Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fake Memoir is No Surprise

By now, most of you have heard about author James Frey and his fake memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Now, the publisher Random House is offering refunds to anyone who bough the book straight from the publisher. Apparently, readers are pretty irritated that a fiction book was marketed and sold as non-fiction.

Well, apparently, a lot of readers haven’t been paying attention. The non-fiction novel has been around since Truman Capote penned In Cold Blood and the abuse of the term “non-fiction” has only escalated since then. Bestsellers like The Perfect Storm, Into Thin Air and Angela’s Ashes were all just novels based on historic events. But they were sold as non-fiction.

Why sell them as non-fiction? Because the non-fiction bestseller lists are MUCH easier to get on to than the fiction lists. A book that wouldn’t even be listed in the top 50 novels can break into the top 10 of non-fiction. That, I am sure, is why Frey decided to publish his reality-based novel as an earnest memoir.

As a former member of the editorial staff at a major publishing company, I am not the least bit surprised by the Frey scandal. As much as some editors still want the business to be about the artistic endeavor that is writing, the giant conglomerate media companies care only about profit. If lying about the veracity of a memoir gets an author on Oprah and sells books, that’s not such a bad deal—even if caught, a scandal almost always boosts sales even further.

Money. Money. Money. That is sadly the main and often only motivating force behind publishing. I remember countless editorial meetings where an editor would present a book for consideration and the question “is it good” would not even be asked. “Will it sell?” “Who’s the market?” “Is the author attractive?” Those were the key questions. I imagine it’s only gotten worse since I departed the industry in 1999.

The story of Frey is unfortunate. But the only thing surprising is that it took this long for a scandal like this to erupt.

For additional and excellent commentary on this, check out AmbivaBlog.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also work at a publishing place. although I'm lower level employee, I'm amazed at how all issues are settled by how much things cost. We have unrealistic schedules, crappy but cheap freelancers we go through like water, and the only repsonse I hear when questions are brought up is, "But we're saving money." No wonder we're being bought out and longtime empployees ahve low morale.

10:09 PM  

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