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Old 11-13-2010, 06:52 PM   #1
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[Packager] Full Fathom Five (James Frey)

Just read an interesting article about James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces and Bright Shiny Morning. He's opened a book packaging operation here in New York, which he likens to 'Damien Hirst’s art factory, a warehouse in which a reported 120 employees work to create fine art signed by Hirst', and is actively recruiting writers.

[Conrad Rippy, veteran publishing attorney] said he had never seen a contract like this in his sixteen years of negotiation. “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.” He described it as a Hollywood-style work-for-hire contract grafted onto the publishing industry—“although Hollywood writers in a work-for-hire contract are usually paid more than $250.”

I Am Number Four is the first book of 'The Lorien Lagacies', which Frey wrote with Columbia MFA grad Jobie Hughes. Despite mediocre reviews, it was a NYT best-seller, and was optioned for film by Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay. The article also talks about an Arthurian legends adaptation being put out by Full Fathom Five, which Will Smith is in talks to acquire as a vehicle for Jaden Smith.

But apparently Jobie Hughes wasn't happy about the experience, despite the success of I Am Number Four. He's walked away, and he and his lawyer were looking for a bigger piece of 'Lorien' earnings. He's also had trouble selling his second novel.

Does anybody have any knowledge of or experience with book packagers? Is it a good way to break in? I remember one of James Patterson's collaborators getting a book deal, but it doesn't seem to be working for Mr. Hughes. And that contract is a little off-putting, too.
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Old 11-13-2010, 07:19 PM   #2
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Frey's packaging service is unique to him. Most book packagers do not have such ridiculous and tenuous contracts. I don't know how you get started working for a legit one, but this project of Frey's seems self indulgent and quite simply wrong on many levels. But he calls it art. And therefore it must be. And sadly, his plan actually seems to be working. He's making money, and there's no shortage of young writers willing to work for next to nothing.

You don't need to "break in" as an author to the publishing industry like in other industries. You don't have to work your way up the ladder as an author. Write a good book, send it to an agent/publisher. Repeat.
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Old 11-13-2010, 07:21 PM   #3
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Looks like James Frey has managed to sink even lower.

I stumbled across a few book packagers in my hunt for an agent, and it seemed most of them wanted to work with celebrities or experts or people with a huge existing platform. Whether you can succeed with one depends on what you bring to the table. By the way, I believe this is also how Kaavya Viswanathan was introduced to the literary world.
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Old 11-13-2010, 07:30 PM   #4
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The James Frey debacle is a great example of how easy it is to prey upon writers. Why would anyone want to sign away their intellectual property as a collaboration? The contract is exploitative and scam agency-variety batty. I read the article this morning too, and Frey is completely unrepetant about the whole affair. Hence the confidentiality agreement and so forth.

All this is in reality is a new way for James Frey to line his pockets at the expense of others. First, it was the reading public with his memoir. Now, he's preying upon the desperation of writers trying to break into the publishing industry by offering them hopes he can't back up and, if by some lucky chance one of these stories DOES break through, by taking the lion's share of the profit from the venture. FREY is making money--no one else is.
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Old 11-13-2010, 08:44 PM   #5
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And yet people are buying it. Literally. Spielberg and Bay are making the movie of that book, and Harper Collins published it. That's what gets to me the most. It doesn't matter how you do what you do, as long as it makes people money. In the end, that's his "truth" (though of course he denies such a thing even exists). What boggles my mind further is all the amazing authors who hang out with him thus giving his behaviour legitimacy. In the end, to him, the act of having this author mill is art in and of itself. And there's nothing you can say to someone like that: "No it isn't" "Yes, it is" . . . and so on and so on.
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Old 11-13-2010, 08:58 PM   #6
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Shouldn't an NYC MFA professor be teaching students to avoid these kinds of scams rather than offering students up on a silver platter?
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Old 11-13-2010, 09:06 PM   #7
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I read this article yesterday. What struck me as hilarious (and pathetic) was how Frey has painted himself to be this rogue genius. And yet, instead of working on his next "masterpiece," he's having desperate young authors make him money by milking the YA market.

Yuck.
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Old 11-13-2010, 09:16 PM   #8
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Shouldn't an NYC MFA professor be teaching students to avoid these kinds of scams rather than offering students up on a silver platter?
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Old 11-13-2010, 11:03 PM   #9
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The contract is dreadful. I wouldn't sign it, and can't imagine how Frey has the brass neck to expect anyone else to. Here's Scalzi on the matter.
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Old 11-13-2010, 11:57 PM   #10
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I read that article too, and I couldn't help but feeling exactly like one of the students he talked to in that article.

Like I need a shower.

Ew. I almost feel like I need to apologize for him being associated in any way, shape, or form with YA literature.
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Old 11-14-2010, 12:14 AM   #11
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And I just want to make it clear that I don't care that Frey walks around in his socks!
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Old 11-15-2010, 07:23 PM   #12
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Some more thoughtful blog posts on this "enterprise" (uh, by which I mean scam):

http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/2...-frey-problem/

http://ktliterary.com/2010/11/ask-da...ook-packagers/
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Old 11-15-2010, 08:44 PM   #13
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James Frey is a real scumbag and anyone who legitimises his behaviour is no better IMO. I wouldn't take a piss on him if he was on fire and begging for help.

