What a difference a weekend makes. Missy Chase Lapine, the author whose April 2007 book The Sneaky Chef may or may not have influenced Jessica Seinfeld's instant bestseller Deceptively Delicious, has gone from feeling "uncomfortable" about the uncanny similarities between the two titles to "concerned and troubled." And Ms. Lapine evidently embarked on a little comparison shopping in the days since she and her publisher told both the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal that they were unwilling to "accuse anyone of anything." "There are at least 15 of my recipes that ended up in her book," this morning's USA Today quotes Ms. Lapine as saying, adding that intent is difficult to prove with regards to recipe-theft: "If you change one ingredient, you're safe."
Although Ms. Lapine also (rightfully) questions Oprah Winfrey's wholesale endorsement of Ms. Seinfeld's book — "I'm surprised that on the Oprah show this was being touted as an entirely new technique pioneered by Ms. Seinfeld" — why isn't she (or anyone else, for that matter) questioning Seinfeld's excuse that she has never "seen or read this other book"? Sure, maybe she never literally held it in her well-manicured hands, but as every author or agent of nonfiction knows, before you prepare a proposal to present to editors, you research the marketplace to see if the concept has been executed before, and if so, how. It's called "Competing Titles", and it's part of Nonfiction Publishing 101, up there with "Write A Sample Chapter" and "Describe Your Intended Audience". And if there is a competing title that sounds a lot like yours? At the very least, you take look at it. Maybe you even acknowledge it! Also, are we to believe that, following her epicurean epiphany, Ms. Seinfeld never typed in the words "puree" "kids" and "eating" and "food" into Google? Or that once she signed with hot young literary agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, the importance of researching competing titles was never brought up? Yeah, it's about as believable a scenario as a filthy rich, fashion-obsessed, oft-photographed socialite who does all of her family's cooking.
Cookbook Author Says Seinfeld Book Deceptively Similar [USA Today]
Earlier: Jessica Seinfeld: The New James Frey? Or Kaavya Viswanathan?
Related: Jessica Seinfeld's Recipes Stir Up Plagiarism Accusations