Monday, March 22, 2010

If it looks like a duck ...

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.

Names, dates and places

I am helping a new author with a manuscript that is based on a true story with several real people mentioned. It's reasonably tame content, but to avoid offending some people I suspect some of the storylines/occupations/names (and possibly the setting of the story) will need to be fictionalised before publication. Is it better to let an agent consider the manuscript based on its raw form, or should these changes be made before contacting an agent?

It doesn't really matter either way: the agent could consider the manuscript with the real place and people names included and a note saying that some names will have to be changed; or they could consider it with the names changed but you'd still have to tell him or her that some names/place names have been changed. And if the manuscript gets published, the publisher will certainly need to know the real names, occupations and so on, and what they've been changed into, so the publisher can give the list to the defamation lawyer who will read the manuscript for them ...

So, really, the author should do what he or she is comfortable doing and keep meticulous records of the details that have been or will be changed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Submissions and competitions

Can I enter a manuscript into a contest if a publisher is already considering it? Would the contest folks and/or the publisher dislike me doing this?

There is no publisher I know of who has a rule saying you can't send your manuscript elsewhere - including into competitions - while they're considering it. However, it's quite possible that the competition will have rules about what you can do with your manuscript so you would need to check those. If the rules say you can't have the manuscript under consideration anywhere else, you can then decide whether or not it's worth it to restrict yourself this way. (I've made my feelings on this subject clear elsewhere.)

If the competition rules don't preclude you having the manuscript under consideration at another publisher, the polite thing to do would be to send a letter to the publisher who's considering it saying that you're planning to enter the manuscript into the competition. That way there are no surprises if they decide they want to make you an offer.