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June 11, 2020

Agencies in Turmoil: Red Sofa Literary Threatens Legal Action, Mass Firings At Corvisiero Literary Agency

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®
On May 30, following blowback she received for her tweeted responses to the protests in her hometown of St. Paul, MN, Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary posted a note of apology on the agency's website.

Between then and now, Frederick seems to have changed her mind--at least, about her critics.

Today, three of the people who responded critically on social media to Frederick's tweets--agents Beth Phelan and Kelly Van Sant and author Isabel Sterling--received a letter from Frederick's lawyers threatening legal action unless they remove and retract their responses, which the lawyers allege are "false, harm [Frederick's] reputation and are defamatory".
Phelan, Van Sant, and Sterling are refusing to comply. In an open letter to Frederick, they detail why they believe Frederick's threatened defamation action is without merit, and also why they are taking the matter public.
We are making this public because the book industry still lacks the necessary transparency to fully see and address the many faults in our whole institution. We want to push back against these intimidation tactics so that we can help foster an environment where we can speak our truth about racist practices and other insidiously problematic behaviors without fear of retribution. We need to continue to call these things out. And we need to see people accept responsibility and engage in actual growth, not pandering.

We ask for the community’s support in breaking this cycle of silence. This is not just about one agent, one threat, one voice, but about delegitimizing threats of lawsuits as tools of silencing overall.
Apparently Phelan, Van Sant, and Sterling aren't the only ones who have heard from Frederick's lawyers. Author Foz Meadows, who last week wrote a long blog post about her experience with Red Sofa, reports getting a letter too, though possibly in error: Phelan, Van Sant, and Sterling have launched a defense fund to help pay for potential legal expenses. 



Tweets about the protest from Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Literary Agency also generated controversy last week, prompting two of her agents to resign.
That same day, Corvisiero made the abrupt decision to fire her entire remaining staff--claiming, basically, that it was for their own protection: 
 

Some of the former employees have issued a joint statement, apologizing to clients and alleging longstanding problems within the agency. 
 
If you're a Corvisiero client with unsold work who has been orphaned by the firings, you can add your name and manuscript(s) to this directory, which "is meant for literary agents and editors to help ease the blow and economic hardship this has placed on these writers by finding them home for new work."

14 comments :

Allen F said...

Ah yes, the old lawyering up and threatening others to get them to stop pointing out your faults or something you said or did - only to have it come back at you tenfold ...


People who don't learn from history will keep repeating it.I had thought everyone had heard about that singer that had her lawyers demand a photo shot to show beach erosion be taken down because her rather small estate was in part of it. Prior to the takedown demand the photo had been viewed six times (two being thought to have been the lawyers looking it over.) Weeks after the takedown was made public (by the fight with those lawyers) there were now over half a million views from people wanting to see/know what the fuss was all about.

It does seem this 'Dawn' has yet to see the light ... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Allen, there are instances in which there's real harm from public statements made without factual investigation. In those, a lawyer letter is probably the least-obtrusive means of dealing with things. (And I'm not defending this particular lawyer letter, which is itself deficient in about six ways, possibly opening up other consequences.)

But...

This wasn't one of them. One wonders what might happen if one of the people who commented "on social media" is a California person who asserts § 425.16 — which requires early dismissal and forces the defamation plaintiff to pay attorney's fees and costs. (And, even though it's in the California Code of Civil Procedure, has been treated by many courts as a right assertable in other states. It's complicated.)

One wonders what might happen if state bars even dreamed about enforcing the "meritorious claims and defenses" duty in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

PT Dilloway said...

Sending these threatening letters is probably damaging her more than her original comments.

Graham said...

As Ken White is fond of saying, vagueness and bumptiousness in legal threats is a hallmark of thuggery.There is no substantive basis for a claim defined in this letter. It is a classic attempt at an intimidatory shakedown. I donated to the defense fund.

Anonymous said...

The internet makes it so much harder than it used to be to shut someone up quickly and without a fuss (I love to see it). I hope the people being threatened with legal action live in states with anti-SLAPP laws, and I hope they file suit against her on that basis after she tries to slink away not getting what she wanted.

Trying to silence people who tell the truth about their interactions with someone isn't something any of us should stand for, and it sucks that this is a norm set by people who have the money to do something about it.

Anonymous said...

Someone makes a public blunder, albeit a sensitive one, then all of a sudden they're demonized. How is this behavior any different than her infraction? It's as if a public figure cannot make any type of glitch or human error without risk of losing her career. To me, this is elevating a public figure's human standard well above our own, which to me, adds to our flawed image of them as gods.

Anonymous said...

I live in Minneapolis. I have met Dawn Frederick on several occasions. I was very sympathetic when she got flamed on social media for that tweet about calling the cops on looters. I might have called the cops myself if I saw a crime being committed across the street from my home. But I have lost all sympathy for her since, when I heard she was suing people, including a former employee who is a friend of mine. That is, pardon my French, bullshit. Dawn deserves everything she gets and I hope she goes into another line of work, because I would not feel safe working with her or having her represent me.

JTbot said...

How insane do things have to get before people return to using simple, honest intelligence when dealing with issues like this. It is abundantly obvious Dawn Frederick used common sense when reporting the looting incident. It's also apparent she made only a simple mention of it in her post, with zero intent of assigning insulting racial overtones or 'police brutality' concerns to the simple criminal act she had witnessed.

