about bulletins books Maureen Johnson dot com blog f.a.q. contact community
  
 
 
 
 
scarlett fever
suite scarlett
girl at sea
devilish
13 little blue envelopes
the bermudez triangle
the key to the golden firebird
vacations from hell
let it snow
 
 

THE JAMES FREY PROBLEM

James Frey has done a bad thing, and the bad thing happens to involve a world I’ve very much a part of –the YA world. He’s gone into my old MFA program, along with several others, looking for young and hungry talent to write for him for pennies on the dollar.

Here, in a nutshell, is what happened. A few years ago, James Frey (author of “A Million Little Pieces,” the book that was claimed to be a memoir, was picked by Oprah, then turned out to be fictional, ending with an appalling session on Oprah’s couch) decided to put together a company in order to grind out YA books. The writers who sign up to this company sign mind-boggling contracts that essentially pay them more or less nothing and offer them zero protection. They might be legal, but they certainly aren’t moral. This story was busted wide open this week. You can read the full expose here, and you can read the actual contract here.

I think that for a lot of people, the initial reaction will be horror at the idea of this “fiction factory.” These sorts of things already exist, and they’re not ALL bad. I speak from experience here. This contract is completely beyond the pale.

Aside from being a huge sloppy mess, this contract is quite specifically designed to hose the writer. The only people who would sign this contract would be people who a). have no knowledge of contracts, or lack the appropriate representation to prevent them from signing such a contract, or b). are simply so desperate or desirous of signing ANYTHING that will get them published that they’d willingly hang themselves out to dry.

How bad is this hosening? Let’s look.

The contract says that the company can give you credit or not give you credit, as it desires. They can force you to write another book, or they can drop you like a hot potato, for no reason.

The contract has no audit provision. What does that mean? It means that they can pay you ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY and you just have to accept that the percentage you’re getting is the percentage you are due, and that you are getting an accurate reporting of the number of books sold. And let me tell you, even on good and honest contracts, human error is common. Companies make mistakes on their reports all the time. It’s not necessarily malicious—things just get messed up. So in James Frey world, his company could provide you with statements saying the book sold one thousand copies and that the advance was fifteen dollars, and you might know that the book has sold many thousands of copies and the advance was a hundred thousand dollars, but there would be nothing you could do about it. You will literally never be able to verify the advance the book sold for, the foreign rights deals, or the sales.

There’s a weird clause about expenses. If James Frey and Co. want to charge you $25 for every staple they use on your documents, they can do it!

I’m not a contract specialist. A contract specialist would probably go on ten times as long. I’m just giving you a few highlights.

I was asked on Twitter: “FatBaldFrank Why do u take offense at Frey’s contract? It’s one-sided, but nobody is forced to work for him, right? Just say no.”

I know where you’re coming from, Frank. I understand that no one is being forced to sign this contract at gunpoint. However, I do take offense at someone who is blatantly and knowing taking advantage of his own people—writers. People whose desire to work in publishing might blind them to the risks involved in signing on the dotted line. Or they might not understand the consequences.

There’s no point in just hand waving about how awful James Frey is, because I seriously doubt he cares. But we can draw some lessons.

The first is for aspiring writers. Don’t sign things you don’t understand. There are plenty of organizations that can help you, such as the Author’s Guild. For people who know the risks but are tempted to sign anyway . . . I’ve been in your position. I know it’s a hard call. But agents can help protect your from predators. There were times, back when I was getting started, when I was offered arrangements that were clearly awful, but they paid, and they offered “a shot.” The person who would later be my agent encouraged me to turn them down, and I did. It was hard at the time, but I have never once regretted those decisions. I celebrate them. Seek good counsel and listen to that counsel. Things that look too good to be true usually are, and uncredited projects with shady paperwork . . . well, those things don’t generally end well. Read this article and take notes.

The second thing is directed at those who run MFA writing programs.

MFA students have probably been hosed already. I’ve written about this topic before. I went to Columbia, where he pulled many of his writers, including the writer of “I am Number Four.” I know how much it costs. I know the sacrifices people make to go there. I still pay Columbia about $800 every month in student loans. I’m one of the few people I know paying off my MFA by working in the profession for which I was trained. If you’re in an MFA program, you’re probably already on the hook for a lot of dough, so if you see a job opportunity in writing, you’ll take it.

I’m going to go one step further and call Columbia and all writing MFA programs on the carpet here—if you don’t offer your students a class or seminar in the business of writing, you should be ashamed. They didn’t offer them when I was there, and I don’t think that’s changed. (If it has, please correct me at once. I’d love to be wrong about this point.)

Look, MFA programs, stop being so snobbish. You’re not making your students better artists by sending them out into their fields with NO KNOWLEDGE of the business side of things. You’re leaving them vulnerable to bad deals, and putting them into a position where they can be taken advantage of. You set up the conditions in which your artists end up slaving away because they didn’t know any better than to sign on the dotted line. You make this James Frey situation possible. Devote a few weeks to teaching your students some survival skills. After all the money you’ve taken from them, they’re going to need to know how to make some more.

In the article, James is quoted as saying, “Andy Warhol’s Factory is an example of that way of working. That’s what I’m doing with literature.”

You’re no Andy Warhol, James. He liked his money as much as you do, and he would probably have had a good and appreciative laugh over the comparison, but you haven’t got his style or his wit. Andy Warhol said cool stuff like, “I like boring things” and “It would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Liz Taylor’s finger.” He got why it was funny to make paintings of money and then sell them off. The old shyster had class. You got yelled at by Oprah.

He also said, “I’ve decided something: Commercial things really do stink. As soon as it becomes commercial for a mass market it really stinks.” And when you find a Nico or a Lou Reed or a Candy Darling or a Billy Name or even a Valerie Solanas, then we can revisit the issue.

I realize that a lot of people will say, “But look at all the money he is making! Surely, he must have talent!” Talentless people make money ALL THE TIME. Do you know who’s writing a book now? Snooki. Money is no measurement of talent—it’s a measurement of money. This system isn’t James Frey’s fault. He’s not that important. And unlike Andy, he’s not going to develop the new Velvet Underground—more like Milli Vanilli.

But because he set out to deceive and abuse, on behalf of the YA community, I’d like to politely invite him to blow it out his ear.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Slashdot
  • StumbleUpon
  • Print
  • FriendFeed

Posted: Saturday, November 13th, 2010 @ 6:42 pm
Categories: bad ideas, danger, life lessons, rants.
Subscribe to the comments feed if you like. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

99 Responses to “THE JAMES FREY PROBLEM”

  1. Ceilidh Says:

    Preach it.

    What really got to me beyond all this crapola that you’ve already covered so well is that he seems to think that teenagers are idiots who don’t deserve anything beyond the same old stuff he churns out got profit. I also had to laugh at the way he said publishers were afraid of radical ideas. Mr Frey – Vladimir Nabokov was a radical and you are not Vladimir Nabokov.

  2. Louisse Says:

    This is a wonderful blogpost and I really think James Frey shouldn’t reach out for things we know he can’t have. He’s a great writer (I’ve read I Am Number Four) but I think he’s pushing it. I mean, seriously? He’s comparing his idea with Andy Warhol’s? That’s just ridiculous. And the fact that he’s using these people’s desperation to rip them off is very unfair. Where’s the just in that? I’m glad YA authors are making a stand for this problem.

  3. John H Says:

    I’m really rooting for I Am Number Four to crash and burn over this, both the book and the movie. Let everyone associated with this sleaze lose their shirts. Truly disgusting…

  4. Annie Sisk Says:

    Testify. I was enthralled by the NY Mag expose, and get deliriously insane when I read crap such as his comparison of himself to Warhol, or how he dares mention his name in the same sentence with names like McCarthy, Miller… and the simple fact is he doesn’t get it. He’s now angry that he apologized for his bullshit story about AMLP. He’s like PT Barnum, now prowling around MFA campuses looking for the next sucker. Be warned. (Oh, and kudos to you for calling out the programs. That is entirely appropriate, if not long overdue.)

  5. Nova Says:

    Thank you, Maureen. Great post. I hope James Frey reads it.

    Also: I, too, am a Columbia MFA grad. I don’t know if you and I overlapped, but when I was there we had _no_ classes on the business of writing either, beyond cocktail evenings where we got to hear elusive literary agents talk about what they’re looking for. I had no worldly idea what I was getting myself into trying to become a writer — and a YA writer at that — from going to Columbia, that’s for sure. I just wrote a whole blog post about how my own desperation in the past might have led me to say yes to what James Frey is offering… and how frightening that realization is.

    Perhaps it’s changed at Columbia. For the students’ sake, I hope so. Perhaps this should be forwarded to that alumni list.

  6. genecawley Says:

    I read the entire contract and while I can sort of understand why a hungry writer would sign it, I think Frey is the worst kind of parasite there is. He worsens the insult by having the nerve to evoke Warhol’s name as a way of saying “C’mon kids, it’s cool to be swindled by a writer more famous than yourself.”

    Thanks for calling this out, Maureen.

  7. NeuroMan42 Says:

    AMEN!!!

  8. Joanna Farrow Says:

    You know, this sound like a really rotten version of children’s book packager. Some publishers package in house, and I feel like I must say that there are legitimate book packagers – I’ve worked in the children’s book packaging – like Working Partners and Hothouse Fiction in the UK. No, you may not agree with the method of a ‘fiction factory’, but when you have the right team of editors and writers they can turn out some decent and marketable books, especially for younger readers. Now, I am in no way defending Mr Frey (his approach is wrong and his contracts unfair), but we can’t take down packaging as a whole because it is a business and while writing is art art, publishing is not. We need to not confuse the two. (Or maybe I’ve become too jaded from working in the industry…). Hmmmm…

  9. John H Says:

    You would think Columbia would be interested in seeing their alumni succeed, but since they already got their money perhaps they aren’t so worried about it…

  10. Lee Says:

    The contract is unbelievable. What’s also disturbing is his outlook/approach to YA fiction! I’m a first year MFA student, and as far as I know, there’s nothing offered at my school – no course, no guest lecturer or anything – on the business side of of writing. This is disappointing!

