Thursday, April 27, 2006

More updates on the Kaavya Viswanathan story

The potential plagiarism case of Kaavya Viswanathan and her book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life is becoming more interesting all of the time, judging the by articles that keep popping up about it. Two such articles announce that Viswanathan's publisher has withdrawn her book while they correct the offending passages, and explain how the case sheds some light on the book mills currently in operation.

As far as the first article goes, finding out that the first edition of the book was withdrawn makes the book collector in me bemoan the fact that I didn't buy it. First editions such as this one, that have been withdrawn or corrected after a short run, tend to become very valuable over time. Drat!

As for the second article, I confess I felt a start of familiararity when the book mill company was described. Essentially, the idea is that the company - who makes it their business to know what is selling and why - designs similar potential bestsellers, and then hires writers to flesh them out. It's not a new idea - the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series were only two of many, many syndicated children's series books early in the twentieth century, and from what I understand V.C. Andrews' books suffered a similar fate after her death. Not too long ago, I myself applied for what must have been a similar job, as the company was seeking writers who would write books for teens from an outline. Now, however, it seems that this practice is becoming rather dangerous.

Although Kaavya said that the company, Alloy, didn't have much hand in the creation of her novel, the article says that the graduation speech - one of the events in her novel that is claimed to parallel McCafferty's book - was not her idea, but her editor's suggestion. Is it possible that companies like Alloy follow the bestsellers a little bit too closely? I could see a company like that suggesting similar plots to different writers, with the assumption that not every aspiring writer gets published.

In any case, here is the latest on the Viswanathan scandal - you can decide for yourself what you think.

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