Saturday, April 29, 2006

So you think you can steal

The Morning News has announced their “Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta” Contest

Take up to 750 of somebody else’s words, from a minimum of five sources, and make a "a coherent and original piece of fiction ". The winning story will be published on The Morning News and the "author" will receive a The Morning News T-shirt and mug. Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Book packaging

Well, Kaavya Viswanathan's book has been recalled and so the fervour continues. Megan McCafferty, who wrote the books Viswanathan is alleged to have copied from, says that "the past few weeks have been very difficult". I find it hard to get much sympathy for her with her latest book number 19 on the NYT Bestsellers List and I'm guessing rising with every day (and article about her books). Still, I promised we would talk about book packaging and so we will.

Book packagers have apparently been around for years and probably started with the Nancy Drew/Hardy boys series of books. They have done the Sweet Valley High series and others. They take a general idea or series idea and make it into a finished product, often with designed cover and all. They are partners with publishers and are increasing as publishers cut back on staff. Jobs with book packagers are great things for writers, as far as a google search for "book packagers" comes up with. Some of the top picks are all about how great they are to work for.

The telltale sign of a book packager is when you see an extra copyright holder with the author. In the case of Kaavya Viswanathan, she shared her copyright with Alloy Entertainment. Book packagers also share the royalties and advances for these books. The New York Times says that this Sunday "books created by Alloy will be ranked at Nos. 1, 5 and 9" on their children's paperback best-seller list. If you want to read more of the ugly details of this, check out the Times article on it. The gist of it is that these places churn out cookie-cutter books for publishers that the public will suck up with a straw. One editorial director likened it to working on a television show where everyone works together.

So, book packagers take an idea and work as a group to make something. The thing is, who gets blamed when things fall down as they have with Viswanathan's book? Everyone is denying that Alloy had anything to do with the plagiarism. Still, according to Viswanathan, her original manuscript was too dark for agents and the voice of the novel was crafted from chatty emails she sent the packagers. I can't help wondering if the plagiarised sections were in the "dark novel". Seems that book packagers are all for sharing the good stuff with regards to the books they "package" but don't look their way if the bad comes knocking.

Guest column in the Independent

I am going to have the guest column in the Independent this Sunday. Check it out.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Borrowing words

First it was James Frey fictionalizing a memoir, now another firestorm has hit the literary world. This time it is about an author's alleged plagiarising from another writer's novel. When I first heard about it, my immediate thought was that any writer could inadvertently use a phrase or word similar to one someone else had used. It's all been done before, as they say. I gave Kaavya Viswanathan the benefit of the doubt that she had not taken parts of Megan F. McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts and used them in her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. At least until I read a detailed list of some of the "similarities" between her book and McCafferty's. I think anyone would find it hard to ignore them and to think that they were merely accidents because she internalized them after reading McCafferty's book three or four times. As someone wrote to Harvard Newspaper, the Crimson, "it's hard to internalize italics".

Still, this whole thing makes me wonder about the big hoopla in the literary world about this. Don't get me wrong, I know plagiarism is the age-old literary offense but it's as old as writing itself so why suddenly does it create such a fervour? I think it's the Internet. A newspaper is Timbuktu can write a story and if its online it can be picked up all over the world and soon all the online papers have it. Not to mention the blogs. The blogs can make a small story into a huge one faster than you can say Kaavya Viswanathan.

I think the biggest story to come out of all of this may end up being how much Viswanathan's "book packagers" wrote the book and if they were in fact the lifters of the text. Researching this article turned up some surprising info about this book packaging thing. More about that in my next post...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Inaugural post

First blogger posts are dull. I'll just say this one is the first then move on. Hopefully to something interesting.