Very Bad Publishers: James Frey’s Fiction Factory UPDATED
James Frey is a huckster.
On her television show, Oprah Winfrey promoted Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces as a searing first person account of addiction. The book sold more than 3.5 million copies, making it the top selling book in the USA in 2005.
The content of the “autobiography” was a lie. At The Smoking Gun, read the details of Frey’s fraud. Frey’s lies include pretending to be close friends with a young woman who died in a train accident (he never knew her,) liaisons with crack whores, stints in jail, friends dying of AIDS. There was nothing this guy wouldn’t claim for sympathy.
Which, I am sure, makes him like a couple of people we all know.
After learning of the accident the following day, “I got blamed by her Parents and by her friends and by everyone else in that fucking hellhole,” Frey claims. “If she hadn’t lied and if I hadn’t helped her, it would not have happened. If we hadn’t gone to the Theater, she would not have gone on that date.” Sure, a couple of mangled girls landed in a hospital morgue, but that’s narrative gold in the hands of James Frey.
Frey was the subject of a class action suit filed by readers who purchased his fraudulent account. He made a mea culpa appearance on Oprah (“I should have never fucking apologized”). And yet can’t quite shake that pesky reputation that he’s a narcissistic, sociopathic creep.
Not the sort to feel shame (like, duh,) Frey is back, this time with a fantastic publishing opportunity!
You can do all his writing for him. He will pay you $250. There will be no guarantee of credit or further payment. But you can work with the famous James Frey and become…WORLD FAMOUS!
It’s an agreement that says, “You’re going to write for me. I’m going to own it. I may or may not give you credit. If there is more than one book in the series, you are on the hook to write those too, for the exact same terms, but I don’t have to use you. In exchange for this, I’m going to pay you 40 percent of some amount you can’t verify — there’s no audit provision — and after the deduction of a whole bunch of expenses.”
I have very few friends who are writers … I’m a big fan of breaking the rules, creating new forms, moving on to new places. Contemporary artists like [Richard] Prince, Hirst, and Koons do that, but there are no literary equivalents. In literature, you don’t see many radical books. That’s what I want to do: write radical books that confuse and confound, polarize opinions. I’ve already been cast out of ‘proper’ American literary circles. I don’t have to be a good boy anymore. I find that the older I get, the more radical my work becomes.
He’s just a rebel.
This may be one of the worst contracts I have ever read, and you can read it here at New York Mag.
Some people have trouble reading the PDF, but here are some highlights:
1) There’s a $50,000 minimum penalty for breach of confidentiality. Sign me up! That Frey is such a rebel, he’s positively corporate raider about it.
2) The Company may use your name and likeness in perpetuity to promote the work, but has no obligation whatsoever to credit you. You have no moral right to remove your name if it’s dreck. You have no right to credit if it’s popular.
3) If you drop dead, the Company has no obligation to your estate. That said, it doesn’t seem to have much obligation to you while you are alive.
More horror after the jump.
4) Any future books are bound by the same crap agreement you signed on Day One.
5) It’s all work for hire for your original work, not based on any preexisting material. So, all your work are belong to Frey, and he owns the whole enchilada for a $250 advance. BTW, that generous sum is payable in HALVES. So, go write the novel for $125, and when you are finished, you get the other $125.
6) You have no right to audit the books. You are stuck with the word of the liar as client as to whether or not they paid you what they properly owe you.
7) You get 40% of the “contingent compensation” derived from exploitation rights or film/television, etc. Except you will get squat.
The Company which has been so very generous to you will deduct all expenses including third party costs, agency commissions and fees. The Company will only pay you a portion that “can reasonably be allocated to the rights for the Book”. I laugh and yet I cry.
8) “For the avoidance of doubt, in the event James Frey is engaged as an individual through the Company or through a separate entitiy, to perform services in connection with any production…based on the Book and/or Series, Writer shall not be antitled to any portion of the monies (whether guaranteed or contingent) paid to the Company, Frey, or other entity providing Frey’s services in connection with such services.”
This means Frey will inject himself into the producer role at every opportunity to cut you out of your share of the take.
9) Frey has first option on your next project. God help you.
10) If you get screwed over (AHAHAHAHAHA!) you have to go to Los Angeles for arbitration. And with a whopping $250 advance at stake, we all know how likely that is.
James Frey is Of The Devil.
EDIT: Comments thread at John Scalzi worth the read. Thanks to Robert M Wright.