I've heard about this by two different aspiring screenwriters, both of whom asked to remain anonymous. However, in doing a bit of research on their stories I found that their suspicions were very, very justified.
Here's part of one of the emails I received. I'll let the screenwriter explain it himself:
I wanted to ask your advice on something. Recently I responded to an online ad by Writers' Literary Agency & Marketing Company (aka WL Writers' Literary Agency). The ad was very prominently displayed on MySpace.com, saying that they were a new agency seeking new screenplays to represent. Worth a look, I figured, so I followed their instructions, sent a query, and when they agreed to give the script a look I sent it over.
A few days later I got a very lengthy, form-letter email response from Sherry Fine, the company's VP of Acquisitions. Here's the first part of it:
Thank you for everything that we have received from you thus far. Our review team believes that your work has commercial potential and we would like to proceed further with you. We believe we would like to represent you. Basically, we feel that your concept and writing thus far has potential and that if polished and presented properly, we can sell it. To take the next step, please let us take a minute to tell you a little bit about how we think and the way we do business.
If you agree with our business process, instruction for the 'next step' is at the very end of the email.
I think you would agree that your work can use some level of polishing. However, we don't think you should take just our word for it, we would like to have an independent review of your work that shows you where the improvements can be made. Also, if your work is 'great and ready to go' it is helpful that we hear it from an independent source as well.
In short, we like it, and we think we can sell it, but we would like it to be as polished as possible before we take it to our buyers. From a trust factor, it's like an investor trusting a certified public accountant ... if there is an independent review on the table, we can each relax and trust each other, and spend our time strategizing marketing, not arguing over whether the work is ready to present or not. (And believe me, we've had quite a few arguments with authors about whether the work is ready-to-go, or not! It's not a good situation, and life's too short, if you know what I mean.)
What we have learned over the years is that nothing is more invaluable than having a unbiased, critical review of an author's work as a roadmap for bringing the work to market. In screenplay writing circles this is called critique/coverage. We want you to have a critique of your work. You might already have a critique of your screenplay, or you may need to get one.
The long-winded email continued, essentially saying that I had to get the script "polished" before they would be willing to do anything with it. But the strange thing was that they were trying to refer me to an "independent" editing service, and that I would have to pay for it out of my own pocket.
Is this normal? I've already had the script edited, tweaked, revised, and reviewed by many, many professionals over the years, and though I can understand if someone else wanted more changes made, wouldn't it make sense to simply state what those desired changes were, instead of merely passing me along to a third party, without giving me any input or feedback whatsoever and explaining why I was being passed along?
But here is where I got really suspicious. I sent an email reply to Ms. Fine telling her that before I could make any kind of decision, I wanted to talk to her -- or anyone else at her company, if it was more convenient -- and ask a few questions, either in person or over the phone. I figured that if the agency's interest in my work was truly sincere, this was not an unusual request.
I never got a reply.
So...what am I to do? Should I go ahead with the referral service and send Fine the script, or should I go elsewhere? (If you want to know, her email is Sherry@WLscreenplayAgency.com, and the company's website is http://www.wlscreenplayagency.com.)
Before I go on, let me say that the other screenwriter's story was nearly identical to this one, but she decided to go through with the editing service and submit her script. Alas, she did so before asking my advice...and she hasn't heard from them since.
So...is the WL Screenplay Agency a sham? Well, take a look at this message board. Or this one. Heck, even this one. See for yourself. These guys should be ashamed of themselves.
It is common practice for an agency rep to ask for changes or corrections for your material; for a spec script to be accepted "as is" and ready to go is virtually unheard of. Also, using a professional editing service to help polish and refine your writing can be a good idea, especially for writers starting out in their careers.
But for an agency (and I use the word "agency" loosely) to demand a writer pay out-of-pocket for such editing services as a condition of establishing a business relationship? That's shady! Shady indeed!
This isn't a real agency, guys. Real agents make their money through script sales, not editing services.
So, if someone claiming to be an agent ever asks you for an editing fee, a reading fee, a consulting fee, etc., take my advice: run for cover and stay far, far away. (That includes your $10,000 class, Michael Wilde.)
And before you send off your script with your hopes held high, do a little research first. WRITER BEWARE'S "THUMBS DOWN AGENCY LIST" is a good start.
If any of you have similar bad experiences with this or other companies, let me know and I'll be all too happy to bitch about them here.
Good luck...and stay cautious.