Publisher's Responsibility for Factual Books
30 Jan 2006, 4:33:44 pm
We've been following the "A Million Little Pieces" debacle for our own personal interest in the downfall of (in my opinion) a poor-quality writer who rose to enormous heights thanks to Oprah, but as a publisher, I'd be remiss if I hadn't considered what an event like this would mean if one of our books had succeeded so greatly then fallen so hard.
. . . . . . . . .
The Wall Street Journal discusses the publishing industry's excuse from responsibility, that the publisher relies on the truthiness of the author's manuscript, and they just can't afford fact-checkers to ensure that everything is true enough to be published.
I read The Smoking Gun's report before it made the worldwide press, and at that time knew nothing about the book, only recognizing the book's cover from my last Barnes & Noble visit. The points they make are very firm, with little room for Frey to explain away mistaken memories or confusion about events -- but it took the Smoking Gun, an expert in investigative digging, to figure out the flaws in Frey's story. Compare this to errors in the glossary of science textbooks (I've found several in my life). Would a fact-checker hired by a publisher actually catch these, without devoting a level of work equivalent to the author themselves?
Still, publishers do bear a certain amount of responsibility to make sure that the author has no intention to defraud or falsify their book's contents. We've got a non-fiction series in the works, and we will be watching the intent that the author has to provide valid facts, even if we do not actually verify every item in the book. Frey's publisher could not have reasonably fact-checked every detail of his incarceration, but they should have looked at his intent - having shopped his book as fiction first should have been a clue, and while not easily researched, it would have been easier to discover than the exact circumstances of Frey's arrest.