But you may know him better as one half of the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, author of The Lorien Legacies (I Am Number Four and its sequels). This series marked the start of Full Fathom Five. He recruited Jobie Hughes, an aspiring writer, and suggested they team up to write this story about aliens landing on Earth. Hughes went along with it, hoping that this would be his chance to break into the publishing world. Instead, he got handed a set of frustrating conditions, including a confidentiality agreement where he could never admit to being attached to the project. After screaming matches on the phone concerning the draft of the second book, The Power of Six, and the lack of rights, Hughes walked away from the project. Call it creative differences. (Let it be noted that all my liking for the series also died after the first book; of course, I was reading them before I knew anything about FFF.)
This is the essence of the terms being offered by Frey’s company Full Fathom Five: In exchange for delivering a finished book within a set number of months, the writer would receive $250 (some contracts allowed for another $250 upon completion), along with a percentage of all revenue generated by the project, including television, film, and merchandise rights—30 percent if the idea was originally Frey’s, 40 percent if it was originally the writer’s. The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book but would not own its copyright. Full Fathom Five could use the writer’s name or a pseudonym without his or her permission, even if the writer was no longer involved with the series, and the company could substitute the writer’s full name for a pseudonym at any point in the future. The writer was forbidden from signing contracts that would “conflict” with the project; what that might be wasn’t specified. The writer would not have approval over his or her publicity, pictures, or biographical materials. There was a $50,000 penalty if the writer publicly admitted to working with Full Fathom Five without permission. SourceNow, you can probably get an idea there about why exactly this company pisses me off so much. Full Fathom Five has been referred to as James Frey’s author sweatshop, and I can’t help but feel like that’s a very accurate description. The same article from the quote above has an interesting story about an aspiring author who went to Full Fathom Five and her experiences there. Basically, James Frey comes off as quite the prickly little boss.
The Authors Guild got back to me with serious concerns over the contract. Anita Fore, its director of legal services, suggested that I attempt to negotiate if I wanted to go ahead and sign with Full Fathom Five. I later spoke to Conrad Rippy, a veteran publishing attorney, who explained that the contract given to me wasn’t a book-packaging contract; it was “a collaboration agreement without there being any collaboration.” He said he had never seen a contract like this in his sixteen years of negotiation. “It’s an agreement that says, ‘You’re going to write for me. I’m going to own it. I may or may not give you credit. If there is more than one book in the series, you are on the hook to write those too, for the exact same terms, but I don’t have to use you. In exchange for this, I’m going to pay you 40 percent of some amount you can’t verify—there’s no audit provision—and after the deduction of a whole bunch of expenses.” He described it as a Hollywood-style work-for-hire contract grafted onto the publishing industry—“although Hollywood writers in a work-for-hire contract are usually paid more than $250.” SourceAlso the company tries everything to make a book-to-movie adaptation as likely and appealing as possible (which may or may not be a bad thing – up to you). Everything is about commercialism and profit potential.
He encouraged me to start imagining product placement—“think Happy Meals”—because merchandise is where you make money in these deals. He mentioned the Mogadorian swords in I Am Number Four, which were described with unusual specificity. “We added that after Spielberg told us he needed stuff to sell.” SourceI don’t want to go on for too long about this stuff because well, who reads long posts, and I dislike giving myself an aneurysm. But there’s a lot of information out there about James Frey’s questionable ethics and his author sweatshop, so you may want to just go out and search and educate yourselves. The way I see it, when you buy Full Fathom Five books, you’re hardly supporting the authors – you’re lining James Frey’s pockets and giving him more and more power and standing. I don’t want to do that. I’m not blaming authors for working for him, because I understand that publishing can be tough, and you may want to do whatever you can do to put your name out there, but my money will go elsewhere.
Known Full Fathom Five Books
As a final note: this company, Full Fathom Five, doesn’t even have a website. It doesn’t proudly display which books are theirs. So if that doesn’t tell you that something’s not right, I don’t know what will. In any case, I’m thinking it means that they know that if they do publicly display their books, they won’t sell as well. Another logical business decision. Mitigate the risk. Secretly pull the puppet strings from within the murky shadows. Well played.
EDIT: As of August 2014, FFF does now have a website.