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Adventures in book packaging

The controversy over Kaavya Viswanathan’s plagiarism keeps picking up speed, so here’s a quick recap. The Harvard student scored a $500,000 advance for her debut chicklit novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, but that book has now been shown to be suspiciously similar to two previous chicklit novels by Megan McCafferty. The echoes range from plot points and character types down to the specific wording in no less than 45 passages. Viswanathan has admitted to being a fan of McCafferty’s work, but says she must have “internalized” the other author’s novels and that any similarities are unintentional. McCafferty’s publisher, Crown, isn’t buying it, but Viswanathan’s, Little, Brown, is standing by her for now.

The twist is that Viswanathan produced her book in concert with a book packager, 17th Street Productions, which shares copyright on the novel and no doubt took a big piece of that half-million advance. The firm is known best for producing the Sweet Valley High series.

In a piece on the Slate website, British author John Barlow provides his own account of the strange experience of trying to produce a novel with a book packager – and the packager in question is none other than 17th Street. “[J]ust how do you write a novel by committee?” asks Barlow. “Answer: with a great deal of pleasure. We would gather on the phone, me in Europe, they in New York, and chew the fat for hours about development, character, plot digressions, key moments…. I imagined this was how prime-time TV gets written: lots of witty, divergent opinions slowly converging on a highly predictable and uninspiring concept.”

Related links:
Click here for John Barlow’s piece on Slate
Click here for Harvard Crimson coverage of the Viswanathan controversy