Monday, April 24, 2006

Ordnance Tactics

Kerrie has been reading a book by Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. She got an advance copy of the uncorrected proof, which the accompanying ad copy describes as "a lively and irresistible first novel about an overachieving teenage girl who discovers that in order to get into the college of her dreams she has to learn some wildly unexpected lessons." Kerrie loves it.

Today, its author was accused of plagiarism.

Viswanathan is accused of lifting at least a half-dozen passages from Megan McCafferty's novel Sloppy Firsts, published by Random House in 2001. McCafferty's agent says a fan notified McCafferty of the similarities in an e-mail sent April 11. Yesterday, lawyers for Random House hand-delivered a letter to Viswanathan's publisher, Little Brown.

Less than 12 hours later, the Harvard Crimson broke the story on its website with a researched article and comparative selections from both books. The article also included a telephone comment from Viswanathan, whom the Crimson had contacted on Saturday, several hours before Random House's letter was delivered. The story also appeared on the front page of Monday's Boston Globe in a thoroughly researched article that included background on both authors and commentary from a local publisher, all of which was prepared prior to the Globe's deadline on Sunday night.

Obviously, someone leaked this story. But both newspapers deliberately held their articles until after Random House delivered its letter on Sunday. If the Globe had been notified by the same fan who e-mailed McCafferty, they wouldn't have let the Crimson scoop the story. This was a courtesy exchanged for a tip, and any reasonable observer concludes that Random House planted these stories.

I point this out because it's serious hardball. I don't condone plagiarism — but planting the story in a 19-year-old sophomore's college newspaper? That's not a tactic you often see employed by a book publisher. I'm not saying it was wrong, and I'm not saying I wouldn't have done the same if I worked for Random House public relations. But this is a rare display of brutality from a book publisher — the same publisher that got burned by James Frey just four months ago — and it's worth taking note.


At April 26, 2006 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your "take" on this story is far more interesting than the story itself. You should write an article and send it to some magazines.

At May 04, 2006 3:20 AM, Blogger Olgy Gary said...

I agree with what anonymous said. Your take is the first one I've read on this subject and I've been reading a lot on it, including CNN, The Harvard Crimson and NY Times reporting that, "'Opal Mehta'" contained passages similar to Meg Cabot's 2000 novel, 'The Princess Diaries.' The New York Times also reported comparable material in Viswanathan's novel and Sophie Kinsella's 'Can You Keep a Secret?'"


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