BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Aspiring novelist Susan Charles learned the hard way about an elaborate scheme authorities say preyed on the dreams of thousands of writers.

Ms. Charles of Mendocino, Calif., took the advice of what she thought was a legitimate literary agent and paid a company, Edit Ink, $1,300 to help polish her unpublished book, ``A Very Private Yearning.''

Ms. Charles said she believed it would make the manuscript more marketable when the agent approached publishers with it.

After waiting an anxious year for a publishing contract that never came, she said she found out her agent was a fraud who not only never read her manuscript but was paid by Edit Ink to throw her business its way.

``They took up a year of my time, that's what bothers me,'' said Ms. Charles, a business consultant. ``I fell for it completely.

On Friday, Attorney General Dennis Vacco filed a civil lawsuit against the Cheektowaga-based company and its founders, claiming they ``mercilessly preyed on the aspirations and vulnerability of hopeful writers, taking their money with little hope of ever getting their work in print.''

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

The scheme, Vacco said, worked this way:

Husband-and-wife Edit Ink founders William Appel and Denise Sterrs enlisted purported publishers and literary agents who would solicit manuscripts via the Internet and advertisements in such places as The New York Times Book Review, Writer's Digest and The Literary Marketplace.

The ``agents'' would then send the authors encouraging form letters, advising them to hire Edit Ink to help polish their manuscript to improve its chances of being published.

Following the advice, Vacco said, the authors would pay Edit Ink $5 a page for editing, 15 percent of which would go to the referring agent without the author's knowledge.

The authors then would re-submit the edited manuscript, only to have it rejected by the bogus publisher, or to be told by the agent the book was being shopped around among publishers when it was not.

Neither Appel nor Ms. Sterrs returned calls left Friday seeking comment.

By not telling author that the so-called publishers were being paid by Edit Ink, Vacco said, the company violated state law against deceptive business practices, as well as false advertising and fraud.

No criminal charges were filed, he said, because the manuscripts were edited as promised _ albeit by inexperienced Edit Ink employees who were paid $6 an hour. But Vacco estimated the scheme netted Edit Ink $5.5 million.

Also named in the lawsuit were three people who posed as publishers and agents.

A state Supreme Court judge has granted a temporary retraining order prohibiting Edit Ink from hiding its financial relationship with the agents and publishers.