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How Opal Mehta got plagiarized...

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Melanie

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On a different note for those of you wishing that KV has her advance taken back, what if, she is only one small cog in this wheel of deceit - wouldn't her only incentive to keeping her mouth shut and 'falling on her sword' be the advance - let's call it, oh I don't know, hush money. :yup

Me thinks LB will not remove said advance

thanks steph, that was my point.  i don't think kv did this all by herself.

the way i see it, a lot of people saw huge dollar signs when they signed kv.  and rather than examining, asking questions, or deliberating, they pushed the whole process through on the fast track.  i'm not exonerating kv, she certainly played her part.  but i am calling into question her being singled out as having done *all* of this to herself.  and yes, it would be different in my book if this had happened to a 25 or 40-year-old.  as someone (jen, maybe? sorry!) mentioned, someone older would have more life experience behind them and would, more likely than not, be better equipped to handle some of the fallout.  also, if there *was* a whole crew behind the *idea* of opal mehta, someone with more experience/years might have handled *that* differently as well.

i completely disagree that the packager, publisher, and editors are absolved of all responsibility.  i would think that, since the editors and publisher are familiar with the ya, chick-lit world, at least *one* of them, somewhere in the two years between idea and going to print, might have read mm's book/s and noticed the similarities.  certainly enough to investigate the matter further.  after all, sloppy firsts was not some obscure novel that went largely unnoticed.  also, what if, as someone said before, she was encouraged to read mm's books as points of reference for what the packager and the publisher had in mind?  if that is the case, the connection between the two is deliberate.

no, no one felt sorry for her when she got the advance (why would they?), or that it might be too much for a college student to be academically successful and write a book worth a lot of money (probably because many have.  some even on this board).  my inclination is to feel for people who are being unfairly mobbed up on.  i'm on board with the fact that kv should face some harsh consequences and that she should never, ever do this again (though i'm sure she's well aware of that herself at this point).  but some of the over-the-top outrage is what gets to me. 

the person who should be *most* outraged, in my view, is mm -- and she seems to be handling it all with more grace and poise than the average observer.
#181 - April 26, 2006, 05:48 PM

steph

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Melanie,

Yes, I posted Monday morning regarding this, and my position has not changed.  The agent, editor, packagers all are culpable.

Actually since my post on Monday, I happened upon an article ( pre-scandal) that KV did with a local paper. In reading the details of the deal in KV's own words, I was more convinced than ever that KV did not act alone.


** okay here's the actually link

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXkxNjcmZmdiZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTY5MTI1MjAmeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk3
 
#182 - April 26, 2006, 06:06 PM

jadedmetaphor

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On a different note for those of you wishing that KV has her advance taken back, what if, she is only one small cog in this wheel of deceit - wouldn't her only incentive to keeping her mouth shut and 'falling on her sword' be the advance - let's call it, oh I don't know, hush money. :yup

Considering how much KV's parents paid to help get her into Harvard, if there really was some big conspiracy (and I seriously doubt there is), I doubt $500k makes enough difference in their life to be worth KV's dignity.
#183 - April 26, 2006, 06:12 PM
« Last Edit: April 26, 2006, 06:23 PM by jadedmetaphor »

steph

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No, but the shame of the removal of the contract and no second book might! I'm going with my gut on this one and from the beginning it has been telling me smoke meet fire.

*Just to clarify - I don't see it as a 'big conspiracy. I see it as an ugly underbelly of the publishing world, and this is not an isolated case.
#184 - April 26, 2006, 06:19 PM
« Last Edit: August 12, 2006, 07:34 AM by steph »

Paulahy

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Someone stop me.  I can't stop reading this thread!!!

And I will give up trying to figure out whose post I'm responding to.  However, someone brought up a very good point about the fact that the author can't use her age both ways (to defend her actions as the young nave and to promote herself as the young prodigy author genius).

It's just too convenient.

Yes, I too feel the publisher, packager and all those who touched the book need to stop with the "she's such a sweet girl and would never do this on purpose" and just admit they screwed up and now plan to launch a $500K educational program full of PSA's and print ads talking about the evils of plagirism.

