Agent Danielle Smith’s Former Clients Speak Out

From Publishers Weekly:

The children’s book publishing world has been roiling for the past week over the disclosure that Danielle Smith, the principal of Lupine Grove Creative, an agency specializing in children’s and YA authors, acted more like a literary grifter than a literary agent. Since Smith emailed a letter to her clients on July 24, confessing that recently she had “not handled a situation as well as I should have” and thus was dissolving the agency effective immediately, 19 former clients have reached out to PW, sharing tales of a pattern of malfeasance that has shaken their confidence and adversely affected their careers.

According to some former clients, she claimed to have had offers in hand that didn’t exist, such as, one author requesting anonymity disclosed, a $50,000 two-book deal. She informed others that editors had expressed interest in their submissions, but subsequently told them that either the editors had then lost interest or had outright rejected those submissions. Clients also complained about Smith’s refusal to communicate with them honestly and in a timely fashion, as well as the lack of transparency, including a reluctance to render submission lists to them upon request. Several clients allege that she even forged emails from editors and passed this correspondence along to them.

“Since this began, I and others have kept asking why, and looking for some rational explanation,” a well-known author who is knowledgeable about the situation told PW. “As more and more levels of deception are uncovered, you think, wouldn’t it have been easier to just to do the work? And of course it would have been. And the more you learn, the more all rational explanations fall away. So then I’m left wondering if the deception itself wasn’t the end game. Just the sheer thrill of getting away with it.”

The negative experiences with Smith, according to these sources, go as far back as five years, when Smith was a newly minted agent at Foreword Literary. She moved to Red Fox Literary in 2014. Smith, who was named a PW Star Watch Honoree in 2016, launched Lupine Grove in Shell Beach (San Luis Obispo County), Calif., in January 2017. Agent Jennie Kendrick joined Smith at Lupine Grove this past January.

After complaints about her surfaced on social media in the wake of that letter, Smith shut down the Lupine Grove website and deleted her social media accounts. PW has reached out to Smith for comment on the allegations, but has not received a response.

More than 60 writers whom Smith has represented at some point between 2013 and 2018 have joined a private Facebook group, where they are sharing information and commiserating with one another. While there is much speculation as to why Smith treated her clients the way she did, and the extent of the deceptions, nobody really has any answers—including Kendrick, who worked remotely from San Francisco. Kendrick says she was taken completely by surprise by Smith’s letter and has spent her time since “finding a new home for my clients.” She added, “As far as my working relationship with Danielle goes, it was professional and helpful, and she was always responsive to me and my clients, so this was just a shock all around.”

According to the former client who is referred to in Smith’s July 24 letter, who spoke with PW on condition of anonymity, Smith represented her for two years, until June. Almost a year ago, Smith claimed that she had scored at auction a lucrative two-book deal with a major house for this debut author of a middle-grade novel. “I never heard from the editor after [I] accepted the offer,” she said. “Danielle always had excuses. Eight months passed, and I saw a lawyer.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

13 thoughts on “Agent Danielle Smith’s Former Clients Speak Out”

  1. Wouldn’t these authors do better to band together to file a lawsuit instead of a Facebook group? Or better yet, involve the California AG to investigate fraud.

    • Would depend on if there’s any money left as most people sloppy/bad at one part of their job are sloppy/bad at the rest of it too. And at least the facebook group is cheaper to help find others taken for a ride.

      Just another reason to go indie, if your a/e/books are seen doing well the publishers will come to you(1) – and no non-lawyer agent middlemen are needed.

      (1. Though we’ve heard tales of them sometimes offering less than the a/e/book was making the indie in a year … 😉 )

    • Because of Tradpub Omerta. In publishing, the old line of “you’ll never work in this town again” is a very real threat. They can and do do it to people. Especially when they’re in the right. Have to protect the family.

      They’re not called the Manhattan Mafia for nothing.

      “Many of the other authors interviewed for this story echoed Romo’s fears of risking being blacklisted in the industry if they expressed displeasure with Smith. ”

      Or as pointed out by a source (anonymously, of course):

      “…the author of picture books and middle grade novels, who was represented by Smith for a year before switching to another agent, told PW that perhaps the industry should speculate less about why Smith deceived her clients and focus more on the larger issues of communication and transparency between industry professionals and authors. Recalling her own frustration with Smith’s lack of timely responses to emails, and frequent lack of response, this author—who requested anonymity—told PW that Smith’s behavior towards her clients, while extreme, is not an isolated case in terms of some agents not keeping lines of communication open.