Best thing we can do is get the word out that this is a seriously bad deal for authors in the hopes that people avoid his scuzzy little venture.

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Old 11-15-2010, 10:15 PM   #14
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Anybody reading this: Do NOT get involved with Frey. If you want to ghostwrite a YA book, a respectable packager will offer you an advance of $2,500 to $10,000 without any of the onerous conditions.
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Old 06-16-2011, 12:40 AM   #15
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Lightbulb Frey is offering something something the others aren't offering.

I'm not too familiar with regular book packaging companies but I say it's a safe bet they'll only take writers with published books and proven track records, and who are agented as well. That shuts out the majority of writers, mind you. What James Frey has in his corner is that these so-called writers are fresh out of the pot/still in grad school, and he's telling them their ideas are worth hearing even if it's a no-go. So that's his ace in the hole right there: these writers have someone who'll listen to them.
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Old 06-16-2011, 12:48 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Butterface View Post
I'm not too familiar with regular book packaging companies but I say it's a safe bet they'll only take writers with published books and proven track records, and who are agented as well. That shuts out the majority of writers, mind you. What James Frey has in his corner is that these so-called writers are fresh out of the pot/still in grad school, and he's telling them their ideas are worth hearing even if it's a no-go. So that's his ace in the hole right there: these writers have someone who'll listen to them.
Actually, the vast majority of packagers work with unpublished, unagented writers. Authors with proven track records generally prefer to sell their own projects.
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Old 06-16-2011, 12:54 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Butterface View Post
What James Frey has in his corner is that these so-called writers are fresh out of the pot/still in grad school, and he's telling them their ideas are worth hearing even if it's a no-go. So that's his ace in the hole right there: these writers have someone who'll listen to them.
Please excuse the vulgar analogy, but that's like saying he has the courtesy to lube up before asking them to bend over.
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Old 06-16-2011, 01:05 AM   #18
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Quote:
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Actually, the vast majority of packagers work with unpublished, unagented writers. Authors with proven track records generally prefer to sell their own projects.
That hasn't been my experience, or the experience of the dozen or more friends of mine who have worked with packagers.

Packager work is easy, quick money. Selling your own project, not so much.

That said, Butterface, you certainly don't have to have an agent to get work with a packager. You do have to have a track record of writing for hire--newspaper and magazine work can count for that, as can working on non-fiction projects even where you are looking for fiction writing work with the packager. The most important thing packagers are looking for is people who can follow instructions and deliver a well-crafted manuscript on deadline.

In general, the people I know who work and have worked with packagers are people earlier in their careers and/or people who are making a transition from "day job plus writing" to "writing is my day job." (There are some exceptions: media tie-in novels are generally very sought-after, and so the people who write them tend to be quite experienced.)

Everyone I know who has been taken on by a packager had some publication experience, generally magazine writing. Writing for a packager isn't a first work-for-hire job in my experience.
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Old 06-16-2011, 01:33 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Butterface View Post
I'm not too familiar with regular book packaging companies but I say it's a safe bet they'll only take writers with published books and proven track records, and who are agented as well. That shuts out the majority of writers, mind you. What James Frey has in his corner is that these so-called writers are fresh out of the pot/still in grad school, and he's telling them their ideas are worth hearing even if it's a no-go. So that's his ace in the hole right there: these writers have someone who'll listen to them.


Ask LJ Smith how she lost her own "Vampire Diaries", which she sold to a packager as an unknown and inexperienced writer.

No one needs someone to "tell them" their idea is sound. Ideas are worthless.
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Old 06-17-2011, 10:43 PM   #20
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Ask LJ Smith how she lost her own "Vampire Diaries", which she sold to a packager as an unknown and inexperienced writer.

No one needs someone to "tell them" their idea is sound. Ideas are worthless.

My understanding of the Vampire Diaries situation is that it was NOT LJ Smith's "own" and that she didn't "sell" it to a packager at all. The packager came up with the idea and hired her to write it.

Packaging is just a fine line and writers need to be absolutely, completely clear on what they're getting into. There's certainly a lot of opportunity for a writer to be "wronged" becuase they don't own the copyright regardless of how much input they had on the project and the fact that they've actually, you know, written it.

I have written a write-for-hire, and I have a client working on a packager project. But it's not for everyone. You need to know what you're getting into, and the terms need to be fair. There are major pros and cons to packager work-- it can supplement your income and allow you to write full time, it can be a path to break into the industry, it can be like being paid to learn to be a better writer from some really talented editors.

It can also be an opportunity for packagers or publishers to make a lot of money and pay very little to the writer.

I know people who won't touch packaging with a ten foot pole and I know people who have written a dozen books under psuedonyms for packagers.

And on my earlier comment that the vast majority of packagers work with unpublished, unagented writers-- what I meant was that the vast majority are open to unagented, unpublished writers and at least some of their projects are from unagented or unpublished. Not that the majority of their finished products are from those folks-- it was in response to "it's a safe bet they'll only take writers with published books."
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Old 06-27-2014, 07:58 AM   #21
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Old 06-27-2014, 04:27 PM   #22
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Counter to the editor's (paraphrased) claim that 'finding online info about FFF is difficult', a quick Google search under the keywords 'Full Fathom Five scandal' turns up quite a lot.
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