Reality Check

When you read the term “fact checking,” it probably makes you think of modern, political fact-checkers who analyze claims and rate them as true or false, often cherry-picking sources who support their own biases.

By contrast, fact checking in the publishing industry is an important part of writing and editing nonfiction content, as well as some fiction content, such as historical fiction and fiction that references factual people, events, and places. A conscientious author who values the truth will fact check as part of their research and writing process or hire an editor to assist them. The editor will investigate names, places, dates, events, etc., to verify spelling and accuracy of the information.

Often, first-time or self-published authors make the mistake of thinking that fact checking is unnecessary, or that no one will ever notice if they don’t fact check. In truth, when readers or reviewers notice lazy editing or the lack of fact checking, they will very likely post or publish negative feedback or reviews, which will affect an author’s reputation and discourage potential buyers from purchasing their books. In some situations, authors may also face libel and legal issues.

What type of content should be fact-checked?

  • names of factual people, towns, streets, geographical locations
  • titles of factual books and publications
  • names of factual brands, companies, and products
  • factual technical and medical terms and procedures
  • direct quotations* of words spoken or published by factual people

*Direct quotations should be repeated exactly as they were originally spoken or published and surrounded by double quotation marks both before and after. When paraphrasing someone’s words, don’t use quotation marks. In both cases, however, the source of the quotation should be referenced either within the text, in a parenthetical citation, or on a references page/bibliography at the back of the book. Even well-known quotes should be investigated as they are frequently misquoted or misattributed.

For historical fiction, also verify:

  • existence and usage of specific technologies
  • historical terminology** and culture

**Language changes over time, and often the meaning and usage of some words changes from one era to the next. Unless your book involves time travel, using modern idioms or inserting modern culture in a historical fiction book set in past centuries is lazy and makes setting a realistic and believable scene virtually impossible.

Depending on experience or specialty, not all editors fact check. If your manuscript contains the type of content mentioned in this article, be sure to ask your editor in advance whether they provide fact-checking. Including a disclaimer on the copyright page is also recommended—one that is tailored specifically to your book. Even the most rigorous research can be fallible, but if an author puts in the effort to verify their book content’s accuracy according to the information that is available, they can be confident they are not intentionally publishing incorrect content.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever discovered any glaring errors related to factual people or events in any books you’ve read.