A Future for Publishing?

James Frey seems to be have been vilified, twice. First, when his ‘memoir’ was found to be fiction, and now because of the way he wants to produce books.

To find writers, Mr. Frey trolls writing classes and other writers’ gathering places. Writers contracted with Full Fathom Five earn no salary and make almost no money up front (they get $250 upon signing and another $250 upon completion of a book—”Chinese-food money,” one author called it). They are promised 30% to 49% of all revenue whether it comes from videogames or publications rights.

I said produce because that seems to be the best way to describe this. I was initially shocked and outraged by what I saw as the belittling of the writer’s craft. But having read the article I see that it is actually what I have written about before; writers getting less up front, so there is less at stake for the publisher, and a better cut on what their book actually earns. It takes the risk out of advances, most of which aren’t earnt back.

What Frey seems to be doing is acting like a film producer, who regularly come up with ideas and employ a screenwriter to churn them out before taking them to a studio. This isn’t a new idea, even in book publishing from what I can see, it’s just not been employed so brazenly and in such a large way. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it makes out, but so far it seems to be going well. This may sound a little optimistic (not all of the books will do well) but will authors care if this is the result?

Ms. Topp says she is comfortable with the financial arrangement with Full Fathom Five because her work will be exposed to Hollywood decision-makers. “I look forward to the day that I’m irritated that he’s making million and millions and I’m only making millions,” she says.

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