Former FBI agent Jim Fisher upends the genteel racket of fee-based literary agents and vanity publishers in this searing look at the rise and fall of one bogus entrepreneur who systematically swindled thousands of would-be writers out of millions of dollars with promises of having their work turned into salable books. In divulging the details of this colossal and shocking confidence game, Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell exposes a growing and serious crime against writers and a dark, ugly secret about the American publishing industry.
In 1989, Dorothy L. Deering, possessing a high school degree, a recent embezzlement conviction, and no experience as a professional writer, editor, or publisher, began operating a fee-based literary agency out of her garage in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Over the next ten years, she racked up a fortune in reading and marketing fees, learning the business of sham publishing as she went along. Later, as the owner of a vanity press, she bilked 1.5 million dollars out of her clients, masterfully manufacturing dreams of literary success until she was brought to justice by Fisher’s investigative journalism, an FBI probe, and the retaliation and testimonies of numerous victims.
Deering never sold a single manuscript to a major publisher. With the money in her pocket and her clients’ hopes and hard work wrapped up in fraudulent contracts, Deering produced a few copies of four cheaply printed, poorly edited paperbacks. These she used as bait to hoodwink more clients. She was abetted by her husband, Charles, a former car salesman; his son, Daniel, a drug user with a ninth-grade education; and her brother, Bill, a fugitive from the law at the time he headed her vanity press.
By successfully impersonating a literary agent for ten years, Deering operated one of the longest-running confidence games in American history. The financial loss for her clients was devastating, and the heartbreak was extreme. Drawing on victims’ experiences and documents recovered from the Deering venture, Fisher shows how Deering engineered and executed her scam, emphasizing the warning signs of sham agents, crook book doctors, and mendacious publishers.
Ten Percent of Nothing provides essential information for aspiring writers and publishing professionals. Fisher’s findings also prompt new inquiries into the potential licensing of literary agents and the prosecution of interstate scam artists. The volume’s gallery of illustrations includes reproductions of correspondence, newsletters, and advertisements used by the Deering operation.