  11. Will Entrekin Says:

    I really liked this, Maureen. You write well and cogently about writing.

    You get to a real issue toward the end, which I think addresses a real issue. What Frey’s doing–and the fact that Snooki has a novel coming out–is highlighting a greater root issue within what has traditionally been known as the publishing industry. Once upon a time, it worked. In ways, it will continue to–

    but forget all that. For now, what you mention about business and contracts is important. Writers NEED that knowledge.

    One note, however: knowledge is empowering. I think writers who start learning more about business and publishing and contracts will start to do more on their own. I think this is becoming more acceptable, but there’s still a ways to go.

  12. Glossaria Says:

    Go, MJ! I’m in a different biz– I’m a professional librarian– and I bless my alma mater monthly for requiring a business class in management so we’d understand the personnel/money side of our job. (Go Big Blue!)

    As for Frey, I think you’re giving him way too much credit by saying that writers are “his own people.” Frey’s “own people” are liars and con artists, and this latest dodge only affirms that.

    _I Am Number Four_ might have been a decent read… but then, he didn’t write it, did he? :D

  13. Suzanne Says:

    I think maybe you misspelled that last word. I think it is R-E-A-R.

    thanks for the valuable post and for saying, so eloquently as always, what desperately needed to be said.

  14. Elizabeth Kaylene Says:

    What a scumbag. Thanks for calling out the programs, though, because you’re right: they have a responsibility to teach their students how to sniff out a bullshit contract or offer. (Look at the whole Daryl Sedore mess.) It’s a shame that people will take advantage of writers who love what they do.

  15. lisha cauthen Says:

    It isn’t his ear James Frey should be blowing it out of. The arrogance. The disrespect to the writers and the readers. Argh.

  16. Laura Says:

    You’ve put this in better words than all of my rage could express. (Personally, I can’t understand why any publisher would want to touch Frey- oh, wait. Money. How could I forget.)

    And I agree about MFA programs offering business-emphasis classes. (Note, I don’t have a MFA, but I am trying to become published.) A lot of the stuff I know about the publishing business I learned through stuff like Publisher’s Weekly or through author blogs.

  17. Barbara Caridad Ferrer Says:

    Testify, sister.

    He is such a monumental cheeseweasel.

    Just because he squishes around a grad school classroom in his socks doesn’t mean he’s the next harbinger of cool.

  18. June Says:

    I feel so badly for Jobie Hughs, who I understand is the primary writer of I AM NUMBER FOUR. He’s obviously very talented and now his work may be tainted because Mr. Frey finds himself in yet another unsavory situation.

    Lord, protect the innocent.

  19. Mike Hays Says:

    Thanks for the post MJ.
    Jame Frey you are absolutely wrong. Your POS viewpoint on young adults is completely off. The kids are smarter than you. They will figure you out and expose you for being the artistic equivalent of Barney. And you have to look in the mirror every day and be reminded of your lack of talent. You may make a few dollars leaching off talented, desperate writers, but at the end of the day they will still be talented writers and you will still be you.

  20. Adam Rakunas Says:

    In James Frey’s defense, he was probably lying about being on drugs when he came up with that contract.

  21. Dawn Says:

    Ok I’m going to be the devils advocate here. I have a whopping associates degree from a community college and I think common since would have kept me from signing a huge contract like this without having a expert looking it over. You have the brains and money to go to a prestigious school like Columbia well then I don’t feel to sorry for you for making a bad buisness deal. Is what Mr Frey doing questionable? Sure it is, but I would find it a lot more immoral if say he was targeting a high school English class.

    I’ve read I am Number Four and thought it was a decent book. I feel bad for the author that he was not getting the credit he deserved (he is now though huh?) but I just can’t say I feel like he was duked. Sorry!

  22. pericat Says:

    I have not heard of an MFA program that offers its students courses in the business side; this was a point of contention when I was a grad student, and I don’t guess anything has changed. 

    But to speak to the people who say, “No one’s holding a gun to their heads,” the underlying assumption is that the newbie talent actually knows, or can reasonably be expected to know, what a fair publishing contract looks like.  Stuff like the audit clause you mention. Who, not experienced in publishing or producing work on an independent partnership basis, would even think that something so essential is missing? You don’t notice missing things, unless you’ve worked enough to know what should be there.

    Warhol, and Barnum too, may have been able to excuse some of the faster and looser ways they brought new people into the business, on the grounds that they actually treated those people as apprentices toward whom they had a duty of care, whose eventual independent careers were something to nurture rather than leech off of and sabotage. This Frey person is the worse kind of scammer

  23. Cami Checketts Says:

    I’m sure lack of knowledge plays into it but I think it’s mostly desperation to be published. Thanks for sharing this, spreading the word will definitely help.

  24. OneJillian Says:

    This is such a perfect rant. It has heart, style, INFORMATION, links, and a conclusion that is not just vicious, but actually level-headed (and in my opinion generous).

