May 1, 2006

$500,000 Retread

Hatched by Dafydd

I know you all read -- then forgot -- the tale of the teenaged author who was caught plagiarizing an earlier novel. Kaavya Viswanathan apologized, insisting that she had "internalized" the novel and didn't realize she was copying it. It was "unintentional" and "unconscious." Then she was gone and forgotten like the rest.

You may find this odd coming from a published author, but I really couldn't care less about the plagiarism. I don't care if some celebrity is busted for drunk driving, or even if some state legislator is caught dipping into the till.

No, really. I'm not a Christian, but they're right that this is a "fallen world;" wretched people do wretched things.

The part that centerpunches me right in the breadbasket is what came before she was caught and released: the fact that this girl got a five hundred thousand dollar advance for two novels, sight unseen, never having written a book in her life, while still in high school.

If you've never labored over a novel, only to see the publisher piss on it, shuffle it under some dead-fish potboiler playing "lead" that month, blow off any publicity or marketing, do nothing more than list the bloody thing in the catalog that they shovel quickfast into the hands of the chain buyers, like the ink was smearing their hands... if that is not part of your world of experience, then it's hard to convey --

-- just what a betrayal of the art it is for those same despicable publishers to throw money like that at an unproven performing monkey, just for the shock and awe of --

-- the PR jackers screaming "half a mil for the little girl!" while they spit-up their last fifth of Jack Daniels like an unburped baby, across the literary "children" of writers who have just been told --

-- they're lower than the latest six-day, zit-speckled wunderkind's crayon fist-scribbled orgasm of self-indulgence on a roll of butcher paper.

L'artiste cut and pasted from her favorite teen angstfest, and she didn't see anything wrong with it, because she's a "writer" like the memory-thief at Touchstone who said "hey why don't we remake H.B. Halicki's Gone In Sixty Seconds, star Nick Cage and Angelina Jolie, and pretend we created something!"

But she still walks with the $500,000. And she couldn't care less how many genuine originals die broke and drunk. Bitter? Oh, yeah.

Sometimes bitterness is the only honest emotion. Capice?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 1, 2006, at the time of 6:36 AM

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» Entrepreneurial Freak of the Week from Big Lizards
Yesterday in our post $500,000 Retread, we introduced you to teenaged "author," Kaavya Viswanathan. Ms. Vis somehow wangled herself a two-book contract for $500,000 while still in high school; the then-seventeen year old published the first book... whi... [Read More]

Tracked on May 2, 2006 10:02 PM


The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

Do you think the claim that she got 500 large is more or less believeable than the claim that she wrote a novel?

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2006 11:06 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Robert Schwartz:

I don't know if it's true, but alas, it's extremely believable. Publishers do this kind of thing all the time. It's one reason why publishing is dying.

Little, Brown signed Viswanathan to a two-book, $500,000 contract while she was in high school. This is the first book that the Harvard sophomore has produced for the publisher under that deal, and it reached 32nd on the New York Times’ hardcover fiction bestseller list this week.

Remember Less Than Zero? Or that supposed autobiographical book about rampant drug use by that guy who actually got on Oprah, and whose (now admittedly faked) book was featured by her on Oprah's Book Club? Both those books were first novels, and both got multi-hundred thousand dollar advances.

In each case, they earned out -- but only because the publishers moved heaven and earth to justify their original stupid decision.

Publishers long ago stopped nurturing actual talented writers -- Bennett Cerf might have been the last such editor -- and instead just keep rolling the dice for a bestseller: they pick out one or two authors they guess (a gut-shot straight draw) might be the next Tom Clancy or J.K. Rowling, often sight unseen (first novel, not yet published), and pour literally millions into buying, publishing, printing hundreds of thousands of copies, hyping, and buying point-of-sale stocking of the book.

Most of the time, it's a bust, and they lose everything. In those cases, they pour even more money into the deal, desperately trying at least to recoup their losses. They push through a movie deal, which may or may not even get made; they squeeze hard on foreign rights; they advertise in the NYT and Playboy. Usually, they can at least make back the money they spent... but the ROI is almost zero.

And to finance this, they cut every other author to the bone: paperback original, no PR, no marketing, no advertising, no sales pitch to the Borders mass-market buyer, nothing but a listing in the publisher's current ordering catalog.

All the other guys get advances of $5000 to $7500 (for a book they took a year to write) -- and even then they don't earn out, so the authors never see royalties.

So I can't say whether this particular claim is fiction -- though why would Little, Brown go along with the ruse if it were false? -- but I have to say it's not in the least unbelievable.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2006 12:26 PM

The following hissed in response by: William Altimari

Dear Dafydd:

I enjoy your blog immensely, not least because of the superb prose, but I never thought I'd catch you reading my mind. The thoughts in this piece cry out to be heard. It's definitely part of MY world of experience. After years of trying the traditional publishing route and not simply being rejected but being ignored even by some who asked to see one of my manuscripts in the first place, I turned my back on the smug NY crowd and published my novel myself. It cost me peanuts to do it, and three years later I say without embarrassment that it's still selling, still providing me with royalty checks every month, and (most important to me) is well regarded by the audience to whom it is directed. Had I gone the traditional route, it would--as you say--have hit the remainder bin at warp speed. Thank God for unanswered prayers. And thank you for speaking up for all of us.
Best of luck to you with your novels and with this blog.
Kind regards,
Bill Altimari

The above hissed in response by: William Altimari [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2006 8:12 PM

The following hissed in response by: radarbinder

echo. praise. decide to go back and write some more on my great american novel. wonder if i can find some teenybop to pretend to be the author. quit wondering. sigh.

The above hissed in response by: radarbinder [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2006 9:58 PM

The following hissed in response by: Davod

Follow the money. There has to be more to this than meets the eye.

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2006 10:52 PM

The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

Hugh: I am not saying you are wrong. I am just saying that there is a rancid smell and a lot we do not know. In particular, there was a very high profile, high price "college counselor" and book packaging firm. I put forth the following sources, not that they are, shall we say, unimpeachable, but there are a lot of threads lying around and we do not know who paid who for what.

The possibilities are endless. It may be that everyone is straight. It is more likely that a number of them aren't. I think we need a lot more information if want to be able to pronounce who did what to whom.

At any rate, until such time as all of the underlying deals are revealed, I am holding my nose.

How Kaavya Got Packaged and Got Into Trouble; Plagiarism and the teen-marketing culture. By Ann Hulbert

April 27, 2006 First, Plot and Character. Then, Find an Author. By MOTOKO RICH and DINITIA SMITH

April 26, 2006 On Education In College Entrance Frenzy, a Lesson Out of Left Field By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2006 11:12 PM

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