1.11.2006

WTF?

Random House is telling people who bought Frey's memoir directly from them they can return the book for a full refund. Those who bought it from a bookstore are being encouraged to return the book to the bookstore for a refund.

No matter what you think of Frey's writing (and I know at least ONE IC resident who said he was full of crap a long time ago), doesn't this seem like a bad idea?

Also, for another take on the issue, see Brando's latest bit of naughtiness over on Circle Jerk at the Square Dance.

4 comments:

professorX2 said...

Why is that a bad idea? Those chumps paid $26 for non-fiction. I hear his books were originally rejected as fiction, anyway. People have lower standards for non-fic. And why does the UI vote weigh more heavily than others...is this Frey character an alum?

TLB said...

I didn't say it was a workshop person, I said a resident of IC, someone who has more firsthand knowledge of the situation than I do. I've never met Frey, and no, he's not an alum, not that that matters. My remark was to indicate that I find it fascinating that as long as the book has been out, and as successful as it was before Oprah, it's taken this long for people to notice he was full of shit. Only Oprah merits enough attention to attract scrutiny these days, apparently.

I don't have a problem with people being pissed off they were sold a memoir that's a highly fictionalized. But I think it's a slippery slope for Random House to start giving money back for this particular memoir. It's Frey who owes them, as he is the final authority on what's true and what's not when it comes to his own life.

The fact that it's his publisher who has to apologize, and not him, is what gets me. As was almost surely stated in his contract, he is reponsible for the content of the story. Whether or not it was rejected as fiction is beside the point. When he knew it was coming out as a memoir, he became responsible for making sure it was true. Publishing companies do not have factcheckers; even big ones like Random House can't afford them. They rely on authors to be truthful, especially in memoir.

For instance, if someone else (one of those journalists, say) had written a biography of Frey with as many mistakes as this book seems to have, wouldn't Frey himself be up in arms? Wouldn't he sue for lack of truthfulness, and wouldn't the publishing house take the writer of such a book to task? Why does that matter less when it's lies of his own making?

The other problem with refunds is the book supply chain. Only books bought directly from Random House qualify for the refund. Most people don't buy their books directly from the publisher, so what about the rest of the pissed-off readers? What if you just didn't like his crappy prose style? Do you merit your money back then, and whose pocket does it come out of then? The bookstore? The publisher? Frey's royalty statement?

The problem is not the self-righteous fury of the dismayed reader. The problem is who is really responsible for the foul-up, and what action is appropriate in the end.

professorX2 said...

Good points. I assumed every publishing house has fact checkers after raeding McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City in 8th grade.

The rumor that Frey's book was rejected as fiction is, I think, relevant for two reasons: if true, it means the publisher should have known much of it is fictionalized (therefore making them more responsible now); it also points to lower expectations for non-fiction.

I'm interested to know how many readers actually care, and whether this will hasten our nation's slide into the place where fact and fiction are forever blurred.

TLB said...

But I wonder if Random House did know, that's the thing. If the book got rejected by all those other publishers as fiction, it's entirely possible that it was Frey and his agent who made the change to nonfiction and never told the editor who bought it that it was originally written as fiction. Editors are in fierce competition for books and because of that there's a bit of secrecy around who is reading what and when. With so many rejections it wouldn't be surprising that they would change tactics and worry about dealing with the fallout later.

Magazines are the only publishing enterprise that have real fact-checkers. Newspapers aren't held to the same legal standards as mags because of their quick turn-around, and book publishers deal with so many pages that they must rely on their authors. Thus publishers include a standard "Warranty and Indemnification" clause in contracts (even for fiction!) The minute the book was bought as nonfiction, it was Frey's ass on the line.