This must be the umpteenth comment on Kaavya Subramaniam’s attempt to become rich and famous. All the commentators that I have read, have taken one of three basic strains in their published views:
Plagiarising is BAD – she should be rapped on the knuckles with something hard and knobbly, and since she is a still a teenager, she should be given an imposition of writing 50,000 times that she won’t do it again.
- She was writing chick lit, which is next door to Mills and Boon stuff, and therefore almost rubbish anyway. You don’t read M&B and chick lit expecting great plots, dramatic flow, characterisations, etc. So, we are all wasting time getting into debate about the morals and so on of this escapade.
- Whichever you way you look at it, this spells tough days ahead for Indian writers plying their trade in the US.
I think they are all missing the point.
In one of the write-ups about this whole episode, I learnt two things.
First, an executive from a publishing company said that nowadays there is no time to build up an author’s readership; an author has to hit the bestseller list first time. In order to increase chances of this happening, the publishers do market research and provide inputs to the author.
Second, I discovered the existence of functionaries called “book packagers” – I understood that they are product development consultants. They will help the author develop plots, characters, dialogues; help the publisher in the market research; position the book for specific target audiences, and mayhap even help in marketing the book.
You would have noticed that in the previous paragraph I have used terminology that would be familiar to any marketing person. The way I understand this, and at least for popular literature in the US, producing and marketing a book appears to be no different from marketing chewing gum or potato crisps. A supermarket offers dozens of brands of either to choose from – any large bookshop offers us alternative titles in the chick lit and similar other genres. Companies use market research, product development, advertising, promotion, etc to create the next chewing gum or potato crisp. What they come out with are no different from their competitors. We don’t run about shouting, “Cheats! Cheats!” when some 73 brands of potato crisps look and taste just the same.
So, why are we shouting “plagiarist” at Kaavya? She has done what the product development guys at Kraft, Unilever and other companies do. She has created a product which has a more than passing resemblance to another – the same way that one of Kraft’s products may have a more than passing resemblance with one of P&G’s. Both the companies make millions of dollars from millions of happy munchers, and nobody talks of cheating, plagiarism, and other such disreputable activities. And all the product development and marketing guys are lauded and given their hefty annual bonuses for having made the company richer.
There is another older tradition. Many businesses that are legit today began with less than legal or ethical practices. Kaavya’s first attempt at a novel may be unethical, or even totally illegal, but she is following the precepts of many business barons from the past; her efforts may be the precursor to the creation of, and continued success, of a large global enterprise. “Copycats Inc.” as the name of this enterprise suggests itself. (I must warn Kaavya that I own the IPR for this name; I am happy to sell it to her, but I don’t come cheap).
So, Kaavya, ignore all this drama. Tension nahi lene ka! Go for it, kid! And remember, if you don’t like the corporate brand name I have suggested, I shall happily create alternatives after a fuller briefing and agreement of terms. Keep at it, and for every US$ 500,000 advance they give you for unwritten books, remember that when nobody stood by you, I was there. For a reasonable fee (say 25% of each advance), I will stand by you forever.
P.S. While writing the above, I got an idea for a novel. This would be set during the French Revolution, when aristocrats and disliked neighbours were taken to the guillotine on tumbrils. There is a French woman, tentatively called Lucy Manette, who falls in love with a member of a French noble family – let’s call him Charles Darnay, just for now. Charles doesn’t know that he is related to any French noble family, because he has been brought up in London. After much drama and tension, Charles Darnay is imprisoned in Paris and sentenced to death. A London lawyer (I have named him Sidney Carton – the name came to me in a flash, just like that!) who is a dead ringer for Darnay, is in love with Lucy. He goes to the prison where Darnay is being kept under lock and key; he changes clothes with the prisoner, and helps him get away. On the fateful morning of the execution, who do we see under the guillotine but our Sid, who sacrifices his life for his great love for Lucy thereby ensuring that she lives a happy life with Darnay, and that bucketloads of tears are shed at the end of the novel and its various movie adaptations. I thought of starting the book with the sentence “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I am pretty impressed with this – I think this can become a blockbuster. Steven Spielberg would come down to Mumbai himself to negotiate the movie rights.
P.P.S: The wife just peeked over my shoulder and attempted to throw cold water on my enthusiasm. She says that some chap called Charles Dickens has already written a book called “A Tale of Two Cities” with an identical plot, and even his characters have the same names I have given mine. Young Dickens better watch it – I am, even as I write, taking advise from my lawyers. I think action lies. So what he has written the book, while I have yet to start mine. What intrigues me is how he managed to steal my idea. Any way, he is in trouble and he will pay for his sins. The fact that he is dead has nothing to do with it. Death will not protect him from my wrath and retribution.
P.P.P.S: If any of the readers of this piece is a book packager, I am happy to talk to him or her. Please contact me offline and we can strike a deal.
(First posted on sulekha.com on May 3 2006)