Saturday, July 08, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Track Records: Another Cautionary Tale

For a number of years I've been getting questions about freelance editor Carol Givner. (If you open that link, be warned: Ms. Givner's website is full of flashy, popup-y stuff.) Ms. Givner is a successful ebook author, though she doesn't appear to have had much, if any, commercial publishing experience. Nevertheless, she charges professional rates for her editing services (clients and potential clients report being asked for as much as $5,000).

Recently, it seems that Ms. Givner has branched out into literary agenting. The coexistence of an editing service with a literary agency, or vice versa, is always at least a potential conflict of interest. I've also seen a copy of Ms. Givner's contract, which includes this interesting clause:

"Agent and Agency does not offer updates or reports to the Client on submissions or correspondence with publishers, agents, or anybody else. All submissions and correspondence, all contact names, and every detail involved concerning submissions is the sole confidential information of the Agent and Agency. The list of contacts is the sole and exclusive property of the Agency. Client and/or past, present, or future client representatives, have no rights during or after this contract to have access to this list."

FYI, if you're ever offered a contract with a clause like this, run fast in the opposite direction.

At any rate, the Carol Givner Literary Agency has a website. Let's forget for the moment about editing conflicts of interest and peculiar contract clauses, and take the site at face value.

OK, it's pretty ugly--but as I've previously noted, not all reputable agents have attractive websites. More troubling is the lack of any information about the agent and her professional background. On the plus side, a number of recent sales are listed. That might deal with the info problem--what you really want to know about an agent is that she's making sales, right? However, we've also learned that track records can be faked. It makes sense, therefore, to do some extra checking.

The first two "recent sales" (My Way to Heaven by Christine Ferley, and Daughter of the Moon by S.C. Viola) mention a 2006 release, but don't mention the publisher. A quick search on the authors and titles leads us to Studio E Bookshelf. It's not totally clear from the website what kind of publisher Studio E is, but a trip to its blog reveals that it's an "eBook publisher of quality fiction and nonfiction." Since most ebook publishers don't pay advances, established agents have no incentive to place books with them--which is why epublishers don't typically work with agents. In other words, these aren't exactly the kind of book placements you want to see from an established or up-and-coming agent.

But wait--there's more. On the Editorial Services page of Ms. Givner's personal website, we find the following: "In addition, I'm the Executive Producer of STUDIO E Entertainment, the first multimedia studio on the web, at www.studio---e.com." And according to the Whois record for Studio E, the publisher's URL is registered to Ms. Givner. That's right, folks: the publisher to which Ms. Givner has supposedly sold books is...herself. Huge, huge conflict of interest here. Not to mention the lack of disclosure.

Moving right along...Ms. Givner claims a third "recent sale:" Scandalous, by ReChella, this time to a commercial publisher, Kensington. According to Amazon, however, the publisher is Urban Books. An imprint of Kensington? A quick Google search turns up this press release, which reveals that Urban Books, an independent publisher specializing in urban lit, is distributed by Kensington. Ms. Givner may indeed have placed this book (though I'd guess that like most independents, Urban Books is more than happy to work with unagented authors), but if so, she's exaggerating just a bit.

The final listing is One Wizard Place by D.M. Paul, placed with BooksUnbound, another epublisher. As far as I know, BooksUnbound is perfectly reputable--but, for the reasons noted above, established agents don't generally work with epublishers.

So Ms. Givner's "track record" isn't really a track record at all. Put that together with the multiple conflicts of interest and the nonstandard contract language, and it's not a pretty picture.

Just another example of why research is an agent-hunter's best friend.

23 comments:

Michaelc said...

Following your links was very educational. The others are pretty clearly bogus, but it looks to me like "Scandalous" may represent a sale to a real publisher of sorts. Looking at the author's website, it appears that she has her own mini-publishing company, and represents titles by other authors (or could they be pseudonyms?). This whole genre of urban books (and Urban Books itself)seems to represent a different publishing paradigm and I'm not sure it's safe to make any assumptions about what the rules are.

Michele Lee said...

What about Michael Garret of the Hot blood series? His website is more of an advertisement for his editing services. Should I be suspicious? Here's the site:
http://www.writing2sell.com/hotblood.htm

WWWWolf said...

"The first multimedia studio on the web?" Registered in late 1999? Uh, while I can't cite examples (past 1 o'clock in the morning here, after all), I'm pretty sure there were "multimedia studios" on Web before that - I mean, the new-media fellows lead the chage when everyone were grabbing their first Internet packages, and stuff as mundane now as Macromedia Flash got everywhere in 1997...

It's really shame about what happened in March 2000 to many companies that started with "e-" and ended with ".com". I would have guessed that companies with three dashes would have been among the first to fall really hard. I mean, who the heck can remember that thing?

JKRichard said...

Re: Givner's website

OH MY EYES!

-=Jeff=-

mata said...

