James Frey and the Formula to Success

Author and professional liar James Frey is up to his usual shenanigans, duping the American public and minimizing literary merit. Let's begin at the beginning shall we.

James Frey was caught embellishing the details of his book A Million Little Pieces. Unapologetic, Frey did go on Oprah to plead his case and kind of apologize, but it was clear, Frey had sold over a million books and if it was a lie, so be it. Fast forward a couple years. A best-selling author James Frey walks into your college campus and promises you fame and fortune. He is starting a new publishing venture and promises that he has discovered the key to success and he wants you to come one board. Young author's (and some old) desperate to be published, sign on to James Frey's contract which will pay them $250, Frey has complete creative control, must be published under a pseudonym, and the author is not allowed to proclaim their authorship of the book for a year. Why would anyone sign such a contract? Because Frey has found the key to success and your book will be published. Isn't that enough? (read this great NYT article and this one) The Author's Guild has expressed serious concerns over these contracts.

So what is Frey's motivations? Apparently, he wants to produce the next Harry Potter. Mr. Frey has been aggressive: only developing ideas that have serial book potential, as well as obvious film, TV, merchandising and digital marketability. If it isn't going to be a TV show or movie then forget about it. All the buzz surrounding the book and film? A lot of that pre-published buzz came from Frey himself. He is determined the create the next commercial success and the fact that young writers are lining up behind him in hopes that he will make their books (not them) famous is enough. Should it be any surprises that Jobie Hughes (the true author of I am Number Four) was a huge fan of James Frey before working with him? In fact, I can imagine that only big fans of Frey's ego would be allowed to work with him.

To be fair, without its commercial film making appeal, this book may never have been published. It wasn't until Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg expressed interest in the film, did any publisher take ti seriously.

The book I Am Number Four has received mixed reviews with one thing for certain, it will not be winning any literary awards any time soon. It has made no significant cultural impact either, and is unlikely to be the next Harry Potter or Twilight. But it is being made into a Hollywood film with director Michael Bay at the helm, which promises for a lot of action and explosions.

Hughes has walked away from the project. He hired a lawyer, and they prepared documents requesting 20 percent of all future proceeds related to “The Lorien Legacies.” Hughes and Frey’s legal dispute have reportedly been settled, but the terms are unknown.

Here is my major issue with Frey. His key to success states that the author is a nobody and that you do not need to have a good book in order to have a best-seller, take it from him. Now, as an author I would be rather offended that someone is telling me they don't need my help, my name, or even literary quality to attract the masses. Also, how offensive is it to the art of writing and all the labor and love that goes into it, for a man to come forward and say that none of it matters, all that matters is the formula? But then, he also says he loves books, so which is it?

Personally, I would love for my future books to be wildly popular and (maybe) made into a film, but not at the expense of literary quality. I would rather write something brilliant that isn't a best-seller, but really connects with my readers in a way that they will carry the books with them forever. Commercial success is grand and all, but I refuse to sell my soul/book to obtain it. So in case you were wondering, I will not be reading the book as a matter of principle and I will not be seeing the film either.


Riley Conway said...

Right on! We talked about this during lunch one day at the last residency. Such a cynical man. Just sickening. But you're so right, why sacrifice your soul (and the soul of your writing) to fast track publishing, especially for such an apparently soulless businessman?