I’m a little obsessed with this New York magazine article about James Frey. He has a fiction factory where he enters into partnerships with writers that may or may not pay off for both parties involved.The advance is $250 up front followed by another $250, it’s pretty ludicrous. You may or may not get credit for your work. You can’t audit so you’ll never know how much you really should be making on royalties. Here’s the contract which is both cynical and corrupt but if 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 about educating writers on the actual business of writing that is one of the best conversations about this topic I’ve ever seen.** The folks at Pop Matters have an opinion. Then there’s this guy who basically says, “This is the reality of publishing.” I was going to write a big long post about this topic but then I changed my mind. Let’s get real. I think most of us, at some point or another in our careers, would have considered signing this contract and getting into bed with James Frey. Before I knew any better, I would have. As I read the article, a part of me thought, “I’d work for Frey. Where do I sign up?” I have student loans, man. My student loans have loans. I would let Frey be my rainmaker. I have too much of an ego to not get credit for my work so I dismissed those thoughts pretty quickly, but they were there and frankly, I think a lot of writers were/are thinking the very same thing. That is a sad commentary on how indebted and poorly compensated most of us are. I am equally certain that even with all this negative press, Frey will never stop having a supply of writers. His business model will continue to succeed for the same reason people continue to pay $20 per submission to Narrative and enter writing contests and otherwise pay to be published. The desire to be published, for some, is so desperate and so intense they will do whatever it takes. Frey knows this. He knows this and is comfortable with exploiting that desperation by creating a Ponzi scheme or a lottery, where he dangles the hope of commercial success in the faces of the relatively hopeless. One of the reasons we’re all so up in arms about this whole thing is because of what we’re willing to do. We’re not comfortable with that.
**As an aside, it would also be useful to talk about how many small presses/magazines are publishing without contracts, or with crappy contracts, a scenario where, in the long run, everyone is vulnerable.