The Hidden Story Behind the “Opal Mehta” Debacle

Opal Mehta Book Cover 

London Times reveals the process behind the star making machine in modern publishing.  Kaavya Viswanathan may have plagiarized two other novels in writing her own, but it seems that she could not have done this without at least a few other people knowing of it before the book went to print:

… the story has also shone a harsh light on one of the publishing world’s secrets — the factory-like creation of a babe-tastic author.

Indian-born Viswanathan was just 17 when she secured a two-book deal for $500,000 (£275,000) on the strength of her first novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.

The daughter of two New Jersey-based doctors, she got her break while using a $10,000-plus counselling service for her — successful — application to Harvard. The founder of the service looked over her novel and passed it on to an agent at William Morris, the famed talent agency.

From there it was farmed out to 17th Street Productions, a division of Alloy Entertainment, now probably the most famous “book packager” in America. Alloy specialises in developing young adult “chick lit” authors before passing them on to publishers.

Alloy’s team craft the proposal, shape the plot and create characters. Even the writing of the book is often farmed out to a team of authors. The process is more similar to television writing than most readers’ idea of the creation of a novel and the packaging closer to creating a boy band than promoting a new literary star.

Among Alloy’s hit series are The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, recently made into a film, and the Sweet Valley High books, which became a TV series. This weekend Alloy had three books in the New York Times children’s paperback bestseller list.

Viswanathan, who needed "extra help" to make it into Harvard, apparently needed extra help to get her book published, as well.  With all of this help, she still couldn't manage to craft a more creative story, with original dialogue?  It's only chick lit, at that.  And it's pretty clear now that her "handlers" were so busy seeing dollar signs that they ignored the fact that her story was ripped from two other already famous novels. 

You would think that the marketers would have gone for more than just an "ethnic" spin on an already over-used formula, but then, if people will buy it, why bother trying to be original? 

Will publishing ever be about the actual content and substance of books?  Obviously, the main objective is to sell books and make money from those sales, but, the publishing world, like Hollywood, has discovered how easy it is to sell the same idea to people over and over.  And quite a few publishers don't even bother to pretend that the actual writing is what really matters.

"Lit Chick Debacle that Damns the Publishers"  [London Times]


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