    I hope writers he hasn’t hooked yet and those who know nothing about this exploitation choose to hoof it for a few more months or even years as a barista and wait for a REAL opportunity to shine.

    Especially with the digital publishing industry crashing into the literary market.

  25. Sass Says:

    Parasites like James Frey should be banned from coming within ten miles of the publishing industry, or anywhere in the world containing decent people.

    I’ve read the contract. I stayed up until 2:30 am this morning reading the contract, and becoming steadily more horrified that such a thing was even possible. I’m a bookseller, not a writer, so it doesn’t affect me personally, but I want to break into publishing someday, and beside that Mr Frey is actively seeking to harm the YA world which I love.

    I was leery of I am Number Four from the second that I heard Mr Frey was connected with it, and now that I know *how* he is connected, I will be actively discouraging people from buying or reading it or anything else from Full Fathom Five.

  26. pete275 Says:

    A lot of other similar industries (like music, audiovisual stuff (tv, movies), videogames) have practices like this, and they’re kind of standard. Is this really that bad, or is everyone just exaggerating their reaction so that book writing remains this activity where the author is over-glorified and then given money for doing nothing for eternity? I’m not saying this contract is totally fair, but I think that these reactions to it are not entirely honest.

    Also, I don’t know who “Snooki” is, but are we judging her book in the future? not only we haven’t read it yet (which is something that we criticize about book banners all the time), but the book doesn’t even exist!

  27. Jenn Says:

    #32 is for you.

    http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/node/3862733

  28. Maureen Says:

    To Pete275

    “A lot of other similar industries (like music, audiovisual stuff (tv, movies), videogames) have practices like this, and they’re kind of standard. Is this really that bad, or is everyone just exaggerating their reaction so that book writing remains this activity where the author is over-glorified and then given money for doing nothing for eternity? I’m not saying this contract is totally fair, but I think that these reactions to it are not entirely honest.”

    I’m aware of this, and have done this kind of work myself. This contract is at its heart fraudulent. As for your comments about the “author being over-glorified and given money for doing nothing for eternity” . . . this implies (no offense) little to no understanding of how publishing works. Writers are VERY RARELY over-glorified. Most are lucky to make a living. You deserve to be paid for what you do. And you don’t get paid “for all eternity.” In the United States, authors maintain copyright during their lives and a period of 70 years after their deaths. Say what you like, but that’s not eternity.

    “Also, I don’t know who “Snooki” is, but are we judging her book in the future? not only we haven’t read it yet (which is something that we criticize about book banners all the time), but the book doesn’t even exist!”

    Pete, you probably should have researched this one before you commented. Google Snooki.

  29. Queen Louise Says:

    One of my all time favorite authors, James Patterson, has an “university” where he takes promising writers under his wing and teaches them to write novels. Mr. Patterson then gives them a bi line on the novel and sets them up to write more. Have never seen what this contract looks like, but I can bet it is nothing like Frey’s. I mention this to offer an example of how this might work – if Frey was honest, morally sound and not “in it” for himself.

    Maybe there is a bright side to this: Once the teens of this world find out Frey is a “wanna be”, they will tear him apart. They don’t like posers.

    Thanks for sharing!

  30. Kathy Quimby Says:

    Excellent post, summarizing an issue had me seeing red, as in flags. To my knowledge, Champlain College, where I am an adjunct, is one of the very few places to offer students in its writing program (an undergraduate program) a course in “Practical Freelancing,” which covers issues like contracts and a fair amount about the business of writing for a living. I agree, it should be offered in all MFA programs.

  31. Amanda Bonilla Says:

    Great post! Makes me appreciate my agent all over again! There were times when I started writing that I would have done almost ANYTHING to get an agent, get published, get OUT THERE. Now I know that the only way to do it is through working hard, focusing on improvement and persistence. I hope that Frey crashes and burns and these young writers show him that they’re not so easily manipulated.

  32. Courtney Milan Says:

    I actually bought a copy of I AM NUMBER FOUR before I heard about this kerfuffle, and I am going to be returning it. I don’t normally–EVER–do that with books, but in this case I don’t want Frey to get a penny.

  33. Shiloh Walker Says:

    WTG…The best thing writers can do is keep posting things like this-make sure the aspiring writer realizes this ISN’T how it’s supposed to be done and that they are worth more than this. Frey can shove his idea up his tail sideways.

  34. Ashlie Swainston Says:

    I also had intended to buy I Am Number Four, but now I’m so glad I didn’t-he doesn’t deserve a cent. What a scumbag. It upsets me from a reader’s perspective because I agree: everyone deserves to be paid for their work. If I have interest in a particular author, I find happiness in purchasing their books because they worked hard to complete the project. Even if the author is new, they worked hard putting their first project together in hopes that people like me will enjoy them. James Frey is using people to increase profits. He might call it fiction, but I call is fraud.

    Thank you for being concerned about this. i don’t think enough of the “right” people are.

