With the controversial news of the Woody Allen memoir announced (being released next month by Hachette) and the backlash this received (particularly from Ronan & Dylan Farrow), I was wondering in general about the expectation of fact-checking in memoirs. I remember there being a scandal around A Million Little Pieces by James Frey back in the day, but I don’t know what (if anything) came out of the scandal in regards to publishing standards.
Are publishers expected to have some fact-checking completed with memoirs? Is the expectation different when the writer is a known public figure with known allegations of sexual abuse? Does this last answer change depending on whether the memoir covers that time period of life or mentions the accuser at all?
Obviously, the internet has opinions, but I was hoping for some general industry insight.
Publishers do not fact check memoirs. Memoirs by definition are one person's experiences, and what looked like baby food to you looks like refried beans to me, and of course we're both right.
What the publishing contract DOES require is a warranty that the book doesn't libel anyone, doesn't violate anyone else's right to privacy, does not materially misrepresent the Author or the Author's background or life story.
The specific wording varies publisher to publisher, agency specific contract to agency specific contract.
The only thing that's different for a public figure is the libel standard. It's harder to libel a public figure than someone who is not.
The Woody Allen memoir controversy didn't rest on the author's warranties.
The Woody Allen memoir controversy was that Hachette wasn't forthcoming with their employees that the book was in the works, and very specifically did not tell Ronan Farrow who published Catch and Kill with Little,Brown, a division of HBG.
Very understandably Farrow was furious.
Very understandably many HBG editors vehemently took issue with the idea of publishing the Allen memoir at all.
It was a tone-deaf decision, and the people who said so were very courageous.
The memoir has since been cancelled and rights returned to Allen.
Despite what Stephen King says, Allen was NOT muzzled. Given the number of publication avenues open to writers, and the number of sleazeball publishers who will print anything for a buck, there are lots of alternatives
Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post had this to say:
These Hachette employees who walked out did something extraordinarily brave in an industry that’s highly concentrated. But it’s also an industry dominated by women.
Maybe after all this country has gone through and on a day when Merriam-Webster reported that lookups for “misogyny" spiked 2,400 percent, the prospect of editing, marketing, selling or even being associated with the memoir of a man accused of abusing a girl was just one humiliation too many.
Publishers, after all, are not neutral platforms like Facebook or public spaces like a town square where free speech must reign. Publishers make extremely selective judgments, and when one of those judgments is morally offensive to employees, it’s encouraging to see those employees speak up and walk out.
The era of silence, of looking the other way, of playing catch and kill needs to end.