Roger L. Simon

Little, Brown "works hard for the money"

Having been an author for umpteen years, I suppose nothing should surprise me about the venality of publishers, but somehow the recent behavior of Little, Brown – once an outfit with a classy reputation – leaves me scratching my head. As many of you know, they are printing a new edition of ” teenage Harvard sensation” Kaavya Viswanathan’s first novel “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” with the several dozen “similarities” to (read: plagiarisms from) Megan McCafferty’s books excised and an “apology” to Ms. McCafferty appended.

According to Robin Abcarian in the LAT, Steve Ross of Crown (McCafferty’s publisher) is taking the proper attitude:

When Steve Ross, publisher and senior vice president of Crown Publishers and Three Rivers Press, learned that a first-time teenage novelist might have borrowed a few passages from the works of one of his own authors, Megan McCafferty, his first instinct was to consider it “a youthful indiscretion.”

After all, the alleged transgressor, Kaavya Viswanathan, a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore, was being heralded as a kind of literary prodigy, a kid with a voice who’d scored a two-book deal worth close to $500,000 while still in high school. Who’d want to squelch that?

But as Ross’ staffers compared the newcomer’s novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” with two of McCafferty’s novels, he became alarmed and then angry when they turned up 40 passages in “Opal Mehta” that seemed borrowed or lifted directly from McCafferty’s two popular young adult novels, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings.”

“This is literary identity theft,” Ross said Tuesday. McCafferty, he said, “feels that something fundamental was taken from her.”

Viswanathan’s Boston-area phone number was disconnected, but through her publisher, Little, Brown & Co., she apologized Monday in a written statement, saying she had made an unintentional mistake.

Forty unintentional mistakes?! How’s this for a new cliché? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Little Brown for being such blatant liars. Meanwhile, how will Harvard react? I imagine this kind of plagiarism on one of Ms. Viswanathan’s sophomore papers would get her kicked out of the institution. All writers’ organizations (Author’s Guild, PEN, WGA, etc.) should also be appalled and behave accordingly.