      “For a long time, I didn’t suspect that anything was amiss, because I had experienced that kind of erratic communication with agents and editors before,” she wrote in an email. “I can’t think of another industry where this level of communication would be acceptable. But when working with agents and editors, it’s commonplace. I wonder if the fact that many agents and editors overlook common business communication etiquette (i.e., reply within a few business days), and the fact that we authors and illustrators are used to this and fear being shunned if we complain—I wonder if this created the ideal breeding ground for Danielle’s underhanded practices to go on as long as they did. Here’s hoping that the whole Danielle debacle opens a larger conversation about improving communication and transparency.”

      What an “industry”!

  2. I’m interested to see what Kristine Rusch has to say about this. This is just more evidence that agents are a gamble.

  3. My agent in the mid-Eighties got caught embezzling a six-figure romance deal. The author ended up having to write the books in that deal for free because she was contractually obligated even though the advance had been stolen. She had to fight both the publisher and the agent to have the rest of the money sent to her and not through the agent.

    This agent was shopping one of my books at the time. This book which should have been picked up fast kept getting rejected, and she couldn’t understand why. Several years later, I was talking to some editors at a conference, and they started talking about this woman. They mentioned that everyone in the NYC romance industry knew that this woman was crooked, but they couldn’t tell the authors working with her. What they did, instead, was reject all her authors. One of the editors actually mentioned my book although she didn’t know I was the author. So, that mystery solved.

    Unfortunately, I realized, after I got that book out without an agent, and nobody would touch it, that I’d somehow managed to be black-balled, too. I ended up selling it to one of the new publishers specializing in ebook and PODs. The book won most of the major awards in its subgenre and had stellar reviews. So, I was vindicated although the non-NYC publisher money was much, much poorer in those days before ebooks became so wildly popular.

    The embezzling agent went to jail for a very short term, the author never saw any of her money back, her career was tainted by this, and the agent has gone back into the business. Gotta love this business.

  4. I am not a fan of more government regulation and licensing, but in this case, I believe there absolutely should be oversight. No one should be able to just hang out a shingle to become an agent. You need a license to sell real estate. You should need a license to sell intellectual property rights. Exceptions of course for the owners of the IP.

    • There are times when government oversight is needed to protect people (and the environment, and so on). This is one of those cases. Because there’s no clear and accurate reporting about the bad actors, they just keep going on. It’s like doctors who are incompetent getting a pass, or priests who molest children being shuffled off. People get hurt, and it’s not right.

      There’s bad people in the indie world, too, and in one recent case, a lot of problems could have been avoided if people had been able to tell what they’d experienced. But everyone was afraid, so it was glossed over, and more and more people got hurt.

    • Agents have an organization called The Association of Authors’ Representatives. The AAR has a code of ethical conduct. If you are shopping for an agent, start with a list of their members.

      • That seems like asking for a Band-Aid on a cut that requires stitches. Signing a code of ethics isn’t passing a licensing exam that includes contract law and intellectual property rights, something that agents should have to do.

        THEN they get the code of ethics.

        • Publishing is a tiny industry, and there are probably more real estate agents in NYC than there are publishing agents on the East Coast. Regulation just isn’t going to happen. Authors can only educate themselves and hope they don’t end up with an agent with a good reputation who goes rogue.

  5. This story reminds me very much of how lawyers spiral downward. I have worked on the plaintiff’s side of the subsequent malpractice cases, and the pattern of deception built atop deception is the same. With lawyers, this ends up with disbarment. Hopefully, the lawyer also carried malpractice insurance, so the victims have hope for making a recovery.

    The solution is pretty much like shopping for any other service. If you need a new roof on your house, how do you choose a roofer? Most of us aren’t qualified to judge the quality of the work ourselves, and shoddy workmanship might not become apparent until years later. So you ask around your friends and neighbors. What roofer has been around a while and has a good reputation? This doesn’t work every time. Perhaps the son just took over Dad’s business, and he wants to buy a new boat more than he wants to preserve the company’s good name. But it is your best bet.

    The same is true, by the way, of choosing a lawyer.

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