Apparently it costs too much money for publishers to fact-check the non-fiction they produce:
Last Thursday, publishing-industry veteran Nan Talese was excoriated on television by Oprah Winfrey for publishing James Frey’s 2003 “A Million Little Pieces,” a bestselling memoir about the author’s struggle to overcome drug dependency that he has since admitted is partly fictitious.
But on Friday morning, Ms. Talese walked into 22nd-floor offices in Midtown Manhattan to a standing ovation from her colleagues. Soon afterward, she received a call of support from Peter Olson, chief executive of Bertelsmann AG’s Random House Inc. publishing arm.
“I’ve gotten more than 500 emails over the last few days, and the overwhelming majority have been supportive,” says Ms. Talese whose imprint, Nan A. Talese, is part of Random House’s Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group.
Indeed, many members of the publishing industry have rallied around Ms. Talese and Random House, saying that they would have published “A Million Little Pieces” as well and could have been duped just as easily. Unlike journalists, publishers have never seen it as their purview to verify that the information in nonfiction books is true. Editors and publishers say the profit-margins in publishing don’t allow for hiring fact-checkers. Instead, they rely on authors to be honest, and on their legal staffs to avoid libels suits. “An author brings a manuscript saying it represents the truth, and that relationship is one of trust,” says Ms. Talese.
One of the best things about ‘Blogging is that it demonstrates over and over again that effective debunking of lies and the lying liars that tell them usually takes a skeptical outlook and about five minutes’ use of Google. (There’s also, of course, the requirement for modest linguistic competence and tech-savvy, but let’s not get too ambitious too soon on behalf of the metropolitan media in-crowd.) Perhaps the biggest problem many editors have is that they are happy to believe any old crap that will make them money or fit their pre-sketched world-view. Here’s a link to the Daily Ablution.
Other nonfiction authors say the James Frey incident illustrates that publishers in general are devoting far more resources to marketing books than editing them. “There’s less editorial process now, dramatically, compared to 25 years ago,” says David Halberstam, author of “The Best and the Brightest” and numerous other titles. “All the money goes into marketing to get books onto television.” He says that publishers’ desire to get authors onto broadcasts like Ms. Winfrey’s has even changed the type of book that publishers want. “A fiction writer can’t do that, but a memoirist can,” he says.
“A Million Little Pieces,” which was Oprah Winfrey’s book club selection for October, 2005, has more than three million copies in print in North America. After the book’s veracity was challenged earlier this month, it went back onto hardcover best-seller lists and continues among the top best-selling paperbacks in most retail outlets.
Mr. Frey said on the “Larry King Live” that he and his agent initially shopped “A Million Little Pieces” to other publishers as a novel and were turned down. In an interview, Ms. Talese said that she was never told that the book had been offered originally as fiction.
Richard Pine, a partner in the New York literary agency InkWell Management LLC, said that presenting the book as fiction to one publisher and nonfiction as another is “highly questionable ethics.”