Sunday, May 07, 2006

How Can I Get Me Some of This? (With CONTEST)!

Latest Newspaper Column:

(note that the contest as set out on the blog is slightly different from the one in the entry per reader, mm'kay?)

Well, hush my mouth and call me Ishmael. Another scandal has rocked the publishing world, just as the story of mega-selling author James Frey was beginning to wind down.

You don't know about 19-year-old Harvard Freshman Kaavya Viswanathan without you have read a book by the name of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, but that ain't no matter. That book was published by a big New York publishing house called Little, Brown and Company, and they gave Ms. Viswanathan (hereinafter referred to as Ms. V.) a half-million dollar two-book contract, despite the fact that she had never written a book before.

For Ms. V., it was the best of times. It was the worst of times, however, when the book was published and some sharp-eyed reader noticed that certain passages in the book were nearly identical to passages from two books by author Megan McCafferty.

OK, Ms. V admitted, maybe there were some similarities. (Apparently, there was no way to deny it with a straight face; the similarities were as conspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.) But they were entirely unconscious, she insisted. She had read and enjoyed McCafferty's work, Ms. V explained, and had probably "internalized" some of the elements in McCaffertyís book, Sloppy Firsts.

McCafferty and her publisher, Crown, however, weren't buying Ms. V's explanation, and by the end of the week, Little, Brown had agreed to pull the book from the shelves.

Before they could do it, however, the scandal (and possibly the book's upcoming scarcity) had made it a best seller.

The publisher, a little bloody but unbowed, was talking about reissuing Opal Mehta with the offending passages scrubbed. But then-The horror! The horror! -another alert reader noticed that certain passages in Opal Mehta were practically identical to passages in the book Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella.

The critics came down like a wolf on the fold, and soon Ms. V's book contract was gone like a cool breeze.

Behind the plagiarism scandal, however, there's another story that indicates something rotten in the state of publishing. As noted above, Ms. V. got a half-million-dollar book deal before she'd even written a book. How'd she do it?

Enter "Alloy Entertainment," a so-called "book packager" in the young adult market, which "cranks out approximately 40 titles a year, often hiring writers to execute story lines," according to a story in The Boston Globe. Alloy, in an unusual step, is listed as co-owner of the copyright for Opal Mehta, along with Ms. V. So who are these guys?

Alloy (again, according to the Globe) is part of a company that owns, among other things, a chain of clothing stores for teens. Alloy had had hits in the youth chick-lit market before, most notably last year's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

It looks like the people at Alloy found themselves a concept they thought they could sell, much as a company would come up with a new line of clothing, cosmetics or jewelry for teens. They found a young, attractive, and extremely bright young author who'd look good on the book jacket and on the talk-show circuit.

It was the perfect "package." So who cared about the actual content? Who cared if the young author could handle the pressure of a half-million-dollar advance without cribbing from stuff she'd read and "internalized"? Certainly not Little, Brown and Co.

Lord, what fools these publishers be! And more important, where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to become a rich and famous author? And more important, how can I get in on it?

You know me, friends. I'm not one to sit around sulking in my tent. Where some men might see a scandal, I see a bandwagon that needs jumping on. Some may feel the need to beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past, but not your Humble Narrator. I may not be able to handle the pressure of a half-million-dollar advance, but by gum, I'm willing to take a shot at it.

And, as some alert readers may have already noticed, I can "internalize" my sources, too. I may have copied quite a few phrases and such in this column, but I can assure you that it was all unconscious. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

But if this be plagiarism, let us make the most of it. I'll send an autographed copy of my latest novel, Good Day in Hell, to the first reader of this blog who can e-mail me at and identify all the references by author and title (if applicable). First come, first served. All entries become the property of this columnist, and his decision is final. Void where prohibited by law, etc.


James Lincoln Warren said...

The first one that hit me was the tarantula on the slice of angel food, courtesy of Raymond Chandler, followed by a certain Puckish comment concerning publishing (but see my post on Trout Week back at The Sword & The Quill). Being generous, especially with other people's copyrighted prose but also just because I'm that kind of guy, I don't want to spoil the rest. Also I'm way too lazy to actually look for them, which is how one becomes a plagiarist in the first place, by being lazy, I mean.

By the way, I'm writing a book in a completely new genre I'm calling "good ol' boy hardboiled," featuring a protagonist named Buck Sullivan. It will be packaged by the Hack Press.

James Lincoln Warren said...

The first one that hit me was the tarantula on the slice of angel food ... but that's only because I've never read Moby-Dick.

JD Rhoades said...

By the way, I'm writing a book in a completely new genre I'm calling "good ol' boy hardboiled," featuring a protagonist named Buck Sullivan. It will be packaged by the Hack Press.

I'd buy that.