Monday, January 25, 2010
Ghostwriters, Co-authors and The Great Oz
by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
The NYT's magazine yesterday ran an article on James Patterson's amazing empire (James Patterson Inc.) and I confess my jaw dropped when I read that he published nine original hardcovers in 2009 and plans at least that many for 2010. Of course, James Patterson doesn't write all of these on his own - he has a stable of co-authors that work with him. Now, I am probably the only person on earth who has never actually read a James Patterson book (I know, I know...) but the sheer volume of this man's output is astonishing. The NYT's article states that one out of every 17 hardcover books bought in the US was written by James Patterson - and this started me wondering - is the Patterson publishing model the way of the future?
We've all heard of ghost-writers who help propel celebrity memoirs to bestsellerdom but we often accept this as a necessity, given the fact that the celebrity in question is usually not a writer (or even capable of being one...) - but in this case Patterson recruits other thriller writers to help expand his brand and increase his output. I'm not sure how I feel about the co-author issue - are they really 'joint' writers in the traditional co-authorship sense or 'assistant authors' helping to churn out books for another, better known, author? As I said, not having read any of Patterson's books I can't really comment on the difference between the books he authored alone and those he authored with another writer but I do have to wonder - does the quality of the writing suffer at all? Do readers care if the book that has James Patterson emblazoned on it wasn't actually written by him?
From what I read in the NYT's article, the brand and business that is James Patterson requires a team approach. Don't get me wrong, Patterson is clearly intimately involved with every step in the publishing of his books. He does a detailed outline for each of them and provides editorial oversight and quality control over all the material - but (equally obvious) the business of James Patterson Inc. could be nowhere near as profitable (or prolific) if he had to write each of his books by himself.
Given how centralized publishing is becoming, with marketing resources concentrated almost exclusively on the few top sellers in each publishing house, it will be interesting to see how common the James Patterson model will become. Will it be the model adopted by future bestselling thriller writers? Will those authors become responsible for churning out plots and outlines for others to complete rather than actually writing the books themselves? (Will readers even care?)
So what do you think? For those of you who are Patterson fans, can you tell a difference in quality between the ones he authored alone and those he has co-authored? Has quality diminished over time as a result of his amazing level of output or not? Do you think we will increasingly see this kind of approach where bestselling authors rely on a stable of co-authors to produce a prodigious number of titles each year, thereby centralizing sales even further among the few top sellers? Or will readers eventually tire of this approach - concerned that behind the branding facade lies nothing more than the 'great Oz' ?