brava, Aphrodisia and Zebra. And Headline, while rejecting it as a book, was interested in passing my manuscript along to a script writer for a potential adaptation of a movie script.
And lo and behold, just as my hopes were getting up about these other publishers, the agent told me he would be again in conference with Crown about my manuscript and the "offer". You can imagine how I was feeling: hopeful, anxious and fearful all at once. I had trouble sleeping; I could hardly eat. Maybe, I prayed, after all these years I was going to find the fulfillment of my writer's dreams and a decent financial reward for the work and love invested in at least one of my manuscripts.
Then came the day when I decided to send off a little bit of news to my agent. TIME magazine had contacted to say they were publishing a letter of mine. Nothing of real consequence, but I thought my agent would get a kick out of knowing. The response I received was odd: an email that implied it was an automated reply. I tried again. The same response with slightly different phrasing. A third time I attempted to receive another re-worded "automated reply". According to the details the recipient no longer held that email account. I was asked to reply to a new email address already forwarded. I became suspicious: what new email address?
As it so happened I'd made a submission for another book to a Kensington editor during the summer. He was a very nice guy even though he decided to reject the story. However, I never forgot his politeness. And so I took the chance to email this editor, and asked him if he could tell me please
if the manuscript submission from my agent had ever actually been seen by the chief editor at Kensington. This editor informed me, in his very polite fashion, that he IS
Kensington's chief editor, and no
the manuscript had never arrived. He did not know my agent or the agency. He seemed very sympathetic and sent, without my asking, the names of literary agents he does know and respect and wished me luck.
Next I contacted Headline. Just as with Kensington they reported that they had never heard of either my manuscript or the agency.
I was heartbroken at this point. I still am. A year of my life wasted by the heartless and very complicated manipulation of a scam artist. And what, I asked myself, did this man benefit from using me? I'd given him no money, and wasn't about to until he'd negotiated a contract. I do know that my name was used to help promote this agency's services; I was contacted last year by at least four authors who asked my opinion of the agency as they were told I was represented. At the time I thought it was a legitimate company, and said that while the agency hadn't yet secured a contract for me it seemed they were working hard toward that goal. Certainly my tune has changed now. And the worst fear I have is in the knowledge that my "agent" has -or at least had- a copy of my manuscript. Now I can just imagine him selling it to some European company to sell it in a non-English version, or self-publishing it, varying the character details slightly, just enough to pass it off as his own.
After the revelation from Headline and Kensington I was told by a friend about a discussion going on over at Absolute Write concerning the agency and agent that scammed me. I visited the link, and it is evident that this person(s) has screwed a lot of people. Some even gave this outfit money; others were led along for not just months, but years. After reading some posts at the AW forum regarding the situation I found an email in my inbox delivered by an associate with the agency. It was a lengthy explanation letter, telling the clients about the agency having to move to Spain and go underground until such false allegations as at AW were dealt with. Submissions are "frozen" according to this associate. I am just very, very relieved that I missed this informational piece of b.s. until I'd heard back from Kensington. If I had read it beforehand who knows? Being of a trusting nature I might well have assumed the poor agency was being unfairly attacked by authors with sour grapes. Thankfully I learned the truth before being duped any further.
The name of this bogus agency is the Hill & Hill Literary Agency. My bogus agent's name -or is that rather the bogus name of my alleged agent?- is Christopher Hill. The associate's name is Claire Ashton. I have shared my documented files and H&H correspondences with Victoria Strauss, Vice Chair of the Writing Scams Committee and webmistress of Writer Beware. She has gathered a lot of information from various authors who also were victimized by Hill & Hill. To read more about the information gathered, visit Victoria's report commentary here
And to read more from other authors concerning this agency you may visit Absolute Write's Water Cooler forum here. Do be advised that some of these posts are questionable, and it has been deemed that some of them come from users with duplicate IP addresses (e.g., Stuart Hades and privateeye). Victoria also comments on this at her blog post about Hill & Hill.
I will conclude this post by stating that my experience with Christopher Hill has been the most outrageous and disappointing event of my writing career. All personal embarrassment aside, this man is no mere con artist who takes money from people who just failed to use common sense: he created counterfeit documents, he made himself available in person, and he forged correspondence with reputable publishing companies. It has also been suggested that Christopher Hill (or whoever he really is) orchestrated his game in such a convoluted, complicated and obsessional manner he must also be mentally ill. I can't help but think this is probably the case. This doesn't make me pity him, however, not one bit. There's plenty of psychiatrists in the world to go around for people like Hill. But I do hope that by sharing my experience other potential victims will be spared. So authors beware of him, of "Claire Ashton", the Sunshine Literary Agency (connection explained at Victoria's blog), and anyone else boasting that they work for the Hill and Hill Literary Agency. I am moving on, and continue to strive for the goals I seek. My dreams and goals Christopher Hill will never take from me. If he's infringed on my copyrights I will find out and he will pay out the yin/yang.
And while he may be feeling pretty smug right now and he may even be pretending to be other people in forums like over at Absolute Write, the truth is he did not succeed at anything worth succeeding at. At least the people he deceived have toiled and loved, body and soul, for their literary creations. Whether we succeed or not, our Muses have inspired and abided. There is no Muse to inspire the fraud; no unique or artistic thing of beauty for the fraud to leave the world. Mediocrity is the final name in that game, and Christopher Hill and his ilk bear it.