Victoria’s posts about the wacky and woebegone world (like that alliteration, boys and girls?) of Melanie Mills reminded me of all the crazy excuses we’ve come across during our years of tracking scam agents. Some of these excuses are downright creative, yessiree bob! If only those scheming little minds could be turned to good…
Excuse No 1 for not selling your book: HEALTH –either the agent’s or a family member’s.
This is a perennial favorite in the “excuse lexicon.” We’ve heard agents say they couldn’t work because they (or a family member) had: cancer (various kinds, Kelly O’Donnell always claimed to have breast cancer, as I recall), knee surgery, heart attack, stroke, back operation, amputations, eye operations…seems scam agents are a sickly bunch.
Excuse No. 2 for not selling your book: NATURAL AND MAN-MADE DISASTERS.
With all the hurricanes lately, fake agents in the south have had a readymade excuse for failing to sell books. Agent F, for example, claimed to have lost his entire office down in good old Rat Mouth, Florida, and to still be suffering the effects. (The fact that Boca Raton actually escaped last year’s hurricanes doesn’t seem to have affected its usefulness to Agent F as an excuse…)
Kelly O’Donnell/Martha Ivery, who lives somewhat north of hurricane country in the Catskills, was forced to rely on a manmade disaster: 9/11. For over a year after 9/11, “literary agent” Kelly O’Donnell’s “clients” who called to find out why she hadn’t sold their books were told by Martha Ivery that dear Kelly had perished in the World Trade Center. Aggravated writers who’d been promised publication by PressTige Publishing and who wanted to air their grievances about the lack of publication to Martha Ivery had Kelly O’Donnell telling them that dear Martha had gone down in a maelstrom of concrete, glass and jet fuel.
What’s even more twisted (and even funny in a black humor sort of way), is that writers who called back after receiving the shocking news of their agent’s/publisher’s demise, reported to the FBI that Kelly/Martha seemed to forget what she’d told them before, and thus they received a real shock when the supposedly deceased agent/publisher identified herself on the telephone line.
All I can say is that it’s a pretty damned cold sociopath who will use one of our Nation’s greatest tragedies as a way to scam people. Thank goodness she will soon be where she belongs…in jail.
Excuse No. 3: DEATH.
Kelly/Martha isn’t the only scammer to come up with the idea of dying in order to get angry, scammed writers off her back. Melanie Mills did that too, remember? Frankly, keep expecting Agent F to up and “die” at any moment, to try and throw investigators off his track.
A few scammers have actually been cold-hearted enough to actually use a real death as an excuse. Dorothy Deering did that, when her stepson was murdered. Her shocked, sympathetic writers respectfully left their “agent” and “publisher” alone in her grief. During the months her stepson’s death bought her, Dorothy was able to scam dozens more writers.
Let me tell you, 46 months in Federal Prison was nowhere near enough!
Excuse No. 4: MISCELLANEOUS:
Fake agents have used all kinds of excuses to explain their lack of sales. Computer crashes are a perennial favorite. “The publishing climate in New York is not right” is another excuse we recall. “Our secretary quit.” “We had a break-in in our office.” “I’m going through a divorce.” The excuses are as varied as the agents themselves.
My favorite wacky excuse of all time came from Agent D.R., out west. HE claimed that he couldn’t sell his clients’ books because he could not work during the day. Why couldn’t he work? Because he was exhausted all the time. Why was he exhausted? Because he lived in a haunted house. He whined about how his ghosts kept him awake at night, doing whatever it is ghosts do…rattling chains? Flapping sheets? Moaning? Groaning? Turning down the thermostat?
I suspect you folks can see a pattern emerging here. Agents are people, and people have problems, but if you notice your agent putting you off repeatedly with a bunch of unlikely sounding excuses, chances are, you’ve fallen into the hands of a questionable agent and you need to GET AWAY as quickly as possible.
While most of these wacky “excuse maker” agents are also fee-chargers, not all are. Three that I can recall were once legitimate agents who turned to the Dark Side.
Charles Neighbors started out as a legitimate agent, selling books, but at some point he fell apart, and began lying to get clients off his back. You’d think he’d have just quit, or at least stopped signing on new clients, but no. He kept signing them on, and stringing them along, piling lie upon lie. Several of his clients were SFWA members, and one of them told me she actually hosted him in her home for Christmas dinner, and all the while he was lying to her about whether, and where, her book had been submitted. Neighbors’ final degradation came about after all his real clients had abandoned ship, and he was reduced to making a living by doing Edit Ink referrals. When he was named as one of the defendants in the Edit Ink case, he went on the lam, and the last we’d heard, he had fled the US.
The second agent was a fellow over in Germany, and he went even further. He started taking his clients’ money. He claimed he “had” to do this because the German Mafia was going to take his son and sell the boy into a brothel if he didn’t pay them money. He had lost all of his own funds, so he took his clients’ money. Last I heard, this guy was back in the business, over in Germany, acting as a literary and artists’ agent.
Our third case is one of the most infamous in the annals of agents. Big-name agent Jay Garon embezzled millions of dollars from writers such as John Grisham. Garon escaped punishment/prosecution by dying. (Though the timing was convenient, enough people went to his open-casket funeral that I’m pretty sure he actually bought the farm. Garon was pretty old.) I heard that his writers and other creditors received only pennies on the dollar.
I bet Jay Garon had a zillion excuses.
But for every real agent who goes bad, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fake or incompetent agents who start out being unable to sell books, and giving writers excuses. No one has a crystal ball to predict the future, but you can protect yourself by doing your research BEFORE querying, and BEFORE signing with an agent.
After all, you’d much rather hear about sales than excuses, right?
-Ann C. Crispin
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY