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Hill & Hill scam

6 November 2006

The recent online kerfuffle surrounding agency Hill & Hill in Edinburgh has pointed up yet again the need for writers to be extremely cautious about approaching agents. Hill & Hill, now defunct, had apparently perfected their scam over a number of years.

The fraud started with charging clients an upfront fee of £80 for a 6-month contract (and £120 for a year). But it also involved a series of elaborate deceptions to convince the writers that their work had been sent out to reputable publishers and was being seriously considered. It's hard to be sure but it looks as if the submissions were entirely fictitious, as were, necessarily, the publishers' responses. The writers who had joined the agency clung on, hoping against hope, but suspicious about what was going on, until the final realisation that it was all a cruel fantasy.

Geoff Nelder, one of the authors, writes in his blog that: 'We trusted Christopher Hill with out oeuvres to submit them to publishers, which he says he did. But he went further and heaped encouraging feedback - all fictitious, from prestigious publishers. Our aspirations went through anticipation, excitement, frustration, exasperation and now fascination'. Curiously, the amounts of money were relatively small in relation to the demands created by the fraud, so it's hard to see what the agency got out of it financially speaking.

Fraud of this kind has also been common in the US. See our story of 16 October about the 'shady' Sobol Agency. Agents' associations warn about the need to be careful about literary agents. Clare Alexander of the UK Association of Authors' AgentsThe association of UK agents. Their website ( gives a Directory of Members and a code of practice, but no information about the agencies other than their names. The association refers visitors to the UK agent listings from The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook on the WritersServices site. said: 'In a way, this was an accident waiting to happen. There are so many would-be authors... every agent is aware of how many thousands of people by now are trying to get published. Would-be writers need to be very careful: there is a trade association for agents and there are rules. The key thing is that this man has never been a member of the AAA.'

One pointer to watch for it that reputable agents will never ask for an upfront fee. The AAA's rules includes the following: 'No member shall charge a reading fee or any other fee to a client beyond his/her regular commission as notified to the Association without the client's or prospective client's prior consent in writing.'

The Society of AuthorsThe British authors’ organization, with a membership of over 7,000 writers. Membership is open to those who have had a book published, or who have an offer to publish (without subsidy by the author). Offers individual specialist advice and a range of publications to its members. Has also campaigned successfully on behalf of authors in general for improved terms and established a minimum terms agreement with many publishers. Recently campaigned to get the Public Lending Right fund increased from £5 million to £7 million for the year 2002/2003. Regularly uses input from members to produce comparative surveys of publishers’ royalty payment systems.' also currently has a tight-lipped warning to members on its website: 'If you are approached by the John Hancock Literary Agency, the Hill & Hill Agency or any agency requesting a reading fee, you are advised to contact the Society before taking up the offer.'

Authors are advised to stick to Agents' Association members and the agents listed in reputable listings such as the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook on this site.