Dear James Frey: Suck It, or, Writing and Fear

Warning: This is a rant. Rants are not logical. Rants are products of pissed off first impressions and strong emotions and often include inappropriate language. You have been warned. 

You might have heard of James Frey. 

He wrote a memoir called A Million Little Pieces that Oprah gushed and gushed about. Until she found out most of it was fabricated. Maybe we should have known from the get go. I mean, he even told Oprah, "I was a bad guy."

Was. Past tense. Bullshit.

He is a bad guy. And not in the swaggering, gangsta way he wishes the General Public had believed way back when. His latest exploit is as white-collar, corporate and money grubbing as they come.

If you wanted to be a bad guy, Jimmy, you got your wish. (Also, please take note - you're not a bad guy in the hot sense that so many of the teen girls "you" are "writing" for love to hate.)


Here's why James is A Giant Raging Asshat!:

J.F. has formed a company called Full Fathom Five. You can read more about it here, but in summary, it's main purpose is to rape and abuse young hungry writers - most of them from a targeted pool of MFA students - and then leave them in the gutter in a puddle of their own blood.

This man is a liar. He lies for his own financial gain. It makes me sick to my stomach that people even speak to him. He did Oprah dirty (as well as the General Public). You don't think you're next, Industry Big Shot? If it comes down to him or you, who do you think is going to take the dive and clean up the fallout?

Maureen Johnson, as well as many others, have addressed this eloquently and in a well-thought-out way. 

But me, I'm going on pure emotion, mainly because Big Jimmy actually had the nerve to defend himself to The Guardian. In other words, he's still lying.

Issues I Have with His Defense:

1. "He saw collective writing as a way to get around the conundrum of having umpteen ideas for clever commercial book series but never enough time to write them" (Here's a thought! Put your ideas in a notebook or a computer file titled "Ideas." That's what the rest of us do - except most of us don't shoot for the commercial label.)

2. "He came up with the concept of a book-writing factory" (OMG do I really even need to address why this is a problem?)

3. "He started to appeal through colleges and writing courses for budding young writers prepared to write for little upfront, in the hope of fame and riches down the line." (Here's a sample of the craptastic contract Frey offers.)

4. "The contentious elements (of the contract) include: an upfront payment of just $250 (£156) to the writer for an entire book, which is pitiful unless the book is sold, at which point they get 30%-40% of any royalties obtained; the fact that Frey retains all final creative control and the copyright of the work in his company, with total power to decide what happens to the book; and a system of fines if the writer breaks the terms of the contract. A publishing lawyer told New York magazine that he had never seen a contract like it in his 16 years of negotiations." (Jerkwad.)

5. "He estimates that the central storyline of about 85% of the books under way originated with him." (Because he's a freaking mo-fo genius, right? I can give you five ideas right now. *waits to be handed money*)

6. Frey says, "I know I'm the bad boy of American literature, but that's not what this is about. I'm doing this because I love books." (Don't you want to punch him? Because I want to punch him.)

But here's the thing that pisses me off the most. 

Big Jimmy has just given nebwie writers something else to worry about. 

And generally, newbie writers are already terrified. 

Writers who don't know about the industry, who don't follow publishing news, blogs or twitter feeds, who are still stuck in the mire of, "Do I really need an agent?" (YES YOU DO), are going to see this article and not know who to trust. No agent worth their salt will deal with Full Fathom Five, because they are shysters of the worst order. But what about everyone else?

I worry about shady "publishing" companies who advertise in the sidebar of my gmail. "Do You Want to Be Published?" Why yes, I do, and I will let my legitimate publisher do it for me. The thing with the Frey deal is that the right terminology is being thrown around - if you don't know better, it could sound like a Good Idea. Add big names like "Will Smith" and "Dreamworks" and that's a whole big ball of SHINY, people. 

Frey is taking advantage of other people's ignorance to line his own pockets. He's treating teen readers like a giant hive mind instead of individuals, allowing his factory to churn out fabricated ideas that have nothing to do with heart, just financial gain. Most writers I know live and breathe their characters and stories. Frey and his staff of workhorses are trying to find the best ways to create PRODUCT placement in theirs. 

It makes me sick. 

And right now, all I can do about it is make sure he doesn't get a dime from me. 

End rant.


  1. Right on. I feel bad for the MFA students he's recruited. I hope they do see some financial gain from this, and that the whole process doesn't kill their creativity and their faith in publishing/the world. I guess you can't deny Frey is innovative, but not in a way that I would want to be.

  2. Yes I love this! He's such a pompous ass. I feel like he probably even believes he's not a bad person, because he's that self-absorbed. I read that article in the guardian this morning and when I saw him refer to himself as the "bad boy" of American literature I was so annoyed I almost stopped reading the article. He tries to make himself sound misunderstood and brooding and appealing. No. You're not appealing, James Frey. You're a cancerous mole on the ass of the publishing community.

