Pub Rants

Another Memoir Scandal In The Headlines

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STATUS: Piping Mad!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OMG! Somebody is practicing their horn nearby and I can hear it through the vent (maybe a tuba?) And trust me, they need the practice.

Unbelievable! Yet again, an NYT story on how a hugely lauded memoir called LOVE & CONSEQUENCES is basically a fabrication.

Funny how all the memoirs that publishers have bought and have deemed “big enough” have been nothing but fiction disguised as a memoir. The publisher, Riverhead, is now recalling the 19,000 copies that released last week.

I am steamed. Kim Reid and I worked very hard to find a home for her memoir NO PLACE SAFE. An amazing story. A beautifully written story. A completely truthful (and we can back it up with full documentation) story.

Do me a favor? Go to right now and buy a copy of NO PLACE SAFE that’s actually a true memoir. Buy it so these yahoos in publishing will quit paying six figures for what is essentially a work of fiction.

If I hear one more story in the news about a fabricated memoir, I’m going to spit.

Okay, rant over.

And even though John’s memoir LOOK ME IN THE EYE did extraordinarily well (and Kim and I are often in envy of his sales numbers), his story is also true.

So if you want to support truth in memoir by making a purchase, I guess you can buy a copy of his as well. (But only if you buy a copy of Kim’s—she says wickedly).

24 Responses

  1. Just_Me said:

    A few other agents-who-blog are ranting on this same subject. I feel sorry for Kim, but it’s hard for a reader not to be skeptical at this point. So many memoirs are complete fiction.

    And although the story is broken the punishment hasn’t been public enough to keep people from trying this avenue to publishing.

  2. Michelle said:

    I adored Kim’s memoir – it was great. But you might want to change the picture… when I opened your blog today and say “And Yet Another Memoir That Is Fiction” and a picture of “No Place Safe” I though no!!!!! how could it be???

    Of course hopefully people are reading your blog and not just looking at the pictures! 😉

  3. Deanna said:

    I wanted to strongly second what the other comment said about being very clear that your blog headline and the book image do not go together. I knew Love & Consequences was a recent scandal, but thought you might have uncovered yet another!

  4. Anonymous said:

    I too have read both John & Kim’s. I also have no idea why this wasn’t written as fiction. No offense meant to any of the agents or editors out there, but don’t they have some responsibility to verify a potential client’s claims?

  5. Writer Babs said:

    I’ve always thought it was rather simple: If your story is made up, you write fiction. If your story is true, you write non-fiction. If your story is true AND it happened to you, then and only then is it a memoir.

    I’m am throughly dissapointed in any author who would mess things up for other people in the writing buisness for what I imagine can be only personal gains.

  6. Aimless Writer said:

    OooOooo, No Safe Place! I heard about this book. Kinda what life was like for families during the Atlanta Child murders. I’ve heard this is a definate have-to-read book!
    I’ll buy!

    Regarding memoirs; How does an agent know if its the truth or not? Aren’t they mostly memories?

  7. BuffySquirrel said:

    I’m not surprised you’re mad. I would be, too, if I hadn’t given up on the entire memoir field several scandals back.

    But if you vouch for your client, that’s good enough for me :).

  8. Anonymous said:

    Kim’s book is fantastic. But Kristin, I also think you should separate the book cover from the heading! I, too, glanced at it and though, “oh no, it can’t be!”

    And John’s book is beyond fantastic… he’s amazing. He’s also super nice.

  9. beverley said:

    This is the second memoir scandal in the last week I’ve heard about. The first was the woman who said she lived with wolves for 4 years. The woman is now 71. Who is supposed to do the fact checking?

  10. bookfraud said:

    sadly, if selzer (or frey) had tried publishing their fiction as fiction, it would have never sold. it’s the reality tv effect, the oprah effect — we all want uplifting stories of renewal and hope from the depths, and if they’re true, well, all the better.

    i wondered about who was supposed to do the fact-checking as well.

  11. Ghost Girl said:

    Wow! Kim’s book looks amazing–it’s on my list! And what a fabulous write-up from PW, too! I hate that these faux-memoirs get so much power behind them. Thanks for sharing a couple of good, truly powerful books.

