The Authors' Books

Authors' Books And Publishing Agents

By Rock C. -
There was a time when authors' books were accepted as works of integrity, as works that were crafted painstakingly and cleverly and creatively by writers who were dedicated to writing as a calling.

There was a time when authors' books were not challenged for veracity - though they were challenged for other things, for contents, elements or style, by censors, kings, and the paranoid or jealous. But now, with the publishing industry as big as the automotive or mechanical industries, the act and process of writing a book open to everyone from entrepreneurs to illiterates, even the best books are subject to stringent scrutiny.

Thus, writers are now called upon to prove themselves in multiple ways: the writer must undergo the demanding task of writing the book; the writer must actively and exhaustingly participate in publicizing the book (the marketing no longer left to the publishing and PR professionals, that is, but put upon the writer to hawk by mandatory appearances, readings, and interviews); and the writer must answer to his or her readers, speaking to his or her process of writing the book.

This seems both fair, given the competitive nature of book publishing, and unfair, given the nature of the true writer, who often spends his or her time writing, not talking about writing or selling writing or proving he spends/spent his time writing. But for many of us, how fair is it that top-paid writers get top pay for cheating?

The last two decades have seen accusation of poor, lacking, or absent ethics in writers who have plagiarized, fabricated, or embellished work that the rest of us struggle to write, get published, and get paid enough for to at least pay the rent on a single room, pay the ISP and phone bill, or buy a bag of groceries. Some of these questionable works are the authors' books, some are articles for the most esteemed publications in the world:

In 1982, for instance, Jerzy Kosinski's fiction work, The Painted Bird was challenged by Village Voice writers Geoffrey Stokes and Eliot Fremont, who accused the writer of having his editorial assistants write large portions of the author's book.

In 2001, Michael Finkel, writing for the New York Times, delivered an article on the slave trade on the Ivory Coast, an article that turned out to contain a fictional star interviewee and a photo of someone other than the boy featured.

In 2003, Jayson Blair, working (incompetently) for the New York Times, was busted for plagiarizing numerous pieces. After he resigned from his coveted position, more truths were uncovered that he had faked quotes, interviews, and his expense account records (to cover for his true activities - NOT reporting or researching), and lifted articles from other newspapers and news services, passing them off as his own.

In 2004, USA Today reporter Jack Kelley was found to have fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories, lifted nearly two dozen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he gave for the newspaper and conspired to mislead those investigating his work, according to legitimate USA Today writer Blake Morrison.

In 2005, The Davinci Code came under close scrutiny: Dan Brown had poached the idea for his book and the research from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a work three writers developed after over ten years of research.

Also in 2005, George Baghdadi, working as a stringer for Cox News, made up quotes, farmed out his work (or said he did, blaming an assistant no one had ever or has ever met), and plagiarized large passages from earlier articles written by another paper, The St. Petersburg News.

And so we come to this year, 2006 (and it's only January), and the authors' books and articles in question. Tim Ryan of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin was discovered to have been using Wikipedia's material, word-for-word without having given the props to Wiki as his source. And James Frey (the hottest subject of discussion for writers this week), who wrote A Million Little Pieces, has been outed for his extreme embellishing (falsifying, fabricating, lying) in the book, which is billed as a memoir, a nonfiction book.

The latter transgressor has made profits off the sale of over 3.5 million copies. Those in his small subculture of dubious and duplicitous writers have made a good chunk in comparison, having such prestigious jobs as those with the Times and USA Today. Many if not most writers working today are appalled. But how will consumers, readers, respond? Will they rush out to buy the authors book anyway, because it is really good reading? Will they buy and read because of the controversy and scandal? Will they contribute to the perpetuation of the wealthy pseudo writers who can boast good writing sells, no matter from whence it came? We shall have to watch the booksellers lists and rankings and find out.

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