James Frey’s novel Bright Shiny Morning is coming out in two weeks, which means the publicity department at HarperCollins is in the thick of what has to be an unusually challenging public-relations campaign.
With director of publicity Tina Andreadis in charge, the team has done a knockout job so far. The biggest coup is the softball profile of Mr. Frey that will appear in this month’s Vanity Fair, which paints Mr. Frey as a wounded victim of market forces. The author of the piece, Evgenia Peretz, declares near the top of the piece that “the story of what really happened with A Million Little Pieces has not been told in its full complexity,” and later concludes that the publishing industry was “complicit in the scandal.”
Throughout the piece, Ms. Peretz quotes from an interview she conducted with Mr. Frey in December– at the time Mr. Frey believed and/or said that that it would be the first and last one he would give for Bright Shiny Morning— but warns at the outset that her subject told her he was not allowed to comment on the scandal because of the terms of his settlement with Million Little Pieces publisher Random House.
Ms. Peretz goes on to quote Mr. Frey at length on issues related to the scandal. She has him reaffirming that he initially submitted A Million Little Pieces as a novel rather than a memoir. This was an assertion Mr. Frey first made in a 2003 interview with this newspaper before A Million Little Pieces was published, and again, during the scandal, on Larry King Live. Now, in VF, he reiterates: “I sent the book to [my agent] as a novel. I was pretty clear. It’s a novel. I didn’t tell her it was a memoir. I told her it was a novel. I’m not sure what else I needed to say.”
Ms. Talese, who published A Million Little Pieces at Random House through her Doubleday imprint and has never wavered in her belief that the embellishments contained therein were irrelevant, was beside herself when informed on Monday that Mr. Frey had told Vanity Fair that he initially submitted the book as a novel.
“He said this again?” she said, her voice rising in indignation. “I can’t believe he said that! You’d better check that because it’s simply not true.”
It’s not clear we can do that. Does Mr. Frey’s nondisclosure agreement with Random House allow Mr. Frey to defend the contention he made to Ms. Peretz? Or does it allow him to make the claim, but bar him from defending it afterward?
Ms. Peretz said in an e-mail that the confidentiality agreement Mr. Frey cited during their interview barred him from talking "about what went on at Random House," but left him plenty of wiggle room when it came to the actual "writing of Million Little Pieces, his dealings with his agent, and the aftermath of the scandal."
David Drake, publicity director for Doubleday/Random House, confirmed that the arrangement Mr. Frey described to Ms. Peretz is actually real– that the house does in fact have an agreement with Mr. Frey that includes a confidentiality clause. Mr. Drake declined to say whether Mr. Frey had violated the agreement by saying what he did to Vanity Fair.
Meanwhile, you have to think Mr. Frey’s handlers at HarperCollins are celebrating right now: sources tell Pub Crawl that the team was approached by several other publications– the New York Times Magazine among them– all of whom were hoping for an exclusive interview with Mr. Frey. It’s clear now that giving Mr. Frey to Vanity Fair was a smart move. (Though one does get the sense that VF‘s publicity folks were a bit stunned and put off when they heard yesterday that The Bookseller, a UK trade publication, had conducted their very own interview with Mr. Frey and posted a story about it on their Web site just a few hours after VF posted theirs.)
The magazine piece was not the Harper publicity team’s first triumph– they had already proven themselves to be quite shrewd when they gave Publishers Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson-a somewhat influential industry observer who has publicly defended Mr. Frey on numerous occasions and referred to him as a social acquaintance– the privilege of being the first critic in the world to review the new novel. Other critics got a copy of the book too, but according to Ms. Andreadis they had to promise not to write about it until after the pub date. Ms. Nelson’s featured review appeared on April 14th; she called the book a " train wreck," but an "un-put-downable" "pageturner" at that.
Perhaps to Ms. Nelson’s credit, some of those who read her review thought it was a devastating put-down while others thought it was a warm endorsement. Mr. Frey linked to the review on his blog under the heading "My train wreck." "Thanks Sara," Mr. Frey wote.