1.14.2006

Miss Snark Stands Corrected....sort of

This, pulled from the comments trail on fact checkers


Miss Snark, I hate to contradict someone I so enjoy reading, but...While indeed there are no official fact checkers in book publishing, and while it is the stated position of every legal department in book publishing that publishers do not "fact check," indeed some form of fact checking is done on those books deemed to warrant backup. It's done on an ad hoc basis.
Sometimes it's an editorial decision; sometimes it's requested by authors themselves. A thorough fact checking is certainly not done on every book. I have, however, seen it done on fiction as well as nonfiction. To clarify: It is not fact checking of the type done by, say, The New Yorker, whose fact checkers call the subject of an interview and read back their quotes and ask for verification. Nor is it the kind of process that would have prevented, er, exaggerations from littering James Frey's book. As Nan Talese said on Larry King last night, no editor is going to ask an author: "Are you sure that really happened to you?" And no publisher-hired fact checker is going to dig around in someone's past to make sure he's telling the truth about his life. The kind of fact checking I'm talking about is done to avoid the embarrassment of publishing mistaken facts (i.e., names, place names, dates, etc.). Depending on the complexity of the work in question and the sensitivity of the project and the profile of the author, the fact checking can go pretty deep. It's done mostly to protect the author.


I stand corrected then. The interesting thing is this is the kind of editing I do on work I submit. Recently I sent in a historical novel set in the 30's. I scoured the book for anachronisms. I ended up researching some interesting things: the first radio police cars, how many digits in a phone number, and when Freud published in the US. I guess that is a form of fact checking.

For memoir though, gotta tell ya, I'm asking my clients to be prepared to cough up substantiation on things for awhile. I don't think it's going to be a change in industry standards about fact checking memoirs, but when The Smoking Gun comes calling, I want to have my mug shots ready. And of course, Killer Yapp's as well.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark is wise to beware. And it goes without say--very canny to fact check historical novels for anomalies before submitting.

fact checking my own ass: Nan Talese wasn't on Larry King. She was on the CNN show immediately following King.

Mark said...

My two memoirs are factual nonfiction. That's the gold standard and always has been. Unfortunately, travel to remote, weird places doing conservation work isn't as sexy as this made up crap.

Frey is deliberately blurring the line to save himself. It won't work except that it's irrelevant, he's already pulled it off, got the huge payoff and two more books. Canceling those would be the punishment appropriate to the crime. But this won't happen will it?