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Zombie Realms and Full Fathom Falsehoods

November 15, 2010

So, a pair of interesting publishing-related items have cropped up in the past few weeks, and I thought I’d share my take on them.  The first concerns the venerable genre magazine “Realms of Fantasy”, and the second concerns this article in the New York Magazine about a new book called I Am Number Four.

Realms of Fantasy” is one of the old stalwarts of the SF&F publishing scene.  It’s been around, in one form or another, since 1994, but they ran into trouble (presumably, I would guess, with declining readership) and in 2009 they nearly folded, but for a guy named Warren Lapine, who bought it and continued publishing it.  I was only peripherally aware of the situation in 2009, and recall primarily feeling relieved that a potential market for my fantasy stories had been saved.  And yet, I could never justify to myself the expense of getting a subscription to the mag; not at a time when my “writing career” wasn’t yet generating any income.  It was, admittedly, a purely selfish reaction.

And then came the sad news a few weeks back: Lapine’s leadership had been unable to change the course of the mag.  It was going to close, again.  But then, in a strange case of deja-vu all over again, it was announced that another party had once again stepped in to save the ailing magWell, I thought, Maybe this time I’ll manage to get a subscription before it folds, and maybe help save it once and for all.  Admittedly, though, a part of me was just a tiny bit skeptical.  This wasn’t the first time the magazine had announced it was closing up shop only to be bought up and “saved”.  Whatever the problems with the magazine were, they ran deep and would require real changes to make it viable again.

And then I read this (hat tip).  And this.  And… I think I’ll hang back, again, and at least wait to see how this new ownership turns out before signing up for the “Save the Realms of Fantasy” membership drive, as it were.  It remains to be seen if the mag can be saved by a publisher with a less-than-sterling reputation.  I’m hopeful, but not terribly optimistic, in all honesty.

Now…

If you’re a regular reader of fantasy and science fiction, and especially if you’re a reader of YA fare in the same vein, you may have heard of I Am Number Four by “Pittacus Lore”.  It garnered a lot of initial buzz when it was reported that DreamWorks had picked up the film options even before the book had reached bookstores, and the film is soon forthcoming.  The book has an interesting premise (I won’t rehash it here); interesting, though not entirely original, but there’s another, more interesting story here.  “Pittacus Lore” is, of course, a pseudonym for a pair of writers: newcomer Jobie Hughes and James Frey.  James Frey… Wait a minute… Isn’t he…?

Yes.  Yes he is.  As I read the article in New York Magazine, this name tickled at my memory.  James Frey is the disgraced author of the largely fictional “memoir” A Million Little Pieces of Oprah Bookclub fame (or infamy, in this case).  He’s the guy who had to settle a lawsuit with readers who’d been defrauded when they purchased this book under false pretenses.  Don’t get me wrong, I love fiction far more than I shall ever love memoirs and other “true” stories.  But it is another thing entirely to sell a fictional story as a factual account.  And now, what’s this Mr. Frey is up to?

He’s started a “book packaging” company called Full Fathom Five.  What’s he doing.  Read the article, and you’ll get all the gory details, but it basically amounts to this: he’s up to his old defrauding tricks, only this time he’s pulling it on the most credulous and hopeful audience of all – aspiring authors.  I Am Number Four is but the first fruits of this new endeavor.  But there is no shortage young, hopeful writers who long to sell their first book and to make it big in the publishing industry.  But for those who are fooled by the aura surrounding Mr. Frey, he has bound them with a contract that is designed to resemble a Hollywood-style “work-for-hire” contract, but which is restrictive and miserly even by Hollywood standards.  $250 for a finished book.  No copyright.  No credit.  And an NDA meant to prevent writers from ever disclosing their true authorship.

Just reading about James Frey’s little bookshop of horrors made me feel dirty.  All I can say is that I, for one, do not plan to read I Am Number Four, nor to see the forthcoming film adaptation.  I have no desire to fuel the greed, arrogance and hubris that has spawned James Frey’s little lie. 

Hat tip, again, to John Scalzi (whence I discovered the New York Mag article).  Read his take on the situation, there.  Another take (largely in the same flavor) is offered by Jason Sanford.  Then, very interesting, the opinion of Legal Blawg Scrivener’s Error, here.  And an alternative version of my own take on all can be found here.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2010 5:31 pm

    Oh my…How insulting to offer a mere $250 for a book! Without any fringe benefits either! Considering a book usually takes over a year, that’s FAR below poverty level. That’s more like sweatshop labor.

    • November 15, 2010 5:36 pm

      Indeed. In a very weak defense of FFF, they’re also offering 30% to 40% of profits (that’s not on sales, so that’s not a royalty, but on sales minus expenses) but they don’t include an audit clause so they could pay the writers whatever they wanted without the writer having any recourse to get a fair shake. It’s pretty bad. And possibly illegal. Check out the Scrivener’s Error link.

  2. November 24, 2010 1:27 am

    A gloomy set of posts. However, I note that the editors/staff of RoF are staying on, which will hopefully be a good sign. Thank’s for these pointers. I’d come across the James Frey link before but hadn’t seen the RoF.

    • November 24, 2010 12:54 pm

      It’s potentially a good sign; but actually, I’m not so sure. Warren Levine kept the same staff on, too, and yet he still ended up folding. Now, I’m not sure if that’s because RoF itself was not sustainable, or because Levine’s other business interests were the dead weight. If the former, though, that suggests that something in RoF’s model itself is broken. I don’t think that’s because it publishes genre fiction: the genre is as alive and thriving today as ever it was. The editorial staff might be where to look next. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong there, mind you. I’m just thinking about this as an MBA (or a 3/4 MBA, as the case may be) and trying to understand this pattern of failure. However, I’m very hopeful that this pattern will be broken; and I certainly don’t mean any ill-will, job-wise, to the current editorial staff. I haven’t been a subscriber to RoF in the past, but I hope to at least sample it in the future, so I’d be the last person who could comment directly on the editorial staff at present. And taking off my MBA cap to put on my writer’s cap: I realize it’s probably not a good idea to say anything negative in that regard, on the not-so-off-chance that I do get to sample RoF in the future, decide I like it, and further decide I might have some stories that’d be a good fit for them and from thence try to submit one…

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