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'We're looking for new authors!'

A former FBI agent exposes the self-publishing racket that takes advantage of unpublished writers

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Although 150,000 titles were published last year, most aspiring authors still can't find a publisher. That's generally something to be grateful for. Of course, some worthy books never see the light of day and commercialism smothers many noble manuscripts, but a barrier of cool-eyed agents and editors saves us from wading through an even more unmanageable torrent of titles at the bookstore.

Unfortunately, there's a shadow industry eager to prey on writers who hope to evade the usual hoops on their way to publication. You've seen the ads: "Manuscripts Wanted!" You may even have been tempted to respond with a masterpiece of your own. But before sending any money, read this chilling book by former FBI agent Jim Fisher about "the literary agent from hell."

He tells the story of Dorothy Deering, an out-of-work bookkeeper saddled with a felony embezzlement conviction. By 1987, she had written a science fiction novel and been swindled by three "fee agents" who promised to find her a publisher. Rather than react bitterly, though, she was inspired to start a new career: Taking advantage of aspiring writers just like her.

Within 13 years, she and her partners would be imprisoned for fraud and ordered to pay more than $2 million to the hundreds of authors they had failed to publish. Told in the dramatic style of the TV show "America's Most Wanted," "Ten Percent of Nothing" documents how this convicted felon joined the "genteel racket" of fee agents, vanity presses, and book doctors who bleed writers by promising to represent, publish, and improve their works.

It's easy to understand why, to an insecure author hungry for affirmation, Dorothy's businesses could have taken on the air of legitimate literary enterprise. As the prosecutor on her case would tell one reporter: "There is nothing more vulnerable than a vain writer."

Between the "Dorothy Deering Literary Agency," "A Rising Sun Literary Group" (the spinoff she turned over first to her sister and then to her stepson), and "Sovereign Publications" (her vanity press), Dorothy employed her husband, his three sons, her own drug-addicted son, and her brother, a criminal with outstanding warrants.

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