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How to Make a Buck Off a Disgraced Author


That's the top asking price for a copy of Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" on eBay, following news that publisher Little, Brown was yanking all copies from bookstores.

Kaavya, as you may recall, is the teenage wunderkind signed to a $500,000 book deal while starting her first year at Harvard. It was a tale of achievement that turned out too good to be true, as news surfaced she had plagiarized much of the book from other authors and that the book itself was the result of a "book packager" -- which came up with the plot, found Kaavya to write it and helped her cobble together the first four chapters.

I've always been suspicious of how most stories on this issue have been careful to avoid implicating the book packager in the plagiarism, despite the fact that the company was heavily involved in developing the material. The New York Observer has an interesting piece on the convoluted world of Kaavya's packager, Alloy Entertainment.

Now, a spin through eBay shows that even a scandal which seems to have curbed Viswanathan's career as an author is having another impact -- raising the value of the existing books thanks to her own infamy and the scarcity of available copies (currently, there are 96 entries for sales of the book, CD, galleys and signed copies).

How much you want to bet her next book release will include an apology tour of Oprah, The View and Regis with Kelly?

"Will there be more penalties for plagiarists? I have yet to see any serious attempts to make these people pay the price for their actions," said author Ralph Keyes, who wrote a book on the nation's problem with truthfulness, The Post-Truth Era, and has excavated the surprisingly frequent fabrication and plagiarism of noted authors such as Augusten Burroughs, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose.

Noting that he recently sat near a woman on an airplane reading James Frey's discredited memoir "A Million Little Pieces" -- top asking price on eBay, $200 for a first edition, though no one has bid on it -- Keyes remembered the woman saying she knew it was made up, but she liked the story anyway.

(To be fair, both Frey and Viswanathan have reportedly lost their publishing deals amid their respective scandals; perhaps the difference is whether the author is superfamous when the truth of their copying hits the fan)

"We have such a culture of celebrity in this country, I wouldn't be surprised if she sells more books now than before," he said of Viswanathan. "And as long as we permit these excuses and abuses, why not plagiarize?"

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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