An article from Courthouse News Service (a nationwide newsletter for lawyers focusing on civil litigation) caught my eye this morning:
A retired lawyer claims he wrote a book investigating the death of Princess Diana, and his agent extorted thousands of dollars from him to market the book. Paul Anthony Spletzer...sued BK Nelson and her eponymous firm, whom he says he hired to represent him for 20 percent commission.The full complaint, which demands millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages, can be seen here.
"In negotiating her fee, defendant Nelson, when questioned by Spletzer as to why she charged 20 percent commission, which is believed to be twice as much as other agencies, replied that she, she personally, was worth it," the complaint states.
Spletzer says Nelson told him that he "would receive not less than $250,000 and probably $450,000 plus royalties for the rights" to his book by selling it as a film.
He claims she asked him to pay $4,000 so she could create a DVD trailer of "Her Necessary Death" and market the book to the entertainment industry in New York and Hollywood.
"Defendants stated that this trailer would be similar to the trailers seen on HBO or Showtime or those presented as coming attractions in movie houses ... that there would be actors presenting the theme of the work entitled 'Her Necessary Death,'" according to the complaint.
Spletzer says he received the trailer in May, but that it "is worthless."
Also noted in the article: B.K. Nelson Inc. is one of nineteen literary agencies on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List. We've been receiving complaints and advisories about the agency since 1999, including:
- A 20% commission (a handful of reputable agents do charge 20%, but the prevailing standard is 15%).
- An evaluation fee of $350, plus an additional fee of between $3.00 and $5.00 per page if the manuscript isn't finished.
- A fee of $250-400 to represent subsidiary rights at various book fairs.
- A fee of $450 to be included in a Speakers' Directory.
- A fee of $2,000 to feature an author and manuscript at BEA.
- Editing fees of as much as $4,500.
- Thousands of dollars charged to a client to produce a "professional trailer" to present to the entertainment industry. This client isn't Mr. Spletzer (I'm withholding the exact amount paid to protect the client's identity), but had a similar opinion of the trailer, describing it as something that "could have been done by a high school student."
And that's just the documented complaints.
According to the agency's website, B.K. Nelson has "a long career of helping aspiring writers achieve greatness." However, the agency's roster of "highly acclaimed clients", as well as its list of published books (whose impressive-seeming length owes much of its size to the fact that many titles are included more than once) reveals little evidence of recent sales. On websearches of names and titles, several don't turn up anywhere but Nelson's website. For others, the referenced titles are incorrect, or don't seem to exist at all under the author's name. Several clients have books with publishers no competent agent would approach, such as Eloquent Books and the now-defunct Dailey Swan. For the authors and titles that do check out, a fair number are with reputable publishers--mostly due to multiple titles by single authors--but most of the publication dates reach far back into the previous century).
EDITED 6/13/12 TO ADD: Mr. Spletzer's complaint (linked in above) bears a file stamp from the Westchester County Clerk dated September 10, 2010. However, a search of Westchester County court records shows no sign that Mr. Spletzer's complaint was ever filed with the court, and there's no record of any case in Westchester County, NY where Paul Anthony Spletzer, B.K. Nelson, or B.K. Nelson Inc. are parties.