    Ashlie

  35. Victoria Says:

    I bought a copy of this book too. Shame, it read like a horribly plain 7th grade book but I had decided not to return it, simply because I thought I’d like it better with the movie coming out. (Put faces to the names, etc.)

    I’d read something before that James Frey was the CO-author of this book, but that he uses aliases so that people won’t associate the books with him, due to the memoir scandal. Now he’s apparently is NOT a even a co-author, and he’s getting most of the money while the real author is getting cheated simply for being naive and trusting. This is just disgusting.

    I’m a writer, not “professionally”, it’s more of a hobby, but I get it. When you write, you’re putting yourself into the page. Having people not even know who you are, let alone be associated with your own work would be devastating.

    People are saying it’d be common sense not to accept/have someone look the contract over, but when faced with an offer in writing in this recession and with a college/university loan to pay, who wouldn’t at least consider it? It’s such disappointing story.

    PS, thank you for explaining this + writing out such a well-said post.

  36. Bailey Says:

    If Snookie makes even ONE DOLLAR on a book I will vomit.

    And I’ll then want to spend more money on books to support TALENTED writers who deserve it.

    Sometimes our society is disgusting.

  37. Tara Lazar Says:

    Thanks for this, Maureen.

  38. Debra Says:

    I imagine Frey is at least clever/devious enough that the irony of naming his company Full Fathom Five, a line from a play that is in part about indentured servitude, is not lost.

    The sad fact is that academia, particularly the humanities, gives us few practical skills and defenses, although in my program, one of my profs had previous MA/MFA students come tell us what life after graduation was like, and while life as an adjunct is rough, we certainly don’t deserve to be preyed on by folk like Frey.

  39. Dottie Says:

    James Frey is a fraud, his writing, his ‘company’, and probably every endeavor in his entire life will have fraud involved. He leaves this creepy feeling of slime on everything he touches.

    Sadly, there are people out there you will be tempted in their desperation to be published, who will fall for the hook.

    Thanks for sharing the next sham in this guy’s life. Everyone should be wary.

  40. Marie Rutkoski » Journal » What’s Wrong with James Frey Says:

    [...] writers who are probably desperate to publish. Maureen Johnson has written a judiciously scathing blog about this, and the full expose on Frey is here. Thanks to Robin Wasserman for the [...]

  41. pete275 Says:

    Maureen,

    I’m not saying authors don’t deserve recognition or compensation (forever) for their work, but for example, do you know the name of the person who made your lunch? do you pay a fee to the person who created your chair every time you sit on it for the next 70 years? “You deserve to be paid for what you do” is very vague. If you write a book in, say, 6 months, do you get paid for 6 months of work and then you have to find another job, or do you get paid for the rest of your life? (I agree, “for all eternity” would be too easy) That is (in my opinion) an acceptable range for “paid for what you do”, and this contract is heavily on one side of that range, and it sucks. So my point is: the reaction to this reads like “how dare they treat *authors* like this, it’s insulting”, when in reality it should be “hey, we have this system, and we’d like to keep working like this because it’s good for us, so consider yourself discouraged from trying to pull this”. I get it, nobody wants to have to work more for less money, and nobody wants to get less recognition for their work, but this reaction is so transparent, it’s ridiculous. Everyone is pretending like this is completely unheard of in the history of hiring creative people. Anyone can
    see through it.

    “Google Snooki.”

    I will after her book comes out.

  42. Allison Says:

    “The old shyster had class. You got yelled at by Oprah.”

    LOVE IT. Thanks, Maureen, for your thoughts on the situation. I think it’s so AWESOME to be a part of this YA community of writers and readers on the internet. I learn so much from everyone here.

  43. Shelli C Says:

    Maureen,

    I just got in from a weekend revision retreat. During lunch yesterday, one of the participants said she’d like to go into college creative writing programs and give seminars on the business end because she got no education in how to become a writer, only how to write. Some of those students are very young when they go through those programs. You’re right: They’re vulnerable. And James Frey is despicable.

  44. Victoria Says:

    Having read up on the issue a bit, I agree fully that what Frey is doing to young authors is despicable, but I’ve seen a lot of people now pulling for “I Am Number Four” to crash and burn and I feel that raises a few questions. Would the book and potential movie franchise performing poorly really teach Frey a lesson? And even more so, wouldn’t the book/movie doing poorly ultimately continue to harm the already under appreciated author? Wouldn’t it be more effective for readers and fans to instead loudly demand that Frey give Lore his due?

  45. Margritte Says:

    I would really like to hear Columbia’s justification for bringing in Frey and whether or not they had any knowledge of his interest in contracting with their current students…I smell a rat.

  46. Above the Frey « An Exaltation of Larks Says:

    [...] [...]

  47. Zara Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! James Frey is a horrendous excuse for a human being.

  48. Magazine writer Says:

    Way to go! A similar situation happened in the magazine biz and first NA rights quickly became all rights, including e-rights, forever–and some companies made their past (fair) contracts retroactive. And I totally think that ALL writing degrees (including a BA in Journalism or Creaive Writing, etc) should come with some information on contracts, marketing, etc. So many writers consider themselves “artistes” who think worrying about money is crass and declasse–but look at what happened to the Beatles, Rolling Stones and al these other artists who needed a course in Business 101.

