On Full Fathom Five and Supporting Authors

Posted April 17, 2014 by Stormy in Books / 19 Comments

full fathom five

I’m not sure what compelled me to do it, but after seeing Dorothy Must Die jump onto the bestseller’s list, I found myself perusing twitter to see what people were saying about the book in relation to it coming from Full Fathom Five, James Frey’s packaging company.I blame the insomnia I had that kept me awake from 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM this morning. I’m not going to get into explaining book packaging and Full Fathom Five because others have done that better, but for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here are some helpful links and posts others have created:

For the most part, people seem to agree on a few things when it comes to book packagers:

  • Book packaging, as an idea, is not ethically wrong(though plenty of people don’t like the idea behind book packaging and lose enthusiasm for those books, I have yet to see anyone who thinks it’s just an ethically wrong business practice). I find the concept of book packaging fascinating and hope to explore it more in a future post.
  • However, James Frey’s book packaging company is ethically wrong because of the terrible contracts that authors have to sign and their lousy earning( A little about the contract).
  • This leads to some people boycotting books coming from James Frey’s packaging company and the decision to not buy or  to read those books.

Now, personally, I’ve decided not to buy Full Fathom Five books. I hardly ever use the word “boycott”, but technically that’s what it is. If I’m going to give a book any sort of publicity or pay for a book, I’d rather do it with books that are NOT Full Fathom Five books. I understand why other people might not boycott, though. I don’t boycott every company I disagree with. For one, I don’t have the time to find every. single. company. that treats their employees unfairly, that use unfair labor practices, that donates to organizations I disagree with. If a company like that is brought to my attention, I’ll often choose an alternative if it’s available, but I don’t go around boycotting everything I could.

The reason I bring this up is because I totally understand why someone might not boycott Full Fathom Five. What you do with your free time and your money is really none of my business(provided it’s legal). I mean, I can do everything I can to bring unfair practices to other people’s attention and encourage them to seek alternatives, but in the end, it’s up to you and that’s completely fine. I’m not really into judging what other people want to do with their time and money. I don’t really like many of Wal-Mart’s policies but I still sometimes shop there if it’s convenient.

I wanted to talk about this though because when I was scrolling twitter on this topic, I kept seeing a theme pop up(it also pops up in some of the comments of the posts above) that goes something like this:

I don’t like Full Fathom Five’s policies, but I don’t think it’s fair to boycott because then you’re not supporting the author either.

Something about this argument just doesn’t sit right with me, and here’s why:

1. I already don’t support every author anyway. No one does.

As a group, I support authors . I want to BE an author someday, and I think authors are amazing! I know how powerful stories and books can be, and I am constantly in awe at how creative certain authors are. I support them.

But individually? I don’t support every author, at least not when we’re equating “supporting” with “reading or buying”. Because I will never buy every book in the world or read every book, not even every book that appeals to me. I have to be selective with what I read/buy because I am mortal and not a billionaire.

So because I have finite money and time, I have to pick which authors to support. In that case, I’d rather not buy/read books packaged by Full Fathom Five.

2. Would I really be supporting the author by buying the book?

To me, this argument is a little like saying “I dislike when companies don’t sell fair trade chocolate, but at least I’m helping them keep some kind of job, even if it’s not the fairest”. Buying Full Fathom Five books doesn’t really support the author as much as it tells James Frey that his terrible contracts and money-making ideas are working.

3. Books, in this situation, are not just books.

In general, I don’t really have a hard time separating an author’s personal life from a work of art. However, the climate surrounding a work of art is a different matter. Enjoying art is one thing, but I don’t want to do it at the exploitation of the creator, which is what I believe Full Fathom Five does.

In the End:

I think choosing whether to boycott something or not is a personal decision, so I definitely get it. Like I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of things I don’t boycott even when I disagree. I still shop at Wal-Mart sometimes. I still sometimes buy from companies who have terrible business practices. I’ve read Orson Scott Card’s books(well, just Ender’s Game).  You can’t boycott everything, and I totally get why someone might decide to not boycott Full Fathom Five books. It’s really up to you, but I did want to offer some thoughts on the idea that by boycotting in this particular case, you’re not supporting the actual author. And clearly, several of Full Fathom Five’s books, like I Am Number Four and Dorothy Must Die, are doing well. It’s not so much for me that I think my lack of reading these books is any sort of indicator to the company, but about how I personally feel and how much I want to support authors and the industry.

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19 responses to “On Full Fathom Five and Supporting Authors

  1. Thanks for writing this post, Stormy! I knew ABOUT FFF and JF but I didn’t really know the details and whatnots. I haven’t personally bought any FFF books (that I know of) but especially with the popularity of Dorothy Must Die lately, it does make me question things and whether I would purchase it or not. I think I’d really have to sit on the question longer because I haven’t taken the time to really examine my views on this and whether they would really come to boycotting, but it already has a negative influence on me and generally, I trust my book blogger friends. Such interesting topics to talk about (and debate)!

    • Stormy

      It’s a confusing mess to sort out! I think part of it is that they’re so secretive about it. I hardly ever boycott things and it’s not so much than I really want to take that stand now, but if I have $20 for a hardcover, I’m pretty sure I’ll always pass over the Full Fathom Five one for something else. Just makes me feel better.

