Friday, June 01, 2018

Your agent employs a thief

This article in the Post made my blood run cold.

For those of you with agents, I imagine you're feeling the chill as well.

And the next question is of course: how can you guard against this kind of thing?

When you ask your agent about money if you hear anything other than "the check has been received, and your funds are on their way to you via EFT or by check #123" TAKE NOTICE.

Royalties are issued on an established schedule. That time frame is listed in your contract. If you don't get royalties make sure you see the royalty statement.

If you think you're owed money, ask your agent.
If your agent is making excuses, ask your editor.

Find authors at the same agency or publisher. Ask about their experience. If everyone from your publisher is getting paid, but no one else at your agency is, you know what the problem is.

If no one is giving you straight answers, get an accountant, and ask him/her.
Your contract should contain an AUDIT CLAUSE that allows you or your designated representative to examine the books of the publisher at least once a year. If their books are in order, you know the problem is closer to home.

How someone managed to steal this much money for so long boggles my mind.
How no one seemed to notice stymies me.

Any questions?


32 comments:

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I think something like this happened to Leonard Cohen also. Terrible.

Stacy said...

Does an author have any recourse to recover funds if money is stolen?

nightsmusic said...

Not only did this man bilk authors out of thousands, the agency feels the need to make amends which, since the books were so cooked, might very well put the agency out of business. It's abominable that after admitting what he's done, that he be released on bond. His assets should be liquidated immediately to start restitution to the agency and authors.

I will say though, if I was supposed to get at $200K advance and was put off more than 30 days, you bet I'd be on the phone to someone higher than their money man!

This is just horrible for everyone who fell prey here...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I apologize for the length of this comment right up front.

Years ago after writing op-eds for a local daily my checks never came. This was prior-computers so I wrote my editor, who happened to be the managing editor of the opinions and editorial department. He said he’d take care of it. (Crickets)
I called, he said it was a problem with the accounting department.
I wrote the acct. dept. and invoiced again and called. (More chirping)
The money? Pocket lint. But there was a principle involved and an agreement:
I write. They pay. No money. No writing.

I loved writing for that paper because it was MY paper. People knew me. I was building a small fan base. Like I have often said, no big fish scheme for me, I was a minnow in a mud puddle and I loved it. I never got paid. I moved on.

Moral of the story: Twenty years later. Soon after I moved on the editor left the paper and taught/teaches college level journalism, (he taught my daughter). In class she mentioned who her mother was, he complimented my writing in front of the entire class. She was proud, so was I.

Recently I ended up writing a column for my old paper, for two years.
They were wonderful and I never had a problem with pocket-lint again.

I can't even imagine being scammed out of big numbers. I always thought, piss off a writer at your own peril. A pen is a mighty weapon.

Gerald Dlubala said...

I read this yesterday and it was sickening. But I don't know how this went on for so long either. The importance of research in every aspect of the writing business can't be overstated.

Christine Sarmel said...

Time and trust can be a terrifying combination.

In my teen years, I worked in a small town drug store. My boss used to count down the register every morning. If it was off, Mom would shake me awake to come to the phone so my boss could ask why yesterday's count was off $.08. Cue the teenage eye roll. After I'd worked there a while, he confided that decades before, a long time employee had siphoned over 250K before getting caught. There was no way to recover the loss.

His mantra was: No matter how much you like the person, run the numbers. And that includes the one you're married to.

Kind of cynical advice for a sixteen-year-old girl, but I can't say it's been wrong.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Oh. My. God!!!!
How very scary this is!!! I hope they will sort things out, and all clients/writers will get what is theirs.

"Cooking books", can someone explain in OTHER WORDS, or confirm (sorry, non-native speaker issue), what that means?

Is it doing bad things? "Going through the books", it's not the books like novels, right, I'd guess from the context!?

I'm really nervous about the publishing process, and if I ever get close to it, I'd probably be one of the first to be tricked.

Miles O'Neal said...

This stuff really hacks me off. This guy should not be out on bail. Normally I would not freeze assets before conviction, but since he confessed, like someone said, freeze the assets and start liquidating them.

One of Us, "Cooking the books" refers to manipulating the accounting numbers (accounting was once done in physical ledgers, which were books) so that everything looks legit to everyone else, even though it's not. It can be used to embezzle or to cover up a failing business, among other things.
It can also make the numbers look bad when they're actually good, if you want to hurt a business (sheer meanness, revenge, etc.)

Karen Nunes said...

One Of Us Has To Go,

Cooking the books simplified: The practice of lying and cheating in any record of bookkeeping or financial data to steal/keep/divert other people’s money for yourself.

The books involved include any used for recording incoming/outgoing funds, such as spreadsheets and financial records. For example, the money that came in (in whatever form) to this publisher for payment to the writers ( their advances/royalties etc…) wasn’t actually paid to said writer but instead diverted/moved elsewhere, into the account of the person in charge of handling these funds.

