Thursday, August 2, 2012

Imagine: An Author Lied

There is nothing new about a book becoming a best-seller only to have it revealed the book features lies, errors, plagiarism, or distortions of truth. Major publishers and reviewers have been fooled. Even Oprah was duped. So, have organizations that dispense awards, consumers, and the news media. So, when the current scandal involving Jonah Lehrer’s bestseller, Imagine: How Creativity Works, broke, few should have been surprised.

He apparently made up quotes attributed to Bob Dylan and then tried to cover up this fact when a reporter questioned him on it. There could be additional problems with the book’s content (I am sure every word is being combed through) , but the Dylan fiasco is enough to remind us that of the million-plus books published annually, there will be some filled with complete bullshit.

How ironic that a book on creativity shows just how imaginative the mind can get by crafting non-existent dialogue and attributing it to a celebrity. But then again, there is nothing creative about lying. Any idiot can tell a lie. The challenge is to get away with it. Apparently the author was not creative enough.

His publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which recently went through bankruptcy court, must be livid. Will it refund money to the 200,000 people who bought the book? Will consumers even want a refund? Maybe the book really helped its readers, lies and all. I have no doubt that many consumers will not bother to apply for a refund and I have no doubt some cannot wait to cash in on the embarrassing drama.

For every discovery of a fraud, how many go unnoticed? Is it worth risking one’s career, finances, and freedom to lie in a book? Salesmen, publicists, lawyers, politicians, and CEOs get paid to issue alternatives to the truth, but authors do not have such a luxury.

The publishing industry simply cannot police itself though it tries -- and it has a great incentive to do so. The government cannot – and should not -- do it either. So all we have now is a reactionary policing of things. If a book sells well or an author becomes famous there is more scrutiny of things, as if the world crowdsources its effort to double-check its next hero is pure.

In this case, Lehrer failed the test, but I still wonder how many others fly under the radar and profit from passing fiction along as truth. We may never know the extent of fraud in book publishing but today we know of one best-selling liar.

If Lehrer issued or convicted of a crime, he can always pen a memoir – and probably get a movie deal out of it. So much for paying a price for lying.

Interview With Author Renee Khatami

1. What type of books do you write? I write toddler books.

2. What is your latest or upcoming book about? I have had two toddler board books out in the last year. Each book is on a single color (Little Pink Book and Little Black Book) with rhymes and life size photos with sensory components that are about the individual color. For example: scratch and smell licorice, or feel the actual wool on a pink ball of yarn.

3. What inspired you to write it? With so much on the screen, children need more sensory exploring in their everyday lives.

4. What did you do before you became an author? I did book design, mostly special trade illustrated books.

5. How does it feel to be a published author? I feel incredibly lucky, I also have a supportive agent, and I work hard!

6. Any advice for struggling writers? Don't talk yourself out of anything, if you want to publish a book, keep on. I would also emphasize the importance of constantly being aware of what is being published.

7. Where do you see book publishing heading? Well, it is in a deep transition as we all know, so it is impossible to say. I would like to say there will be a backlash, and the bricks and mortar bookstores will be more of a presence. I am a book person, so I see the e-books continuing to evolve into something else, but books will always be books...

For more information, please see

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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