Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Last Post on this Stuff

I'm burned out talking about Love and Consequences, so this will be my last post on the matter unless additional news breaks.

First, has anyone noticed how inconsistent the newspaper coverage has been? You would think that on an issue like this they would make sure they fact-checked themselves, but I've caught quite a few misstatements and misrepresentations in their articles about the publishing industry.

Next, I have to admit that there is a good chance that Jones would have hoodwinked me as well. I've met the agent in question a few times, but I know her more by reputation, and she is by all accounts considered a very good and ethical agent. This is actually not an easy thing - I'm sure you could find a few people who would have a bad word or two to say about me.

Anyway, if one of my clients referred a writer to me, and that writer sent me their project and provided letters and photographs to support their story, and then introduced me to actual people who claimed to be the writer's foster siblings, I could imagine myself believing the story and not digging further.

Finally, a number of people have asked about the whole fiction v. memoir angle. Rachel Donadio addresses this rather well here, even if her article title was taken from me (j/k).

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

You say, "I'm burned out talking about Love and Consequences," and that's understandable: it reflects badly on your industry, if not you personally. But your blog readers, and readers in general, clearly aren't burned out, and they deserve a chance to be heard. After all, as someone said elsewhere, these are the same agents and editors who many writers have to beg to read their manuscripts, and when they hear about incidents like this, it fuels an already simmering resentment.

Further, the industry rationale you endorse (that expense and time prevent even the most basic fact-checking) rings hollow, especially considering the advances given to some of these now-exposed faux memoirists. A grad-student intern could've sent a few e-mails and caught most of these; how expensive is that?

I don't mean to chastize you personally here; you had nothing to do with this. But as a representative of the industry who has initiated a public forum, I'm not sure cutting off discussion is the best approach.

Anonymous said...

First, has anyone noticed how inconsistent the newspaper coverage has been? You would think that on an issue like this they would make sure they fact-checked themselves, but I've caught quite a few misstatements and misrepresentations in their articles about the publishing industry.

It's appalling how frequently the news media rely on each other for the news. All it takes is one bad "fact" to make it into an otherwise respectable article, and suddenly that "fact" will begin showing up elsewhere.

benwah said...

I assume that most of the people who read agents' blogs are writers, and aspiring writers at that. That being the case, I'm surprised to find the number of comments on this topic that shift the blame to the agent, the editor, the publishing industry. A book is a writer's product, therefore the author holds primary responsibility. Isn't that part of what we like about writing?

Jonathan Lyons said...

Actually, in my opinion it reflects the most poorly on writers, and on people and society in general, though I'm not saying publishers shouldn't have any culpability. I am saying that I don't the agent should have any.

My blog is still open to comments, and so I am certainly not limiting the chance for people to continue to be heard. I'm just not going to post on it anymore unless something new comes up.

Anonymous said...

Benwah said: "I'm surprised to find the number of comments on this topic that shift the blame to the agent, the editor, the publishing industry."

The reason, simply, is that the industry positions itself as the gateway to publication, accepting and rejecting for its own, often arcane, reasons (i.e., "This won't sell as a novel, so let's call it a memoir, Mr. Frey." "Whatever you say, Ms. Talese."). Yes, the writer bears ultimate responsibility for what she writes, but if the industry is going to present and profit from this product, it also must also bear some of the responsibility.

(That, and the fact that each of these disgraced writers received at least six figure advances, when most writers subsist on far, far less, I think accounts for this distribution of blame.)

December/Stacia said...

Mr. Lyons, did you see this? Now the NYT is saying they won't do profiles like the one which led to the "discovery" anymore. (According to Gawker, the profile was done in part because the aquiring editor is related to the head of the section, or something. The article is there if you click Seltzer's name.) They've been giving the story extensive coverage.

And yes, I think this sort of thing reflects far worse on the liars themselves, than on the people who were given false proof and believed it because they were so excited to discover a new talent. Optimism and trust are good things, aren't they? Falling in love with a book and a writer's voice is a good thing, isn't it?

Ryan Field said...

"Actually, in my opinion it reflects the most poorly on writers, and on people and society in general."

I hate to say it, but I agree.

I've always known publishing to be a nice industry, where people trust each other and work together. I hope that doesn't change because of all this.

And, how many agents are either going to stay away from memoirs now, or become overly cautious? You couldn't blame them either.

Adaora A. said...

I think she could have wrote the book on how to lie about anything and everything. She's a con artist. You hear stories about all sorts of con artists all the time. For some people (as I've seen across the net) to point the finger at her agent and the publishers to 'do their homework' I say they're talking nonsense. When someone is THAT TALENTED at lying, there is nothing you can do. As you said - and as we've seen - she presented all evidence necessary to provide 'validity.' What do they want agents to do now, demand that every memoir writing author provide DNA evidence, alibi's, clothing, and anything else that is obscure to prove their case now?

bookfraud said...

whenever i see all of these rationales for why the business missed (again) a fake, i think of "a fan's notes" by frederick exley. exley's book had the whiff of authenticity, but it clearly calls itself "a fictional memoir."

of course, exley's book far outclasses these pretenders, in terms of quality of prose, emotional impact, etc. that's why if seltzer/frey/defonseca were trying to sell their wares as fiction, they would have bombed. you read "a million little pieces" as a novel, and you will laugh out loud, but as the "truth," it acquires the facade of quality.

so it's not a matter of "fiction vs. memoir," but a matter of that frey and seltzer would have sold about 23 books -- if they were published at all -- as novelists.

and i still have a hard time exculpating the publisher in seltzer's case, who had already been burned, and whose "proof" of authenticity came via mail.

all my crankiness has been exorcised from my system. thank you for letting me bloviate.

Aimless Writer said...

I would think the ultimate responsibility falls on the author not the agent. And a memoir would be hard to prove as a lot of it is perspective. Unless you have the video tapes of the life...who knows? I could tell you stories that would curl your hair, but do I have proof? No. Are they true? Yes. Who would think when something happens to you in your 20's that you will need to prove it happened years later?
I think a lot of good memoirs would have been lost if they had to prove every little thing.
I wouldn't blame an agent on this at all.

Anonymous said...

The agent/publisher team should learn how to hot dog ski.

In hot dog skiing, when you're going to fall, you still might have just enough time to get one or two more cool turns in and you go for it. By taking one or two more turns, you usually don't fall after all.

You've got to stay into the ride.

So here's just one possibility of what they could have done:
Run to a printer and quickly get a sticker. Slap that sticker over the cover stating (that it was): based on interviews and is in essence a documentary/opinion piece intended to serve as a memoir for ___ and that certain names and faces have been changed, combined, etc. to protect their identities in the hood.

And started setting up interviews and more.

Because the truth is they wanted to make a bestseller and now that they have everyone's interest, ride that board down the mountain.
Make that writer do interviews, signings, and begin work on her rehabilitation or therapy or understanding of the business and get another book out of that.
It could be titled: My Evil Twin or The Devil Made Me Do It and Other Confessions of a False Memoir Writer, etc.

Anonymous said...

or "Love and Lying"...

Anonymous said...

Or Lying and Consequences

car said...

So, will you, J.Lyons, be more suspicious or skeptical of memoirs? What will attract/repel you after all this?