This may not be the best explanation, but I’m still on my first cup of coffee.

Colin Smith said...

OneOfUs: "Cooking the books" means practicing some dodgy accounting where the accountant willfully misrepresents the company's finances in order to either a) help the business avoid paying money owed (e.g., taxes), or b) give themselves a cut of the business's money (i.e., steal) but in such a way that the theft is not obvious.

Colin Smith said...

So I refreshed a half-dozen times to make sure no-one else had answered OneOfUs's question. And as soon as I post my response, EVERYONE answers before me!!

Conspiracy, I tell ya... *hmff*...

Gigi said...

Will someone link to the article in question? I can't find it.

Julie Weathers said...

Gigi the link is "In the Post" in Janet's first line. Mouse over it.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Gigi, Click on the words "in the Post" in the first sentence.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Yikes!

Craig F said...

There is an old saw out there about locks are for keeping honest people honest.

I think that fits here. Keep you eyes open and head clear when it comes to money. Too many will take advantage if no one is looking over their shoulder. If you have an agent that says to call her accountant, run. Find one that cares for your money too.

Half of my travels are to make sure this isn't happening to me, so I have been there before.

BrendaLynn said...

I wonder how many first chapters were written this week with crooked agents as the protagonists?
Fortunately the mass of agents are honest.

Karen McCoy said...

Bone chilling. Best to keep eyes and ears open, as Craig said.

Whenever I hear about embezzlement, it reminds me of one story I heard in library school. My professor talked about how the books were cooked without her knowledge at one of the libraries she directed. Someone in the audience said, "Oh, no!" and without skipping a beat, the professor said, "Yes, Mr. Bill..."

Steve Stubbs said...

When I first saw this, I mis-read and thought you said your BLOG went cold.

OF COURSE the agency has a problem with thieves. Every business I ever worked in had at least one thief, and usually several. I am not surprised that agencies have trouble with thievery. I am surprised that anyone would be surprised. These people get together off site and laugh at their victims.

There is an old saying in the business world: "I had the money and he had the experience, and a year later he had the money and I had the experience."

Interesting that Philip Roth may have been a victim and that he died shortly after the thief was arrested. (His death was reported on CBS News.)

I guess I must be self-righteous because I cannot stand to be around them. I just cut off communication with one recently, not least because he wanted to make me one of his victims. They get an enormous amount of pleasure out of that.

There is no room to repeat them here, but I have read numerous stories of six figure thievery in the publshing industry.

Re the auditing clause in contracts, could someone explain how agencies that recover large amounts of money from publishers stay in business.

Katie,

"Cooking books" refers to dishonest accounting practices, not to novels. In the business world, "cooking the books" is called "creative accounting." Sign up for an accounting class and they will teach you how to do it. It is too coplex to explain here.

Lennon Faris said...

This always makes me wonder what that person was thinking. In this day and age, how can you expect to NOT get caught doing something like that? And why in the world would you consider any amount of money worth twenty years of your life??

Ugh I just don't get people's motivations sometimes. But yes, I see the point as it relates to us. Know how to monitor your own money!

Lennon Faris said...

2Ns - "piss off a writer at your own peril. A pen is a mighty weapon." Ha ha! Love that.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This is so upsetting Most writers make little enough and to have this ass-clown stealing from them.... not good.

And such a big agency. I hope the agency is able to recover for the writers what was stolen. And I wish they could get it all back from the thief but sounds like this joker already wasted all he stole. Geez.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thank you very much, all and EVERYONE, for explaining to me what the phrase/saying "cooking the books" means!

Now I am assured I don't misunderstand the article Janet linked to today's post.

Of course, Boyfriend could also explain, I'd assume, HOWEVER he's not always around when we have different things to do (and no, we do not have two phones to send text messages, we still only share one for 'economy reason' at the moment ;) ), and I was really keen to understand for sure what this was about.

So, thank you so much again 😀💜.

I don't understand either how this guy can be out for 200k. Seems like peanuts compared to the the millions he stole!

Adele said...

It's a lasting grief to me that I cannot figure out how you go about embezzling money. I feel so stupid. Everybody else seems to be able to do it. I took accounting at university and I've worked in accounting departments, but I still can't figure it out. So sad.

If you go to the very small town where my sister lives in the summer, people will take you for a walk past a certain house, explaining in hushed tones that that is the house - the very house - where the bank teller lived. The one who embezzled two million dollars from the bank. They will stand in the dusty street and contemplate the house for a while, before moving you on. The crime took place in the early 1970s, the woman did her time and moved away and I think she's dead anyway, but still you have to go look at the house.

So - the guy they've let out on bail? He's already paying for his crime. His family will pay for a long, long time.

Elissa M said...

My brother-in-law almost lost his business because a well-trusted secretary embezzled the guts out of the company.