  3. I didn't know anything about Full Fathom Five earlier - thanks for posting about it. This makes me furious too.

  4. People pick up your pitch forks! Now one of my questions will be is this a Fathom Five book because if so I can't read it!

  5. He is stirring the literary pot,
    causing the rest of us talk.

    He is in the game, like it or not.

    He is acting clever, thinking out of the business of writing block.

    ...and, no I don't remember reading or writing or hearing that writers needed an honest, authentic archetype in order the write.

    Cheers!...to following each, our own writers path.

  6. Per Wikipedia:
    On August 19th 2010 the New York Post's Page Six reported that Frey has teamed up with executive producers Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson to write the pilot for a one hour drama for HBO that will focus on a behind-the-scenes look into the porn industry in LA. Frey states the show as being "a sprawling epic about the porn business in LA. We're going to tell the type of stories no one else has told before, and go places no one has gone before." [36]

  7. +JMJ+

    Unbelievable. I've seen I am Number Four around, but I hadn't known the story behind it. And now I don't know whether to buy the book to help the poor writer who is getting hardly any compensation or to boycott it because the whole arrangement is as sleazy as it gets.

  8. Spot on! I had read about this and thought, "Can't the bastard just go away now?!?!?"

    Predator, that's what he is.

    Great post!

  9. My really shallow hate stems from the fact that for his company name he stole a great line from Shakespeare and now I can't think of Ariel or The Tempest without thinking about Frey. ARGH.

    Sylvia Plath also would not be pleased.

  10. Thanks for ranting for me.
    I think he coined the whole 'bad boy' thing himself. "Look at me, I am dangerously walking the edge and subverting the publishing machine for art (as defined by me) and of course, (bats eyes) for the readers."
    Bull puckie.
    He is dangerous to newbie writers, without a doubt. And his contract is criminally unfair to anyone naive enough to sign it.
    I believe I loathe him.

  11. Unbelievable!

    I feel sick now that I know the truth behind I am Number Four. That poor author can't even claim credit. This is so unjust!

  12. This guy sounds like a twisted piece of work. He won't be getting a penny from me either!

  13. I've dealt with men like Frey before, and yes, it's easier to just punch them. Nice rant! Newbie writers are vulnerable without education. Thanks.

  14. I knew all about the Million Little Pieces scam and all that, but I so don't consider Frey worth notice or remembering that had I not seen the other blogs and tweets about him, I would have been like James who?
    I think it's horrible, though that really doesn't cover it, what he is doing and to those poor people who only want to be writers. I have the arc of I am Number 4 but I can't bring myself to read it now.
    Nice rant and if you decide to really go punch him, I'll drive the get-a-way car for you.

  15. Ugh, he is such a D-bag. I'm with you in making sure he never makes a dime off of me.

  16. This makes me ill. It's basically legalized plagiarism--you write it, I'll put my name on it and pay you 10% (or in this case, whatever I see fit).

    Unfortunately, this isn't as uncommon as you might think. There are a lot of authors who do this now. Some, like James Patterson, are more forthcoming than others. There's one author I used to enjoy very much, but for the past couple of years, her attitude has changed, and now she trolls RWA meetings looking for "co-authors" who will do the work for a minority percentage of the earnings.

    I dunno. It just rubs me the wrong way. Used to be the sharks were clearly marked--agents who charge reading fees, vanity publishers--and now the sharks look human. And worse yet, they get away with it under the guise of "helping" undiscovered authors find their audiences. Riiiiight. I wish they would just come out and call it what it is: a way to make more money without doing any work. If the undiscovered author benefits from it, then fine, but that's so not what it's about.

  17. Thanks for the heads up and brilliant rant. We all have to use our emotions from time to time.

    Yup he's a tool!

  18. Thanks for the comments, guys.

    He offends me on a personal level. I think about every character arc, every theme - intended or unintended, every WORD I put out there.

    The idea of a story coming from what is, in essence, a factory hurts my heart, you know?

  19. Such a frustrating mess to encounter. It's hard to believe that people would fall for it, but having studied creative writing, I know one thing is absolutely certain--these schools don't prepare students for actual publication. AT ALL. Let alone for the shysters looking to take advantage. I have to wonder if this guy actually thought he could go into this without it getting around. I can't believe he'd even attempt publication after his lie-memoir debacle, let alone try something quite so insidious. What a creep.

    Rant on, luv. I think readers and writers alike should be standing up against this.

  20. Ditto! One can only hope that all the books feature the company logo prominently. I really don't want to buy one accidentally.

  21. Love the asshat picture. Nobody is more deserving. I think he defines the word "sociopath."

    What he's doing is different from the "stables" of writers like Patterson's. It's maybe a little creepy that Patterson hires people to write under his name, but he pays them a reasonable amount and buys the work outright. He doesn't expect the writer keep legal and marketing responsibilities, which Frey does.

    But do note: there's another James Frey, who wrote "How To Write A Damned Good Novel." A good guy with an unfortunate name. To read more about him I've got more on my blog at http://annerallen.blogspot.com.


Tell us everything: