Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Book Report: A Million Little Pieces Of....

Welcome to the show folks...

I've been reading a lot about this new venture by James Frey, the hoaxer author of A Million Little Pieces and other works of fiction. Apparently he's taking it upon himself to form Full Fathom Five a company designed to come up with or cheaply buy Hollywood-friendly ideas, like the upcoming sci-fi YA novel turned movie I Am Number Four, getting some desperate creative writing student to actually write it, claim some form of co-authorship, and no doubt the lion's share of the money.

I have to usher up all my linguistic skills to express how I feel about this....


Yeah, that sums it up pretty nicely.

I don't like it when I see a "name" author slapping their precious name on top of another lesser known writer's name as the alleged co-author because it makes people like me refer to them as the "alleged co-author."

I don't like when James Patterson does it. Judging by the bookshelf at my local Wal-Mart it looks like the man has a new book out every 48 hours. I just can't see any mere mortal being able to claim any substantial form of co-authorship beyond lobbing a few plot and title ideas at the poor bastard writers and editors who end up doing all the real work.

The whole practice reeks to me of exploitation and in not a good way. You see if it was good exploitation the "co-author" doing all the grunt work of actually writing the damn thing would get more than just some up front pennies and their name at the bottom of the cover in the smallest font possible that will avoid litigation, while the "name" author ends up getting all the attention, publicity, accolades and most of the money.

As for Mr. Frey, well, let's just say that I have a million little reasons for not trusting his intentions with this deal. You may remember how he rode the wave to fame, fortune, and a spot on Oprah's Book Cult Club Reading List on the basis of a "memoir" called A Million Little Pieces that turned out to be fiction.

Now while I enjoy bamboozling the rich and famous, it doesn't mean that I should ever trust the bamboozler in question.

Then there's the deal itself.

Basically if you sign on with Frey:

1. You get $250-$500 for the book itself, as well as a percentage of unauditable NET* revenues generated by the book, the actual percentage dependent on whether or not you used Frey's idea or your own. (No matter what, the bulk of any revenues go to Frey's Full Fathom Five organization)

2. The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book. (Something Frey is familiar with)

3. However, despite being on the hook for litigation, the writer will not own the copyright of the work, even if it was their idea, that will be owned by Frey's organization.

4. The author's name can be replaced with a pseudonym at any time for any reason and the writer can't do a damn thing about it.

5. They can also use the author's name if they so choose at any time for any reason and the author can't do a damn thing about it.

6. The writer can't sign any contract that might "conflict" with their deal with Full Fathom Five, except what constitutes a conflict is solely up to the whim of James Frey.

7. The writer has no control over their own publicity, image, or biographical material. Now don't you want James Frey writing your biography since he did such a great job on his own.

8. The writer is liable to a $50,000 penalty if they let slip that they are working for Full Fathom Five without the permission of James Frey.

Basically it boils down to you getting paid up to $500 for your work, your life, your name and your future with little or no guarantee of any real money in the future.

Oh yeah, that's fair.

Another aspect that I don't care for is that this is making the process of writing novels more like the way Hollywood writes screenplays. Hollywood scripts get passed around like a spliff at a reggae concert, with anywhere up to 30 writers working on a single script, leading to all sorts of convoluted union rules and regulations concerning credit and pay that tend to favor the already prominent and powerful over the unknown and powerless.

In Hollywood it's quite possible for someone who created a story, and wrote the script to lose all credit for that script because a "big name" swanned in an did enough rewrites to satisfy some mostly arbitrary regulations interpreted by a panel of the big name writer's friends.

If that starts happening with novels.....

Now I'm not saying that there isn't a way for a big name writer to do a project like this, however a certain amount of real capitalism must be injected into it.

What is real capitalism?

Well it's the only system where all sides of a deal get what they want without fraud or coercion.

How can they do it?

Well, let me explain...

1. Get rid of the "Co-Author" farce: Face it, the only time there is real collaboration in writing fiction occurs between true equals. In any situation where one has absolute power over another it is not collaboration. The big one orders the little one to work, then puts their name on top in big ass letters. Now I'm not saying that a big name author can't work with a no-name author, but it has to be in a way that the no-name author can make a name for themselves. Here's how:

2A. Create A "Presents" System: If you need some more explanation if a famous writer wants to make money with the help of lesser known writers they should create an imprint where it's basically "Famous Author Presents: New Writer That You Will Love Too."


2B. Create A Universe For Other Writers To Use: Basically the Famous Author creates a setting, like an interstellar empire, a fantasy realm, a crime ridden city, etc... and let's other writers use that setting for their own stories as long as they fit within a set of practical guidelines.

Once that is settled you then...

3. Create A Reasonable Rights/Payment System That Treats Writers As Partners Not Suckers: This isn't rocket science, it's supposed to be capitalism. This whole deal reeks to me of the neo-feudalist attitude that infects so much of the business world, but especially the creative industries like entertainment and publishing. The Neo-Feudalist believes that life is a zero sum game and that for them to gain anything they must take it from someone else, and that they deserve to have it all because it already belongs to them by their divinely granted position of being someone in a position of power.

A True Capitalist seeks to make sure that everyone they do business with gets what they want. Why? Because doing that doesn't just get the True Capitalist a piece of the proverbial pie, it creates a newer, fresher, and bigger pie, with bigger pieces for all involved. You want your partners to get rich, because that will make them trust you to treat them right, and make you richer.

Think about it this example for a second. You create a setting for a series of fantasy novels for up and coming authors to use. You mentor them, you promote them, and those with real talent and commercial appeal take off and succeed on their own. If they know you, trust you, and like doing business with you, they will stick around, or occasionally return to your little universe again, and now you have 2 famous authors shilling your series and doing their best for the series.

If they feel like they've been bent over and buggered with a stiff wire brush, they are going to fulfill their contractual obligations, but they aren't going to burn any serious calories to do it, and as soon as it's done, they are going to run away, telling the world what a big asshole you are, and then try to get new people to join your scheme.

It's simple economics meeting simple common sense.

So figure out some way that not only doesn't look at first glance like it's going to screw the writer, doesn't actually screw the writer. If you're the Famous Author and worried about your share of the profits, then follow James Patterson's model and go for sheer fucking volume through mass production.


*Remember what I say about the net revenues. They are about as likely to be seen by you as the Loch Ness Monster in Albuquerque.

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