It's funny, but usually the most trustworthy folks are the ones who insist you double-check their numbers and hire outside auditors. The minute someone gets offended that you should dare question their methods, my warning beacon goes off. "Trust, but verify" is my motto.

Steve Stubbs said...

Lennon,

What he was thinking was, "That is then, this is now." If you want to write crime, you might want to acquaint yourself with the criminal mentality. There was an interview with John Gotti Jr. on the TV show 80 MINUTES a few years ago. He said members of the Mafia accept that they are going to end up dead or in prison. They don't care. Drunks and drug addicts will tell you the same thing. They want what they want NOW. I used to work at a counseling center where we dealt with a lot of professional moochers. A phrase they used a lot was, "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it." They do not believe in sacrificing for the future.

As for how they get away with it, Webb got caught because he just could not steal enough money. He also was not connected politically or refused to cut the money with officials who could keep him out of nick.

During the 1920s there was a former altar boy named Dion O'Banion in Chicago. He stole enough to retire, but the people who kept him alive did not care about him personally. What they cared about was continuing cash flow from him to them. If he retired the cash stopped and his life stopped as well. So he was trapped. He ordered some bootleg hooch from New York and tried to stiff the wholesaler by arranging a hijacking. Someone from New York showed up to politely ask for payment. When Dion (pronounced "Dean") tried to weasel out, some friends of his showed up at his flower shop and had him kicking daisies. His employees hid in the back of his flower shop and claimed they did not see or hear anything.

As for Adele's question how to steal, study the career of "Fast Andy" Fastow, one of the scoundrels in the Enron scandal. It's all written down in books about the crime.

You don't have to be a criminal to write crime (although it helps) but you have to know the criminal mind.

Lennon Faris said...

Steve - Most crime novels I could never write. The here & now mentality is a *little* understandable. The money and power mentality isn't. I do like having enough money to eat and not be stressed. Other than that, what's the use? It doesn't make you happier.

If I were to ever write a crime novel, my criminal would covet time. Or avenge cruelty with highly unethical acts. Those things I could really get behind! Uh... I mean, in writing of course.

KDJames said...

Lack of oversight allows this. It's a good lesson for writers to learn, especially if they plan to create a company to run their writing business and hire outside help to handle finances. Educate yourself so you know how things should be done, even if you don't want to do those things yourself, and audit your own (financial) books.

My career began in international banking, where we had three different -- randomly timed and unannounced -- audit teams to deal with every year: bank auditors (who were the toughest), state auditors, federal auditors. We had to account for literally every single penny. These were federal banks, where being fingerprinted was a condition of employment. There was no theft.

Moving from that atmosphere to bookkeeping for smaller, less regulated, companies was a real eye opener. Especially family-run companies. I can't get into details, but various forms of theft occurred. It's not fun to be the one to discover and report it. I'd say the things embezzlers have in common are entitlement, a certainty that they're more clever than everyone else, and opportunity. It's not *necessarily* even about the money, although it often is. If you're an employer, you have a responsibility to eliminate that opportunity.

Dena Pawling said...


An attorney I've known for a very long time was disciplined by our state bar for “failure to supervise office staff” when her office manager stole money from her client trust account. She ended up paying restitution and closing her office. Now she does contract work for other attorneys. She's very good and I've hired her on several projects. But she no longer wants anything to do with a client trust account.

Sometimes I receive money in court, either from a client paying their fee bill, or by the opposing side making a payment on a settlement agreement. I ALWAYS take a picture of the payment and text it to my managing partner. When I got back to the office after the first time I did that, he said “why do you do that? I trust you.” I replied “and I want to keep it that way.” Occasionally, court has been really intense and I forget to tender the money once I get back to the office. If a client calls in to confirm the payment during the time I still have it, and I haven't acknowledged it by sending the text/photo, that won't look too good, will it?

It takes a LOOOOOOOOOOONG time to build a reputation as someone who's trustworthy, and only a millisecond to ruin it entirely.

I hope those authors receive their payments, and the agency recovers and makes policy changes. It's scary how long this went on without anyone saying anything.

KDJames said...

ACK!! When I said this is a good lesson for writers to learn, I did NOT mean the writers who are clients of this agency. This is awful for them, betrayed like this by their agency. I meant it's good for non-involved writers to learn second-hand this can happen, so we perhaps won't end up on the wrong side of it some day.


Stacy said...

I've been thinking about this, and I'm wondering why, in this day and age, authors wouldn't have access to tracking their finances through an app or something. I mean, I know the point of hiring someone is so that you don't have to worry about it, but you should be able to easily access whatever you want, surely? Seems like there should be more transparency.

Arthur Ecks said...

Not sure if my post went through, so...

Is it possible to have a contract that states separate checks for authors and agents?

Would an agent and/or publisher view an author who requests this in a negative light?

Thank you.