  49. AudryT Says:

    “After expenses” is a Hollywood thing. It means they don’t have to pay you your percentage until they’ve covered all their own costs first. And they can come up with an endless lists of costs to cover first, assuring that you will never see a dime of your 40%.

    This is like a Hollywood WFH contract, only sleazier and with so little pay, even typewriting monkeys would be too insulted to sign it.

  50. AudryT Says:

    Regarding Snooki, many books “by” people who can’t write are written by ghost writers, who more often than not CAN write and have bills to pay, just like the rest of us. Buying the books of famous people who can’t write still supports publishing companies, their employees, and the ghost writing community.

    Personally, I’m hoping Snooki’s book brings in a boat-load of money that the publisher can turn around and spend on new (but not so famous) authors with promising first novels.

  51. John H Says:

    pete275 @41: “do you pay a fee to the person who created your chair every time you sit on it for the next 70 years?”

    No, but the factory that produces those chairs gets paid for each chair sold, as does the writer for each book sold. This is how it’s supposed to work.

    The difference in the contract Frey is offering is the writer gets a pittance ($250-$500 – for your typical novel-length book that is well below $.01 per word which is a crappy rate) with the promise of royalties, but no way to challenge if Frey decides not to pay any.

    Before speculating if the outrage is genuine or manufactured, perhaps you should educate yourself on the subject at hand first.

  52. James Frey | writing factory | David Maybury | Blog Says:

    [...] Satan has a name. And that name is James Frey – or so says Maureen Johnson. [...]

  53. Brieana Says:

    I actually think that James Frey is a talented writer. Looved A Million Little Pieces and I didn’t give a damn that it was fictional rather than memoir. That is besides the point, though.

    At any rate, yes this is all very messed up and I think that it’s great that you wrote on the subject. You probably saved many aspiring writers from making bad deals in the future.

  54. Provisions Library » Blog Archive » James Frey Is A Crook Says:

    [...] Johnson has penned an excellent screed in reaction to the whole affair. She stands up for the poor souls who ended up signing these [...]

  55. Book Things « Tiny Cat Pants Says:

    [...] following James Frey’s latest nonsense, right? If not, here’s the New Yorker story and one take and another. This does feel very con-artisty to me, but the things that bother me are (in no order) [...]

  56. Kaia kommer hem » Blog Archive » Det är bara NaNo en månad om året! Says:

    [...] och NaNoWriMo i veckan. Det blev lite begravt av James Frey-dramat, som ni kan läsa mer om hos Maureen Johnson (aka hon som räddade en tonåring från självmordsdöd via Twitter), orkar inte ta i det. Plus, [...]

  57. adele griffin Says:

    excellent post, really clear and cogent. hope frey falls on his specially-detailed-for-merchandising plutonium sword on this one. he is not only robbing young hungry writers of their money and rights, but the incalculable value of a positive early writing experience.

  58. kt literary » Blog Archive » Ask Daphne! About Book Packagers Says:

    [...] would anyone sign that wretched contract? Or, more fully, on reading the brilliant and pithy Maureen Johnson’s post on the subject, why would ANY writer work with a book [...]

  59. Online no one can hear you scream « Caitlin Kittredge Says:

    [...] All of this, of course, pales in comparison to the whole James Frey author-factory-expose thing, which if you’re an author or an interested reader of books, you can find out all about here. [...]

  60. allreb Says:

    All I can think is that this guy is to fiction what Lou Perlman (impresario behind basically every late 90s boyband) is to pop music. He takes advantage of the voices of young folks desperate to make it in a tough industry, controls everything they do, and cuts them out of the money they deserve.

    Lou Perlman’s empire collapsed and he’s now, deservedly, in jail. Just sayin’. Fingers crossed.

  61. The Book Muncher Says:

    That’s absolutely disgusting! Thanks for writing about this. I read I Am Number Four and heard rumors that James Frey was partially behind this, and now I’m really upset for the actual writer.

  62. Boycott James Frey « Amy writes… Says:

    [...] The James Frey Problem [...]

  63. Bruce Holland Rogers Says:

    I teach in an MFA program that was founded by writers, for writers, without association with any university or college. Because we built the program from the ground up based on what writers needed, one of our core courses is The Business of Writing.

    We’re a low-residency program, and students get at least five doses of The Business of Writing during their residencies. The course is taught by agents, editors, working writers, illustrators, independent publishers, and anyone else the faculty can find with the appropriate expertise and willingness to travel to the Puget Sound. Our graduating seniors also take a pitching class that is co-taught by an editor/publisher and an agent.

    The program is the Whidbey Writers Workshop of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. We’ve been around since 2006, are fully accredited, and have a growing list of published graduates…not that publication should be the only yardstick for artistic success.

