Nan Talese isn't an idiot

The recent comments by Nan Talese in the Observer that MLP was "always a memoir" may strike some readers as disingenous. After all, James Frey himself said the work had started as a novel and then become a memoir when it didn't sell.

I've repositioned things. I've labelled things three or four different ways. I've talked about the same project in VERY different ways with editors, and that's true of almost every memoir I have on my list.

Agents want to sell. Without reenacting Glengarry GlenRoss for y'all this afternoon, let's just say, I want to sell books more than I want to tell authors I can't sell their books.

I can absolutely understand how having passed on a novel in a casual conversation, an editor could buy "memoir" on a second pitch.

And I truly understand how an author, caught up in wanting a work to sell, rewrites to make everything "true". I have authors tell me they'll do that every day of the week and twice on Sunday. They put it in their query letters, and they put it in their cover letters.

It's easy to stand here on the sidelines and say I'd never condone that, but honest to dog, I don't know that I already haven't. By encouraging repositioning, redrafting, honing, and editing, have I encouraged a memoirist across the line?

Man oh man, I hope I find out before The Smoking Gun comes calling.

Source: Publisher's Lunch
Talese Contradicts Frey's Account of Sale
Nan Talese talks to the Observer about the publication of James Frey's A MILLION LITTLE PIECES and her essential truth is different than the author's. She tells the Observer she "almost collapsed"after hearing Frey tell Larry King, "When Nan Talese purchased the book, I'm not sure if they knew what they were going to publish it as. We talked about what to publish it as. And they thought the best thing to do was publish it as a memoir."

Her statement: "When the manuscript of A Million Little Pieces was received by us at Doubleday, it was received as nonfiction, as a memoir. Throughout the whole process of publication, it had always been a memoir, and for the first year and a half it was on sale, it was always a memoir with no disputation. It was never once discussed as fiction by me or anyone in my office."


Elektra said...

Miss Snark, I come here to open my nitwit moment to ridicule. I sent out another batch of queries today, and was feeling rather good about this one, as the letter has improved quite a bit since the last batch. That is, I was feeling rather good until now. I just realized that I forgot to sign any of them. They all end
Thank you,

Can teenagers have senior moments?

crosseyed reader said...

Man oh man...who's telling the truth? He said, she said. Not a pretty position to be sitting in. Only their hairdresser knows for sure. Sorry, I'm dating myself.

Anonymous said...

If you find the profit in fraud so appealing, why not write a false memoir yourself? No one has to find out! Think of the money you'll make! Oprah will give you airtime!

And don't worry about your soul... it's only a small thing to lose.

-My Name Is Legion

Deborah Branscum said...

Dear Miss Snark,

This post is so honest about the industry, about the work of being an agent, and about the eagerness of writers to be published that it's bound to become a classic. I was fond of you already but now I am completely smitten. Thanks for the education.

That Girl Who Writes Stuff said...

I think Nan Talese should explore the option of grabbing him by the neck and shaking him like a dead squirrel.

Anonymous said...

Fine, perhaps she did truly believe Mr. Frey and his memoir when she acquired it, but Miss Talese does her reputation and credibility no good when, in the face of the ongoing evidence that Mr. Frey is a lying self-absorbed jerk, she continues to tap dance in his defense. As the book slowly edges from 10% "massaged truth" to 99% fictitious, Nan and Oprah should both do a little damage control about the degree to which they look like prime chumps.

Millenia Black said...

I think both parties' credibility is shot to hell. But - as I've said before - they'll nurse their shame all the way to the bank...and the mailbox.

Elektra said...

I don't know--Oprah said 'this is a good book'.
Okay, so the author is a scumbag. But thousands of people still think she's right about the book being good, and got a good read out of it. And what other choice did she have after TSG's piece? It was either say 'well, I still like the book' or 'oops, I'm a nitwit'.
How is her credibility shot to hell?
Disclaimer: I've never actually seen Oprah or read Frey's book, so my opinion is based only on the stuff I've heard through the grapevine.

Existential Man said...

Elektra, dear, you're 19 years old and you've never seen Oprah's tv show? That's like having lived 19 years and never having eaten at a McDonalds! Congrats to you--you would be hardpressed to find another 19 year old who has never seen Oprah-- by the way--you do reside here on Earth, yes?

Anonymous said...

Can teenagers have senior moments?

Only in their last year of high school, Elektra.

Anonymous said...

Watch the follow-up on Oprah today, when Frey and Nan Talese will appear on the show.

lady t said...

I find it interesting that Nan Talese and her husband Gay have openly debated the whole memoir issue publicly in print! I'm willing to
believe that Nan bought the book as a
nonfiction in good faith and get why
she's standing behind it but if it was me,I would want to get a thesaurus or two to thump Frey in the head for getting me stuck in this mess.

See what happens when you watch too much daytime TV? You get all these Jerry Springer moments:)

Annie said...

Grab your pail of gin and get thee to GalleyCat for a blow by blow of Oprah's show with Frey getting fried. Not a knock-out, but better than I expected.

Cornelia Read said...

So could we cross Frey with Franzen now and get A MILLION LITTLE CORRECTIONS?

As a former factchecker, especially, I am grateful to Oprah for stepping up to the plate today. It's a fine and all-too-rare thing to see someone so influential using her powers for the forces of good. Brava!