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How Opal Mehta got plagiarized...

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I just posted a comment on the PW thread. Probably shouldn't have but it's Friday night and I've been biting my cyber-tongue (?) for nearly a week on this. It hits such a sore spot.


I have been following this thread compulsively as well. And I agree with ndm. At 19 I would have done this in a heartbeat and never had a moment's question until the world came  crashing down on my head. You need a certain maturity, which doesn't necessarily correlate with chronological age, to have your own voice. Until you do, a writer with facility, ambition and connections is ripe for the pickings.

What an education this has been! I had no idea the role packagers played in this industry until this week.

#241 - April 28, 2006, 05:22 PM


Geez, I feel like I'm watching Sick Sad World with Daria. People are selling copies of Opal on e-bay for up to $100. Not sure they've sold any at those prices, but they are asking up to that much.

It's disgusting.
#242 - April 28, 2006, 10:21 PM

The thing that makes me angry (and yes, it is probably a tad selfish) is look at all the PR time and dollars spent on promoting this young author. Too bad this money couldn't be spent on a more legitimate author with a book coming out.

I can't help but think she got caught up in her own hype and believed she'd never get caught. Sad. Kind of like a train wreck. It hurts to watch but you can't help it.

#243 - April 29, 2006, 03:45 AM

I can't help but think she got caught up in her own hype and believed she'd never get caught. Sad. Kind of like a train wreck. It hurts to watch but you can't help it.

Tell me about it. :( I've been following this story in the paper all week, and everything about it just makes me sad.

If anything good comes out of this, I hope it's that publishers (as well as young writers) will be more conscientious in the future so these sorts of scandals happen less and less often.

But then again, considering how the publishing industry works these days, it's hard for them to discover things like plagiarism (in any kind of writing) or fabrication (in nonfiction) until it's too late. (That's probably why beginning writers will do whatever it takes to get published if they think they can get away with it -- from KV lifting passages from a couple of her favorite books, to James Frey selling a fictionalized account of his life as "memoir".)
#244 - April 29, 2006, 08:10 PM
« Last Edit: April 29, 2006, 08:26 PM by G.R. »
"This is your life and you be what you want to be.
Just don't hurt nobody, 'less of course they ask you."

XTC, "Garden of Earthly Delights" (1989)


Geez, I feel like I'm watching Sick Sad World with Daria.

Ok, this is completely OT, but that cracked me up.  Sigh.  I loved "Daria."  Ok, I *was* Daria....  (DH and I still say, "Sick, sad world," whenever something like this comes up...)
#245 - April 30, 2006, 02:36 PM



Yes, this whole thing is a train wreck and sad and sick as well.

I'll be interested to see how this all ends up and what lasting repercussions (if any) this scandal has on the publishing world and how business is done.

I want to see if KV has to give any or all of her humongous advance back. (Oh wait! She hasn't admitted doing anything wrong. It was all her unconscious, doncha know) I want to see if the whole thing about young, pretty, and marketable "writers" goes away. It's all about the writing and someone's age or appearance should be irrelevant.

Also, isn't out and out plagiarism against the law? As in, people have gone to jail for much less?


#246 - May 01, 2006, 07:53 AM


Get thee behind me, Opal Metha.   :dr

Sorry, but it took me all weekend to stop obsessing over this story.  I was horribly addicted.  :feelbad:

I think I can honestly say I'm able to move on.  Whew.   :faint:

#247 - May 01, 2006, 12:27 PM


Warning: Long, cynical conspiracy rant ahead

I’m not ready to let Alloy off the hook yet. There have been too many contradictions with what they and the publisher have said about this book over the years as to the involvement of the packager to necessarily believe they’re telling the truth now.

