April 30 2006

Naughty girl! Go to your room!

It must be exciting to be 17 and sign a contract with a large book publisher like Little Brown and Company for $500,000 and two books. I mean, really, who wouldn’t be excited at any age for that deal? Meet Kaavya Viswanathan, now 19 and a Sophomore at Harvard, who is currently on “leave” from said school.

Ms. Viswanathan delivered her book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life : A Novel, and it was published in March of this year. DreamWorks liked it enough to even pick up the film rights. Wow…things are going really well for her, aren’t they?

That is, they were going well for her until this week. It seems that someone noticed that seven passages in her book had a stunning resemblance to two books by Megan McCafferty called Sloppy Firsts : A Novel and Second Helpings : A Novel. At first Kaavya was shocked and apologized to everyone and promised future editions would be corrected. As McCafferty’s published looked, they claimed to have found up to 40 passages that were the same.

As the week progressed, Little Brown said they would stand by their author…that was until late Thursday when they decided to pull the remainder of her 100,000 print run from store shelves. It is unclear, at this time, if it will be rereleased with cleaned up passages or if Kaavya will be thrown out with yesterday’s trash. There is also some talk she may be expelled from Harvard over this.

Her…”defense”…such as it is, is that she admits she did read the two copied books when she was younger and loved them so much she must have internalized the words. Um…may I see a show of hands of people who have accidentally written words from a novel they read years before because they loved it so much? Yeah…I thought as much. Because I know I am constantly writing “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” oh wait…did I just internalize that? Silly me.

The weird thing is, I don’t blame only Kaavya for this whole mess. Her publisher is at much at fault as she is. First of all, you do not give a two book deal worth $500,000 to an untried teen author. That’s just insane. Where were the fact checkers and editors in all this? The really odd twist is the rumblings that her book had to be taken to a “packager” named 17th Street. (There is an excellent description of what a packager does here) This says to me there were problems with the writing if they had to send her book out to a ghostwriting farm. There are thousands of writers out there waiting for a break, and a teenage hack get a two book deal and a movie….yay.

This is the second incident of sloppy publishing work in a short window of time. I am sure we all remember the Oprah/A Million Little Pieces debacle. What is going on in the publishing industry? In a time where every entertainment dollar is being fought for between DVDs/video games/music/the internet and so on, now is not the time for sloppy publishing work. Now is the time for some of the most stellar work ever. There should be no tales of plagerism and fake “memoirs”, there should be tales of books of amazing literary prose being published.

Now, I have to say that McCafferty has handelled this with class:

“I wish to inform all of the parties involved that I am not seeking restitution in any form. […] I look forward to getting back to work and moving on, and hope Ms. Viswanathan can, too.”

I personally would be looking to crush the little leech, and her publisher.

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