The Desperate and the Gullible

Sometimes it seems like there’s nobody more gullible than an unpublished author.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,, 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."

12 thoughts on “The Desperate and the Gullible”

  1. 2) NEVER pay an agent a “reading fee” or any other kind of fee.
    ABSOLUTELY. One can get rejected with NO out-of-pocket expense except the cost of postage. They can do it for free if the agent accepts email queries.
    Authors can do that over and over and over without ever having to pay an agent to ‘read’ for them.
    It’s what makes America great.

  2. I saw her in the Writer’s Market back when I was looking for an agent and I thought it was odd the address of this publishing company was the same as the agent’s so I checked her out on Predators and Editors and, sure enough, they had her red flagged.
    One of my first agents turned out to be a shill for a self publishing house. After he signed me, I got a package — a contract! — from him for a vanity press deal where I would only have to come up with $8000 and a note that said, “This is a good deal, JJ. I’m recommending it.”
    Sheesh. I blew him off and moved on.

  3. Tha’s Charlie (scriveners error) quoted in the story. Vanity press victims are like warm puppies. They’ll cuddled up to anything that moves and defend it to the end. It’s a sad pathology.

  4. This article also brings up the ugly spectre of rags like Writer’s Digest. These magazines claim to be there to help writers get published, but it’s obvious the magazine doesn’t care where it’s revenue comes from, to include these scammers, shammers, vanity presses, PODs, and agent for fee people. Writer’s Digest is like the Weekly World News of the publishing industry. Reader beware.

  5. People are bastards, it’s a fact. If there’s a way to avoid earning an honest living, they’ll do it, whether it’s scamming authors or stealing cars. The sad thing is, if they channelled that energy and actually tried to do something contructive, they’d probably be more successful AND not in jail.
    I haven’t been much impressed with Writer’s Digest either. Like a lot of publications, they rely on ad income for revenue, which means they pretty much let anyone in. Since they tout themselves as a reference, though, you’d think they’d do some research.

  6. Mark Y,
    Actually, a lot of scammer victims and post-vanity press writers seem to be pretty righteously indignant about the whole experience and a good many develop an irrational phobia about anything besides the major publishers — people like, well, like you. Some may defend but an awful lot attack, obsess, rant, throw fits, stomp around, and pretty much stay stuck in their victim-hood at the expense of their writing. I know among the PA-brood, far more seem to be where you are than seem to be still in puppy-hood. Not that either place is helpful to their careers.

  7. Yeah, like you for instance Elaine. I’m obviously saying something you don’t want to hear. That much is obvious. Why you don’t is unclear. It’s easier to attack me than the actual culprit: vanity scammers. I’ll tell you what: you go your way and I’ll go mine. Report back your successes with those “other than major publishers.” I’d love to hear the details.

  8. “I know among the PA-brood, far more seem to be where you are than seem to be still in puppy-hood”
    They are now possibly. They certainly weren’t two years ago.

  9. Two years ago? When you ARE a puppy, you think everyone is either a puppy or wrong, naturally you couldn’t see the people stomping and waving when you were in the puppy pile yourself. That short-sidedness is what keeps the numbers of scammed so consistently high. But just because you didn’t see them before PA got you doesn’t mean that all the PA pups before you were happy campers. There have been people ranting about PA nearly since it’s creation — there are more now because there are so many more people who’ve been taken, thus producing more stompers on the pooped out end — the more people stomping, the more notice is taken.
    Everyone thinks he’s the first crusader. People were warning others about literary scams and vanity presses when *I* started in this business in the early 80s so unless you strapped on your cape over twenty years ago, you’re just a babe in the game. The problem with literary scams is no one outside the literary world *really* cares about them — so until you start trying to break in, you think everyone is all nicey-nice and *artistic* so surely there are no wolves.
    Hell, anytime money is involved, you’ve got wolves trying to separate you from yours. It’s too bad more folks don’t realize that before they enter the woods.

  10. Sure. But why make it about my capehood? The fact is nobody was screeching about PA two years ago. It was more like silent whimpering amongst themselves while cowering in fear and in some cases buying 49 copies of nonexistant POD stock as a bribe. Where was your voice then? I came, I saw, I actually did something. Where’s the beef from you POV?


Leave a Comment