Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How Kaavya Had a Team of Experts Write Her Groove

Here's how I think Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan actually "wrote" her book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life:

  1. Ms. Viswanathan was identified by a series of marketers as an ideal "face person" for a book deal: she's young, smart, an Ivy League student, and she fills a new market niche: chick lit about smart, hip, upwardly-mobile Indian-Americans -- a niche topic not yet stripmined by chick lit producers.
  2. Focus groups compiled a list of successful chick lit to use as base material.
  3. Ms. Viswanathan wrote an outline: part autobiography, part fantasy -- a sort of James Frey type of thing, but written only for the marketing team.
  4. The marketing team picked the best/most helpful chick lit novels collected by the focus group and used a cut-and-paste method to replicate Ms. Viswanathan's outline.
  5. A team of proofreaders changed the names in the cobbled-together manuscript to the names of Ms. Viswanathan's characters.
  6. A team of "editors" went through the manuscript and connect all of the sections of copied material, using Ms. Viswanathan's words when possible.
  7. Consultants of Indian extraction read through the manuscript to make certain enough Indian and Indian-American references and atmosphere are included to sufficiently flavor the manuscript different from mainstream chick lit.
  8. The final check is done by the original marketing team.
  9. The book is handed to Little, Brown.

Think I'm joking? Here's what PublishersWeekly's Sara Nelson said about book packagers:

"Enter book packagers, who traditionally respond to a perceived market opportunity by researching, commissioning and producing books for publishers. Our bookstores are filled with decorating and entertaining titles, film and TV tie-ins, many of which are sumptuously produced, well marketed and perfectly fine this way. But in recent years—and this is what is disturbing—the kinds of books packagers do has widened. As is now generally known, a packager called Alloy Entertainment not only shares the copyright with Viswanathan on Opal, but has had a serious hand in the making of some of the most successful YA books around. The packaging of Opal has caused a particular stir because it has been published, despite its young themes, as a novel for adults. Such "real" novels we consider to be personal works of art, or entertainment, anyway, not something produced by a committee awash in demographics."

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