How not to find a publisher
Part 2: The mysterious Mr. Jones

See also Part 1: The Accidental Entrepreneur.

When I started thinking about the outline of my book "The Accidental Entrepreneur", I had a wish list of publishers I wanted to work with. Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster were on the top of that list.

Unfortunately, these publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts. See for instance the Manuscript Submissions page on the Simon & Schuster website:

"Simon & Schuster does not review, retain or return unsolicited materials or artwork. We suggest that prospective authors and illustrators submit their manuscripts through a professional literary agent."

I wrote two books for Manning Publications in the past, and I remembered that the first contact with the publisher was made through an Acquisition Manager. As I wouldn't be able to convince a literary agent to work with me before having finished at least a raw version of my book, I searched the web for the term "acquisition manager" in combination with "Penguin Random House" and "Simon & Schuster".

I found this person and I sent him an invitation to connect.

LinkedIn profile: Robin Jones

Given that this Robin Jones had less than 30 connections, I didn't expect him to answer. I assumed he was the type of person who has a LinkedIn account because it's a must-have, but who is very selective about who he accepts as a connection.
Apparently, I was wrong. On May 5, 2020, my invitation was accepted and what's more: Robin Jones claimed that he was genuinely interested in my work!

A call was set up, but I waited in vain for Robin and his team to join on a Skype account that was named "Penguin Random House Acquisition ...".

Skype account Penguin Random House Acquistion

I was stood up three times in a row, always with the same excuse.

Skype account Penguin Random House Acquistion

My requests to be introduced to these Directors by name, to get more info on the publishing process, or even to receive a mail sent from an official PRH address, were ignored.

As I have some self-respect, and as I didn't get anywhere with this person, I considered Robin Jones to be either a fraud, or at least someone it was very frustrating to work with. I also found it suspicious that LinkedIn and Skype were the only means of communication. I had no way to check if Robin Jones was who he claimed to be.

To make a long story short: I abandoned the conversation, explaining that I wasn't going to have anything for PRH to work with before September. I had some other projects to finish first. (This was true. I only started to work on "The Accidental Entrepreneur" in August.)

I didn't expect to hear anything from Robin Jones ever again, until he suddenly pinged me in August.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

I had just finished the first chapters and I didn't see any harm in sharing them with Robin Jones. He replied immediately.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

I kept sending updates, and on September 12, I received the message that the book was good to go for PRH.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

This was exciting news, but I still had plenty of doubts. I didn't think it was a good idea to share the full book. If there was indeed a copy editor available "for free", there was already sufficient material for that editor to work on. Robin Jones remained silent for almost two weeks after this message. Either the copy editor was working on the chapters that I had already shared, or Robin Jones had been messing with me. I assumed the latter.

On September 25, I received the message that the entire team at PRH was "ready for the publishing and especially marketing my book"! Unbelievable!

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

I can't imagine a publishing house such as Penguin Random House would engage in a project with an author without having a signed agreement in place. If PRH really wanted to move forward, both parties would need some kind of agreement.

During my search for literary agents that started in September, I asked around if anyone knew Robin Jones, without any success. I also reached out to another acquisition manager at PRH, asking if Robin Jones was for real.

LinkedIn invitation: Ellie Harlow

I didn't receive any answer. I knew this was a long shot.

Meanwhile, Robin Jones tried to convince me that the editors at PRH were impressed with the part of the manuscript I forwarded. These compliments didn't have any effect on me. I would only believe them the moment I received a publishing agreement.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

Once more, there was a pause of almost two weeks. When Robin Jones pinged me to ask me if I was ready, he probably hoped that I had forgotten all about my question to make the book deal official.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

Woohoo, I would finally know if Robin Jones was for real.

I watched my Inbox all day, but... nothing.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

One day later, still nothing.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

On October 9, Robin Jones had two active email addresses he could use to send me a publishing agreement. I used those addresses to send book proposals to literary agents and other publishers. I received plenty of feedback on those addresses, but... no publishing agreement from Robin Jones, nor from Penguin Random House.

Ten days later, Robin Jones pinged me again on LinkedIn:

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

An advice I give in my book, is to set a deadline on everything you do. I had set the deadline for working with PRH on October 15. I was willing to play along with the prank Robin Jones was pulling on me until that date. Once that deadline was reached, I decided to put an end to the conversation.

I didn't hear anything from Robin Jones until November 10 and November 14.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

The last message I received, was an image inviting me to donate money to help the people in the Philippines who suffered from a typhoon, but... that can hardly be the reason why someone would set up such an elaborate prank.

Before publishing this article, I shared the draft with Robin Jones.

LinkedIn conversation: Robin Jones

The moment Robin Jones had read my draft, he "unfriended" me on LinkedIn. He is nothing more than a "LinkedIn Member" to me now. I am blocked from seeing his account.

I wrote this article on Monday, November 23, but before publishing it, I did two additional attempts to verify if Robin Jones is for real or not.

I contacted this Director Of Talent Acquisition on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn invitation: Andrew (Andy) Chown

I also sent a mail with a link to the draft to the address that is meant for book influencers who write about PRH books, internationalpublicity at penguinrandomhouse.com giving them the opportunity to comment.

Update: I received the following answer from Andy Chown on Monday, November 30:

"I couldn't find anyone with that name so I imagine they don't actually work for us, would you have any additional information you'd be able/willing to share?"

I shared a link to this article. I don't have access to Robin Jones' profile anymore, but when using my browser in private mode, I can still see his profile. Maybe PRH can somehow mark it as a fake profile to avoid that this person tries to fool other people.

Andy added: "Apologies for your having a poor experience, irrespective of the fact they don't seem to work for us."

Obviously, PRH is in no way responsible for people pretending to work for them. Also, as far as I know, no hurt was done. I only regret that Mr. Jones' true intentions will always remain a mystery to me.

Tomorrow, I'll publish part 3 of this series: Literary Agents.


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