The weirdest "Writer Beware" alert of all time

Sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Writer Beware is one of the longest-running and most oddly satisfying literary blogs on the 'net, tracking the weird and wild world of shady agents, vanity presses and other predatory goings-on that target new writers. The latest, though, is the weirdest and wildest yet.

Authors across the country report receiving a cheesy sweepstakes-like mailer touting a co-authorship opportunity with a NYT-bestselling author, with all the red flags of trickery: an application fee, an NDA to sign, and a named agent/publisher with no form in the business.

It turns out, amazingly, that the author is real—it's historical romance legend Judith McNaught—suggesting perhaps that the elderly writer is merely looking for an appropriately unestablished successor to inherit/ghostwrite the brand. Maybe she just hired the wrong sort of headhunter?

But then it turns out that no-one seems to have heard from McNaught in a while.

And then it turns out the person sending the mailers shares a name with a convicted criminal.

Victoria Strauss:

wow. It gets darker. Monica Main has a rap sheet.

A reader directed me to this 2007 article, which describes a Federal prosecution against Main and her husband for fraud. According to the article, more than 1,200 people signed up for a trading system sold by the Mains, and lost a total of $3 million. I looked the case up on PACER: the court ordered the Mains to pay a $9 million penalty plus the $3 million customers lost, and permanently enjoined them from engaging in any commodity or options trading.  

That's not all. 

The couple operated the fraud, which involved a bogus software program called Trade Pro and "boot camp" training seminars, from 2001 to 2005, according to the CFTC. Despite Monica Main's false claims to clients that she was a millionaire, she actually lost money with the small amounts she traded, and she went bankrupt in 2003, according to court records.

Under the Commodity Exchange Act, the Mains should have informed customers about Monica Main's bankruptcy and her felony conviction….

Fearing a loss of business, the couple failed to inform clients that Monica Main had been convicted of felony mail and wire fraud in connection with an advance-fee loan scam, according to court records.