Here's the part I don't understand. Okay - there is a lot I don't understand about the latest memoirs that turned out to be fake. But a lot of the why doesn't anybody fact check anymore stuff is being covered elsewhere. (Here, and here, for example.)
But, I may be missing something, but it seems to me that (despite what Steve Jobs may think) people buy books. Fiction books even. And since the story of the girl in foster care in LA or the girl in the woods during the Holocaust seem like they would be compelling stories - then, why?
I mean I get it that it is likely more fun to say, "All these crazy things happened to me," than to say, "All these crazy things happened in my head." But as far as long term writing, wouldn't you be better off claiming the fiction title?
I mean, sure, maybe you won't get on "Oprah" since they seem to focus on memoirs and stories written by, um, men. But I don't see a lot of rich memoirists, so I can't quite see what the perceived advantage is in not releasing these stories as fiction. If it's a good story, it's a good story.
So, despite my promises, I do end up circling back to the fact checking. Because some basic fact checking would have allowed these publishers (and editors and agents) to know up front it was fiction. And since, there seems to be a market for good fiction books, why not make use of that?
ETA: Apparently the advance is quite different because there is a belief on the publishing side that memoirs sell better. Which may be my answer right there. I don't mean to sound as if I know better than all the publishers out there (I don't), but there are fiction books that sell, and for long periods of time, with very little help from publicity sometimes. People are still reading Jane Austen. And the advance is a bit like the tax rebate - it's a loan unless you earn it out. I have to imagine if your book is discovered to be fake that affects your ability to earn it out, which means it doesn't matter that back then they thought you might make this much.