Publishers Lunch picked up a report out of Albany, New York about a thieving, bottom-feeding, scum “agent” and “publisher.” The Times-Union reported yesterday that Martha Ivery, 56, of Catskill was charged with mail fraud, bankruptcy fraud, and fraud in connection with an access device, all felonies. Ivery faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Ivery also used the name Kelly O’Donnell and did business as a literary agent. The indictment filed in U.S. District Court alleges that Ivery defrauded prospective authors from May 1997 to September 2002. She presented two different personas to her victims: herself, as publisher of Press-TIGE Publishing Company, Inc., and Kelly O’Donnell Literary Agency Inc.

“After hooking authors by advertising in Writer’s Digest magazine and on the Internet, O’Donnell would pretend to act as the author’s agent, according to the indictment. She then would tell an author how Ivery’s company would publish the book. And the requests for fees would keep coming: for publishing, editing, illustrations and extra copies, the indictment claims.

Ivery/O’Donnell promised book signings, international book fairs, complementary cruise vacations and appearances on television shows, according to the indictment. But books were rarely published and money was never returned,” the article states.

When victims began complaining, Ivery’s company field for liquidation in 2002 under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code and she later started a new company, New Millennium Publishing House Inc.

Ivery did not return calls to the newspaper for comment and her attorney declined to comment.

“Industry watchdogs say the publishing world is filled with hundreds of scam publishers. But those who know of Ivery say her work was more egregious than most,” the Albany paper reported. Some industry organizations estimate that more than 300 authors lost a total of half-a-million dollars to Ivery.

One of the victims was Lama Milkweed Augustine, a 38-year-old resident of Middleboro, Mass., who contacted Ivery in 1999 about her horror book, The Chain Saw Man. Initially, Ivery was very enthusiastic about the project but soon began asking for money.

“Augustine, who suffers from a life-threatening lung disease and other ailments and lives on a limited income, said she cut back on eating to give Ivery the money she wanted — about $6,000 over three years. Augustine said the book was never published. “She was playing on my sympathies, pretending to be a friend,” Augustine said. “She was always holding my books over my head,” the newspaper article reported.

Of course, I suppose it should be stated for the record, that Ivery is obviously assumed innocent until proven guilty.

This is a sad, sad story. Everyone remember… you should not pay any agent to read your work and you shouldn’t pay any publisher to publish your work (unless you’re going the self-publish route and you know what you’re getting into). The Association of Authors Representatives maintains a canon of ethics for member agents and it’s a good guideline for learning about what’s right and what’s wrong. Check out the Association’s website here.

Read the full newspaper article here.

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