If you haven’t already heard about the plagiarism scandle swirling around Kaavya Viswanathan, you probably aren’t much into reading, or just have young children. To sum up, 17-year-old Harvard student Viswanathan was given a half million dollar book deal (reportedly the largest advance ever given to an unpublished writer) last year, only to have to admit in the first month of her novel’s release that she inadvertantly plagiarised-word for word- passages out of two novels by chick-lit writer Meghan McCafferty. Now, of course, the initial reaction would be to condemn this Harvard alum, I know I did. But then I started looking into it deeper. I discovered that Viswanathan’s parents were both loaded and, in order to insure their daughter’s long-term success, they hired a $35,000 a year “college counseling firm” that would use their highly-placed connections to increase their daughter’s chances of going Ivy League. The name of the firm? IVYWISE. Despite my disdain for people that have the kind of money to basically buy their way into success, I understand that we live in a supply-demand capitalist society, and so if there is a demand for that sort of thing, so be it. But then I discovered that IVYWISE used it’s connections to get Ms. V in with a book packaging company called, at that time, 17th Street Productions. I’d never heard of any such thing as book packaging before. My interest was piqued. What I found was so fucking shocking that I couldn’t fall asleep last night and have been fuming about this shit for going on….14 hours. So–sorry if this comes across a little frayed around the edges. It’s frayed because I am frayed and at my wits end with this shit.
See, book packagers, according to an article by Jenna Glatzer, “act as liaisons between publishing houses and everyone who works to put together a book–authors, artists, editors, photographers, researchers, indexers, and sometimes even printers. Publishing houses often dont have enough in-house resources to handle all of the books they want to publish, so they out-source certain projects to third parties. In addition to assembling the other components necessary for a finished book, these packagers are responsible for hiring authors to write manuscripts.
Sometimes, packagers pitch their own ideas to publishers, and other times, the publishers hire packagers to develop projects theyve originated. Packagers function as an interesting conglomerate of agent, editor, and publisher. They are an integral part of the publishing industry, yet even major book distributors arent aware that the books they carry were created by companies other than the publishing houses.”
Pretty scandalous, right? Well, not really. Turns out that there are so many books out there that are products of book packaging, that it is almost a foregone conclusion that much of the shit on your shelves was written by committee. And Kaavya Viswanathan is only the latest writer to have employed them. So who are you going to blame when you find out that a book packager plagiarised your beloved book? See, the thing about corporations is that since the Supreme Court ruled in the 1880’s that corporations have the same rights as individuals, a funny thing has happened: the corporations have enjoyed all those individual freedoms, with none of the baggage that comes with being a responsible citizen. They do whatever the fuck they want with impunity. Because you can’t put a corporation in jail. It takes on an unprosecutable life. It is many-faced and many armed and like the mythological hydra, you can’t keep the heads from coming back.
Point is, I’m fucking sick with disgust over this stuff. There are so many actual artists out there struggling to get their work noticed and the idiots in charge of finding and promoting these talents are farming out the work to bottom-line-minded companies. It is ridiculous and immoral and I am more determined than EVER to see this thing through now. I will NEVER stop what I am doing with futureproof, what I am doing with other writers, trying to get some strength behind us. And if you, the reader aren’t interested enough in the stakes here, and all of these efforts are for nothing, and in the end all you can find on your bookstores’ shelves are co-written James Patterson pap, then you deserve all the blandness and banality you have coming to you. And if I die an unsuccessful writer who never got a book deal, never found the success I know futureproof deserves, then sofucking be it. At least I know that I fucking tried to kick against the pricks, tried to re-make the path long since over-grown by corporate interests.
These are desperate times for the art of writing. It’s no longer about pushing boundries or anything more than the bottom line. While chick-lit pap like Viswanathan’s is given tons of publicity and has a shitload of money thrown at it, books like futureproof and even James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces are left to die in the cut-out bin. Yeah,you read that right. James Frey is a direct product of this same bullshit. Because the truth is, James tried to publish his book first as fiction and was turned down by 17 different publishers. That has to be seen as complete idiocy by anybody who has read and loved his books. His book was the biggest-selling Oprah pick of all time BEFORE all the controversy because readers thought it was fucking GOOD. And yet none of the supposed professionals at the houses could see that. So what does that tell you? I don’t know what it says to you, but to me it says that James, desperate to make it in this industry, made the decision to call his book a memoir because his book was for the most part based on his actual life experiences. Memoir was hot. The rest is history. I chose not to go that route, despite the fact that many of my fellow writers as well as many agents I’d approached seeking representation told me I should sell futureproof as a memoir. So I keep pushing forward with this shit, watching oil corporations reap record profits while gas prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Doesn’t add up, does it? Nope. Not in the slightest bit does it make even the tiniest bit of sense. We’ve been over-run. How far will you go to make change happen?