Everyone has been talking about James Frey since Suzanne Mozes’ New York Magazine article on his “fiction factory” came out last week. And there have been several comments on the New Yorker site, and on Twitter of people shuddering at Frey’s further foray into despicableness.
But how’s he different from most other businessmen?
1) Frey recognizes that publishers want to make money
2) He knows that the best writing often isn’t the stuff that makes the bestseller list
3) He’s aware that publishing is hard to break into for new writers
4) Despite being a fraud, he has a lot of publishing contacts
5) He’s willing to take advantage of those desperate to be published
Businesses regularly identify the demand for something and try to meet that demand as cheaply as possible with the least amount of risk. By offering his writers a measly $250 for a book and a contract that binds them like mummies, he’s ensuring that there’s no risk on his part. If the book doesn’t sell, he’s only out $250. He probably has that in his couch cushions. And if the book does sell, he gets all the credit, and 60-70% of the money, maybe more depending on how much he deducts from the writer’s actual paycheck for miscellaneous fees and whatnot.
So is he really to blame for preying on the desperate? Or are the desperate to blame for taking the bait? He isn’t forcing anyone to work with him. The guy who wrote I AM NUMBER FOUR, their bestselling first venture, made out OK. Though now his relationship with Frey is over and he seems awfully bitter about it despite the oodles of dough he made from the book/movie deal.
It’s an interesting concept, isn’t it? Start a business specifically to make money in the publishing industry by churning out mediocre high-concept YA books that the public will eat up. And for the writer, they give up their integrity to create the mediocre books in the hope that it will garner them a lot of cash.
Frey’s an opportunist. A hustler. But there are hundreds like him on Wall St. What’s sad about this whole thing is the willingness of writers to drink the Kool Aid and the willingness of his business partners to walk in the muck.
But people do a lot of things for money.