Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- The Sun Sets on Desert Rose Literary Agency

Once upon a time, there was a pair of literary scammers named George Harrison and Janet Kay Titsworth. The Titsworths lived in San Angelo, Texas, and ran a "literary agency" called Helping Hand Literary Service (later re-named Janet Kay & Associates) that charged its victims an "expense reimbursement" of $100, $200, or $300, depending on how many publishers they wanted the Titsworths to contact for them.

For the money, writers received a "submission packet" consisting of a set of pre-printed publisher address labels, a form query letter on agency letterhead, and a return envelope. They were instructed to stick a stamp on the return envelope, place the letter, envelope, and accompanying materials (the writer's own query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters) in a manila envelope, affix the pre-printed label and sufficient postage, and drop the packet in the mail.

So unprofessional were these submissions, and so inappropriate the lists of publishers, that the Titsworths quickly became notorious among editors and editorial assistants. Writer Beware heard from more than one editor who contacted the Titsworths to forbid them from ever submitting to that publisher again.

More unusually for these kinds of cases, local law enforcement also took an interest. In early 2002, the San Angelo Police Department initiated an investigation, culminating in February 2004 with a raid on the Titsworths' home. Unfortunately, the Titsworths had already fled. A warrant was issued, and they were finally captured in September 2004 (having started not one, but two new "literary agencies" while on the lam). In April 2006, the Titsworths each pleaded guilty to one count of theft under $100,000, and received a sentence of ten years' probation apiece and a restitution order of $159,320.62.

A fuller account of the Titsworths' scam is provided in my blog post of May 2006.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't end here--for, as sometimes happens, one scam spawned another.

The Titsworths had an employee, Leann Murphy (a bird of a feather, having had a bit of history with the law herself: she was sentenced and fined at least once for writing bad checks). In early 2004, just before the demise of the Titsworths' scheme, she set up her own literary agency, Desert Rose Literary Agency.

Dozens of reports received by Writer Beware confirm that Leann followed in her former bosses' fee-charging footsteps, requiring clients to pay a "deposit to help cover marketing expenses" of $250 (for six months) or $350 (for a year), plus a "reinstatement fee" of $75 for authors who chose to re-up their contracts. Fortunately, Leann didn't adopt the Titsworths' editor-annoying paste-on-label submission scheme, but authors who signed with her told us that they rarely heard from her once they'd paid the fee, and had trouble getting her to respond to requests for contact.

Needless to say, no book sales ever resulted.

Leann knew that Writer Beware was watching her, and wasn't happy about it--hence this page on her website, accusing "hate" sites of attempting to destroy the livelihood of independent literary agents. But Writer Beware wasn't the only one with eyes on Leann. Texas law enforcement was watching too. In 2007, Sergeant John Walker of the Tom Green County Sheriff's Office opened an official investigation into Desert Rose Literary Agency. Writer Beware posted an Alert on our website, directing complaints to Sgt. Walker, even as we continued to receive them.

I'm very happy to report that the investigation has been concluded. On April 9th, 2009, a Search and Arrest Warrant was executed on Leann Murphy at her residence. Numerous boxes of files, manuscripts, computers and other items were taken as evidence, and Leann was charged with Theft by Deception, a felony in Texas.

So, happily, another scam goes down. We're very grateful to Sgt. Walker and other law enforcement officials of Tom Greene County, who refused to tolerate literary fraud in their community, and took action to bring it to a halt.

We'll keep you posted as to the outcome of Leann Murphy's case.

24 comments:

Leslie said...

Wow! go YOU and Texas Law Enforcement!

p.n. elrod said...

You RAWK!

Thank you for doing this. I know this work takes time from your writing, so it is doubly appreciated.

Anyplace we can send a thank you note to the LEO?

--a grateful Texan

Gray Rinehart said...

Well done!

Jane Smith said...

You know, Victoria, one of these days Ann's April Fools post is going to come true.

I'll watch out for news of the Court case and thanks to all at Writer Beware for your part in this. I shall raise a glass in your direction tonight.

sexywriter said...

Hurrah!!!

Richard White said...

I have to say, I'm proud of my wife's home town.

San Angelo may be hell and gone from the rest of the world, but it's obviously not the place to hide if you're a literary scammer.

Lady Rushia said...

Awesome. One less scam to fool people. :)

WandererInGray said...

You guys are awesome!

K

The Word Seeker said...

Well Done!!!!

AravisGirl said...

