So, the Interwebz are abuzz with vilification of James Frey and his "fiction factory" Full Fathom Five. For those who may not have heard about what's going on, here is the brief rundown.
James Frey (the guy who said he wrote this stunning memoir, got on the couch with Oprah and ended up saying, yeah, it's not a memoir, only to get chewed out by the Queen of Everything herself) has his own little company, the above mentioned Full Fathom Five. Frey goes around to MFA programs to snare a few dewy-eyed college kids who want nothing more than to be published writers when they grow up (and pay off their exorbitant student loans with a job in their degree field). Recently, an example of FFF's standard contract was leaked to the Internet, and it is abominable. The contract promises a paltry advance, a weak percentage of profits and a lot of clauses that can be fulfilled or denied "at the Company's sole discretion". Publishing professionals and hopefuls the World Wide Web over are livid and blogging en masse about Frey's epic douchebaggery.
Now, several people have already written excellent blogs on the matter. They take Frey to task for preying upon his own, they call him out and they are also very informative as to why this is such heinous fuckery. I highly recommend Maureen Johnson and John Scalzi as they both provide amazing commentary on the matter.
I'm not going to go into how this fiscally screws a writer. Other people have done that. I am, however, going to take a moment to address my fellow writers. NaNoWriMo warriors, those of you slugging away in the trenches of the slush pile... I'm talking to you.
Yes, you want to get published. You want a career doing something you love. This contract, albeit a shit contract, is a chance to get your work read. Hell, maybe even movie rights will ensue. A meteoric rise to the top of the NYT Bestseller list at best. At worst, I've got a foot in the door of a highly competitive industry. Right? I see where that is attractive, believe me.
But.... (you knew the 'but' was coming) is Frey's sweatshop REALLY how you want to establish yourself? A cog in a machine churning out commercial material?
Last year, I wrote a blog equating the query process to online dating. I'm going to return to that analogy for just a moment.
You're a single gal looking for some action, a companion. You've gone out on a few first dates only to get a swift "it's not you, it's me" rejection. You've sent out "winks" or "pokes" to people you find attractive only to be ignored. You're beginning to think that this "subjective business" is just too much effort, too much soul-crushing rejection. Then, one day, you get the "wink". Some guy is interested in you. The two of you talk, feeling each other out, trying to see if you're a good fit. You flirt, dance around one another, and then he offers to put a ring on it.
Yay! Joy! Rapture! You've done it! Mission Accomplished!
Wait, there's a bit of a thing here...some fine print.
-You won't be his only wife.
-You may be asked to work with his other wives on a regular basis at his whim.
-He can deny that you are his wife at any time. Even when you're standing next to him holding your babe in arms, he can just say, "nope, I made that baby by myself, give it."
-He can change your name at any time.
-He says he'll support you based on how well your children do in school, but he won't show you their grades.
-He can divorce you at any given time for any reason.
-And he gets sole custody of the kids.
How can a girl say no?
We talk about finding The Agent, the person who will be in our corner and help us navigate this crazy industry. Finding "the One" is hard, so there is always a temptation to go for "Mr. Right Now". I know it's trite, I know it's cliche, but just keep working at it. Keep going on dates. Keep putting yourself out there. Don't settle. When you get into the business, don't you want an advocate? Someone who's going to be looking out for YOUR interests, not their own? Don't you want someone who is proud of you? Willing to name you as their client? Someone who is excited about your work and wants to say, "Look what s/he did!" Going with someone like Frey (not necessarily all packagers/WFH deals), you're just settling. It's like dating a guy who won't introduce you to his friends or family. You're just someone's dirty little secret. A toy or puppet to be used as THEY want to use you. In situations like Full Fathom Five, it's not about you at all. You're not an author, you're a cog. You're expendable. You're easily screwed.
Wait it out.
Find the person who is going to go to the mattresses for you and get you, the author, the kind of career you want.