However, it's also clear those three authors receiving the attorney's letter not only insinuated these issues into the conversation, but egregiously slandered Frederick in the most mindless, callous, and despicable way. They've epitomized the greatest problem we face in dealing with difficult issues like this–by insisting that one not simply sympathize with a cause, but must absolutely and unquestionably agree with only the resolutions (logical or not) demanded by one side. And more often than not, those are knee-jerk, poorly thought out resolutions thought up during fits of anger, instead of well thought out, discussed and debated resolutions where everyone takes the time to look at all the arguments to discover the best, safest, and most reliable solution.

Knee-jerk doesn't work. It only reliably creates more and newer problems... because nobody was willing to think things out.

Personally, I'd say these authors owe Ms. Frederick a serious public apology for their disgraceful remarks and the damage they've done. They should clearly delete their posts. And they don't deserve a cent in support for misappropriating the term "racism" solely to make themselves feel and look morally superior. These were unthinking and unfair posts.

Anonymous said...

WHICH IS IT DAWN? Less than two weeks after posting this apology below on her Website, she is now suing agents and editors -- and, from what I am hearing there are more than three people qho have gotten poorly worded and legally unsound and ridiculous letters from her "superlawyer" at Meyer, Njus, & Tanick on Dawn Frederick's behalf. I'll be honest ... if I were BIPOC, I would not work with Dawn Frederick, I would not want her to represent me. She may or may not be racist, but she is definitely classist, and acts very entitled to bully people who do anything she doesn't like. Plus, she is a flake and her word means nothing. She just sees dollar signs. And her lawyer does too. What a couple of putzes. And Dawn, if you are reading this, start trying to be better like you promised. Because from where I stand, you are acting like a complete idiot.

NOTE FROM DAWN: MAY 30, 2020 (www.redsofaliterary.com)

Two days ago I tweeted about calling the police to report looting at a nearby gas station. The consequences of calling the police, for any reason, during this time frankly didn’t occur to me, and I’m sorry that it took this situation for me to see it.

Property isn’t worth more than a human life. And in that moment I didn’t equate calling the police to report property damage with the reality that doing so could cause harm to the people currently fighting racism in my community. I’m deeply sorry for anyone I hurt with this careless action.

The authors and agents who may now question whether or not we share the same ideals have every right to feel this way. My actions were tone-deaf and the product of my own privilege—even if they were unintentionally so. All I can do is own my mistake, learn from it, and continue to find ways to be an ally to those fighting against the injustices that got us here. Thank you for holding me accountable and teaching me, even though it’s not your responsibility to do so. I will work to be better.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 1:39pm:

(Apologies for being "anonymous" myself — I acknowledge these posts to site owners — but there's a troll looking for my name on writer's boards that allow non-signed-in postings right now...)

The statement "She may or may not be racist, but she is definitely classist, and acts very entitled to bully people who do anything she doesn't like." includes both a credible conclusion about classism... and a bit of neglect, or perhaps just overoptimism, concerning where classism and bullying come from in the US. It's impossible to fully unravel race, class, and public bullying; the threads are so deeply intertwined that they form one cable, and that's what we're seeing a reaction to right now (rightly so IMNSHO).

Within publishing, read between the lines of yesterday's piece on Condé Nast in the NYT, and realize that it seriously softpedals everything. Or consider that The Devil Wears Prada was vastly toned down, both in print and on screen, to meet the demands of insurance-defense attorneys. Remember, too, that Condé Nast — unlike some of its competitors, not just in periodicals — is at least halfheartedly admitting that its past is somewhat problematic. That makes it one of the less-bad-guys, and an exception. I'm saying this here in the hope that this conversation on "means and ends for dealing with publishing Issues and harsh public statements" won't get dragged too far off track.

(Disclosure: I have advised, but not formally represented, one or more staff members at Condé Nast publications on related issues.)

KJ Bain said...

This is the problem with putting your personal stuff out on your public sites. What she posted was neither a business issue or anything to do with writing. If she'd kept them separate, she probably wouldn't have been in this predicament to begin with. I see this too often where business owners blur the two.

Authors who are condemning her need to be careful because one day they will probably find themselves in the same boat - finding what they posted attacked. It's pretty clear that neither side (right or left) have any patience for anyone with a differing viewpoint.

MillCityInsider said...

Even though the media is reporting that Dawn Frederick's lawyer at Meyer Njus and Tanick has sent C&D letters to two or three agents and an author or two -- that is not the extent of it. Mr Tanick's targets include a lot more than 3 or 4 victims of Dawn's idiocy. I know for a fact at least one highly regarded and influential person in the industry who has been served with a letter from Mr. T. If they were to go public, there would be fireworks, and Dawn Frederick would be done. She would be completely blacklisted, and no author would want to risk being associated with her because their books would gain no traction. I can't say more, because it is not my revelation to make, but there is a lot more to this story than anyone supporting Dawn is aware of. I am sorry for the writers she represents. I would urge them to find other representation, because they will not want the shit that is going to hit the fan to splatter onto them. I personally think Dawn has decided to move on and in the process, inflict as much pain and trauma on others as she can before disappearing and finding work in another industry in another place. Minneapolis-St Paul's literary community is a village, and we take care of our own.

Victoria Strauss said...

MillCityInsider, please email me--I'd like to know who else you know of who has received letters. All information shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence. beware@sfwa.org Thanks!

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