The news has been swamped with clips of the America’s Got Talent contestant, Timothy Poe. For those who may not be familiar with the story, this contestant won the hearts of the judges, not just for his stellar performance, but also for his personal story and the odds he overcame as a soldier injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, inconsistencies in his story ranging from unverified injuries to presenting false photos have caused quite a stir on the airwaves. There are even reports of death threats.
Now while I don’t endorse lying or exaggerations, some authors have been known to exaggerate personal stories in order to sell more books. Of note is the embellishment and outright lies in the autobiographic memoirs of James Frey’s bestseller, A Million Little Pieces or as some articles describe it, A Million Little Lies. Then there was the Herman Rosenblat memoir in which the events that made the book endearing had been fabricated. The repercussions were swift as his contracts were voided.
But what about a little exaggeration? I’m not talking about touting fiction as a true biography or memoir. I’m talking about authors claiming to have experiences that they don’t have; fabricating little personal stories to gain interest in their books, even if those stories have little to do with the books they write. It’s often considered as an alternate “persona”. There are even some who write “how to” books who invent qualifications that they don’t have. I’ve even heard of authors who exaggerate the difficulties they experience on the road to publication just to look like the underdog overcoming obstacles.
Why do authors stretch the truth? The answer is simple: it sells books. The more interesting the author’s story, the more intrigue, the more sales. But the repercussions when the truth is discovered could be horrendous. Once people feel that they have been deceived by the artist, the art itself becomes lost. There is no doubt that Timothy Poe is a talented artist, but the focus now is not on his singing. It’s on his fabricated or exaggerated personal story. In the same vein, if you do a Google search for James Frey, you will find more articles about his scandal than about the books and screenplays he’s written since the scandal.
Personally, I don’ think stretching the truth is ethical and it certainly isn’t worth it. So what do you think? Is it ethical to stretch the truth a little about your personal story if it would increase book sales?