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James Frey Wants Your Ideas, $250 a Pop

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James Frey Wants Your Ideas, $250 a Pop

This week, The Globe and Mail reported on James Frey's "Damien Hirst-inspired" young-adult novel factory. Apparently, Frey's latest gambit is to hire young (and presumably desperate) writers to pen novels for him, which he'll subsequently edit and in doing so stamp his name on them, presenting each book as a collaboration. He views this as an improvement on book packagers like Alloy who, in lieu of royalties, tend to pay a flat fee of around $10,000 per manuscript.

Here's what Frey is asking/offering: Send him a high concept (basically a one line premise) for a book. If he likes it, he'll buy exclusive rights to the finished manuscript for $250. Then, if he can sell the book, you get 40% of royalties, while he gets 60. Um...

First, look at the numbers. Frey gives you some editorial notes (which you're obliged to follow under threat of termination) and then takes 60% of the profits. Compare that to having an agent, which you basically need in the first place. They take 15%. This means you go from earning 85% of royalties to 4o, giving up more than half your income for $250 up front. Does that make sense to anyone, or am I taking crazy pills?

Numbers aside, there's something a little tawdry about the whole scheme. Frey is basically buying other peoples' ideas—for peanuts—and selling them as his own (because presumably he'll get top billing and its his name that people will remember when they see the dust jacket). Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but as a writer who tries to do something original with each book, who sees writing as a venerable craft, not an assembly line featuring the vampire/angel/werewolf/alien-of-the-month, I find the whole thing pretty noxious.

Still, people are going for it, if only for the opportunity to ride Frey's infamous coattails. In that way, perhaps it's a two way street, a mutually beneficial symbiosis. Maybe 40% of a James Frey co-authored book is a worthwhile thing. Heck, it probably is. Financially speaking. But surely there's more to writing than just that. Here's hoping I'm not the only one who thinks so.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Robert Paul Weston

Robert Paul Weston's fiction has appeared in magazines on both sides of the Atlantic and been nominated for The Journey Prize in Canada and The Fountain Award for Speculative Literature in the United States. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and lives in Toronto.

His website is www.robertpaulweston.com

Go to Robert Paul Weston’s Author Page