Here's a recap, for those of you who haven't been following that story: -There's a writer called James Frey. He got into trouble a few years ago for writing a memoir that was mostly lies. Oprah yelled at him.
-He likes saying things like he is "changing the game", making "literary history", and that he won't write anything that won't change the world. He refers to his books as "works of art".
-He also wants to make a lot of money, but because he can't write anything that won't "move the paradigm", he's getting other people to write generic stuff to make the money.
-Namely: he's cashing in on the YA boom by creating a book packaging company. This isn't a rare thing - it won't surprise anyone to learn that Gossip Girl books aren't all written by Cecily von Zeigasar. But there are a few things that make Frey's stand out:
- He is preying on University graduates that don't know much about contracts.
- He is offering an almost non-existent advance ($250), in exchange for a GIANT percentage of profits - 40%!
- Except that's not 40% of RRP, or even of the publisher's net profits, it's profits that Frey's company makes from selling the book to a publisher. And as there are no clauses for audit provision, so Frey can quite legitimately say "there are no profits this year", and not have to prove it, even if he's rolling around in a vat of money.
- The writer must write under a pseudonym. They must make all the changes that Frey demands. They aren't allowed to write for anyone else. They will write sequels if requested. They are forbidden from mentioning their involvement with the project, and Frey.
- If any of those conditions are broken, the contract (and the 40%) is void, and the writer must pay a $250 000 fine.
- So basically, the writer writes a book but isn't allowed to take any credit for it, and will possibly never see anything more than that original $250.
(for more details read this)
So, it's all rather distasteful and immoral, but here's what really pisses me off about it:
I make money from my writing. I'm not ashamed of that. I'm proud to earn money from writing books. But it's not the primary reason why I write. I write because I love writing. And I have things to say. And even though some of them are said in a commercial format (like the book I wrote for the Girlfriend Fiction series), I don't think they are devalued. The things I wanted to say and express are still important to me. I tell the stories that I tell because I want people to read and think about them. I want to make people laugh, I want to entertain, but most of all I want them to think. Making money is a pleasing side-effect.
I'm not sure if Frey loves writing. But I suspect the only thing he wants people to think is: Ooh, look at how clever/rich/controversial James Frey is! And much as I don't want to get started on the whole what makes an artist debate - I can't help thinking that Frey isn't one. He's a narcissist and a sociopath, but I don't think he's a craftsman. And the books his company is turning out (one arrived on my desk at work the other day) are ultimately soulless and uninspiring.