Saturday, March 24, 2012

Did This Con-Artist Trick The Big Six Into Publishing Him?

Mitchell Graham's mugshot
Via Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware, comes the fascinating tale of Mitchell Gross, a.k.a. Mitchell Graham.

Graham is the author of five books; three fantasy novels and two mysteries.  HarperCollins publishes his fantasy series and Tor/Forge put out his mysteries.  Graham is also a felon. He swindled women he met on Jdate for millions of dollars.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution story linked above describes how Graham persuaded his girlfriend to "invest" over three million dollars with a nonexistent financial manager, how he sent her fake tax forms, and how he used her life savings to support his lavish lifestyle and pay off his ex-fiancee, who he'd bilked out of $1.4 million using a similar scheme.

But, years before he duped his lovers, he may have conned a literary agent into representing him, and HarperCollins into publishing his book.

In 2002, Graham "won" the gold medal for fantasy and the overall grand prize in the prestigious third-annual Delmont-Ross writing contest.  There was no fourth-annual Delmont-Ross writing contest, and there was never a second or a first.

Writer Beware is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' of America's scam-watching task-force.  The Delmont-Ross contest came to their attention because writers who had seen publicity about Graham's book asked SFWA about the contest, and how they could enter it.  Writer Beware found that Borders and Merrill-Lynch, the purported sponsors of the contest, had never heard of it, and there was no trace of any Delmont-Ross foundation.  Prominent sci-fi writer Ben Bova who was hired to judge the contest, told Writer Beware that Graham's manuscript was the only "finalist" submitted for his consideration.

The Delmont-Ross award was fake.  Graham made it up, so he could give his manuscript a "grand prize."  Then he sent out fake press releases, ostensibly from a Merrill-Lynch trust administrator, announcing his victory.  He also placed an announcement about the award in Locus magazine, a legitimate sci-fi/fantasy publication.

In interviews with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the online journal Writers Write, Graham claimed that he was inundated by requests for the manuscript from agents and publishers after his Delmont-Ross announcement. If he's telling the truth (which he almost never is), this con man actually got literary agents to query him!

I'm not going to muck up his agent's Google results by putting her name in this post, because she did exactly what an agent is supposed to do.  She got him a 3 book deal.  But I wonder if the agent really reached out to him based on his phony press releases, or if she was persuaded to offer representation by his grand prize in the prestigious Delmont-Ross competition.

There's no way a con like this would work today.  Agents are inundated with too many submissions to chase down the winners of writing contests they've never heard of.  And there are so many contests these days that  even legitimate awards don't carry a lot of cachet with agents.  But agents were a lot harder to get in touch with a decade ago, queries were only accepted by snail-mail, and the slushpiles were a lot smaller.  Maybe agents ten years ago were subjected to a lower concentration of insanity.  A completely phony announcement could have looked very credible, in those days, if it was placed in a legitimate publication.

Anyway, for bonus Mitchell Graham hilarity:

In this interview he claims to have corresponded at length, over a period of many years, with both C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien.

And, in this article, which Writer Beware fished out of the deep recesses of the Internet, Graham claims that Stephen Spielberg personally called him on the phone to option his books for film.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing. Personally, I've won many fake awards. Nearly in the dozens. There's the Best Damn Book Ever Written award, which I won last year. That's my favorite. The contest was of course judged by me. And my mother. ;)