Fact Checking for Book Publishers

Posted by Janett Perry on Apr 13, 2010 7:28:00 AM

494277 old books1 150x150 resized 600Full length book publishing is a field in transition.  As e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad sky-rocket in popularity, traditional novel publishers are rapidly searching for ways to conform their editorial processes to a digital age.

Some of the new questions and concerns associated with digital publishing:  

How much should digital books be priced?  

How can e-books be digitally protected from piracy and illegal sharing?

And how can digital books can be properly reviewed  for instances of plagiarism and fabricated facts?

In non-fiction, fact checking has been a recent problem (both in the standard and digital formats).  The New York Times wrote a piece that discussed the strains of the editorial process with full length book publishers.  
The article specifically examines the case of Charles Pelligrino’s novel “The Last Train to Hiroshima,” which was recently pulled from shelves due to the discovery of fraudulent facts within the book.
Not only did a variety of fake characters and historic facts emerge from ‘The Last Train to Hiroshima,’ but upon closer examination, many of Pelligrino’s previous novels were also revealed to be potentially fraudulent.  He largely escaped undetected due to his critical acclaim, Hollywood connections and university credentials (which also later were found to be fabricated).
The Publisher, Henry Holt and Company, claims that they often give the author the benefit of the doubt:  

“We all work in good faith here, and we do the best we can,” said Stephen Rubin, president of Holt. “People’s judgments vary. But this is the exception, hardly the rule.”

This somewhat laissez-faire attitude by book publishers needs to become a relic of the past.  Although working in good faith sounds good, it doesn’t account for the off-case that slips through the cracks.  
This ‘bad apple’ can destroy the reputation of a publisher and ruin the trust of readers. As authors gain access to a wealth of detailed facts via the internet, some questionable in accuracy, the fact-checking process for full length novels needs to be consummate .
Some editors argue their ability to actively look over the shoulders of their authors:   

“Publishers say that responsibility for errors and fabrications ultimately must lie with the author. “It would not be humanly possible to fact-check books the way magazine articles can be fact-checked, just because of length,” said Robert A. Gottlieb…”
Just as is the case with magazines or news publications, full length novels need to transition to the digital age equipped with the best technology available. Despite the length of novels, modern day plagiarism detection software can also be utilized for the purpose of in-depth fact checking.
Detection software can cross-reference any full length novel with a massive database of on and offline content, instantly highlighting any relevant materials. An editor can then easily review each match in a single sitting, keeping an eye on any points that looks suspicious.
Utilizing the best technology to ensure that readers are  exposed to the truth should be common practice.
Although ‘good-faith publishing’ sounds great in theory, reality shows that faith could sometimes use a safety net.
Rich, Motoko. “Pondering Good Faith in Publishing ” The New York Times 8 Mar. 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/books/09publishers.html

Topics: Technology, Best Practices