Full Fathom Effrontery

I first heard about this at Boing Boing and then it was picked up by John Scalzi on his blog. I’d suggest you read the original article at New York Magazine, here.

To summarize, James Frey, whose claim to fame is that he wrote what was considered a pretty good book about his life that turned out to be mostly lies and embellishments, has set up a factory for writing books; and I mean this in the sense of a 19th century sweatshop with abusive practices and slave wages. The gist of it is that he finds young, unpublished authors, pays them terrible wages and saddles them with a terrible contract with no personal rights or avenues for legal action. To quote from the article:

“In exchange for delivering a finished book within a set number of months, the writer would receive $250 (some contracts allowed for another $250 upon completion), along with a percentage of all revenue generated by the project, including television, film, and merchandise rights—30 percent if the idea was originally Frey’s, 40 percent if it was originally the writer’s. The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book but would not own its copyright. Full Fathom Five could use the writer’s name or a pseudonym without his or her permission, even if the writer was no longer involved with the series, and the company could substitute the writer’s full name for a pseudonym at any point in the future. The writer was forbidden from signing contracts that would “conflict” with the project; what that might be wasn’t specified. The writer would not have approval over his or her publicity, pictures, or biographical materials. There was a $50,000 penalty if the writer publicly admitted to working with Full Fathom Five without permission.”

I can’t even begin to say how onerous this is. No ownership of the work, no ownership of your own name, he retains all rights, can sell it to whomever he wants to, you can’t even divulge you worked for his damn sweatshop. Basically, all this guy seems to do is go around to colleges and universities and recruits naive, uninformed young writers desperate for publication and then makes them do all the heavy lifting while he gets to collect the checks.

I guess I’m fortunate that while I was studying writing as an undergraduate that the faculty at my school warned us about the scams that some self-publishing companies and “agents” participate in; reading fees and book doctoring and the like. They were honest and open and they discussed their own contractual terms and how they worked. They taught us what percentages should be expected and how it should be calculated. They taught us that we had the right to ask for an audit of sales if we thought we weren’t receiving our appropriate royalties (Something that Mr. Frey does not allow his labor pool to do.). Writing programs should be warning their students to stay away from bloviating leeches like this, not bring them in to  speak.

I’ve been out of school for a long time now. I’m still trying to break into publishing. But even at my most naive and desperate I wouldn’t have bought what this guy is offering.

I can only hope that maybe Oprah will call him out again as she famously did after it was found out that his memoir was mostly a work of fiction.

To close this out I’d like to quote James Frey writing about himself, “I am an Alcoholic and I am a drug Addict and I am a Criminal.”

Apparently he’s healed himself of the first two but he’s got a long way to go on that third one.

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