Say No To James Frey: Why I’m Boycotting Full Fathom Five


I don’t like liars. That seems like such an obvious point to make and yet it must be made because it seems like less and less people these days care about this rather glaring act of deceit in publishing when enough money is thrown around. There are a few big instances I can name from the top of my head regarding author scandals relating to theft or lying or both, but the biggest one of recent times is James Frey.

Frey became a media sensation when Queen of the World Oprah Winfrey chose his memoir A Million Little Pieces for her wildly successful book club. It was soon revealed that all was not what it seemed, and that Frey’s supposed true life tale of addiction and rehabilitation was mostly fabricated. Readers weren’t pleased and neither was Oprah, leading to some of the most dramatic moments in the history of her long running talk show.

Image from Zimbio. James Frey & Terry Richardson. Just saying.Image from Zimbio. James Frey & Terry Richardson. Just saying.

That should have been the end of it. Frey was dropped by his literary manager and his career should have ended there, forever tainted by his crimes. Stephen Glass, the journalist who fabricated huge amounts of his stories, is still affected by what he did and can’t become a licensed attorney in two separate states as a result. The name James Frey is tainted, so what did he do? He launched a book packaging company specialising in the trend du jour, young adult fiction. Full Fathom Five is the powerhouse behind The Lorien Legacies, the first book in the series being I Am Number Four. You may remember the terrible flop of a movie that came with the publishing deal for ‘Pittacus Lore’.

What you might not remember is the searing New York Magazine piece that revealed the brutal contracts given to collaborators on the assembly line, including a paltry $250 advance for writers and a $50,000 penalty if they admitted to working with Full Fathom Five. New York’s piece also tackled the cruel and bullying ways in which Frey treated the young, hopeful MFA graduates roped in to do all the dirty work and the screaming match he got into with his collaborator on I Am Number Four.

Book packaging is nothing new in publishing, much less YA. It’s not necessarily a shady business tactic. Indeed, best-selling YA & MG author Lauren Oliver formed Paper Lantern Lit and has made a success of it. The difference between her and Frey is that she doesn’t treat her writers like dirt. Paper Lantern Lit is about nurturing talent, not exploiting it.

Image from Deadline. Stop trying to make Alex Pettyfer happen!Image from Deadline. Stop trying to make Alex Pettyfer happen!

So why focus on this now? Because it’s only getting bigger for Frey, and as a result of this, more readers are being taken for a ride by a man I have no qualms with calling a conman. Frey recently landed a $2million book deal for a series that screams The Hunger Games so loud that I can practically hear Suzanne Collins’s lawyer drawing up the lawsuit. Just like I can never trust proven plagiarists to tell anything but other people’s stories, I can’t look at anything with Frey or Full Fathom Five’s names on it without thinking con. I want to support new talent but I can’t do so when it means lining the pockets of a man who has proven himself time and time again to have no problem with stomping over others for monetary gain. The industry may be tilted in favour of people like Frey, bolstered by yes men and Stephen bloody Spielberg all waiting to make a quick buck from an audience they see as worthless, but that doesn’t mean we go along with it all. This is my line in the sand.

Full Fathom Five’s latest project, Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, has received a lot of online buzz, but I won’t be touching it with a bargepole, nor will I be reading or reviewing any other work pushed out by the company, even if I am offered an advanced review copy. Interestingly, Full Fathom Five don’t seem to have a website, so keeping track of their work to boycott it can prove tougher than it should be. Can you say shady? Fortunately, Goodreads have us covered.


  1. Why am I not surprised that “No One Else Can Have You” is another one of their titles, a book that sparked controversy when the “author” panned book bloggers, then offered a tepid apology that was really a thinly veiled promo for the book.
    I hate that this is happening in our industry. It’s despicable and loathsome and should not be tolerated by publishers. Unfortunately, they keep buying in…

  2. I’m still going to read Dorothy Must Die because I’am interested in reading it. I never heard of this Fathom Five thing or what James Frey did/is doing but from what I read just now, I admit its wrong. I’m not going to ruin my chance to read a book that I might love. And if I hate it, I hate it. Also shame on the authors/writers who work for this Fathom Five, they should know better and why stay if they are being treated like dirt.

    by looking at the book, how do we know its Full Fathom Five?

  3. I have actually read I Am Number Four and Dorothy Must Die. But I had no idea that James Frey was behind these!

    Unfortunately, I liked Dorothy Must Die.

    • Why is it unfortunate that you like it? Just because it was done by these people shouldn’t sour you opinions on the actual material that you’re reading. Stop being a lemming and saying stuff just to seem “cool” or “up-to-date”. I understand that what Full Fathom Five is doing/has done is shady and down right evil, but the material in the “I Am Number Four” books isn’t bad and neither is “Dorothy Must Die”. Just because the creator(s) are bad, doesn’t necessarily mean that the books are bad.

  4. I am a lot late for this one but hey, better late than never, right? Thanks for this article and the links. It helped to clear up the controversy for me. Sad thing is that I am a huge fan of the Lorien Legacies! I think it’s a great concept and the writing is really good. Not only that but they are really all in. The website for the series treats this world as if it is truly real. It’s funny, while reading the latest book in the series, I couldn’t stop wondering why there really wasn’t as much hype around this series on other blogs. I meant to write a discussion blog on it asking why people thought this was the case. I guess I now know why. I really really don’t want to support the crappyness that is Frey’s business ethics but I LOVE the series! I’m like 10+ books in!

  5. How is it unfortunate that you like “Dorothy Must Die”? Regardless of if the creator(s) are bad people, the books themselves should make you like them. Just because Full Fathom Five is a terrible coalition of assholes that need to be brought to justice, doesn’t mean that the books they produce are bad. For instance, the “I Am Number Four” books are excellent and now that I know who their REAL creator(s) is/are it doesn’t make me look back and make me feel disgust towards the books. Sometimes good things come from bad places i.e. “I Am Number Four” books and “Dorothy Must Die”. Just think about that before your overzealous mindset takes over again.

    • I think the reason why people are saying it’s unfortunate is not because of this whole idea that because the creator(s) are bad people the books are bad but instead because of the fact that they do not want to put money into this man’s pocket when he takes advantage of the authors he signs and does not treat them right at all. You’re right these books can still be excellent and who the creators are doesn’t change that but if someone doesn’t want to support the books James Frey’s name is behind/on because of his company’s practices then I think that is totally understandable.

    • I certainly agree with you. I read I Am Number Four and it’s following books and I love it. The creators/ authors doesn’t define the book. It is the content and the work that we read not the authors. I just learned this things recently and I’m not ashamed that I support James Frey and his books.

      P.S. I went to his book signing here at PH and I had the chance to meet him. He’s nice to his readers. 🙂

  6. This is exactly the thing that happened to LJ Smith except all of her ideas she wrote with her name. What happened with her was she wrote technically 2 Vampire Diaries Series the original (2 books) and the “Return” Series with two books in it as well. She also wrote the Night World Series, Secret Circle series, and one or two others that I can’t come up with the titles of. Basically they took over her name because she wouldn’t write the Series like they wanted her to so now she is finishing the Series but she can’t do it publicly and with that publisher or anything to get it popular she has to write them as FANFICTION to her original series that she wrote but they’re only available in eBook from Kindle.


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