A writer friend of mine is excited because the publishing house she likes is accepting non-fiction. She's writing a memoir and I'm encouraging her to call it fiction because she has told me it would be a 'fictionalised memoir' with bits of it made up. She is a journalist who blogs about her life and I know that in her blog entries she has embellished - no, lied - to make things sound more interesting. That's not journalism and that's a whole other story. I've told her how angry and duped readers of A Million Little Pieces felt with vast portions turned out to be fabricated. How would you classify her manuscript - is it fiction or non-fiction?
If she's making up more than the odd childhood conversation and name of her favourite TV show - and some leeway is given to memoir writers because we all understand you can't remember all the little details - she's writing fiction. If her life isn't interesting enough to make a memoir that people want to read, she shouldn't try to get her memoir published. That doesn't mean she wouldn't write a great novel. And while it's okay to pretend it's true on her blog - she's the only one responsible for that - it's not okay to pretend it's true with her favourite publishing company's money and reputation riding on it.
A couple of other points to make:
1. I love it when people say they have a 'favourite publishing company' because this is usually only based on the books they've seen in bookshops, not on anything else they know about the company. And while that's fine if you're buying the books, what about when you're wanting to get published? What about the other publishing companies? Some of them may be just right.
2. James Frey's A Million Little Pieces was hugely controversial but there is a story - perhaps apocryphal - that it wasn't his idea to label it as a memoir. He apparently wrote it as fiction. And is now rumoured to be writing all sorts of fiction stuff under pseudonyms.