Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008

How Opal Mehta Lost a Book Deal

Even at an institution like Harvard it isn't typical for a sophomore to land a $500,000 two-book contract with Little, Brown and a movie deal with Dreamworks. But for Kaavya Viswanathan, normalcy was not meant to be. As a New Jersey high school senior, Viswanathan's parents teamed her up with a college application counselor who admired the teen's writing enough to introduce her to a William Morris literary agent. A few months after shopping around a book proposal, she landed the contract and wrote How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life as a freshman at Harvard with a full course load. So far, so great.

For the first run of the novel in April 2006, 100,000 copies were printed to positive reviews. But the sweet deal turned sour when author Megan McCafferty received an email from a fan notifying her of the striking similarities between portions of Opal Mehta and her books Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. After McCafferty's publisher contacted Little, Brown, Viswanathan released a statement citing her "photographic memory" as the problem, saying that "any phrasing similarities between (McCafferty's) works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious." The 19-year-old even defended her work on the Today show, but to little avail. Her publisher recalled all copies of the book, canceled her planned second book and said that it would not revise the current version of Opal. The Dreamworks deal was nixed, too. Viswanathan's suffering was short-lived, though. She went on to gain a coveted spot in a fall 2006 fiction workshop taught by famed novelist Jamaica Kincaid, graduating in the spring of 2008 with an English degree and entering law school at Georgetown.