  12. Anonymous said:

    If publishers really want to publish memoirs, then they need to invest in fact checkers. And the worse part is that there aren’t long-term consequences for this- James Frey has a novel coming out this year.

  13. M.C said:

    I am really curious, where are the fact checkers?? A post on how agents/publishers/editors go about confirming the truth of a memoir would be helpful.

    Surely an author has to provide some evidence that their story is true. Am I wrong?

  14. Eileen said:

    Kim’s book was so moving and honest that I found it hard to put down. I didn’t read this latest scandal- but when I read Frey’s book my internal “no f-ing way” meter went off. It didn’t read true- it read much too larger than life.

    I sincerely hope that great memoirs such as Kim’s, and great fiction that admits it is fiction- gets the attention it deserves.

  15. kim reid said:

    Thanks all for supporting my book! It’s sad that memoirs will be even more difficult for writers and agents to sell. Worse, the fallout will turn some memoir readers into skeptics.


  16. Kwana said:

    Good luck to Kim and her book. This whole hoax thing burns me up too. It feel very exploitive of a real problem in this country.
    I also think it’s awful that perfectly good fiction has trouble being places because everyone is looking for “the hook” with marketing.

  17. Tânia said:

    And that’s why unpublished authors who are writing memoirs, try to submit them as fiction! Because agents are afraid to represent them. In my case, I’m writing a memoir, all facts true, happened to me! I have documents to support the book, but… Maybe I should submit it as fiction!

  18. Anonymous said:

    I say it’s high time someone fact checked “Marley and Me.” Sure, he said the dog was unruly, a slobberpuss, and overexuberant – but how do we it’s the truth? Maybe he made the whole thing up! But of course the dog has since passed on. How convenient. How utterly convenient…

  19. Doreen Orion said:

    I really worried about a backlash when my agent was submitting my memoir to editors last year. I just turned in the last pass to my publisher. Since I wasn’t asked for any fact check stuff, I wrote in the acknowledgements:

    “With all the controversy surrounding memoir these days, if doubt ever arises about the veracity of what is contained in these pages, rest assured I can provide appropriate documentation, including but not limited to: emergency room charts, police records and AAA bills.”

    I hope that reassures readers. But, it really does make you wonder if book buyers now routinely look at memoir (if they even do as much) with a very skeptical eye.

    For me, if something is well written, I don’t care if it’s called memoir or fiction – I’ll read it anyway. But if it is a memoir, it better be true.

  20. Kanani said:

    Thank you for saying something. You raised a point that has been overlooked. There are many authentic voices trying to get their stories told, but they can’t –for whatever reason.

    What Margaret Peggy Seltzer did was treat South Central LA and those who have suffered real and long lasting effects of poverty, gangs, drugs and lack of opportunity as nothing more than a reality tv show. She set herself up as a defacto “go to” expert based on experiences that weren’t hers and were made up. This is repugnant and it was her choice, no one else’s.

    One can never justify this by saying if it had been published as a novel, it wouldn’t have gotten published. Judging from Michiko Kukatani’s initial review, there never was an issue with Seltzer’s writing. Instead, she decided to fib until she became the personification of the lie itself. A person who submits a piece of fiction as the truth is a liar.

    Though she may be talented, she is morally compromised.
    I have written a satirical piece over on It makes her look like an opportunistic twit.
    And yes, I will gladly by No Safe Place.

  21. Jill Elaine Hughes said:

    Publishers ACTIVELY SEEK “fake” memoirs that were originally written as fiction, because memoirs supposedly are more marketable than first novels. I know this from experience. The first novel I wrote, TEMPLAND, (which is not autobiographical in any way, but had a first-person narrator), ran into this phenomenon. First, I was out-and-out told by several top agents that I had to “rework” this piece of total fiction into a “memoir” in order for them to rep the book. (I refused those offers of representation). Then, when I finally found an agent willing to rep the book as fiction (which, of course, it was), he kept getting told by acquiring editors that the book would only work as a memoir. Since neither my agent nor I was comfortable with that, the book never sold.

    Publishing is entirely behind the fake-memoir phenomenon, and is only sorry when the industry gets caught.

    (Note: I also have written a TRUE memoir).