Agent association will look into charges of unethical conduct in thriller auction.
Although the Association of Authors' Representatives traditionally waits for an outside party to bring to its attention any charge of misconduct by one of its members, the AAR board met on June 9 and decided to refer the actions of Portland, Ore.-based agent Natasha Kern in auctioning Bruce Fergusson's thriller The Piper's Sons to its Ethics Committee. Dutton publisher Elaine Koster and v-p Michaela Hamilton had made a reported $500,000, two-book offer in the May 19 "auction," which was cancelled once they discovered that, despite Kern's intimations, it was actually the only house bidding.

Dutton has since renegotiated for just one book, at a reported one-fifth of the original price, and word has also leaked out that during the shopping process for the book, even prior to the auction, Kern misrepresented to publishers the bids on the table.

In a letter sent to members on June 9, AAR president Richard Curtis noted that the board had met to discuss looking into the matter "because of the seriousness of the allegations, and because of possible confusion concerning the AAR's position relating to those allegations."

The move will please those in the industry outraged by the incident. "I was shocked to read in PW that an agent who is a member of AAR had behaved in a totally unacceptable way in conducting an auction, and even more shocked that Richard Curtis, the current AAR president, should have made a statement condoning this behavior," fired off agent Georges Borchardt in a letter June 5. "I realize that he didn't do so in his official capacity as president of the AAR, but I think the vast majority of the organization must be as horrified as we are by what happened. I trust the board of the AAR will see to it that appropriate action is taken."

Now that action has been taken, Curtis noted that the "AAR will have no further comment on it pending further action by the Committee and the Board."