You've heard of battery chickens, meet factory books.

James Frey (author of A Million Little Pieces, the controversial non-memoir) is at it again. A massive best seller, I Am Number Four, was created in his teen book factory, Full Fathom Five. It has already earned him a whole lot of money and a good number of enemies, neither of which seems to ruffle his teflon feathers.


Full Fathom Five's brief is to develop highly commercial, high concept novels for the YA market. Frey pays his writers a standard $250 advance + 30% of any profits generated by the work (the contract includes punitive clauses ranging from $50,000-$250,000 if the writer behaves in ways that Frey considers undermining to his empire), using creative writing students as cheap labor to churn out commercial books, and retaining the right to remove an author from a project at any time.

Anna Godbersen's The Luxe series and the Gossip Girl series, I'm told, came about via similar ideas factories.

Now. I believe strongly in the free market and readers' rights to read whatever they choose. Many of these high-concept factory books are very popular. And I know publishers and booksellers are struggling like mad, desperately trying to support "quality" books with the sale of celebrity biographies and the like.

But just because kids will scarf down a diet of chicken McNuggets, do we want to be the people selling them?

And wouldn't some of the energy that goes into creating android books be better spent promoting the real thing -- whether it be Twilight (like it or not, it was written by an actual person), The Hare With Amber Eyes, or my recent favourite, Go The *@!!£$%* To Sleep -- a picture book for adults which is number one on the best seller list and won't even be released till June.

Genuine innovation. Now there's a novel idea.

(Read more about Mr Frey's factory here.)