Sometimes it seems like there’s nobody more gullible than an unpublished author. Blinded by their desperate desire for publication, they will ignore even the most obvious signs of a scam. Peter Winkler clued me into this article from the Times Union about yet another publishing con…one so obvious and blatant, it’s astonishing that any sensible person could fall for it.
On June 3, Martha Ivery — also known as Kelly O’Donnell — was charged with mail fraud, bankruptcy fraud and fraud in connection with an access device, all felonies. The 56-year-old woman faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
According to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Albany, Ivery defrauded prospective authors from May 1997 to September 2002. The indictment claims she presented two different personas: herself, as publisher of Press-TIGE Publishing Co. Inc., and Kelly O’Donnell Literary Agency Inc.
After hooking authors by advertising in Writer’s Digest magazine and on the Internet, O’Donnell would pretend to act as the author’s agent, according to the indictment. She then would tell an author how Ivery’s company would publish the book. And the requests for fees would keep coming: for publishing, editing, illustrations and extra copies, the indictment claims.
Ivery/O’Donnell promised book signings, international book fairs, complementary cruise vacations and appearances on television shows, according to the indictment. But books were rarely published and money was never returned.
When complaints grew, Ivery’s company filed for liquidation in 2002 under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code. She later started a new company, New Millennium Publishing House Inc.
Organizers of the Web site, http://www.sfwa.org/beware, estimate more than 300 authors have lost a total of $500,000 through Ivery.
…"These people are cruel," said A.C. Crispin, a science fiction writer who has worked with the Web site Writer Beware. "They don’t just steal money. They steal people’s dreams."
That’s true. But it seems like the authors are equally culpable. They let their desperation over-ride their common sense. And some just never learn:
For Geniesse, the retired journalist, dealing with Ivery tied up his book for years. "Cuc: Flower of the Delta," about a young Vietnamese family’s experiences in Asia and America, was finally printed in 2004 by a print-on-demand publisher, a vanity-type press to which the author pays only for the number of books he wants published.
"I was so gullible I couldn’t believe it," he said. Now, "I’m OK. The book’s out."
Unbelievable, isn’t it? Here are two simple rules for aspiring authors that will help you avoid getting ripped off:
1) NEVER pay a publisher for editorial services, publicity, publishing, warehousing or distribution. The publisher is supposed to PAY YOU. They make their money from the sales of your book and give you a percentage of their income.
2) NEVER pay an agent a "reading fee" or any other kind of fee. They make money when YOU DO by commissioning a percentage of your advances and royalties.
UPDATE (7-8-05): The Chicago Tribune also covered the story. One of the lawyers representing the ripped-off authors described the shocking gullibility of his clients like this:
"This is a vulnerable population that is vulnerable to hearing what they want to hear," Petit said. "And what they want to hear is `Yes, I’ll publish your book.’"
It turns out the Ivery is an author, too. What was the title of her self-published book? "Make Millions From Your Kitchen Table."