Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Advice to nonfiction authors: Don't lie

Some time ago, I read the book Roots by Alex Haley. It’s a very good book and I was impressed by how much time and research the author put into his book. Later, I went online to look up more information about it, because I was very interested in what happened after the book was published. I was dismayed to learn that Haley admitted that not all of the material in his book was true. Because the man did not have a time machine and could not go back in time to double-check everything and learn exactly how things were, he had to use literary license to fill in the gaps. I accepted this, but what I could not accept was how there were people claiming Haley lifted their stories as his own and that the main character in the story, Kunta Kinte, didn’t even exist. After reading all of that, I started to get suspicious with what was in the book. How was I to know if anything in the book was true or not? It was, after all, labeled a nonfiction book, but how could I know which parts of it were fiction?

The recent controversy over the now disgraced athlete Lance Armstrong made me remember this. Because of Armstrong’s recent confession on national television that he lied about doping to win the Tour de France, the world now knows that all of those times he fervently denied such accusations and everything he wrote in his books were all just a fake. They were his way of perpetuating the lie.

It seems that Armstrong has a long, tough road ahead of him in winning back the world’s admiration and respect. But it also appears that this lie is going to cost him A LOT of money. Not only are newspapers and magazines suing him for the lawsuits they lost or helped to defend, but readers of his books are suing him, as well. An article I read today discussed how two readers in particular are so upset over Armstrong’s public admission of the lie that they want to be reimbursed for buying his books.

This is not the first time an author of nonfiction books has been caught in a lie. But I have to wonder what’s going to happen after all is said and done, after everybody is paid and the whole thing blows over. What book would Armstrong write next? Bigger question: Will readers believe what he writes in them? Perhaps if he convinces the world he’s not a liar anymore or that he changes everything and becomes an honest man people can trust again, maybe readers will believe everything he writes in future books. Still makes me wonder, though.

But it’s not just readers that he has angered; it is possible his editors and publishers are not all that happy with him, either. Would they be willing to publish his next book? Armstrong now has an iffy relationship with his readers. What can be said of his relationship with his publishers?

Of course, the man is famous and brings in a lot of money no matter what happens. He’ll get published again.

But for the writer who is not famous, not worth millions of dollars and who is Very Lucky to get a nonfiction book published, things can be very different. This particular writer would have a harder time setting things right with readers again, let alone editors and publishers. And if an author's lie(s) in a book get so bad and build up a lot of controversy, it's very likely publishers won't want to work with this author again.

In my opinion, nonfiction should be nonfiction. There are no two ways about it. It should be as true, honest and as accurate as the writer can make it. Otherwise, you’re just writing fiction instead and should publish it as such. If you’re making things up or lying to readers, then that does not make the book nonfiction. It makes it fiction or, as some people have claimed, a fraud.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home