As far as the packager issue - I can only speak from the perspective of a reader on this.  When I read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The A-List Back in Black, I had no idea a packager was involved.  Yet both books seemed to be missing something, one of those, can't put your hands on what, qualities.  Later, I was able to say for Sisterhood, I never got a clear picture in my head of the characters.  So I felt the descriptions weren't as vivid.  For Back in Black, the plot was super thin.

When I found out they were produced by packagers, in my mind, that explained some of their voids.  I didn't find out until after I'd read them.  Well after for Sisterhood, about a month later for the other.

I am NOT saying packaged books are bad.  I am saying that when a packager becomes involved you know that the publisher is looking to distribute en masse and churn out books at a much faster pace than a single author could ever do alone.  So no surprise the books may not have the depth of non-packaged books.

Opal certainly does nothing to boost the image of packaged books. 

The more links I read with passages from Opal, the more this thing stinks to the heavens. 

-P
#185 - April 26, 2006, 07:31 PM

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Here's an interesting article from the Harvard Independent...

http://www.harvardindependent.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleID=9933

It's an interview with a former 17th Street editor, about how the packaging process works.  Nothing specific to this case, but more info on the general procedures...
#186 - April 26, 2006, 07:40 PM

steph

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Thanks for that link Jen! WOW! :reading2:
#187 - April 26, 2006, 07:47 PM

I just read the posted link and it was very informative. I guess I'm still trying to figure out if packaging is beneficial to a writer. We know it is to the packager. Has anyone heard of Parachute Publishing? (www.parachutepublishing.com).  That name has come up a few times and now I'm sort of understanding what it is.
#188 - April 26, 2006, 08:19 PM
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Great article about the book packager.  So the packager would have gotten "a hefty chunk of the advance, up to half, plus a cut of royalties."

The existence of the packager in this scene I think will ultimately make KV less culpable.  It sounds tremendously chaotic, and how can a 17-year old girl possibly stand up to high pressure commercial people?  

Not that I think she didn't do it, but with all these hands in the pot, each person is going to feel less responsible for what comes out. (and I think she is in the front rank of the first generation of kids who grew up on the web, and find it all too easy to pick and grab from sources without really coming to grips with the fact that they're plagiarizing.)  

I think the book packager is going to end up taking a big part of the rap.  Some of these publishers are trying to make big bucks producing books by sidestepping the usual ways of going about it--where someone is truly author of the product--and they shouldn't be surprised when the product ends up being tainted.  

Not that packagers are necessarily low-life, but when no one is individually responsible, and the bottom line is the end-all, what can they expect?
#189 - April 26, 2006, 08:32 PM

Athena529

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The NY Times had this article on the thickening plot and Alloy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/books/27pack.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
#190 - April 26, 2006, 08:56 PM

jadedmetaphor

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The NY Times had this article on the thickening plot and Alloy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/books/27pack.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Very interesting article! Thanks!

I think the ending speaks for itself:

"Little, Brown, for one, was not blaming Alloy. '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,' said Michael Pietsch, the publisher.

Even officials at Random House, the parent company of Ms. McCafferty's publisher, said they did not consider Alloy responsible. 'Most relationships with packagers and book producers have been relatively free of the kinds of problems cited in the coverage of this story,' said Mr. Applebaum, the spokesman, 'and beneficial for all concerned.'"

#191 - April 26, 2006, 09:52 PM

Frainstorm

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I don't know if I'm more naive than the rest of you, but my jaw is in a perpetual state of astonishment. Did I know book packagers existed? Yes. But I had no idea of the extent. Right now, one book packager owns three of ten slots in the children's best seller list. That's amazing for my ignorant mind. And that's just one packager.

I feel like I just discovered that not only Santa Claus isn't for real (sorry if I blew that for anyone out there), but my parents never got me any gifts either; that nasty great uncle the family doesn't talk about got paid to buy and wrap the gifts every year.

I'm just shaking my head wondering now if it's pre-ordained if I'm ever gonna get published.

John
#192 - April 26, 2006, 10:19 PM

Paulahy

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Great, great links!

