Thursday, April 27, 2006

How Opal Mehta Got Caught!!, Part III

It's getting harder and harder to keep track of the players in the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal. Before we address the latest developments, let's list the actors in our little morality play:

Kaavya Viswanathan: The 19-year-old Harvard sophomore who made news last year when she reportedly received an advance of $500,000 for two YA books. On Sunday, the Harvard Crimson broke the story that Kaavya was suspected of plagiarism.

Alloy Entertainment: The book packager that helped to guide Kaavya and put together the proposal for her book--How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life (HOMGKGWAGAL)--for Little, Brown.

Little, Brown: Publisher (division of Time Warner) that signed a contract with Alloy Entertainment and Kaavya to release HOMGKGWAGAL. Alloy and Kaavya share the copyright for the novel.

Megan McCafferty: Former editor for Cosmopolitan and best-selling author of two YA novels. A week after HOMGKGWAGAL went on sale (and the same day McCafferty's own third book was released), she reportedly received an email from a fan pointing to similarities between Kaavya's book and her own work.

Crown Publishing: Publisher (division of Random House) that published Megan McCafferty's first two novels and her most recent book, Charmed Thirds, released this month.

Now that we've got the playlist straight, let look at what happened today. To begin with, a new player entered the scene. Claudia Gabel was brought up by the New York Times. In a very weird coincidence, the Times claims that "Claudia Gabel is thanked on the acknowledgments pages of both Ms. McCafferty's books and Ms. Viswanathan's...Ms. Gabel had been an editorial assistant at Crown Publishing Group, then moved to Alloy, where she helped develop the idea for Ms. Viswanathan's book. She has recently become an editor at Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group, a sister imprint to Crown."

Knowing that Ms. Gabel had worked on Ms. McCafferty's work before she helped develop Ms. Viswanathan's book, one would think that Ms. McCafferty's publisher would be all over it. Instead, a spokesman for Random House (owner of Crown) said in the New York Times that Ms. Gabel, who worked at Alloy from 2003 to November, 2005, said she left "'before the editorial work was completed' on Ms. Viswanathan's book." The RH spokesman said that Ms. Gabel worked on the project in its "conceptual" stage and did not touch the writing. Ms. Gabel did not return calls to the Times for comment.

Although Little, Brown, Kaavya's publisher, had indicated they would make a statement yesterday, no such press release was forthcoming. Previously, the Little, Brown publisher had told the Times, "'Our understanding is that Kaavya wrote the book herself, so any problems are entirely the result of her writing and not the result of the packager's involvement in the book.'"

The Harvard Independent, a weekly student newspaper pointed out that this is not the first time the book packager has been involved in a lawsuit with Random House--only that time, both the packager and Random House were accused of plagiarizing a writer who had done work-for-hire for Alloy Entertainment (which was doing business as 17th Street Productions at the time). The writer, Susan Daitch, had done a first draft of a children's novel called Blackwell's Island while working for 17th Street. Random House hated the draft and demanded another writer. Daitch had never signed a contract with 17th Street giving up rights to her work. After she was let go, she took the very astute step of applying for and registering a formal copyright for that first draft she'd written. When Blackwell's Island came out, Daitch promptly sued both the packager and the publisher. Although 17th Street denied Daitch's claims, the matter was settled outside of court with Daitch signing a non-disclosure agreement.

What is obvious is that the relationships in the literary world run deep and are complex. A partner in one venture may be a competitor in another venture. All the players know they will come together again in the future. I'd wager that this matter will be resolved without any of the participants setting foot in a courtroom.

The real tragedy is a 17-year-old being pushed to perform and to excel to the point that she lost track of her moral compass. I am not condoning what Kaavya did. It was wrong, and she will have to face the consequences of her actions as all adults must do. I just think it's unfortunate that she was plunked down into this position in the first place. This is a cautionary tale for every "helicopter" parent (hovering) who equates worldly success with happiness.


Emjay said...


Quit your day (and night) job.

The CIA needs you.

Maya said...

Emjay: Thanks for the kind words. I've been very interested in following this story. It says a lot about the publishing world.

Emjay said...

It does, (say a lot about the pub world) and what interests me ... Big Time ... is

Is there a way I can get this consortium to pay me 500 thou to write a book??

I promise to be more subtle in my plagiarism!!

Maya said...

Well, it would be hard to be more overt.

What was she thinking?