Skip to Content

Literary agent steals over £500K

17 May 2010

The case of Robin Price, a Devon-based literary agent who has just appeared in court charged with stealing over half a million pounds from a number of clients, is a salutary one for unpublished authors. Over a period of several years, Price had bamboozled sums as large as £293,603 out of hopeful authors.

The renegade agent is accused of charging authors for marketing and editing their work and then pretending to send it out to publishers, whilst doing nothing of the sort. It is claimed that he used the names of published authors such as James Follett to establish his bona fide but in fact these authors had either had nothing to do with the agency or had disassociated themselves from it.

Price’s main way of extracting money from authors was to claim that their work was to be filmed and persuading them to invest in the production. He seems to have been immensely plausible and to have been so convincing that authors continued to deal with him even after his alleged frauds had been discovered. His agency also changed names to cover its tracks, from Avalon Associates/Avalon Films to Media Arts International and then Prospero Films.

American agent Martha Ivery, aka Kelly O’Donnell , managed to con 300 victims out of three-quarters of a million dollars before she too was rumbled. Her fee-charging agency passed authors on to two vanity publishers also owned by her which charged several thousand dollars to publish their books.

So, how can authors avoid the pitfalls and identify fraudulent agents? This is a particularly important question in these difficult times, when it is really hard for writers to get an agent to take them on board and writers tend to feel grateful to anyone who shows an interest in their work.

The first rule should be that no self-respecting agency is going to charge you a fee to read your work. They may be overwhelmed by more authors than they can take on, but agents have to exercise their own judgement in deciding whom to represent, and it has to be authors they believe they can sell. It’s therefore inherently fraudulent for agents to charge a reading fee, giving the impression that this will lead to preferential treatment of their work. There’s nothing wrong with charging for editorial work in itself (WritersServices makes its living from doing just that) but this should not be linked to the agent's decision to take an author on. Any established agency will not charge for this.

Finally, it’s important to make a distinction between vanity publishing, where you pay someone to publish your work, and self-publishing, where you do it yourself. You should always be sceptical about what publishers say if they ask you to pay for publication – vanity publishers tend to con quite large amounts of money out of people and then do very little to market or sell their book. You’re better of with self-publishing, which is much cheaper and keeps everything under your own control.

Publishing Scams: Six Red Flags That Scream "Rip Off"

Jonathan Clifford’s Vanity Publishing site

Writer Beware, a website sponsored by the Science Fiction Writers of America

The Robin Price case

WritersPrintShop, our self-publishing service