I was struck by the little note at the bottom of her Literary Agency page:

The Carol Givner LIterary Agency retains Counsel.

David M. Givner, Esq.

Los Angeles, California


Kenneth A. Wohl, Esq.


I've never seen an agency that listed its attorneys on its website before. I wonder if that's to warn people like Ann and Victoria off? And I'm sure that its a coincidence that her lawyer has the same last name?

Anonymous said...

Anon for this, but DEAR HOLY GOD, how could you HIRE someone as an editor who writes like THIS????


http://members.aol.com/GOLDDUETS/index4.html

December Quinn said...

There's a further concern about Studio E books-there are no submission guidelines on the site. Do its books come exclusively from Givner's clientele? I've never seen an ebook publisher that doesn't have sub guidelines.


There are also no excerpts available on the site...not usually a good sign.

--E said...

Clearly, Ms. Givner is jealous of the Twenty Worst list and aspires to be on it next year.

Matt D. said...

That website needs to be shot and dragged back to 1998 where it should be left to die.

roach said...

I found guidelines for Studio E here.

If I were a potential submittor I would be more worried that Studio E is not set up to distribute titles through Fictionwise.com. Nor are titles listed on Amazon.com or CyberRead.com. I'm guessing Studio E is only selling e-books through its own site, which will mean single digit sales for the authors.

This, on top of the conflicts of interests pointed out by Victoria, would make me head in the other direction.

December Quinn said...

Ah, thanks roach! The "Submissions" link wouldn't work for me.

Anonymous said...

Little late here but my God. Reading the "sample contract" is the worst thing I've ever done to myself. Who in their right mind would hire someone who states stuff like this in her contract?
"I will not publish your manuscript at Studioebookshelf.com. That’s a HOBBY, people. Just like my p*rn sites. Sheesh."

Anonymous said...

I am one of the (stupid) people who hired Carol Givner to edit my manuscript. It ended up costing a whopping 6500.00...and she never even read the final! I had the sinking feeling that something wasn’t right, so I purposely inserted a huge, glaring error into the last chapter of my manuscript to see what she'd say, and, of course, she never said a word because she hadn't bothered to read a word. Yet she said she did and proceeded to tell me that my manuscript was “perfect” and ready to go.

Though I don't want to bash her (I am to blame for not checking into her lack of credentials and for not being more astute to the red flags that came up during my initial conversation with her) I do feel I must warn anyone who is even considering hiring Carol Givner to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. It was the most costly and painful lesson I’ve ever learned.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous, would you please contact me at the Writer Beware email address (beware@sfwa.org) under your own name, so I can add your complaint to my file on Ms. Givner? Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Victoria,

I've tried to click the link you left me so I can give you my name and information, but I get an error message. What should I do?

CeeCee said...

Victoria,

I finally was able to send you an email.

Thanks!

(I've just joined blogger.com and I'm no longer anonymous. I'm CeeCee)

Anonymous said...

I, too, am embarrassed to say I have had experience with Carol G...and boy, could I tell you stories...

I've got a loonnggg line of emails from her regarding our "contract" and her responses are about as transparent as celophane.

I could write a book about the experience, but hey, I'm in the midst of another one!

From someone who's seen the underbelly of agent hell and lived to write another day, Victoria, how do I contact you?

Anonymous said...

God bless your blog!

Why hadn't I seen your site when I came across another one...www.goldduets.com?

Anonymous said...

It seems that Ms. Givner has seen our messages and is trying to do damage control. I recently came across this link -- www.goldduets.com/references.html
-- I guess she wants people to think she's on the up and up. Well, regarding her editing, she might be, but once burned, twice shy I say.

Mame said...

I'm a newbe writer, green as a gourd, thanks for the tips which parallel with my my gut feelings. I checked her out and passed. She conveyed a negativity through her contract terminology, attitude based on many phrases on her site, communication inconsistency, and a curtness that bordered on my nerve line;)

She would not inspire me nor fire me up, more likely; toss water on my campfire.
newbe signing off...

Mame said...

Being a newbe...can I ask about another editor?

Sandy Tritt? Any comments?

Anonymous said...

ahh! I JUST made the big mistake of sending an email to her, asking about her editorial services, BEFORE I researched. Why did I do this? Because I saw her advertisement in Poets and Writers magazine. I figured, if it was in there, it ought to be okay! Guess not. Live and learn.....at least I saw this post now....AND, in her advertisement in Poets and Writers, her main web page is not listed, only her editorial page. So, I did not see the cheesy main page layout!! AH!

gmonte4538 said...

I am sorry that many of you had a problem with miss Givner. I have had a very good experience with her as an editor. I had a ghost that did a fair job but the ms needed more. Carol did a fantastic Job and not I have signed with a top agent and it is because of her ability to bring out what was difficult for the ghost capture.
I hope this helps. Cheers All