Too bad. I would have loved to see what ol' Martha had to say for herself--other than, as at her bankruptcy hearings, blaming Writer Beware for all her troubles and describing me as Ann's "sidekick." Feh.
(1) Please explain what Writer Beware does.
Writer Beware consists of several dedicated volunteers who help aspiring writers avoid writing scams. We maintain the Writer Beware website, monitor chatrooms and newsgroups, answer questions, exchange emails with authors who contact us requesting information about publishers or agents, and maintain the world's largest database of information about questionable agents, publishers, editors, and contests aimed at writers. Our database is well-researched and contains hundreds, even in some cases, thousands of pages of documentation about the fraud artists who are scamming writers in this country. (There are hundreds.)
Writer Beware is hosted and sponsored by SFWA, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. SFWA is the only professional writers' organization that is sensitive to the pitfalls that await aspiring writers, and attempts to help them avoid being ripped off.
(2) How and when did WB first become aware of Martha Ivery's fraudulent activities?
Back when Writer Beware was first founded in 1998, Martha Ivery, in her literary agent alias as Kelly O'Donnell, was a frequent visitor to AOL chatrooms and various writers' message boards, trolling for victims. I became aware of her claims to be a topnotch agent, checked them out, found them to be false, and began spreading the truth about Ivery/O'Donnell. She began losing business on AOL, one of her prime "feeding grounds."
A few months later, when Victoria Strauss and I had joined forces to create Writer Beware, Victoria entered Ivery's name and her aliases (there were many of them) into our database, and we both began warning writers who inquired about her that she was not a real agent. Victoria, who maintains Writer Beware's database and is our primary investigator, was able to track down and debunk all of Martha's claims to be a real agent or publisher.
(3) What did Writer Beware's investigation turn up?
Victoria and I discovered that Martha Ivery ran a vanity publishing company called PressTIGE Publishing that had hardly ever published a book, and that she and the literary agent Kelly O'Donnell were one and the same person. We realized that the O'Donnell Literary Agency was bringing writers to PressTIGE publishing without ever letting clients know that both businesses were owned by the same person. We discovered that Kelly O'Donnell had, despite her claims, never sold a book to a real publisher, and that PressTIGE was raking in money from clients without (in the majority of cases) giving them anything in return except excuses and abuse.
(4) The AP article says "Operators of a scam-busting Web site called Writer Beware said the FBI investigated Ivery after they collected information from scores of victims." It's unclear here, but I assume the "they" that collected information refers to Writer Beware and not the FBI? In other words, Writer Beware dug up the dirt then turned it over to the Feds?
Precisely. The FBI has a sort of unofficial monetary "quota" of losses that a fraud artist must amass before they will open an investigation. We collected data from victims, documentation, etc., and sent it to an FBI investigator who was sympathetic to the plight of Martha Ivery's victims. When we reached over $50,000 in losses, the FBI began to take a real interest, and began investigating Martha using their own resources. Eventually, they opened an official case, and did a search and seizure of her computers, business records, etc. They discovered hundreds more victims (partially by posting an appeal to victims to contact the primary FBI investigator on the Writer Beware site). Heartbreaking stories poured in from writers who had lost hundreds or thousands of dollars to Kelly O'Donnell or Martha Ivery. Many writers never realized they'd been dealing with only one person.
This FBI investigator deserves a great deal of credit. He's really the unsung hero of the case.
(5) If there's anything else you'd like to say about this case that I haven't covered by the other questions, feel free to mention it here.
When Martha Ivery realized she was losing business due to Writer Beware's warnings, she began cyber-stalking Victoria and me. She claimed to be both Victoria's and my literary agent, she sent notes to my publishers trying to cause trouble for me. She made a lot of threats, trying to intimidate us into silence -- culminating in threats of violence, including a death threat.
At the time of her bankruptcy hearing, Martha Ivery told the bankruptcy judge that the reason her business had failed was because of Writer Beware. We're very proud of that.
(6) Please give me a brief summary of your experience with Writer Beware – how long you've been running the program, and what other qualifications you may have (a law degree, etc.).
Neither Victoria nor I are lawyers. Instead, we're novelists with about 30 published fantasy and science fiction books between us. We know how the publishing industry OUGHT to function, so it's easy for us to spot scammers, when aspiring writers don't have the experience or the knowledge base to do so. Both Victoria and I have learned not to give up, that the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly, and that scammers are venal, but that their greed usually gets them in the end.
I couldn't run Writer Beware without the assistance of our legal counsel, who spends a lot of pro bono time keeping scammers off our backs.
If we don't receive some kind of threat from a scammer about once a month, it's a slow month. But Writer Beware is meticulous in our research and in collecting documentation, and the truth is our defense against charges of libel and defamation.
We are in this for the long haul. Scammers, beware!