Kewl!!!

you know, you're awesome

Lucy said...

I keep hearing this theme music in my head from "Walker, Texas Ranger." I think it was when you got to the part about Texas law enforcement watching too, and all I could think was "...the eyes of the Ranger are upon you...." (hums tune)

Such good work, and good news, too. Now, hopefully the prosecutor and judge will keep the ball rolling.

barrettmanor said...

This is excellent news. Thanks to you guys for all the hard work, and thanks to the folks in Tom Green County who built up the case.

behlerblog said...

Dadgummit, Ann and Vic, you ladies rock. I have a growing list of agents I've informed that they best not let their queries darken my inbox. It's disheartening because behind every query these sleezeoids send out is a living, breathing author whose stories poured from their hearts. They trusted in these "agents" to take as much care repping them as they did in writing their book.

When I read idiotic stories about agents stealing dreams, it's not the legit ones, but these blots of goo.

I bow before greatness to you both!

Sally Zigmond said...

So another one bites the dust. A Heartfelt thank you from me for your persistence and hard work on behalf of all writers everywhere.

Deborah Rey said...

Bravo!
Those people never seem to stop, do they?
Just goes to show how important it is to check Preditors& Editors and Writer Beware before you sub anywhere and yet, people still go for Publish America, people like these + the ones they 'educate'.
Happy to know you there and thank you.
Sunny regards from France,
Deborah Rey

SJDuvall said...

Another win for the unassuming writer! Thank goodness for everyone that helps the victims. We are truly indebted to you for your hard work (and of course the law enforcement too)!

BuffySquirrel said...

Innocent until proven guilty, anyone? Charged is not convicted.

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, I followed the story of Desert Rose on WB and wrote to them pretending to be a naive new author. She wrote back to me within an hour, offering to represent me for "a fee to be determined". Without even asking to see my "finished sci-fi novel" she assured me it would sell well, although all I told her about it was that it was about a "galactic empire" in the "distant future". Again, she assured me that she had "publishers clamoring for exactly this sort of thing" (as if no one had ever heard of Isaac Asimov, etc.) She was very nice and friendly until I quesitoned her fee charging practice. She then went on the defensive, claiming that it wasn't a fee but rather just covering expenses. Next day she wrote me again, saying that it was "perfectly normal practice nowadays for agents to charge fees [suddenly she admitted it was a fee] in our tireless efforts to get your book into print". Now this wasn't in tune with what she had told me. Why "tireless efforts" when she claimed that publishers were lining up for my book without ever seeing it! I then offered to pay her fee out of future royalties and pointed out that she had been outed on WB. I never heard from her again!

Anonymous said...

This sounds a bit like my experience with Xlibris! I paid my money on a payment plan and then I decided that I would cancel my caontract per the terms they promised in writing and over the phone, but they continued to withdraw money from my Visa debit account well after it was agreed that the contract was terminated! To make matters worse, I tried to contact them numerous times and did not recieve return calls and when I called back and demanded to speak with someone from the United States (they run these shenanigans from the Phillipines)they shucked and jived and stalled and stalled an stalled through repeated American dollars leaving the country and having my VISA card dunned illegally. Beware my friends. Beware! I could add much more but I will close witha suggestionn that you use a self publisher that can be contacted in the good old USA. I wish my tale was done. Be very wary of Xlibris!!!!!!

christine tripp said...

If you are a new or unpublished writer and believe your manuscript has potential, please send it to us for an evaluation. We give every manuscript received for evaluation the same attention. You could be the next one who makes the transition from writer to author.


HAHAHA, I LOVE this little blurb on her site, lets prey on the unpublished and hopeful writers of the world!
Great news that one more crook has gone down, sadly there are many more but thankfully there are those, like Writer Beware that are trying to make a difference.
You know, this could make an entertaining "expose" kind of TV show! Visiting offices and taking them DOWN.

David Dittell said...

Wow, congratulations to everyone who made a difference. To those who were fooled, take what you've learned and keep heading toward your goals. These people aren't indicative of even a significant portion of those in your chosen field.

Marian said...

I do enjoy stories with happy endings. :)

Thank you for keeping us updated and for your part in dealing with this "agent".

James Macdonald said...

A year and a half later ... any news?

Anonymous said...

the Titsworth's had to pay a restitution of $159, 320, 62. what will Leann have to pay? she owes me $250.00 and I dont believe I will ever see any of that money!
Mrs.B.Howard