  64. Ypulse Essentials: ‘RED’ Comes To The Stage, James Frey’s Fiction Factory, The Return Of Kin | Ypulse Says:

    [...] out YA novels. Apparently it's the publishing equivalent of a sweatshop — Maureen Johnson explains why. Feel free to cleanse your mental palette afterward by checking out the NaNoWriMo Young [...]

  65. Friends don’t let friends James Fey… « RKB Writes Says:

    [...] on several author's blogs, first post from John Scalzi then a follow up post to the MBA Programs, Maureen Johnson, Caitlin Kittredge and a slew of other people is about what James Fey is peddling this [...]

  66. The Value of Stories | Filling Spaces Says:

    [...] (which is still smoking, I think), and don’t miss his open letter to MFA writing programs, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan, to which I can add nothing except many [...]

  67. Business lessons « Eric Gregory Says:

    [...] all a big pile of skeeze, and Maureen Johnson and John Scalzi both nail it to the wall, but as a current MFA student, what really interests me [...]

  68. Motivation… ah dammit. Tuesday again | Solelyfictional Says:

    [...] if you’re doing an MFA course and don’t know any better. Maureen Johnson blogs about it here, and Scalzi here. If you ever want an example of a perfectly legal way to screw writers over [...]

  69. Of Asshats, And Money, And The Immorality Thereof « shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows Says:

    [...] sleazy contracts being pimped by his company, Full Fathom Five; writer Maureen Johnson’s take on said asshatery (spoiler: it involves criticism!); Lili Wilkinson’s POV and a redux by [...]

  70. Arianna Says:

    Thank you for this. I read the New York Times article and was upset by it. I dislike Fray’s outlook on YA literature, that it’s something that can just be churned. There’s plenty of that already. At the Boston Book Festival, I heard Kristin Cashore speak, and she described getting a book published as a very long process, and if you don’t love your book you won’t stick with it. You can’t just write something because it’s popular at the moment, although, as we see, people do, but it’s often not very good.

    I was especially upset by one of the plots of a proposed book from Full Fathom Five described as ““high-school revenge project” in which “four girls from separate cliques at a high school discover they’ve all been date-raped by the same guy and team up to plot vicious revenge.” I would hate for such a serious issue to be in the hands of a company whose soul goal is making a profit.

  71. Let’s Keep It Real | HTMLGIANT Says:

    [...] you’re a sentient adult who signs this contract you get what you get. Writer Maureen Johnson weighs in on the more troubling aspects of that contract. John Scalzi writes an open letter to MFA programs [...]

  72. Collette Says:

    This really gets me mad. He acts like he can just trick us! He needs to learn that these people will do it because they want something.

    I, for one, though only thirteen, dream of getting published one day. Stories like these scare me. I don’t want to be tricked and I don’t want to sign something as bad as this.

    You know, my mom read A Million Little Pieces. I thought it was supposed to be good and was going to read it.
    I see this and that will never happen. Not now. Not ever.

  73. Martha Says:

    It’s sad how arts’ colleges don’t prepare kids for the art business. I wish to become a graphic designer but I had to skip over several very prominent arts skills because when I asked the recruiter’s what type of industry training they had it was all about galleries. And you can’t make money that way!

    All the arts colleges I’m applying for have classes in business, branding, and promotional art. Skills that are useful in the modern art world.

  74. Interesting Writings for My Kid’s Sick Day « The Open Window Says:

    [...] http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/2010/11/13/the-james-frey-problem/ [...]

  75. Peter Says:

    As far as MFA programs that are good with this kind of thing, Emerson College in Boston is ALL ABOUT the business aspect of writing. The business aspects of all art, in fact. I’m pretty sure their Creative Writing MFA actually requires a course just called “Book Publishing.”

  76. Don’t Sign On The Dotted Line | Says:

    [...] Posted on November 18, 2010 by bloggitivity By pure chance I stumbled across a recent blog entry by Maureen Johnson, of who I know little more than that she is an author, is writing in the [...]

  77. Will Entrekin Says:

    I earned the MPW at USC, which is MFA equivalent. Over two years, I took courses including Survey of Professional Writing, which required us to research markets (and demonstrated how crappy they’ve become); Literary Marketplace, which concerned the actual practice of publishing; and Business of the Business, which concerned business plans, marketing schema, etc.

    As far as I know, those sorts of classes are rare in graduate-level creative writing programs. Which is unfortunate, because those are precisely the sorts of classes writers need.

    As I allude up above, though, I think writers who educate themselves about business practices will begin to realize how little sense most of the publishing industry makes, as a business, and will feel more empowered to go the course themselves.

  78. james frey: still a piece of work « The Imaginal Realm Says:

    [...] Some wonderful insight on Frey’s shenanigans from Nova Ren Suma and Maureen Johnson. [...]

  79. jane Says:

    aren’t you a former alloy employee?

  80. Maureen Says:

    No, I’m not.

  81. Jess Tudor Says:

    I got an agent this month and was interviewed for QueryTracker’s Success Stories. One of the questions asked if I have any formal training in writing.

    I said that while I DO have a BA in CW, it’s nothing that diligence and the Internet can’t teach you.

