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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

How To Make Lots Of Money In Five Easy Steps

Just send me $5.00 and I will share the secret!

In James Frey: Young Adult Author, my previous post about Frey’s Full Fathom Five Young Adult Fiction Factory, I wrote about the lack of respect for young adult literature (and the readers) showed by James Frey and his factory writers. In the comments I added, “you cannot cheat an honest man.” The writers who signed up with Frey, or wanted to (like Suzanne Mozes who wrote the New York Magazine article), were looking for an easy answer (in this case, a money making book and film deal) without having to do the work one normally does to achieve the deals. That said, as in any other arena (banking, credit cards, auto loans, mortgages) just because someone willingly enters into an unfair contract does not mean the contract becomes fair, or common, or one not to be criticized.

Some recent, interesting updates about the whole thing. Slate’s MFA vs NYC: America now has two distinct literary cultures. Which one will last? is must-reading to understand why MFA students would be so clueless — almost willfully so — about how the business of commercial publishing works. (Short answer: MFA’s are about literary writing while full time professorships pay the bills, NYC is about commercialism where copyediting pays the bills.)

The Columbia Spectator weighs in on the Frey story with No Shortcut to Success with Publishing Houses by Claire Fu. For the most part, Fu takes a terrific look at the shortcuts writers like Mozes was seeking and has some rather interesting quotes from Mozes.

Sadly, Fu begins with the same mistake that Frey and Mozes and their ilk make. They compare what they are doing and what they hope to do to Twilight and Harry Potter. Really, people? Seriously, the writers attached to Full Fathom Five almost deserve the contract they signed if they believe either of those works are the result of a Full Fathom Five type company. Is it that hard to do a little research and instead say Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Gossip Girl?

Fu quotes Mozes: “People may assume “that these writers are innocent lambs, and frankly, they might be, but likely they’re smart individuals,” she said. “You’ve got to risk big to play big.” The lure of cooperating with Frey to potentially deliver a profitable novel definitely qualifies as playing big.” “Innocent” isn’t the word I’d use. “Ignorant,” yes, because they are smart but they fell for a false lure. If they REALLY wanted to “play big,” they’d actually look to see what authors like Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling did. They’d also learn that neither Meyer nor Rowling had a Frey who “cooperated” with them to deliver a profitable novel and movies. Nothing like smart people who think they know more than they do.

Another great money quote from Mozes — which I can only assume she gave to Fu after the New York Magazine article, so with full knowledge of all the resulting blog and news response — is the reason to sign with Frey: ““To fund my art,” Mozes said. “It’s a constant stream of income that would allow me to really work on my first narrative nonfiction book.” It also helps with covering tuition, which Mozes described as “like a Verizon bill and heating bill that I’ll have for a long time.” All this, of course, assumes that the book written for Full Fathom Five would be successful in the first place. ”

Hear the sound of laughter? That is every young adult writer who has school loans in addition to Verizon bills and heating bills (and rent, and child care, etc.) to pay and does so the old fashioned way: full time job while writing, or part time job and writing, or writing anything and everything to pay those bills. (As I reread the article, I also became very amused at how Mozes felt like she had to explain to Fu and others just what it means to pay back student loans for tuition.)

Hear the crying? It is those of us who respect young adult literature as its own art form, not as a crass commercial widget to be churned out so that Mozes can write “real books.”

Hear the stunned silence? It’s those of us thinking Mozes may be smart, but if she says that, she’s ignorant….ignorant of M.T. Anderson and Melina Marchetta, of Libba Bray and David Almond, of Sonya Hartnett and Rick Yancey.

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. “Just send me $5.00 and I will share the secret!”

    What’s your address? ; )

    Great post, Liz.

  2. Liz,

    That was quite a rant!

    Have you considered speaking directly to Frey, Mozes or Fu?

    By the way, what are your credentials?

  3. Well said, Liz.

  4. Zelda, I think Liz’s credentials as a lawyer, long-time reviewer of young adult literature (and the industry) and librarian more than qualify her to comment on the issue. Dare I ask what your credentials are?

  5. Legend has it that many years after Billy Wilder retired, someone in Hollywood got the bright idea of seeing if he’d come back and make another movie. The idea was kicked upstairs and eventually handed to someone at a production company, and a call was made to Mr. Wilder’s agent, and a meeting arranged.

    By that time was thoroughly in the grip of MBAs with degrees in finance, most of them under 35, so when Wilder came in for the discussion, the first thing the young man behind the desk said was, “I understand you did a lot of very important things in the old days but I’m not familiar with your career. Could you tell me what you’ve done?”

    Wilder quietly said, “You first.”

  6. I’ve looked at the contract (well, as much as one can from the online postings) and I’m confused. Ms. Mozes wants to use this to pay her bills, but the only thing guaranteed by Frey is the $250 – everything else is contingent and he/they aren’t accountable in any way for paying more. Plus your name’s not on the work, unlike Meyer and Rowling and all the others. So, in what way is this a good thing as a writer?

    On the other hand, I wonder what the Slackmeyer Syndicate’s terms are…

  7. Darsa, thanks!

    Zelda, I have no plans for doing interviews with them at this time. In terms of credentials, I’m pretty transparent with my online life.

    GalleySmith has recapped my credentials — thanks, Michelle! So I don’t feel the need to resay it.

    John, love it! Now I want to go watch Billy Wilder movies.

    Laura, based on what is online, writers were given an outline/guidelines and paid 125 to 250 a book which was “the equivalent of three months salary of a journalist” at the time. No royalties, no recognition but they could identify that they wrote for Stratemeyer. Upon his death, all writers were given 1/5 of the royalties earned for their books. So, pay hasn’t changed (ha! ha!) and it’s iffy as to how much input/guidance/outlines Frey gives. Frey is offering a share of profits — but less than if a writer used their own agent instead of Frey, and of course, no audit provision. Arguably this is because Frey is using his “connections,” and (at least for I AM NUMBER FOUR) those connections were succesful. Those familiar with current contracts (say, with Alloy, etc). have been pretty vocal that the terms Frey offers are not current industry standard.

  8. I believe the most pertinent of Liz’s credentials in this case is that she respects YA literature.