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WSJ: Memoirs Still Get Published

According to a report filed by WSJ reporter Robert J. Hughes, James Frey didn’t kill the memoir after all, and by December, “publishers plan to put out twice as many as last year.” The version we saw online in the wee hours of the morning suggested “there are likely to be as many as 40,” but I’m assuming that was a typo for 40,000…Then again, the article also reports that “about 500 memoirs are in print—as are close to 20 books about how to write memoirs.” Now, the number of writing guides sounds about right, although I swear it feels like more whenever I go looking through that section at the bookstore, but 500 has to be a mistake, because it feels like PW reviews at least 40 new memoirs a month, and with many of them staying in print… (Watch, you’ll follow the link, they’ll have fixed it, and I’ll look like the bad guy.)

Apart from the post-Frey “oh, sure we scrutinize some memoirs more closely now” lip service, most of Hughes’s analysis seems like it could apply to any article written about memoirs in the last ten years. Frankly, I think the Journal has rushed the story: All these hot memoirs publishers are touting for the rest of 2006 have been in the pipeline for ages, so of course the Frey scandal (and let’s not forget Nasdijj) hasn’t had an impact on them—nothing short of bombing the printing presses would stop these books from coming to market. The real question Hughes should have been asking was whether or not agents are still looking to acquire new memoirs (not just, as he reports, that “they’re seeing [emphasis mine] more memoir manuscripts and proposals than ever”) and whether they’re still able to place them with houses. After all, publishing is still an industry where cause and effect are measured, for better or for worse, in years rather than weeks or even months…

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