Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Is Packaging Plagiarism?

Sorry to drone on like this, but if you still think that the Opal Mehta/Sloppy Firsts overlap is the result of a young author's plagiarism, read this interview with Lizzie Skurnick, who used to work with 17th Street Productions (you might also want to check out her own ruminations on that interview.) Also, reflect on John Barlow's description ("My Failed Fling With A Book Packager") of what happens to the creative process -- and product -- when a book is written by committee instead of by an individual. I'm not vilifying packagers; I'm actually grateful for the wakeup call as the YA publishing industry gets the chance to take stock of itself.

3 comments:

Shauna Singh Baldwin said...

Mitali Perkins seems to think Kaavya Viswanath's book was "book packaged."
OH PUHLEEZ! "Opal Mehta..." was NOT marketed as teen fiction or young adult fiction, from whence it was plagiarized.

Because they marketed it as fiction for adults, Little Brown has egg on its collective face. Ms. Viswanathan's editor couldn't tell Literary Fiction from Teen Fiction, Chiklit from Teen Fiction.

"Opal Mehta" wasn't even a packaged book. Kaavya Vishwanathan had no ghost writer. Apparently, neither Mitali Perkins nor Skurnick have read the NY Times or USA Today -- both provided side by side comparisons of Kaavya's prose with Margaret Macafferty's.

We can't make excuses for Ms Viswanathan -- she is responsible.

And yes, she does fit the profile. Someone so anxious to please, so needy of approbation that she would cheat to achieve. Who created Kaavya Vishwanathan? All of us Indians on our exemplary drives to get the big bucks and be called "brilliant high achievers" whose parents are so proud.

Do I feel sorry for little Kaavya? Not one whit. A clever young woman with little character, fewer ovaries.

But she is symptomatic of a larger problem in Indian society - the very problem she described in Opal Mehta.

Please, please, let's stop the excuses and get on with writing novels the old-fashioned way. SA writers should -- yes, I use the normative moralistic preachy old "should" -- tell our own stories, not someone else's.
Shauna

Mitali Perkins said...

Thanks for your post, Shauna. I did and do read the New York Times, and was intrigued by today's article, "First, Plot and Author, Then a Character," which clearly shows the role that packaging played in this book, and makes me thankful that there are writers like
yourself who are doing it the old-fashioned way.

Susan said...

Mitali,
Book packagers in themselves are not nefarious. I wrote a small gift book for a packager some years back, and, except for minor copy-editing, there was very little difference between what I sent in and what was published. The packager wanted a book on a certain subject, called me, offered a work-for-hire contract, and I wrote the book. (I had done some other work with them before.) The packager was responsible for finding the illustrator, page designer, and the copy editor. I was pleased with the result. I knew going into it that I wouldn't get the copyright. All in all, it was a fun project.

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