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?