John Scalzi's Whatever today has an article on James Frey preying on MFA writing program students with a really lousy book packaging contract, referenced from a New York Magazine article about the YA novel packaging mill Full Fathom Five -- you can read the details there.
Yeah, we're talking about turning your work over to another person, who will control it, not you. And losing one's copyright. For up to a big $250-$500 payday. Plus promises of more if there's a media deal for TV or film. Makes one wonder what the hell they teach in MFA writing programs. Apparently, there's not much publishing business being taught. And to re-write James Frey, "a crappy deal is still a crappy deal, not an opportunity".
One of the commenters wanted to know if, after the Cooks Source scandal about plagiarism, has this become something like National Kick Authors Month? Sadly, no. People have stolen other people's writing and come up with massively unjust contracts for a long time. Another commenter suggested that people would be "better", for very poor values of "better", going the self-publishing route than with this contract. The only good news is that these things usually only affect a few writers.
As for James Frey, he's not a stranger to controversy and questionable ethics. You can read in the Wikipedia article about his A Million Little Pieces, which had been an Oprah featured book. This new deal isn't going to polish his starry little luster very much, IMHO.
I'm sure there'll be more about this on the web. But my point is basically that if you want to be a published writer, that doing a little research on your part and asking people about the business side of writing will go a long way to cut down on the odds of you being taken advantage of. And some people will allow themselves to be taken advantage of, because they either buy the deal or don't know any better.