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.
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.
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.