Marketplace, March 2008

Another fake memoir dupes publishers

Marketplace Radio, March 6, 2008

By Stacey Vanek Smith


TESS VIGELAND: You might have heard about that memoir “Love and Consequences” — the one written by Margaret Jones, about growing up in a foster home in South Central Los Angeles. Only her name is actually Margaret Seltzer and the memoir is actually a work of fiction.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It wasn’t that long ago that publishers recalled James Frey’s fake memoir, “A Million Little Pieces.”

We asked Stacey Vanek Smith to look into the price of publishing lies.

STACEY VANEK-SMITH: Book publisher Riverhead pulled 19,000 copies of “Love and Consequences” off store shelves just days after the book was released. Sara Nelson is editor-in-chief at Publishers Weekly. She says it was an honorable and expensive decision.

Sara Nelson: They have the shipping both ways, and the advance, you know, and all the salaries and time and printing costs. It’s a couple hundred thousand dollars. You know, it’s a significant amount in a publishing house.

This has happened several times in recent years. So why don’t publishers just hire fact-checkers? Publisher James Atlas says fact-checkers have never been part of the $24 billion book business. The job is just too big and expensive, and the industry is shrinking. That leaves fact-checking to editors. Problem is, publishing companies often pressure them to churn out a certain number of books every year.

Atlas says costly mistakes like this could change that.

James Atlas: It undermines the industry’s credibility. I just feel like eventually the price is going to be too high and greater efforts will be made.

But we might be holding the publishing industry to unfair standards, says literary agent Ted Weinstein.

Ted Weinstein: This is essentially a product recall.

Weinstein points out that nearly a half million books were published in the last three years.

Weinstein: It’s like saying that anytime a tire has a blow-out, we should alert the media. There are times where a product in any field . . . there’s been a problem with it.

Not everybody is losing money on “Love and Consequences.” Copies are available on eBay for as much as $100.

I’m Stace Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.