John, you are not alone.  Let me tell you, I read Sweet Valley High as a teen and loved them.  I didn't find out they were the product of packaging until four years ago.  I didn't find out about the Sisterhood until last year and discovered the truth about Gossip Girls and The A-List earlier this year.  With each discovery I'm less and less shocked.  But the original revelation left me feeling like you - like it was all a lie.

There's something about the whole thing that takes the passion out of writing. 

You come to sites like this where people write because they feel driven to.  Because they have stories inside of them screaming to get out.  The whole packaging process seems to dilute it down to a corporate fundamental - let's make lotsa lotsa dough.  And it kind of hurts my stomach.

I don't mean to come off self-righteous.  God knows I'm all for making money.  I kind of have to in order to keep a roof over my head.  But to date, except for SVH (which I read when I was like 12 or 13) I haven't picked up any of the packaged products mentioned and felt fulfilled with the end product.

And - I did not go into reading them with a bias.  I didn't find out about them until after I had read them - usually well after reading them.

I mean no disrespect to writers who have been authors of these books or any other.  I'm just saying for me, as a reader, I haven't read a packaged book (that I'm aware) that left me feeling the same as when I put down a Stephen King or James Patterson or Karen Robey Lawson.

Yeah, none of those are high literary material by any means.  But my gut knows when it really enjoyed a good book.  For those Seinfeld fans it's the difference between faking it (oooh, I loved that book...er, I mean a little) and the feeling you get after eating the risotto (mmmmm...ahhhh....ooooh....ummm...).  For those who can't speak Sein-language, just saying, I know when I think a book is weirdly generic and somewhat toneless vs. really good and had an authentic voice and the author really put their foot in it. 

I will gladly keep my mind open and continue to read any book that captures my interest.  If something by a packager comes by and I like it, I'll admit it.  Just hasn't happened yet....um, since I've been an adult.

Oh, and Writeaway about whether it's beneficial to the author....I'm going to lean towards "maybe."  I'm sure there are some work-for-hire authors who have come away from that process with a strong enough tie with the publisher that they experienced success on their own.

But, I wouldn't be surprised if that number was fairly low.

-P

#193 - April 27, 2006, 05:05 AM
« Last Edit: April 27, 2006, 05:08 AM by Miss P »

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I swore to myself I wouldn't respond more on the subject...but!

I just had another question/comment, now that Alloy was brought up in this thread. In today's NYT article (the one that I believe Athena provided the link to), KV states that Alloy only helped her with the first four chapters and outline -- that too, she said that most Alloy's input was minor editing. After Little, Brown bought the book, the editing was done entirely by them. So my question is, why does Alloy share in the copyright of Opal if its only input in the book were editing the first 4 chapters at the mss shopping stage? This might just be a general packager question, but I thought it was relevant here. Anyone know?

Okay back to  :typing
#194 - April 27, 2006, 06:10 AM

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I didn't find out about the Sisterhood until last year and discovered the truth about Gossip Girls and The A-List earlier this year.


Hey, Miss P.  I think Sisterhood might be in a different category.  Ann Brashares did work for a book packager, but the idea for Sisterhood was hers.  It was my impression that she wrote the books; because she worked for a packager, people assume her books are "packaged."  But you've got me wondering if she wrote them completely on her own.  Here's an interview:  http://www.powells.com/authors/brashares.html


#195 - April 27, 2006, 06:27 AM
Jennifer Mckissack:
SANCTUARY, Scholastic Press
 
Jenny Moss:
TAKING OFF, Bloomsbury
SHADOW, Scholastic Press
WINNIE'S WAR, Bloomsbury

richmond8

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I love this:  "For publishers, the appeal [of book packagers] is that the packagers will take care of jobs like copy-editing and designing book covers."  Well, what do publishers do then, anymore?  If they are looking to packagers for authors and for editing, how is our subbing books to publishers going to get us published?

I'm disillusioned by the book packaging too.  It doesn't sound good for the rest of us, does it?  There are the celebrity books too, and have you noticed another permutation of this, the popular nonfiction adult book, like about salt or the cod or some famous figure, that also shows up in a kids' version later?
#196 - April 27, 2006, 06:58 AM

Paulahy

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Hey Ette.  I'm not sure.  You may be right that she, like Viswanathan, was a different type of packaging.  Maybe it was just her way to go from editor to author.  She had the ties with Alloy so she used them.