1.   Publishers don’t care about scapegoating an author who’s name is now mud. But they can’t blame the company who might bring them the next Gossip Girls bonanza. So I’m cynical of both LB and Random House absolving Alloy of any wrongdoing. You don’t eat the goose that lays the golden eggs.
2.   The book required a lot more work than other packaged books they’ve done. No, wait, they were only involved in the first four chapters. Yeah, sure, they get to split copyright and a chunk of the advance and royalties for tweaking 4 chapters?
3.   The original MS was much darker and went through several versions to lighten it. Original MS? What original manuscript? We asked for an e-mail from the author to get an idea of her voice and then came up with the outline of a novel ourselves that would suit that voice. I think there were other creation myths to this novel as well but the news articles are starting to blur for me. It does make me wonder, did the girl write any of this herself or was she just a unique marketing spin to slap in the author bio?
4.   If Alloy did have a heavy hand in the writing of this book, how convenient for them that absolutely none of the plagiarized phrases were written by them.
5.   KV got a $500K advance for this and her next book. Woowee! This must be something darn special for us to pay this much to a 17 year old. Please send all your reporters out to cover this story. The editor, publisher, author, author’s parents, agent, guidance counselor and pet cat Fifi will be available for any and all interviews. Um, did we say $500K? No….that’s not quite right. No she didn’t get that much. Yeah, the packager would have received some of that. I swear, that one’s a double whammy. If you’re going to have your Harvard classmates bitter, and from what I understand, nasty at times, you should at least get to enjoy the thing they’re jealous about you having.
6.   The same editor is thanked in the acknowledgements of both books. Sure, she now claims she was only involved in the early part of Opal. But considering that a similar plot is one of the things KV has been accused of, you’d think even an early outline read by that editor would have uncovered it.
7.   By its very essence, book packaging is based on a lie. The fact that Francine Pascal’s name is on the front of every SVH is a lie. You may consider that a harsh statement. After all, it’s not like they’re trying to cover it up. All you have to do is read the copyright page. But let’s be realistic, who other than writers read the copyright page? And even at that, before this week, how many of us didn’t know how involved packagers were in some of the biggest selling series? But it’s a harmless lie. As long as good writing is there, readers don’t care who wrote it. Yeah, try telling that to Milli Vanilli. Their fans were *really* loyal to them after finding out they were just a couple pretty faces lip synching to the real voices behind the scenes. On the other hand, the real voices (don’t remember their names) tried to make a go of it after being outted. But they weren’t pretty enough so they failed. So in that way, maybe packagers are the most honest people in the publishing world. They acknowledge the disgustingly superficial world we live in and cater to it, matching decent writers with pretty faces for a single package that the general public laps up.
8.   And here’s something else. We’ve had discussions on this board about friends/family recognizing themselves in our stories. We care about their feelings and we don’t want them to get hurt. Soooooo, if you were a teenage East Indian on her way to Harvard with parents who are both doctors, would you write about a teenage East Indian on her way to Harvard with PSYCHO parents who are the exact same type of doctors as your parents? Sounds like a cute marketing ploy the packager came up with. And it worked, because the parents’ professions were mentioned in all the pre-plagiarism articles.
9.   Early on, some of us thought the plagiarism might have been unintentional, because logically, if you were capable of writing 300 good, funny pages, why would you go to the trouble of finding and inserting a few stolen phrases and potentially risk everything? How about this: the person who inserted those phrases had the specific job of adding sizzle to an otherwise average manuscript?
10.   KV is accepting the blame for writing all the phrases in question. Means nothing to me. Alloy and/or LB could have promised her great things to cover up the truth. Because if it turns out that Alloy employs ghostwriters who plagiarize, that taints every money-machine book that they have ever touched. None of the big publishers want that because they all love those money-machine books.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I believe this to be true. I’m just saying it’s very possible. I don’t think we have a smoking gun here where we can say one way or the other what the truth is.

Maybe it was all KV’s doing and the rest of the bunch were clueless. Also very possible. Except for that one editor who worked on both books, I think it’s entirely realistic that no one involved in this book would have caught the similarities. If I read MM’s books three years ago, I can guarantee that Opal would look brand new to me. Personally, I think the people who tipped off the Crimson and MM are MM fanatics who have her books memorized.

