Who Wrote It? Author Franchises

So you pick up yet another book from an author who has churned out four this year already, excited to crack open the spine and yet wondering how he manages to write so many novels.

But then you discover, he didn’t. Although his name is on the cover, someone else substantially wrote the book. The famous moniker has become a branded franchise.

James Patterson is the poster boy for author franchising with 39 of his 78 novels including a “written with” acknowledgment. A former advertising guru, Patterson has made millions by collaborating with other authors to churn out several novels per year to his loyal readership. Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, Maximum Ride, and Daniel X are among his series. His fellow authors are not permitted to disclose the terms of their working relationship,but Patterson has stated that they write the first draft and he writes subsequent ones. (Time Magazine article.)

Janet Evanovich, author of the popular Stephanie Plum series, wrote romance novels for the Full series with collaborator Charlotte Hughes. Explaining her reasons, she said, “I had a lot of ideas in my head that I just didn’t have time to put on paper . . . I had started writing romance novels at the same time Charlotte did. She’s a great writer with her own distinct sense of humor. I thought she was the perfect person to help me start a new romance series.” (Crescent Blues interview). How much of the novels did each of these women write? I don’t know. But make no mistake, when you go looking for the novels, it’s Evanovich who features prominently on the cover, even though Ms. Hughes’s name appears below.

It’s hard to track which bestselling authors have contracted out some of their work. Some credit collaborators on the cover, others inside. And others do not reveal the extent to which a ghost writer lent a hand –literally. But if you are still turning out books while turning over in your grave, that’s definitely suspicious.

Several dead authors continue to put out novels, not from their ghostly gravesite but through the collaboration of other authors willing to write under a bestselling author’s name. Matt Christopher died in 1997 but his sports-themed children’s books continue to hit the shelves, and the bio section on the author’s website (Matt Christopher) does not mention his death. V.C. Andrews wrote seven best sellers, then died in 1986; yet the publisher has since released thirty-three novels in her name. Louis L’Amour, popular Western fiction author, died in 1988 but has had several novels published posthumously. Robert Ludlum, thriller author who died in 2001, has also been credited with novels written by ghost writers at the behest of his estate. His Bourne series has been continued by another author, Eric Van Lustbader, with Ludlum’s name on the cover as well as Lustbader’s.

I have been quick to point out to my sons when a novel is co-written with someone else, even if the bestselling author is the one credited on the cover or on reading lists. But admittedly, they don’t remember the name Adam Sadler like they do James Patterson (Demons & Druids). Patterson has become a franchised brand, like Domino’s Pizza or Jiffy Lube.

And while Domino’s Pizza’s earnings for the year are up, so are Patterson’s. According to Forbes, James Patterson took in $84 million dollars in 2010 – $49 million dollars more than the next bestselling author on the list, Danielle Steel.

My precious manuscript!

Is the bottom line what is important here? Sure, authors want to make money. At least most of us would like to do something more than bury our manuscripts in dresser drawers or wrap them in our Gollum-like hands and refer to them as “Precious.” We want others to buy and then read our stories. Making a living from writing means you can keep writing and turning on the lights in your house. And the idea of making so much money that you can write your next novel while on vacation in Greece certainly sounds cool, too.

But what do you think about hiring out some portion of the writing to other authors? Do you care whether you favorite writers have actually written the book in your hands, as long as it’s good? Do you think that hiring collaborators or ghost writers affects the quality or personality of a work? Do you think that estates and publishers should continue putting out books in the name of a deceased author? What do you think generally of author franchising? Is it a good idea?

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14 thoughts on “Who Wrote It? Author Franchises

  1. There are a lot of perspectives to consider with this question, I think. At first I felt a little cheated when I discovered authors using their name as a brand and weren't writing books themselves. But then I thought about it some more and figured it is kind of a win-win. The brand name author gets an opportunity to make quite a bit of money. The ghost writer (or not-so-ghost writer) gets paid to write. Isn't that what we all want? Plus, it's that ever elusive publishing credit an author can add to her name–which could help launch a deal of her own. And it opens up a road for the ghost-ish writer to have relationships with gatekeepers in the industry. But, I can see how it would be disappointing to open up a book by your favorite author to discover he or she didn't really write it. As for what it means for other authors? Well, the more books being sold means more money for publishing, which might mean more money for MY book to be made later on. So…Go James Patterson. Sell, sell, sell!

