Saturday, April 29, 2006

Little, Brown and the little girl

I haven't felt moved to blog about the Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarism case, but yesterday I read two good posts by a couple of bloggers I admire, and now I have something to add to the discussion.

First, one of Booksquare's excellent points:

A lot of attention has focused on Viswanathan, but recall that she’s not the sole copyright owner. 17th Street Productions/Alloy Entertainment shares that role, and, thus, shares the blame. It is the job of the Alloy staff to put together the entire package, down to editorial services. Since it’s unlikely that Viswanathan wrote without the helping hand of an experience publishing professional, it makes one wonder how much input the other copyright owner had.

Indeed. And perhaps some allowances ought to be made for Viswanathan's age (17). Sometimes even good kids do really stupid things. But why was she left without supervision? Apparently this girl's babysitters were asleep on the living room sofa while she was ustairs cutting passages out of other books and pasting them into her own. As Booksquare puts it,

Many parties had their fingers in this pie, and while Viswanathan is the public scapegoat, behind her are publishing professionals who are either complicit or ignorant — neither prospect appealing, we’re sure.

This past week all 55,000 shipped copies of the book were recalled by the publisher for pulping. I can't bring myself to feel any sympathy for Little, Brown, which--I am convinced--contracted the book primarily because of the author's age. That eye-popping $500,000 advance was all about creating a sensation. A teenage author? Half a million dollars? No, that wasn't advance money the publisher was parting with, but publicity dollars. It was a huge gamble, and LB lost their shirts. All atwitter over having installed the brilliant young author (a Harvard student!) in their stable, they neglected to read her book.

Terry Teachout hits it dead on:

Little, Brown & Co., having been stupid and tasteless enough first to sign a seventeen-year-old author to a $500,000 contract, then to publish a novel by her called How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, is richly deserving of whatever bad things happen to it as a result.


Kristin said...

I think Terry Teachout hit it right on the head. What was a big-name publisher like Little, Brown doing handing out that much money to a no-name 17-year-old kid? Did they even look at the book before they offered such an outrageous sum? I am guessing the book packager (who had produced other successful books this way) made some kind of guarantee to the publisher. The girl was just a marketing tool. It could have been any 17-year-old kid 'writing' it.

Brenda Coulter said...

Did they even look at the book before they offered such an outrageous sum?

The book was sold on proposal, meaning that the publisher never saw more than the first three or four chapters.

And unless my memory is failing me, it was actually a two-book deal for that half a mil.

Susan Kaye said...

Doesn't this happen every few years? Sort of like locust? They are touted as being so prodigious that they will herald a new era of literature, blah, blah, blah.

Most of the time they disappear into 20 something oblivion, never to be heard from again.

Take care--Sue

Winter said...

When I heard about this fiasco, I told my Dh that I can't blame this girl outright, it was the editor's job to catch it and they failed to do so. But to offer her such a large sum of money on such little reading is ridiculous.

I wonder who's eating what now that the public knows.

You gotta be careful these days, after the Frey incident authors and publishers are going to be under the microscope for awhile. This topping it off makes it even more difficult on us.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Terry Teachout hit the nail right on the head...Wow! A half million...nah, I couldn't pass for 17! LOL

Ruth said...

Whew, thanks for the quotes! Terry Teachout makes some great points.