I’m a few days off the mark in discussing this, but it seems everywhere I turn, I keep seeing more people chiming in on James Frey’s latest ploy for attention and relevance. I guess it’s my turn to toss a couple of pennies into the hat.
For anyone who might have missed it, here is the NY Mag article on James Frey’s so-called “Fiction Factory.” Specifically, a publishing company he started for the purpose of churning out bestsellers. If you’re a writer, or work in publishing, or are just morbidly curious, I highly recommend you read that article.
I remember when the big scandal erupted around James Frey back in ’06. You might remember him as the guy whose “memoir” was touted by Oprah, sold a million copies, and made him a household name. I’ve never read the book, but I have read The Smoking Gun article which exposed the real truth about events in his book. Bottom line: he made the best parts, and went on Oprah’s show to apologize. Certainly, after such a debacle, his career would’ve withered and died, right? I expected it would. I stopped paying attention to anything related to Frey.
Then I saw a link to the aforementioned NY Mag article posted on Reddit, and my indifference to the man quickly turned to scorn.
The world of publishing, like everything else on this planet, has its share of sharks, shysters, predators–any of these words is applicable. Several months ago, not long after my Kickstarter campaign began, I was approached by someone who claimed to own his own press. I was told to look him up if the Kickstarter thing didn’t work out. A week or so later, he emailed to discourage me from using Lightning Source, the printer which will fulfill print orders of ALT, TLM, and anything else for the foreseeable future. The email possessed a condescending tone, as if I couldn’t possibly have any idea what I was getting myself into. I responded politely, noting my reasons for choosing LSI, and asked him to recommend a better option–one which could match LSI’s quality, price, and distribution. He did not respond.
Later I discovered his publishing company merely outsources to CreateSpace for order fulfillment. If you’re a regular reader here, you know how I feel about them. Though I can only speculate on his intentions, it is obvious that had I gone with his offer, I would have been worse off. It was an eye-opening situation, one which shook my somewhat hippie-like desire for a world in which writers can just get along with each other. It reiterated something I already knew, and of something I apparently needed to be reminded: people will happily screw others for their own sake.
Which leads me back to Frey. I can forgive his desire to co-author and publish the next literary blockbuster. Even I dream of hitting it big, so I can’t fault him there. His pretention, while grating, doesn’t surprise me. Even though he has mud on his face from the Million Little Lies debacle, he still sold a lot of books and made a lot of money. It’s natural he’d feel like a literary badass. What infuriates me, however, is his predatory practice of scoping out the MFA programs, the graduate students who all want their big break, who wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to sign a publishing contract without reading it or consulting with an attorney.
I imagine one of these writers falling for his scheme, signing on the dotted line, and working vigilantly over the next several months on a book that would ultimately be contractually stolen from them. Sure, neither Frey’s, nor Anonymous Author’s name would go on the book, but the fact that Frey himself would own the copyright, and the real author, the one who did all the work, would be subjected to an automatic gag order under penalty of a $250k fine, is so unethical it makes my head hurt. Furthermore, it’s fucking ridiculous.
Never, under any circumstances, sign away rights to your intellectual property. Read the contract, hire an attorney if you have to, just make sure that what you’re agreeing to isn’t going to screw you (and keep screwing you). There are people, and then there are sharks. One preys on the other. This is a fact, and it’s no different in publishing.
So ends my little rant. Thanks for reading.