Did anyone see the major feature from New York magazine on James Frey and Full Fathom Five? If not, it’s definitely worth a read, though, like some of the writers from the article, you may feel the need for a shower afterward.
Basically, Frey has set himself up as a book packager, which is an accepted and legitimate practice in publishing. Typically, a packager pays an author or illustrator a flat fee for their work, rather than an advance against royalties, then takes the manuscript and/or art and puts it together as a finished product, which is then submitted to publishers. For example, Gossip Girl was put together by Alloy Media, then sold to Little, Brown, and several celebrity picture books like Jerry Seinfeld’s Halloween were package deals as well.
However, the terms that Frey lays out for authors are atrocious and exploitative—a pittance of a fee ($250!), vaguely defined profit sharing, no copyright, no public acknowledgment of authorship, and so on. And the model of success that Frey sells authors on, his young adult novel I Am Number Four, turns out to be not much of a success at all for his co-author. (Full disclosure—as an editor, I passed on I Am Number Four, partly because the secrecy over authorship gave me the willies.)
But I guess what bothers me most about Full Fathom Five is how cynically they target the young adult market for their products—sorry, I mean their books. One of the main reasons I got into children’s publishing in the first place is the strong sense of moral responsibility among children’s editors not to publish “bad” book for kids. And while I know that hucksters like Frey have been part of the book business since the beginning, it’s disturbing not only to watch him prey on the YA market because it’s “hot” right now—you know if Adult Horror was selling, he’d be writing ghost stories—but also to witness his attempts at cloaking his credibility issues for a more naïve audience.
So I suppose this post is both a cautionary message and a moral plea for YA writers: Watch out for the Full Fathom Fives, and remember who you’re writing for. Now, excuse me while I hit the showers…