  2. I can see both sides of the coin. And I'm okay reading something that's by a "co-writer" if the writing is good. I devoured the VC Andrews books in high school, but the ones written by the ghostwriter weren't nearly as good. So in that case, I don't think the quality was up to par with the original author.However, on a personal level–I wish I had that problem to ponder, lol. But really, I'm such a control freak that I can't imagine letting someone else write something that's going have my name on it.

  3. I'll start by saying the only franchise books I've read are the ones that say V.C. Andrews on the cover. I agree with Roni. The books after Ms. Andrews died were not nearly as good as the originals. There is *nothing like* the Flowers in the Attic Series and the Heaven Series. After that…shrugs. My father says the same thing about Louis L'amour books. The ones Mr. L'amour actually wrote are among his favorite books. The others…shrugs. This was an interesting post, Julie. I'm sorry I didn't get to reply earlier in the day. 😀

  4. To each his own, but I've never been a Patterson fan and the knowledge that he's not writing his own stuff further irritates me. Like Roni, I'm way too much of a control freak to ever consider that. I doubt I could even co-author. It's a different story for an author who's deceased, like Andrews, and a new writer continues. For me, anyway.

  5. You know, I kinda differ from the other comments on here… I don't mind the "ghost writing" even though in some instances it isn't secret. James Patterson is one of my favorite authors. I love his Alex Cross and his Women's Murder Club series. A Lot. I don't care who is writing the words or taking the credit. These books take me into another place and I escape my reality for a few hours while reading. I don't mind at all that his franchise is so big now that someone else writes them and he edits/re-writes/whatever. He gives them full credit on the jacket even if we don't know what their writing terms and conditions include. I'm with Roni – I only wish I had this problem. 🙂 GREAT post!

  6. I tried the books Janet Evanovich co-wrote with Charlotte Hughes. The writing was noticeably different from the Stephanie Plum books and after a few books, I gave them up. I've also given up on James Patterson. I enjoyed the Alex Cross books for years, but I just couldn't continue with them after, I think, "Mary Mary." Perhaps I'm one of those readers who just won't buy a writer's name. I want his/her words as well.

  7. I'm fascinated by what y'all are saying. I'm on the fence about author franchises myself. On one hand, I like the idea that the person whose name is on the cover actually wrote the book. Then again, great storytellers can hire good authors to convey more tales; the bestselling author and collaborator or ghost writer both get to write and make money. Essentially, if the writing is good and all author(s) are credited somewhere, does it matter? I don't know. But if one of does get this problem, remember that Julie Glover is available to collaborate!

  8. Franchising doesn't work on me as a reader, because I don't tend to fall in love with authors and exclusively read their books. I did this once with John Grisham, and all his books became formulaic and I quit him. I might read a series, but rarely blindly follow an author.I read for a good story and widely based on friend recommendations. If friend's LOVE an author, I'll ask which book they liked best and read it. Rarely do I go beyond (I find I get disappointed).I understand writers and their need to be paid, and if ghostwriting or franchise writing brings them a paycheck, or better paychecks, who am I to judge?I don't think I'd be happy just taking the money and nobody knowing it was really my work (or associating it exclusively with me).Unless it was bad, then it would be okay. ;-)Great post!

  9. I personally find it disappointing when authors like patternson take advantage of this ghost writting and publish like 10 books a year..it’s disgusting. Co writing doesn’t bother me, but the fact that you use a ghost writer just to be make more money is sad..being richer is clearly more important then being genuine.

    1. My bit of research uncovered a bunch of speculation about whether Grisham uses a ghost writer now. Nothing definitive. I do start to wonder when the writing substantially changes or the book count per year is nearly unbelievable. But maybe he’s still penning them.

  10. As an writer myself, I cannot forgive anyone who doesn’t give any acknowledgement in or outside the book that there was ghost writer or collaboration. That’s just being a jerk. I’m sure the people don’t care about fame, but they also probably don’t mind being acknowledged. In any case, I think it’s just common courtesy.
    If the ghost writers didn’t sign a contract that silenced them, it’d be classified as plagiarism.

    1. Yes, I agree that the writer should be credited. I do see more often that a well-known writer will collaborate and include the other writer on the cover, such as “Celeb author WITH lesser-known author.” That’s improvement.

      Thanks for your comment, Valencia!

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