Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Other Shoe Finally Falls on James Frey

On January 30th, 2006, I posted a blog titled "If It's January, It Must be a Literary Hoax."

That post was prompted by the numerous scandals rocking the publishing industry as multiple best-selling authors were revealed to have plagiarized or embellished their manuscripts.

Probably the best-known of the literary hoaxes was James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, described as a "memoir" by publisher Random House. Although the book was published in 2003, sales didn't really take off until Oprah gave it an enthusiastic endorsement on her show of October 26, 2005.

Thanks to the recommendation from Oprah, Frey's book moved to the top of the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list. According to The Smoking Gun, the "memoir" sold more than 3.5 million copies.

Then, in early January, 2006, The Smoking Gun revealed that "major sections of . . . A Million Little Pieces . . . were fabricated" (ABC News). After days and weeks of evasion, Frey finally acknowledged that the allegations were true.

According to the New York Times (NYT), "readers in several states, including New York, California and Illinois, filed lawsuits saying that Mr. Frey and the publisher had defrauded them by selling the book as a memoir rather than as a work of fiction."

Thursday's NYT had an article stating that Frey and Random House "have agreed in principle on a settlement" with those readers.

Neither the author or publisher are admitting to wrongdoing, but both acknowledge that Mr. Frey altered facts for dramatic effect, changing the book from a memoir to a piece of fiction.

Three months ago a federal court judge in New York consolidated the various lawsuits into one. According to ABC News, "Ten of the 12 plaintiffs have accepted terms of the settlement, which call on Frey and Random House to pay out no more than a total of $2.35 million . . . That total covers the refund to consumers, lawyers' fees for both sides and an unspecified donation to charity."

CNN.com reported that David Drake, a spokesman for the Random House imprint Doubleday said, "I can confirm that we have an agreement in principle . . . However, it requires court approval and may take several weeks and even months."

Under the agreement, readers will be asked to provide proof of purchase for the hardcover or the paperback. They will also be asked to sign a statement that they purchased the book thinking it was a memoir. Hardcover claims will be paid $23.95 and paperback claims will be paid $14.95.

Whether this is the end of the Frey debacle remains to be seen. The Associated Press reported, "Frey has also acknowledged extensive falsifications in a second memoir, My Friend Leonard, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, which reportedly dropped him earlier this year."

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