A literary con artist exposed

 

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Wannabe an author?

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Few things are as seductive to newer/less-published writers as the glittering promise of smoothly guaranteed access to an agent and editors and movie deals and television series.

Workshops in Irish castles and Tuscan villas.

Baring your soul in a room full of other ambitious writers, guided gently by a wise, kind mentor.

Feeling lucky and grateful to have found someone who wants to help you and whose charm and skills and self-confidence are deeply reassuring.

You, too, can be just like her!

 

Here’s a wild tale now racing around American social media circles, about a woman named — (most recently!) — Anna March, whose name I immediately recognized as someone who belonged to several on-line women’s writing groups I participate in.

Turns out, she changed her name repeatedly, took money from writers to help with their manuscripts and promised them access to some of the toughest outlets — she’d sold an essay to The New York Times’ column Modern Love, the equivalent in our world of winning a Nobel Prize; at a NYC conference this spring, I heard its editor, Daniel Jones, tell a crowded room the odds of getting published there are worse than getting into Harvard, (whose acceptance rate is 5.6 percent.)

March knew exactly which buttons to push to enlist ambitious women and lure them into her schemes:

Access

Everyone’s desperate for access to the top editors and agents. Rejection is wearying and dis-spiriting and anyone who says they’ll make it easier…sign me up!

Mentoring

No one can do this work alone, and many of us (me, included) coach other writers. Isolation often means over-relying on social media to connect with people who says they’re a peer, and assuming the people offering you their help — for money — are legit. The difference? I’ve actually published two books.

Sisterhood

Puhleeze. She was quite skilled at persuading women what a great and supportive feminist she is. I’m a tough old boot so this shit doesn’t do a thing for me; actions, not words.

Solidarity

Writing is a lonely and difficult business so when someone is supportive and kind, you think, whew! She gets it.

Here’s a bit of the story:

March had never published a book but had been quietly working literary Los Angeles’ social media connections for months. A spunky, unapologetic, sex-positive feminist ready to raise hell, she was supportive and flattering. She was also conspicuously generous — concerned about the line of people waiting to get into the party, March asked a pair of new acquaintances if she should give $20 bills to those stuck on the sidewalk. The bill for the night would total more than $22,000.

Why is she doing this? people asked, stealing glances at March.

Some had a larger question:

If something or someone sounds too good to be true…it usually is.

21 thoughts on “A literary con artist exposed

  1. I read the article and felt both anger and incredibly sad. At least with you, if I choose to do the mentoring, and I have thought about it, I KNOW you have a body of work and read it. (I even read Malled thanks to our local library.) Writing is such a closed circled in some areas, people reach for anything to get one step closer to publication. (Of course, after publication, as you know, means more and more work before sitting down to write.)

    As for Anna March, or whoever she is, wow a person devoid of empathy of the highest order.

    1. Thanks for this…

      This is what I find somewhat bizarre, that she not only purported to be a GREAT writer but schmoozed so many women and boasted about her feminist credentials, which endeared her to them somehow.

      Clearly, I would prefer to work with someone whose worldview is somewhat similar to mine, but that isn’t something that would ever make me automatically trust another woman — or hand her my $$$$$.

      I’ve worked with a few coaching clients (only a very few) with whom the chemistry was just off…not warm, not enthusiastic and I make sure, every single time, to ask “Is this helpful? is this useful?” as we go along. I don’t expect them to become personal friends afterward (and some do, which is terrific and a bonus) — so this element is not of key concern to me. I suspect it is for other women.

      Caveat emptor!!

    1. It’s shocking to me that this woman cut such a wide and deep swath through so many people’s genuine hopes and dreams.

      Ripping off other writers is nasty — and I REALLY respect anyone who invests their hard-earned money with me for coaching. I know firsthand how hard it is to gin up extra cash for things like that.

  2. this is absolutely awful and it sounds as if she is sociopathic. perhaps she is one who, when repeating lies often enough, begins to believe them. i understand why so many would be taken in, these charismatic characters have an energy about them that draws people to them. and they are wonderful at manipulation. i hope that she is not allowed to continue in this pursuit.

    1. I hope they get her arrested…not sure how many people will claim $$$$ owed and what that will do, if anything. One woman today on Twitter said she’s owed $4,000 which is a hell of a lot of money in our world.

      1. Well, hopefully this experience will teach people to be more careful. You never know who is just trying to get their next buck off of you and doesn’t give a damn about your needs or dreams.

      2. It’s very messy — I’ve posted this blog post in a few places — and many women writers, victimized by her or not, feel that it’s victim blaming. It feels like a minefield to comment on.

  3. Wow, I had no idea about this woman! Nasty business to prey on the ambitions of writers.
    On a different note, it’s nice to read your blog again and be back to blogging in general.

    1. Well, it was two LA Times reporters — but I’m glad I could share their hard work. Quite a sobering reminder about who’s worth your trust and why. She duped some Very Big Name writers as well — like Roxane Gay.

  4. Suzana

    Caitlin–
    Leaving aside the aspiring writers for the moment, do you understand how AM bamboozled more established literary folk? She was invited on panels?! Was scheduled for one at the next AWP.

    She had published so little. Maybe people running these panels and events didn’t even check her publications? A VQR credit is a one-paragraph paean to a bookstore. There is nothing striking about the quality of any of it. She boasted of interviews, poetry, essays, fiction, blah blah. Of which there was no evidence.

    A single Modern Love essays opens up that many doors?

    1. I know…and find it disturbing on many levels. Maybe it really speaks to how badly some people REALLY want to get published (or better published) and anyone who seems to have it all going on looks like a faster route through endless rejection and frustration.

      I never met AM (thank God) but it’s clear her charm and putative “feminist credentials” seemed to be persuasive as well.

      As a cynical old boot, I’m not sure I would have found her compelling….but that’s not a diss on others. We all make decisions based on a multitude of factors.

      1. Suzana

        The Roar venture reminds me of the Huffington Post. Maybe that was AM’s inspiration. When HP started, many people were eager to write for free because it was promoted as a liberal response to right-wing media. Plus, they could share space with celebrities that couldn’t write. (I’m an old coot too: you’ve got to pay me something to be legit.)

        The aspiring writers were blindsided when Huffington sold it for a jillion and didn’t share the rewards. Huffington’s objective may always have been mercenary. AM no doubt wanted money but also a stepping stone to greater literary heights and connections.

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