Just When You Think You’ve Seen It All

First, due credit for bringing this to my attention goes to Pam Uphoff.

Yesterday afternoon, NYmag.com published an article about James Frey’s Fiction Factory.   Reading it this morning before the caffeine kicked in, I almost brushed it off as a lot of smoke about something not to big.  Fortunately — or unfortunately for my blood pressure — I went back a few minutes ago and read the contract involved.  OMG.

Let me repeat that:  OMG!

The more I read the contract, the more I started thinking about the sweat shops of old.  This is not the standard work-for-hire contract.  At least not like any I’ve ever seen before.  This is nothing more than an attempt — unfortunately successful to a degree — by an author to take advantage of young writers who are willing to do just about anything to get their work published.  How many have read the contract without having an attorney look it over, I can’t tell you.  Nor can I tell you how many have actually signed on for what is nothing more than a modern form of indenturement, in my opinion.

If you click on the link above and scroll down some, you can read the contract for yourself.  However, let’s hit a few points that jumped out before I was tempted to throw the computer out the window.

Noting that this is a contract for “work for hire”, the author agrees who write the outline and initial draft and must include any notes and rewrites requested by the company.  Failure to include all notes and rewrites to the company’s satisfaction may result in termination of the contract.  Okay, so far, so good….sort of.

The company has the “final creative control” over the book.  Again, not too onerous.  Neither are the points where the company controls all negotiations for sales, etc.

However, here’s where my blood pressure started rising.  In return for all their hard work, the author gets a whopping $250.  That’s right, $250.  And it gets better.  They get half when they begin writing and the final half when they submit for final delivery.

Let’s put that in perspective.  An author writing short stories and being compensated 5 cents a word only has to write approximately 5,000 words (okay, math isn’t my strong suit).  And here Frey and his company are requiring an outline, draft and potentially multiple rewrites for the price of a short story.

But it gets better.  Under contingent compensation, the author will get 40% of “all monies derived from the disposition or other exploitation of rights to the Book as a published book, film and/or television project (including merchandise revenues derived from film and/or television projects), that
Company retains after deduction of all direct, out-of-pocket, third party costs incurred by Company in connection with the negotiation of agreements for the Transfer of rights to the Book (including without limitation, legal fees, agency commissions and management commissions) and any other actual costs and expenses of Company related to the Book.”  In other words, if there’s anything left after Frey et. al. takes their cut, the author gets 40%.

I could go on.  But I won’t.  I’ll let you read the contract and make up your own minds.  My concern mirrors that of others who have already commented elsewhere online.  How many new writers will jump at this opportunity simply because they see it as a way to get their name in print?  Oh, wait, read the contract.  Frey and company don’t have to use your name.  They can use any name on the book they want.

Publishing is a hard business.  It’s hard to break in.  It can be hard to stay in.  The temptation to jump at what looks to be an opportunity to link your name with that of a known author is great.  But please, look before you leap.  I’ll repeat my warning from the other day because, even though this is a different topic, the warning is just as valid — consider the consequences of your actions.

Most of all, remember that if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.

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