    I also contacted my alma mater to schedule talks for students about the business of publishing since I knew more about it than any of the profs while I was still IN the program, let alone now. They need reality checks, and it’s the biggest complaint I’ve heard from my peers in the programs.

    That Frey could get away with this at a place like Columbia is disgusting. They should be ashamed for being his hunting grounds.

  82. Byrt’s weekly blog ramble (11/19) Says:

    [...] Maureen Johnson takes on the James Frey situation (and here’s the contract she’s talking [...]

  83. Meg Cabot - Combating the Crazies Says:

    [...] author James Frey started his own “YA book factory” (read author Maureen Johnson’s recap here to find out why this is crazy). And three—THREE—insanely good movies coming out in ONE weekend? [...]

  84. To Read Or Not To Read « NerdGirlBlogging Says:

    [...] [...]

  85. LibraryChristi Says:

    I’m a bit behind on my blog reading, so I’m just now responding to this…

    Just thought you’d like to know that I had an ARC of I Am Number Four and not one of the teens in my book group wanted to take it home. I think that they could see right through it!

  86. Robert Says:

    For the person who liked A Million Little Pieces and credits Frey for it, please read this excerpt from a previous expose of Frey. He is just a con man, lying and stealing his way to make as much money as he can so he can buy up art to put on his walls. Sadly, he’s now lying and cheating young hopeful writers. I’m glad some of you are exposing him yet again.

    And note how he loves his stupid puns, just as with the name of his new company.

    “Frey got those anecdotes the no-risk way: he stole them from a real druggie/criminal author. A much better and more honest one, a guy named Eddie Little-specifically, Frey looted Little’s great debut novel, Another Day in Paradise.

    I owe my friend Ruth for handing me Little’s novel. I’d never heard of it when she suggested I check it out. If you think truth in writing is rewarded by fame and money, that might seem weird, because Little was not only a much better writer than Frey but unquestionably the real thing. I say “was”: because Eddie Little died the way real addict/crims do: he OD’d in a sleazy LA hotel room a few years ago. That’s authenticity, the kind you pay for.

    Little wrote a column called “Outlaw L.A.” that ran when Frey was living in LA writing bad movies (eg Loving A Fool). I think Ruth’s hunch was right: Frey, like the thief and conman he is, read Little’s column, then his book, and started stealing. Naturally, he cut the key element of Little’s books: the unhappy endings. The fake transformations suckers demand.”

    http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=7994

  87. Illy Says:

    hey did any1 ever notice that this website haz a freeky color change thing wen u look at it on a laptop? wen u lean it back the pink turns to like a deep bloody red and then wen u lean it forward ilz like an electiric purple-ish tyoe color… WEIRD

  88. Nicole Says:

    It’s really weird that I just found this post because I was just talking to my friends about this the other day. Frey’s dad is a professor at my school and I guess he got a lot of crap from students when the whole Million Little Pieces/Oprah thing happened. I wonder what he thinks about THIS issue…

  89. Kat J. Says:

    What use is a MFA if you can’t treat your writing as a – well – a business?

    With all the changes in publishing, you are better off getting the MBA and minoring in English.

    I never tried to major in English or any of the FA programs. I took computers because I wanted to make a decent living. The whole ’starving artist’ lifestyle is over rated.

  90. Jen Says:

    I wrote a novel that I have copyrights on… So similiar it makes me want to throw up. Same female character, same town, school etc…

  91. In other movie news… | Colleen's Shelf Life Says:

    [...] [...]

  92. I Am Number Four | The Re-Shelf Says:

    [...] has created quite a bit of drama surrounding I Am Number Four. If you’re interested, here are two links that go further into the drama with much more intelligence and understanding than [...]

  93. The James Frey Issue | Lady Ruby's Multifaceted Life Says:

    [...] [...]

  94. Laura Jennings Says:

    Thank you so much for this. I can’t believe anyone would have listened to Frey’s pied piper song for one second after his Oprah debacle. I have to say, simply his consensus that “There is no truth” is disturbing to hear. It seems to be encouraging young writers to write what sells, not what reveals a truth about the human condition. And that he’s in YA … I shudder.
    I’m amazed that MFA programs aren’t teaching anyone about this. I’m part of SCBWI, and I’ve gotten advice on what makes a worthwhile agent and contract. That an academic circle refuses to do it is astonishing.

  95. Follow up « thegreatgonzo26 Says:

    [...] [...]

  96. Mike Ball Says:

    We can take some comfort in the fact that Snooki is functionally illiterate. This means that some ghost writer will at least keep cat food on the table for another couple of months.

    Great post, Maureen.

  97. julia Says:

    you shoild make tyhe book 13 little blue envelopes a movie

  98. James Frey’s Fiction Factory | Website of Megan Burke Says:

    [...] I found out about all this via Maureen Johnson, brilliant Maureen Johnson who made BEDA and inner shiny-things and everything else.When I read the [...]

  99. top book news of the week, a discussion | Girls in the Stacks.com Says:

    [...] [...]

Leave a Reply