Ryan Holiday at The Daily Beast (link via The Digital Reader) asks why more books aren’t fact checked, and then proceeds to tell us how difficult (and expensive) it was to get his own book fact checked. Didn’t it occur to him that that may have had something to do with it?
Of course, what people always seem unable to accept is the basic fact that publishers are merely helping authors to get their books out to the marketplace. We publish the author’s book. The book is the author’s, not the publisher’s. Thus responsibility for a book’s content is the job of the author. Now, on the other hand, magazines tend to originate their articles themselves rather than sitting around waiting for writers to come up with something. In consequence they will tend to do more fact checking. There are books which are thought up and put together by a publisher. A good example would be travel guides: in these cases more fact checking is likely to be done, but when Gay Talese submits the manuscript for his latest you don’t say “Hey Gay. Have you checked the facts?” You trust him — he’s a professional after all. If something goes wrong, you deal with it. “Morgan Entrekin, chief executive of Talese’s publisher, Grove/Atlantic books, said . . . the company would consider appending an author’s note or footnotes in subsequent printings to account for errors or missing information.”
The long and the short of it is publishers don’t have books fact checked because they don’t have a budget for that, and as a result have a clause in their contract which indemnifies them against inaccuracies, which are thus made the author’s sole responsibility. Now of course it may be that you think this is a terrible thing — and if you do, then of course when you negotiate your contract with your publisher you will attempt to have that clause removed or altered. Good luck with that.