-P
#197 - April 27, 2006, 06:59 AM

Paulahy

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Well, what do publishers do then, anymore?  If they are looking to packagers for authors and for editing, how is our subbing books to publishers going to get us published?

I think this quote from Lizzie Skurnik in the Crimson article answers your question, Richmond:

“A packager basically serves as both the writer and editor of a book,” Skurnick said in a phone interview. “The advantage for a publishing house is they don’t have to do anything — they don’t have to design the book, they don’t have to think about a concept…. They can just say, ‘Here’s $80,000 for twelve of these books.’ They don’t have to do any of the work.”

As far as how we get published - keep plugging at it.  Packaging has been around for a long time but seems to have gotten a surge with the success of Gossip Girls and the like.  Yet there are still plenty of publishers looking for original material.

We can't lose faith in the system...let's just look to those who succeed outside of packaging.

My concern?  Books by, I'll call us non-packaged authors, simply can't compete with packaged books that get the lion's share of dollars put into marketing them.  I've got to work with whatever my publisher will do and whatever my shoe string budget can handle.

Again, the answer is keep plugging. 

-P
#198 - April 27, 2006, 07:06 AM

Melanie

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here's a link to lizzie skurnik's ruminations on that interview:

http://www.theoldhag.com/

just confirms my suspicions that kv is the one going down in flames for something that took a whole team and a couple of years to put together.
#199 - April 27, 2006, 08:12 AM

Sudipta

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It would be interesting to see if other packaged books from Alloy contain the same kinds of copying as Opal did -- because failing that, I would find it impossible to believe that a corporation would open itself up to a huge lawsuit for something they were already paid for.  Remember, Alloy wasn't trying to sell Opal to LB after it was written, and therefore needed to make it "good" -- LB prepaid and would have published anything that was written.  Where is the upside for Alloy to tell KV to go ahead and copy someone else's work?  They wouldn't get any more money in the advance, and if it was found out, they would potentially lose sales and get sued.  Not a good business model.

On the other hand, since Alloy was prepaid, they also had no incentive to edit KV's manuscript at all.  Why didn't anyone catch the similarities before?  Maybe because no one spent any time reading the manuscript apart from running spell check.  After all, there were other projects they were working on that still needed to be sold, and those would get the most attention.

I would believe that someone at Alloy told KV, "go read MM's books and write something like that."  And she did -- exactly like that, in places.  But to tell her, "go copy parts of MM's novels -- not the really good parts, either, but some of the mediocre ones," seems ridiculous. 
#200 - April 27, 2006, 09:28 AM

almarrone

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http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/Passages.pdf

Sorry if this link had been posted already--but it details all forty something plagarized passages side by side. Gotta say--some of them are a really nitpicky and I think using the word "uppercrust" to describe the top dogs at school or "dreg" for a stoner is fairly common.   It may be that these phrases come up in similar places in each story and that's what makes them suspect--if that's not the case the rest of us will have to try harder to avoid some common language lest we're accused of copying.

While there were some that I didn't think had merit, there are plenty that do. 
#201 - April 27, 2006, 09:53 AM
« Last Edit: April 27, 2006, 10:09 AM by almarrone »

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I don't know how all contracts read, but the ones I've seen say something about a contract not being final until a final revision is accepted. A publisher does not have to publish the book and may ask for fifty percent of the advance returned.


But when the fifty percent that they lose is six figures, chances are, they're not going to ask for it back.  They invested so much up front that I really don't think there is ANY way they would have backed out of the project.
#202 - April 27, 2006, 10:34 AM

Sudipta

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Not to mention, as long as the author has made a "good faith" effort to make the MS acceptable, it is almost impossible to get the advance back, at any figure.  Also, almost impossible to prove that someone hasn't made a good faith effort.
#203 - April 27, 2006, 10:36 AM

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I heard an editor from Alloy speak about six months ago.  I too was shocked to find out that Sisterhood was their creation.  He said that Alloy comes up with the concepts and that they also outline the entire novel.  I'm sure there are cases where the author brings them the concept, and he said the author definitely has creative input, but my impression after he spoke was that the author is basically a puppet - that the author answers to Alloy, not the other way around.  So KV's claim that Alloy was only in on the first four chapters isn't sitting well with me.  Alloy has too much on the line to be that disinterested.  One of the first things this man said when he was presenting was how many books Alloy has on the best seller list.  This is why they make the big bucks.  This is why the publishing houses don't want to make them mad.  If Random House doesn't tread lightly, Alloy might pull all business from them in the future.  And that would be kissing lots of mula goodbye.  Who knows?  Maybe KV had to sign a confidentiality agreement.  I wouldn't put it past them.

Given the liklihood that KV was handed a detailed outline and told to fill in the blanks, how far of a stretch would it have been in her mind to just lift the basic ideas from other novels she had read?

And I find it very fishy that one of the Alloy editors involved with the creation of "Opal" was also the editor or assistant editor on MM's books.  Usually I am not a conspiracy theorist.  I honestly believe that Oswald killed Kennedy.  But this stuff is getting rediculous.
#204 - April 27, 2006, 12:44 PM

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An interesting point, about 'good faith.'  I would assume that 40 plus paragraphs which include plagiarized phrases, sentences, etc. would indicate the author DID NOT act in 'good faith.'

I looked at the contract I have with my agent, and there is a clause that states clearly I must be the sole owner of my own work.  That it IS my work.  Hard to believe anyone acting in 'good faith' would present work that's not their own(especially to that degree) and think it's a decent thing to do.  Especially after signing a contract which must have included the same sort of language.

I would think the responsible adults in her life would encourage KV to return the advance.  Personal integrity is what's missing here --- and there are only so many ways she's going to be able to look at herself in a mirror again.  Returning the money might get her started in that direction.

Just my opinion.
#205 - April 27, 2006, 12:48 PM
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steph

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And I find it very fishy that one of the Alloy editors involved with the creation of "Opal" was also the editor or assistant editor on MM's books.  Usually I am not a conspiracy theorist.  I honestly believe that Oswald killed Kennedy.  But this stuff is getting rediculous.

Tracy, that is very interesting. Where did you find that out?
#206 - April 27, 2006, 03:10 PM

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Novelist Lev Grossman was speaking on All Things Considered this afternoon about plagiarism and Opal.  I think the audio version will be available later tonight, but he was comparing Kaavya with Melissa Jareo (whose Star Wars fanfiction was for sale on Amazon) and Geraldine Brooks, whose book March won a Pulitzer last week.


http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5367135

robin
#207 - April 27, 2006, 03:44 PM
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Aud

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Steph, it was mentioned in the NY Times article, which is linked on page 7 of this thread. Her name is Claudia Gabel.
#208 - April 27, 2006, 03:45 PM

dwrites

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And I find it very fishy that one of the Alloy editors involved with the creation of "Opal" was also the editor or assistant editor on MM's books.

Ooooh, yeah, I didn't know that. But since this story broke the thing that's bothered me is the Alloy connection. My understanding is that the writing is specific to the predetermined outlines and even detailed character profiles. Not to excuse KV at all in this, but if Alloy was involved in plot development and works like most book packagers, over the shoulder of the author, then there would be no excuse for not recognizing MM's style and themes. So wouldn't they also have checked the paragraphs in question for authenticity? I don't buy it that they didn't.

The whole thing reeks.

Diana
#209 - April 27, 2006, 03:47 PM

jadedmetaphor

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The NY Times had this article on the thickening plot and Alloy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/books/27pack.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

This article Athena529 posted yesterday articulated Alloy's connection. It's the source of the bit about that editor who worked on both projects. She only worked on Opal Mehta in its conceptual stages. Regardless, the article explains why Alloy should not be to blame, despite this connecting editor.  Unless further evidence arises showing otherwise, accusations against Alloy and the editor seem unfounded.

#210 - April 27, 2006, 03:51 PM
« Last Edit: April 27, 2006, 04:00 PM by jadedmetaphor »

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