Friday, April 28, 2006

how opal mehta got cancelled

kaavya viswanathan's career, soaring high just a few days ago, is in freefall. it might not be ruined forever, but it is severely damaged for the time being. her first novel, which apparently plagiarized from megan mccafferty, is being pulled from the shelves:

Just weeks after her book was released with a first printing of 100,000 and a wave of favorable attention, publisher Little, Brown and Company announced Thursday that it would be pulled from store shelves and that retailers had been asked to return unsold copies, CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano reports.

Viswanathan, 19, has apologized repeatedly to author Megan McCafferty, saying she had read McCafferty's books voraciously in high school and unintentionally mimicked them.

Similarities to McCafferty's books, which include "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings," were first spotted by readers. They alerted McCafferty, who then notified her publisher. Crown alleges that at least 40 passages "contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure."

Little, Brown has said the book will be revised as quickly as possible, but in its statement made no reference to a new edition. In its statement, Little, Brown did not say how many passages would be changed.

Viswanathan's misdeeds could be blamed on inexperience, or her involvement with a book packager, 17th Street Productions, which helped her shape the story.

i had wondered about the involvement of 17th street productions, which is some kind of youth marketing firm that was brought in to mold the book into something they thought would be more marketable. viswanathan could have pulled a domenech and blamed 17th street for the plagiarized text making it into her novel, but she did the mature thing and admitted culpability. of course, she said it was all subconscious, which sounds rather like a cop-out, but it is possible that she had simply read the books so many times that she didn't realize all those words were coming from her memory rather than her muse.

also atrios points out an aspect of the story i hadn't picked up on. viswanathan got her publishing deal because she showed her novel-in-progress to her college counselor, who happened to have contacts in publishing. i had assumed that this was simply her high school guidance counselor, and thought it unusual but believable that this counselor happened to know important publishing people. but that's not quite what happened:

Her parents were not immune to the competitive pressure, however. Because they had never applied to an American educational institution, they hired Katherine Cohen, founder of IvyWise, a private counseling service, and author of "Rock Hard Apps: How to Write the Killer College Application." At the time IvyWise charged $10,000 to $20,000 for two years of college- preparation services, spread over a student's junior and senior years.

But they did have limits. "I don't think she did our platinum package, which is now over $30,000," Cohen said of Viswanathan.

so a rich girl's family buys around $20,000 in college counseling and gets a $500,000 book deal. sounds like a good investment. it must be nice to be rich and have these kinds of opportunities handed to you.

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