Peggy Seltzer Can’t Be Blamed on One Editor

By Neal Comment

clipart-angrymob.jpgPW Daily, 3/5/08: “PW has learned that Riverhead editor Sarah McGrath, who acquired Margaret Seltzer‘s Love & Consequences for Scribner but brought it with her to Riverhead, was involved in another book, in 2006, that was cancelled because of fabrications and plagiarism. The book, How to Wear Black: Adventures on Fashion’s Front-line, was purportedly a memoir of Emily Davies‘s four years as a fashion writer for London’s Times…”

Mixed Media, 3/7/08: “If publishers aren’t going to institute fact-checking procedures, then they had better, at a minimum, make sure their bullshit-detectors are in working order. Sarah McGrath’s, it’s clear, is broken.”

Gee, before we start bracketing out McGrath as somehow completely out of step with modern publishing sensibilities, I wonder if anybody else in New York’s editorial ranks might have tried to acquire either of those two books because they thought they were well-written and true? Oh, wait, here’s an anonymous letter from somebody who claims to have underbid Scribner on the Davies project…

“It also came from a reputable agency (PFD London), was deliciously written and seemed entirely credible at the time (and boy, did I want to buy it!) The author did turn out to be a liar, and a plagiarist, and the project was axed, which is exactly what should have happened. Why PW feels the need to even bring up that project—with the definite implication that Sarah is somehow professionally negligent or gullible—is beyond me. In that case, Sarah, and Scribner, did exactly the right thing when faced with the evidence. They cancelled the book.”

Which is exactly what Riverhead did when they discovered Peggy Seltzer‘s deceptions, too. Yes, I think McGrath should have asked tougher questions. But the problem with Love and Consequences didn’t come about because she’s an anomaly in her field—in fact, she delivered exactly what publishers want. If another house had come up with more money for Emily Davies or “Margaret B. Jones,” this weeklong celebration of schadenfraude (the joy of exposing somebody else’s phoniness, according to author Elizabeth Hand) would have some other editor in the spotlight, no doubt giving exactly the same responses.