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.