  2. Kelly

    I’m going to try to play devil’s advocate in a way that is not too scandalous.

    I try my best to leave politics out of whether or not I’m going to read a book, and make my decision based solely on the book’s merit. Like you said, I don’t have the time (nor energy) to investigate every company for unethical practices. Can we safely assume then, that some major publishers extort an author every once in a while? An author who’s desperate to be published, who’s offered pennies for something worth much more, but who accepts it in order to call themselves a published author?

    Many author’s don’t/won’t/can’t share the details of their publishing contract. If we were to examine them all, would we find practices that made us uneasy? Doubtful? Maybe? Probably?

    But I think the thing that makes me the most uneasy about boycotting someone like Frey is that, at the end of the day, the authors signing publishing contracts with Frey know what they’re getting themselves in to. While his practices are undeniably awful, can we hold him solely responsible when these authors are walking in, eyes open, and choosing to sign with his company anyways?

    Any author interview I’ve ever read has detailed the long and arduous road to a publishing contract. If young authors are trying to take the “easy way” by signing a contract that’s obviously not in their best interests, shouldn’t we be holding them just as much to blame?

    • Stormy

      Yeah, I do totally get that argument. I mean, these are adults who are willingly entering into their own contracts. They can make their own decision. I don’t think the blame solely rest with Frey, but at the same time I don’t think it’s an equal blame because of the power difference.

      It’s sorta like, let’s say an utility scam. Maybe I’m moving into a new neighborhood and shopping for a new electricity provider. I find one for a low cost, skim(but don’t read) the contract, and sign-up. Months later, I’m being charged through the roof because of a loophole and the company’s totally fooled me. I’m an adult, I can read the fine print, sure. It’s still my mistake, and no one’s denying that, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t at fault for running the scam/being completely unethical in the first place. That’s sort of how I feel about Frey’s packaging company.

      I think another issue too is that while major publishers might write not-so-great contracts too, all the authors who write with a major publishing house HAVE to have an agent. The big five/six/whatever it is now won’t take unsolicited copies, so those authors all have an agent who can negotiate contracts on THEIR behalf. Frey’s authors don’t have that advantage.

  3. I don’t mind too much about the personal opinions of an author. I try to focus on books where the author’s opinions help build up my beliefs but I also read loads of books from different religions, time periods, and belief systems because I need to know about the world 🙂 As far as Full Fathom Five this is the first time I heard of it. I read all the links you posted and wow! This upsets my “sweatshops for writers” it just doesn’t sit well with me. I would like it better without all the pseudonyms…a little more transparency and fairness…until then I don’t support it 🙂

    • Stormy

      I think often it’s not so much author’s opinion but their behavior. I know people who will boycott authors who attack reviewers & such. I don’t keep up with that very much so I’m very rarely in the know about it. To me, though, that’s a different issue than Full Fathom Five. An author’s beliefs are personal–Full Fathom Five’s practice are BUSINESS, and unethical business. Most book packaging companies, like Paper Lantern Lit, are pretty transparent. Full Fathom Five tries to hide their books well.

  4. You brought up a lot of points that I agree with that I didn’t go into in my post, particularly the point about not supporting every author out there so what difference is there in not buying a FFF book. The analogy you used is perfect. James Frey doesn’t care whether the money you spend on his work is intended to support the author; he only cares that you’re giving him money! Do I wish those authors luck in their writing careers, and hope they find a more ethical outlet? Yes. I support them in that sense. But I will not support them financially, because that means I’m supporting Frey too.

    • Stormy

      That’s exactly how I feel. I want those authors to have great careers *away* from James Frey’s packaging company, but reading the books, buying them, etc, don’t support the author as much as they show him that he’ll continue to be successful. Realistically, do I think enough people would ever boycott Full Fathom Five to make a difference? Probably not. But I can’t buy every book, so I decide to support books that are *not* FFF books.

  5. Wow, I definitely didn’t know about the FFF until I read this post. I was aware of book packaging which I’m fine with, although I do find the idea of ghostwriting slightly problematic. Thanks for the links to Stacked and other blog posts.

    • Stormy

      Yeah, I’m pretty okay with book packaging. I don’t know if I would consider it *ideal*, but it doesn’t really bother me. Full Fathom Five, on the other hand, is just awful.

  6. I’ve never given much thought to book packaging. I just read the Stacked article and saw some books on it that I’ve read. In some ways I don’t care, but now it isn’t necessarily sitting right with me- I kind of wish I had known beforehand… I mean, I don’t think it would change whether or not I would read the book(s), but a part of me just wants to know. Does that make sense?

    • Stormy

      I used to sort of feel that way about book packaging companies in general, but now I don’t care as much. From what I’ve read from authors that use legitimate book packaging companies, while the premise of the story might not be their original idea, it’s a pretty general idea. I don’t remember which author, but I saw someone say that there package book idea was the company giving them a single sentence, and they had a lot of free reign after that. My issue is only with Full Fathom Five, since it’s James Frey’s company and the contracts are considered so heinous.

    • Stormy

      The Stacked article is a great resource for just knowing about book packaging in general, but Debby’s post goes more into the ins & outs of Full Fathom Five.

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