Anyway, conspiracy theory now finished.  :P

#248 - May 01, 2006, 03:36 PM


Oh God, I promised myself :x

HB, let me just say that you make a good case.
#249 - May 01, 2006, 03:44 PM


HB, :dr
You said much of what I've been thinking.
This is the thread that just won't die. 
So many of us keep having our eyes snapped back to it, especially when we vow never to return!
#250 - May 01, 2006, 05:53 PM


*sticks finger down throat*

It just gets worse and worse. Bleh. Head up, chin high, fellow writers. Be proud of what you do.

#251 - May 01, 2006, 08:19 PM


Arghhh... I can't stay away either.

Just read the new Crimson article (thanks, Shirley!) and that's pretty much cemented it for me (not that there was a lot fo doubt in my mind) -- there was definitely intentional copying.  And I'd be shocked if anybody still believes that the packager put in the "lifted" phrases, since I doubt any YA editor would think, "let's grab some Salman Rushdie excerpts to make this really marketable to teens!"

Also, i would think that if someone at the packager was assigned to lift someone else's words to spice up the manuscript, instead of stealing from other published books and risk getting sued, they'd steal from their stack of manuscripts in progress.  After all, those authors could be sent back to
rewrite -- and since their words were not yet published, it would be much harder to prove the theft.

And now, I am banning myself from this thread for at least 24 hours.
#252 - May 01, 2006, 08:54 PM



Decoupage Novels! Cut and paste your favorite elements to really jazz up your own mediocrity.
#253 - May 01, 2006, 08:57 PM

It's funny- after I read the "makeover" passage (similar to Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries), I went into my WIP to take a closer look at the makeover scene, and I have to say- I really do think VK's copying is deliberate.  My scene has a lot of the same elements- being exfoliated, having your nails done, etc, and it ends with the girl realizing how different she looks than she looked before, but reading the passages side by side, they're one hundred percent completely different.  They sound different.  The characters sound different.  Things appear in different order, the rhythm of the sentences is different.  I think this just made me realize- there are SO MANY different ways to write this very generic kind of scene, and I really think that only one of them looks anything like the Cabot version, and that's Meg Cabot's.

#254 - May 01, 2006, 09:07 PM

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Someone ban me ... this is just too horrible.  I really wish KV would stop lying on top of everything.
#255 - May 01, 2006, 09:22 PM
Little Thief! Max & Midnight, Bound, Ten Easter Eggs & 100+ bks/mags

That's amazing!  It's like her 'photographic memory' is a Polaroid camera! 
She just presses a button and the phrases come out and all she has to do is change a word here or there, and copy the rest into her manuscript.
It's so sad that she won't just admit it.  Or that she didn't say -- 'Oh - you may find other passages that come from other books almost verbatim' --

I wonder of her Harvard professors will now be checking her papers for plagiarism.
#256 - May 02, 2006, 05:17 AM


There are also allegations that she copied passages from Sophie Kinsella's (chick lit) Can You Keep A Secret?

To be fair, I read in another article that there are lots of rhyming road signs in India, which might account for the similarities to Rushdie's work.

I never believed the 'internalized' excuse.  I think either: she thought she was safe if she changed all the passages around and added words here and there - I thought that once upon a time, in fourth grade, though, not college.  Or, alternatively, that someone at Alloy was pissed at all the publicity and the huge advance she got, when she wasn't doing any of the work, and inserted the passages deliberately.  That seems crazy, because obviously Alloy would know who did it and even if the person isn't outed publicly, you can figure people in the industry would know (maybe?)

The whole thing is very, very sad.
#257 - May 02, 2006, 05:31 AM



ShirleyH, I wondered the same thing. But I think she ought to have been old enough to go, "Holy Cow, they are offering me scads of money to write a book and I can't write a book (that's my own, anyway) AND go to school. Maybe I should take a year off school." Duh and double Duh.

If someone offered me that much to write a book, I'd take a year off from my life, which in no way resembles getting an education from Harvard. 

