Friday, April 22, 2011

James Frey Sees the Future of Paper...And It's Good

"The new James Frey as self-published by Frey and...The Gaogosian Gallery?????"

You guys have all heard of James Frey no doubt. You remember, the dude who wrote a supposed alcoholic-turned-redeemed-recovering alcoholic memoir A Million Little Pieces which one the Oprah Award and was later debunked as a "Million Little Lies" when it came to light that he made most of the story up?

Ok, bear with me here.

I'm not about to comment a whole lot on what happened five years ago and what Big NYC was thinking when they marketed "Pieces" as nonfiction when I as a writer knew from the get-go that it was fiction. In fact, I liked the book a lot and I continue to like Frey's writing a lot. I think he's got chops and was seriously mistreated by his publisher and made to act as a fall guy for a big corporate conglomerate. None of this however prevented Oprah from stripping him of his award and spanking him over her meaty thighs in front of millions of people (she has since apologized for this and has invited Frey back on her show).

While jealous novelists who couldn't begin sell their way through a wet paper sacks were ganging up on James Frey and kicking him while he was down, shouting, "You're fried in this town, Frey!!!" I sort of had the feeling the dude would have staying power.


Because he's good. Very good. And very good writers, no matter who pisses on their parade from the most frustrated Amazon amateur reviewer to the Book Editor of The Washington Post, can stop the cream from rising and frothing at the top.

Fast-forward five years.

James Frey is still here, and a whole lot of publishers ... big publishers and editors are gone. In fact, James Frey has a new book out as of today, Good Friday. The release date was targeted since, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible is about a modern day Jesus who comes back to save humanity, even if he is a bisexual alcoholic (like I said, I'm not here to be a critic, I'm just reporting some facts).

While the Vatican might be up in arms over the subject matter of the new novel, so are what's left of the Big 6 in NYC. After beating up on him for their own mistake, Frey has thumbed his nose at traditional publishing and gone the route of DIY. Yup, he self-publishes. According to the bestselling author, the future of the written word is E-Books, and he wants to embrace the future as soon as humanly possible. A divine notion for sure that's become a hellish reality for old fashioned publishers like Random House, my former home.

But Frey hasn't stopped with just E-Books. He's also putting out a special paper version of his new novel that being's produced by...hold onto your hairpiece...the Gaogosian Gallery in New York City. While art galleries are known for producing beautiful high end books for renowned artists like Richard Prince, I can't recall a time previous when they've taken on a work of fiction. Beautifully bound and fitted with a striking yet simple cover of a bloodied scalpel set beside a dollop of crimson blood, the novel portrays itself as a work of controversial art of Biblical proportions.

Signed copies retail for $50.

What Frey is doing however is opening up the possibility for all authors like myself who, although published in trade paper, rely almost entirely on E-Book sales for our lively-hood. What's to stop of us from investing our own cash in limited edition print versions of our work, that although expensive, will cater to a new niche market for collectors and paper junkies?

Perhaps in presenting for us just one possible scenario for the future second coming of Christ, Frey is also laying out one possibility for the future of paper. As Kindles and Nooks begin to leap ahead of mass-market paper and the apparent demise of the bookstore as we know it, hope still floats for the independent bookstore in carrying limited special editions of novels like Frey's. Maybe they can even get into the printing act, producing beautifully bound versions of novels for individual customers on demand.

Listen up bookstores, it's either adapt to a paper future like Frey's, or face the end of days sooner than later.

The Top Ten Bestselling Amazon Kindle E-Book: THE INNOCENT
(Every 35 Seconds someone in the world downloads a copy of THE INNOCENT)


  1. Totally spot on, Vince. Great stuff on the state of the biz. I too am a paper junky!

  2. I love how you just report the facts. Totally the freelance artist in you. This is an interesting new development and I'm not surprised that you are the spot I heard about it first.

  3. You're right, Frey ended up owning everybody on this one. He grilled Oprah, who tried to put him in the drawer after she admitted defeat, he trumped the big publishing houses. You're right. I still think the man is a scourge to publishing. There are two reasons for that.

    1. Fake memoirs became a trend after his tome. Obviously, his story was good enough to be published, so why not publishing as fiction? Now every decent writer with no patience stick "memoir" on their book instead of "novel", so they can get ahead of the line. It's a dangerous trend that he washed his hands with. He put a nail in Autofiction's coffin, a nice and entertaining literary movement with no pretension of truth.

    2. He published ADMITTEDLY unoriginal stories he milks from student writers and sells them for quick money. "I am number four" was a pile of elements from different fiction trends (paranormal/YA/romance) , thrown together with explosions. He rejoices in producing crap and surfing off other people's waves.

    Smart guy yeah. Talented writer yeah. I can do without him though.

  4. Ben, that seems to be a general thread I'm hearing from more than one writer/reader...I wanted to comment more on the use of an art gallery for limited editions, and shunning the big pubs in general, embracing E-Books, etc., but I couldn't help but comment on his rep which is obviously dubious to say the least. Is he lacking in character and moral fortitude? Almost certainly, but then so were so many "professionals" in the know who were operating all around him. Seedy business this can be...

  5. There are limited edition presses already out there in many of the genres. The pricey books and the supposed "investment" value are not as appealing in the current economy, though. In horror in particular, the secondary market collapsed and people were left with $50 (or $400) books that are worth less than an e-book now.


  6. Fascinating take on the ebook revolution and the counterculture damn-good authors out there. Now, I better check out Frey's latest book. :)