"Fiction has lost its allure because of this primitive belief that memoir is more worthy, more authentic," says Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia University, and author of the memoir "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage." At the same time, he says, "The bubble of a wholly reliable reminiscence has burst."
That paradox is central to the future of the memoir, say authors, booksellers, and publishers. Though the form has undoubtedly lost some of its luster, memoir sales will likely continue to rise over the next few years, spurred by what Mr. Gitlin calls a search for "authenticity." Since 1999, sales in the biography-and-memoir category have grown from $170 million to $270 million, according to the annual Bowker Industry Report.
Booksellers at Powell's Books, the independent chain in Oregon – where fabulist Margaret Seltzer is currently living – say recent author transgressions have had little effect on the way they purchase or market memoirs.
"There was a certain amount of interest in Margaret Jones [Ms. Seltzer's pseudonym] regionally and locally," says Michal Drannen, marketing manager for Powell's. "But we haven't seen a decline in sales of the genre. From my perspective, I don't think there's a general concern about the veracity of nonfiction memoirs or biographies."
The impact may be more subtle.
"It's made us cynical," says purchasing manager Gerry Donaghy. He and his colleagues have developed a running joke. Whenever they come across an especially sensational life story, somebody will ask, "What's the pool? How many weeks before it's exposed as fraudulent?"