Thursday, December 08, 2005

Anatomy of a Writing Scam

No matter how often professional groups and advice mavens like Miss Snark and Joe Konrath caution writers against paying fees to get published, it seems there are always writers so anxious to see themselves in print that they ignore the warnings.

On Monday (12/5), a particularly nasty scammer admitted her guilt in the U.S. District Court in Albany.

The U.S. Attorney's Office alleged that Martha Ivery defrauded wannabe writers from May, 1995 through September, 2002. According to the Albany, New York Times Union, "(p)rosecutors say she took as much as $700,000 from 200 writers."

I thought it might be instructive to examine how Martha's scams worked. Hopefully, we can all learn something from it. The information that follows comes directly from the indictment in the case of the United States of America v. Martha Ivery, also known as Kelly O'Donnell, Defendant.

Critical to the con was the fact that Martha created two personas: Kelly O'Donnell, literary agent; and Martha Ivery, the publisher of Press-Tige Publishing Company. She never disclosed to prospective authors that these two personas were one and the same person.

Right away you can see where this is going.

Martha/Kelly ran ads on the Internet and in Writer's Digest magazine soliciting clients. When a wannabe writer approached the Kelly O'Donnell Literary Agency, s/he was charged a fee for representation. Then the prospective author was advised that his/her manuscript needed editing and, of course, there was an editing fee. There were additional fees for illustration, marketing and copies of the unpublished manuscript. Eventually, the writer would be referred to the Press-Tige Publishing Company.

Martha/Kelly had a variety of excuses for the fact that the book remained unpublished years after the fees had been paid. These included: lost manuscripts, printing problems, computer viruses and production backlogs.

The Writer Beware website (www.sfwa.org/beware) says that, from 1998 to 2003, they received "scores of complaints" about Martha/Kelly. They also state that "Ivery was notable for her attempts to intimidate dissatisfied clients and people who attempted to expose her activities. Authors were told that she would 'blacklist' them so that publishers wouldn't look at their manuscripts." She also referred some unhappy writers to expensive vanity publishers, taking a kickback for doing so.

Writer Beware says that "(a)s a result of numerous author complaints (and lobbying by Writer Beware), a criminal investigation into Ivery's activities was launched by the FBI in 2001."

Ivery tried to extricate herself from the pending legal problems. She filed to place Press-Tige Publishing in bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York. She then turned around and created a new entity, New Millennium Publishing House, Inc. Displaying an almost unbelievable amount of chutzpah, Martha/Kelly approached the SAME wannabe authors and began soliciting new fees from them.

Since, in some cases, she solicited payments through the mail, Ivery incurred mail fraud charges for 15 of the persons she defrauded. The 15 felony counts were for amounts ranging from $1,665 to $10,025. Additionally, she had one count of credit card fraud and one count of lying during her bankruptcy filing.

The Times Union says that Ivery "faces up to 20 years in prison on the mail fraud charges, 10 years on the credit card charge, and five years on the bankruptcy charge. She could also be fined as much as $250,000."

No doubt, as I write this blog, there are wannabe authors out there preparing to write a check to the newest scammer on the block. Please, please, please don’t do it. Remember, if the operation is legitimate, the money should come to you, not be demanded from you.

If you want to be a serious author, there are no shortcuts. You keep working UNTIL.

4 comments:

Sherrill Quinn said...

It's just really sad that there are people who prey on others' dreams. I know what the desire to be published feels like. Luckily, I have friends like you that keep me on track with words of wisdom like this.

Sloane Taylor said...

This blog should be put out to every new writer or those how have become desperate. And that bitch ought to get every bit of jail time the law will allow with a cellmate named Big Bertha.

Can you arrange to publish this blog in the Passionate Ink newsletter? Those gals will get the word out.

Maya said...

Thanks, Sherrill and Sloane. I'll be doing another article on "Industry Matters" for the next issue of Passionate Ink. I hadn't planned to include this in it, but may need to rethink that.

Regards.

For The Trees said...

Thanks, Maya. I managed to avoid the vanity publishing houses because I don't have any money, going with Lulu.com instead. But I WAS tempted. That little 1-column by 1-inch ad in Smithsonian Magazine for a vanity publisher is sorely tempting when one realizes there's no way one's work is going to be picked up.

It's almost worth writing a HUGE bestseller and using the profits to run a national ad campaign telling everyone to use a Print On Demand printer.

Thanks for a great post. I am learning tons of stuff from your blog, and look forward to all your posts.