I'd go live in the mountains by myself and grow a beard. (Okay, not the beard part)

#258 - May 02, 2006, 06:40 AM


Do you think she will leave Harvard? I imagine it would be difficult to show her face around campus (although wouldn't that make a great novel? The girl messes up, is scorned and ostracized, learns from her mistakes and finds redemption somehow... wonder if it's already in the works)
#259 - May 02, 2006, 06:48 AM


Here's the NY Times link that compares passages from "Opal" and "Secret."
#260 - May 02, 2006, 06:58 AM



Yeah, and I'm sure that she was a Harvard student was part of the marketing ploy. No doubt.

#261 - May 02, 2006, 07:23 AM


but reading the passages side by side, they're one hundred percent completely different.  They sound different.  The characters sound different.  Things appear in different order, the rhythm of the sentences is different.  I think this just made me realize- there are SO MANY different ways to write this very generic kind of scene

From the start this has been my take on why I felt the "unintentional" tag on the words "copying" were insincere.

Hardly any two writers have the same cadence to their sentence.  Not sure if any of you tuned in..but Miss Snark did a contest where the snarklings were to write a passage using the same 10 words.  None of the stories sounded the same.

I'm sorry, but internalization or not your voice is your voice.  And I'm not buying internalization.  Sure, you read someone's work and love it...doesn't mean you can mimic it exactly...not without copying that is!

All of us could get a writing assignment from the same editor and the editor could even say "And I want a chick-litty voice" and still I think our patterns, voice and word usage would vary widely.

I'm not buying the innocence.  I'm not buying the unintentional.

I'm not judging KV but the whole mess and all involved disgust me.  Not leaving the industry big-wigs or those close to KV out of my range of disdain.

I shouldn't take it so personally.  It's not about me.   :sb

But as I sit here juggling my book's release 10 months away - let's say it together, marketing hell-  writing a new book and revising a mss so it will, I don't have too much sympathy for her.  I just don't.  If I had a packager holding my  hand or doing the writing, my life would be so much easier...but also, I wouldn't be a novelist, I'd be a ghostwriter.  And that's not the path I chose to take.

Writing is hard.  Ask any writer!  Someone obviously forgot to tell KV that.

Oh and I echo Shirley's question - where were the parents in all this?!  Yeah, I thought I knew it all at 17, 18 and 21...but I didn't and my parents were always there when my know-it-all butt needed some guidance.

Off the soap box!  :faint:

#262 - May 02, 2006, 07:45 AM


Hi all,

I am intrigued by this story now, with a lot of different feelings and opinions swirling around inside my head.
But what I need to know is:

Why would a publisher pay such a Huge advance to an unknown?  Is it because she's 17 and goes to Harvard?
Do well known authors (like Meg Cabot) really get paid this much?


#263 - May 02, 2006, 07:59 AM




Interesting link, Lydap!

If you're entire academic career was packaged, it only makes sense that your book be the same.

What a world.

#265 - May 02, 2006, 09:28 AM


Indeed. $30,000 to buff your child into harvard and half a million to buff a derivative, autobiographical "novel" into an assembly line bestseller. Money talks.

#266 - May 02, 2006, 09:31 AM


That's a pretty good article!
#267 - May 02, 2006, 09:31 AM


seems as if there are two main camps on this.  the one that thinks she ought to be tarred and feathered for her unforgiveable crime, and the one that thinks there was a lot more going on than we outside observers know about (aka conspiracy theory).

those of you who've been following the thread know that i'm in the latter.  i was always taught to dig beneath the surface, and that things are never what they seem.  this story was appalling enough without the additional article by the crimson and the nyt.  enough already.  these new articles haven't shed any new light on anything.  they have only confirmed the stance that everyone has already chosen for themselves.

this whole mess is a testament to just how slimy this business can get if the main motivation is dollars and profits.  we all want to make a living doing what we love.  that's why we're in it.  but this is what happens when we pursue the money at the expense of everything else.

