Sunday, February 26, 2012

Publisher Hype and Fraud

Prepare yourself for a mini-rant here. This subject has always bothered me. I think the more years and rejection slips you have, agented or otherwise, has a lot to do with the intensity of your feelings. I've got 23 years invested in this craft and business and nothing really surprises me anymore.
We have to go no further than the three examples below to understand how single-minded and obscene the publishing industry can get, when all it has in its sights is gimmickry, fraud, hype and commercial greed. These cases represent but a small fraction of what is taking place in the industry today. But It's irrefutable evidence that when there is no talent or celebrity status, you have only to create it, label it, ship it and cram it down the gullible throats of the populace. Though these incidents took place some time ago, they will forever remain fresh and seared upon my mind as if by a branding iron. I will never get over the negative impact they have had upon my own career.

Sweet, marketable, young, beautiful and born out of a foreign heritage, Kaavya Viswanthan burst on the scene as a teen queen of chic lit, with How Opal Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. Alloy Entertainment figured they could package this girl (I said girl--not book), and sell her to Little Brown for a hefty $500,000 advance. The advance was all hype, by the way--it was much smaller. Film rights went instantly to Dreamworks, who bought the film rights for a book that wasn't even out yet. Sometime during the planning and marketing stages it was discovered that the book was heavily plagiarized, almost line by line in dozens of passages, including the plot and theme. I'm dismayed by the fact alone that an 18-year-old girl nearly got millions for a book (or two) that was her VERY FIRST attempt at writing genre fiction. She paid no dues, suffered no rejections, and certainly had not honed her craft to deserve such accolades. It seems that quality writing was the publisher's last consideration upon garnering this deal.

James Frey's A Million Little Pieces was also found to be hype, lies and exaggeration. He fooled the NYTs bestseller list for 44 weeks, and Oprah Winfrey, when she made it a # 1 book club selection. Proof once again that sensationalism sells--the more outrageous, the better. Sorry. It just ended up too good to be true for its own good. His supposedly true story did not ring true, upon investigative research. They canceled production and pulled it from the racks. Strangely enough, Frey has gone on to sign more contracts with different publishers and has landed on the bestseller list once again. I'll be damned. If you lie and cause great controversy--you can obtain one hell of a writing vocation and end up an A-list celebrity. That's how it's done.

Christopher Paolini's Eragon is another such hunk of hack squat--totally derived, unoriginal, borrowed, and pitifully boring. This book is not fraud as much as it is hype and sizzle. They sold the "kid" Christopher, hoping that America would embrace this child prodigy and, unfortunately, a huge segment of the YA reading world took the bait. The book was edited by his parents and vigorously promoted at great expense and fanfare. Recent estimates are that the book has sold about 8 million copies. This kid has nothing on Terry Brooks. He is but a wad of gum under the shoe of Neil Gaiman, and Pratchett is light years ahead of him. In fact, he would be hard-pressed to eclipse any one of the very capable epic fantasy writers in my writer's group.

One of the Most Recent Cases:

The publisher of a novel about Edgar Allan Poe’s child bride defended the book against allegations that its author, Lenore Hart, lifted material from another work about Poe’s young wife.

St. Martin’s Press released a brief statement Tuesday saying it had compared Hart’s “The Raven’s Bride” to Cothburn O’Neal’s “The Very Young Mrs. Poe” and found any similarities limited to the inevitable overlap of two novels covering the same subject: Virginia Clemm, who married Poe when she was 13 years old.

 There are dozens more examples on Jeremy Duns's blog. Duns, if you'll recall, was one of the authors duped by recently-exposed plagiarist QR Markham (Quentin Rowan) for his cut-and-paste novel Assassin of Secrets.

 I'm nearly at the point where I don't trust BIG publishing anymore. I think their marketing departments (the bean-counters) ought to relinquish custody of talent and purchasing power right back to where it used to be--with the editors.

Turn me over, I'm done.

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