More Troubles in Memoir-Land

Something tells me that the James Frey debacle is only the beginning. I think the publishing industry is due for an adjustment, soon.

It seems like this kind of fraud, passing fiction as memoirs and posing as someone they're not is not just some isolated incidents. People are too trusting these days. Even agents and publishers are taking authors at their word, without any significant fact checking. But then again, how do you fact-check experiences and perceptions?

According to this article:

"In Hollywood, the culture allows people to dissemble and deceive and then they'll do another deal together. Those are the rules in Hollywood, but those are not the rules in publishing," says Morgan Entrekin, president and publisher of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

Says Eric Simonoff, a literary agent with Janklow & Nesbitt Associates, "There is an assumption that authors of serious books - memoirs, works of history, book-length works of journalism - will approach their jobs with integrity and decency. Going forward, however, I suspect that when editors read a work of nonfiction that is too good to be true, they will think twice and ask more questions."

Here's some more sobering revelation (same article):

Ira Silverberg represents author JT Leroy, or at least the books that have been published under Leroy's name. Leroy is now widely believed not to exist, a literary invention impersonated by a bewigged woman in public appearances, while someone else secretly writes the books based on Leroy's supposed past as a prostitute and drug addict.

Silverberg had met the person who claimed to be Leroy, but acknowledges he never suspected he was being fooled. Now, he says, "There are these days where I scratch my head, and wonder about a lot people, 'Who was that I was just speaking on the phone with?' I second-guess myself more often."

But Silverberg speaks of a new client, a fiction writer from "the middle of America," whom the agent has never met and, noting that they have mutual acquaintances, doesn't plan on doing so.

"I have a nice relationship with him, I like the work and he's not telling me that he's an HIV positive, drug-addicted prostitute," Silverberg says. "There's no persona. He's just an average person not pretending to be anything."

I mean, how do people get so far in deceiving others? Don't they check background information? How about social security numbers? Where do the checks get mailed to? How could a non-existing person manage to not only get an agent, but also get a publishing contract and continue to receive royalties for years? It baffles to mind to see how gullible (yes, gullible -- "trusting" is too mild a word) people are in the publishing industry.

We writers should know. Many a writer has been scammed by con artists posing at legitimate agents or publishers. Maybe now writers can sit and laugh at how the table's been turned, that the publishers are being duped. But it's not really a laughing matter. I think this type of deceit is poison, and it is corrupting the publishing world on both sides. How can a writer trust anyone anymore? And how can publishers and agents trust writers?

It's a mess.

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Mark Pettus said…
Ray, two days ago I wrote, "We don't hold Hollywood writers, producers, and directors up to ridicule when they play fast and loose with the facts, why do we hold book writers to a higher standard?"

It appears Morgan Entrekin acknowledges the double standard, and seems to think publishing is somehow a more noble business than film-making. I'm not sure he's right, but I like the sentiment.
Ray Wong said…
I don't know if publishing is more "noble" but I think that's the perception. Hollywood is fully of snakes and rats, and nobody is surprised. Still, there is code of conducts and a "documentary" still can't be called one if the facts don't check out (we can argue all we want about Michael Moore but apparently his fact-checkers and lawyers are doing their job since no one has knocked on his door yet)... everything else is fair game. I do think, though, writers look at themselves as more "noble" and "pure" than "entertainers." I am not sure if I totally agree, but such is the perception.

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