this girl got caught up in other people's agendas, including her parents.  in the entire scenario, she is the one with the least amount of power, if you will.  she is not a large corporation like alloy or little, brown.  she is not established in her field like her parents.  she is not the dreamworks media giant.  she is a 19-year-old girl trying to get her life going, under tremendous pressure to perform and please.

even if she didn't before, i have no doubt she now understands the gravity of her actions.  and no doubt that she'll *never, ever* copy anything again.  let the girl be, for heaven's sake.  why isn't anyone pounding down little brown's door and asking, "um, excuse me?  why the 500k, two-book-deal for a 17-y-o unknown?  wouldn't that money have been better used by giving 25 promising new, *seasoned* authors 20k advances?"  or pounding down alloy's door and asking, "how, exactly, do you get a huge percentage of a half-million dollars, and half the copyright, by working on only *four* chapters of *one* novel?  and only *tweaking* those chapters at that?"

no.  it's much easier to say it's the aberrant person with questionable character, rather than an entire industry or a climate of pushing for profits, by any means necessary.  it must be the 19-y-o plagiarizing wench.  tie her to the stake.  it can't be little brown and alloy.  how could they know?  how could they be held responsible for any of it?  these giant corporations are the *victims* of this 19-y-old's thievery!  this girl has betrayed and decieved *all* of us!

unbelievable, this whole thing.  it sure has blown the lid off of any disillusions i may have had about the business.
#268 - May 02, 2006, 09:32 AM


thanks, lyda, for that link!  great article.
#269 - May 02, 2006, 09:39 AM


I think they are all equally culpable.  Everything seemed to mesh together to make this mess.  If KV hadn't put pen to paper, this wouldn't have been an issue.  She's as much to blame as anyone else.  When I was that age I knew that plagiarism was theft, and that theft was wrong.  I knew that when I was 12, when I first wanted to become a writer.  I wouldn't have dreamed of trying to lift someone else's work and pass it off as my own, even when my own writing wasn't that original.  I don't think age should be taken into account here. 

What concerns me is that we are focusing so much on "poor KV, and hope she can get her life back on track"- what kind of message are we sending?  Yes, I hope she can come through this and learn some valuable lessons, but she also made the choice to plagiarize.  If we are in a stressful situation and decide that doing something immoral will help get us through it, then where do we draw the line? Just because things are stressful, murdering others doesn't become ok, or embezzlement doesn't become ok, or cheating on our taxes, our spouses, etc, or robbing banks- these things aren't ok.  Stealing the hard work of another writer is WRONG.
 When we find ourselves in positions of potential success, immoral actions do not suddenly become ok or even understandable because things are stressful.  We can't shift blame to those around us for our actions, we have to each live out our morality with all the integrity we have.  This wasn't about her trying to figure out morality at a young age, as some have suggested, she simply bent with the wind and took the easiest course, which was to steal, proving how little integrity she has.  She wasn't even starving or homeless, which might make her actions more understandable- she was in an enviable position.

All of those who supported her in this venture, those who knew what she was doing, are equally to blame, though, L,B, and Alloy, etc.  But she still made the choice to steal.  She could have said no.  If it was all about the money offered, then it wasn't about the writing anyway, and plagiarism proves it isn't about the writing, but stealing a quick buck.

By trying to lessen her guilt by blaming others, we are doing her a great disservice.  It is important to face the consequences of our actions, so that we can grow as people.  Had she done the right thing, and written an original work, we'd have been happy for her- the consequences would be good.  She chose not to do that.  Merely having her reputation ruined is only the beginning.  The memory of that fades, people forget, and ooh, that wasn't too bad, I could be more sneaky next time and do the same thing again- maybe not plagiarism, but something else in life. She has to be held accountable for this, and so does anyone else who was involved, in equal measure, or we are sending a REALLY nasty message to the next generation of writers.  Anything goes.  Ethics are out the window.
#270 - May 02, 2006, 10:06 AM


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