Riverhead Books editor Sarah McGrath, who shepherded the fake memoir from Margaret Seltzer (left), bought a spectacularly inaccurate memoir once before. In 2006, Scribner canceled McGrath's reported $900,000 deal to buy a memoir from fashion reporter Emily Davies. Women's Wear Daily had publicly fact-checked Davies' 79-page proposal and raised many questions, including about an alleged dinner with Donna Karan, a supposed party with Jennifer Lopez and a dubious meeting involving three industry players. It also found a quote had been lifted from a 1998 Times article. And those weren't the only strikes against Davies — she had been in two prior scandals.
Davies had been accused of deceptive writing in 2004 by the Financial Times, Women's Wear Daily reported. In 2005, she was fired from her own paper, the Times of London, over shady expense reports. Also? She had a tattoo on her forehead that said "Liar, no book deals." (In case McGrath happens to be reading this, I should note that last sentence was a fabrication.)
The scandal broke in mid-March 2006. Scribner nixed the book deal by March 30. On April 18, one month and one day after Women's Wear Daily published its investigation, complete with comparisons to James Frey's fake memoir, Publisher's Weekly reported McGrath was parting with Scribner and accepting a new job at Riverhead — Seltzer contract in tow, it turned out.
"McGrath is credited with editing an array of high profile writers including Maile Meloy, Eric Puchner and Chip Kidd," the trade wrote.
Judging from a 2000 rejection letter, first published by Literary Rejections On Display, McGrath assembled her stable of "high-profile" writers by keeping her expectations high; in the letter she said she was hunting for manuscripts that "blow me away." McGrath hardly softened the rejection when she mentioned, right there in the first paragraph, another, implicitly better writer of hers, Erika Krouse, who "I am publishing this spring," unlike the rejection recipient.
If nothing else, the document is a reminder of the competitive pressures that help drive some authors to start plagiarizing and making things up: