Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kaavya, Kaavya, Sigh..

This has been a hot topic this week all over the South Asian online circuit, NPR and even one of the ballet moms brought it up. I don't want to dwell on it too much, but many people have asked for my opinion, as an aspiring writer.

First admission - I was deeply jealous when I first heard about her success ($500,000 + Dreamworks option) for a 19-year-old Finance major. I've wanted to be a writer since I was 8 and am still struggling to get it together. I was curious why this book and not the dozen other desi chick-lit books out there. Dumb luck perhaps? I saw excerpts of the book, though I haven't read it, and I didn't think it was well-written. Hey, that's the teen genre, I guess. Figured I'd wait for the movie and see who the desi Lindsay Lohan would be.

Then the controversy of the plagiarism spurred this week and everything has come out in the open. However, I've learned a lot about the publishing and packaging industry, so I don't believe Kaavya has plagiarized herself. I recall reading that she said her original story was "dark" and they lightened it for her to make it appealing for mainstream audience.

Inside 17th Street
“A packager basically serves as both the writer and editor of a book,” Skurnick said in a phone interview. “The advantage for a publishing house is they don’t have to do anything — they don’t have to design the book, they don’t have to think about a concept…. They can just say, ‘Here’s $80,000 for twelve of these books.’ They don’t have to do any of the work.”

“In my case, I was a former editor at the [17th Street] office where books are farmed out to. But there’s a whole network of writers who mostly do this kind of book,” Skurnick said, referring to scribes who churn out new installments long after a series’ original author has dropped out of the picture. As “work-for-hire” employees with usually no royalty or copyright claims on their output, many of these writers labor with the hopes of gaining the connections that might land them a project of their own."

Other articles:

Will the Real Plagiarist Please Stand Up
Did Opal Author Plagiarize — or Was It Her Handlers?

So, Kaavya is in a precarious situation where options are 1) to admit she plagiarized and ruin her career 2) to admit, "I had ghostwriters, but I took full credit and $500K for the book."

What are aspiring writers supposed to do to protect themselves? Kaavya did have an agent who commandeered this for her.

My other issue with this is the model of the Indian overachiever. The girl could not write her college essay and her parents hired a consultant. How the heck does she get a bigger book deal than the other qualified writers.? By qualified, I'm referring to a list on's BookShelf. There are dozens and dozens of South Asian women writers who have a lot more writing experience. So, it's not as if there is a drought of Indian talent out there.

Anyone who has grown up in the Asian immigrant community knows the pressure to succeed (education, career, marriage, family, etc.). Though I don't agree wholly with the author of this blog, he's got some good points about the pressure to succeed at any cost: Gawker

I'm hoping Kaavya will take a lesson from "The Martha Stewart School of Damaged Image Recovery" and kick out another book about this whole experience.

For me, this reassures me that slow and steady will win the race. By the way, for clarification purposes, I do not want a huge publishing contract or movie options (though it would be nice not to go to work). I want an interview with Terry Gross from Fresh Air. That's it. That's all I want.

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