Wednesday, September 16, 2009

17 Books in 3 Years

The New York Times reported that James Patterson has signed a deal with Hachette Book Group to pen 17 books. Hachette says the contract will cover books through 2012. Of those 17 books, 11 will be for adult readers & 6 will be Books for Young Readers.

The New York Times article actually wrote:
If over the next few months you see smoke coming from the direction of James Patterson’s house, it might be a result of the author’s burning off his fingertips as he types…
Seriously? The New York Times believes that Patterson writes his own books?

Entertainment Weekly noted that 17 books in 3 years was actually a slower output than Patterson has done in the past.
By year’s end, Patterson will have published a whopping 22 books in the last three years alone.
EW also points out: “But Patterson, of course, is more than just a proverbial book factory. He’s an actual book factory, typically using credited co-authors to compose “first drafts” from elaborate outlines that he sends…”

And Entertainment Weekly also asks this:
The question is, can James Patterson™ be considered a prolific author in the way we regard Joyce Carol Oates (nine books in the last three years, by my count) or Alexander McCall Smith (ten books in three years)? Or is he more like Carolyn Keene or Franklin W. Dixon, the credited “authors” of the comparably well-branded Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery series? Are you still a writer if you subcontract out much of the actual, you know, writing?
[Notice in the above quote that Patterson has trademarked his name.]

What do you think?
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  1. The fact that his name is a trademark now is a sign to me that he is more of a business entity than an author. Maybe his books should say, "somewhat written by James Patterson."

  2. I believe he now acknowledges his co-authors by name. He didn't use to.

  3. I saw this last week and considered blogging about it myself but then decided I didn't know what I thought. I don't know, it seems like cheating, but then that could just be jealousy speaking.

  4. I would say no. Someone else is writing his books. He is officially out of the Oates and Smith league in my opinion.

    The question that comes to mind with this post is, as a writer, do you aspire to THIS type of fame and recognition? Or do you prefer the good old fashioned kind. Hmmm...

  5. Hmm...he is a business entity; a name to slap on books to sell them - not a writer. It's not his fault, the public supports this deception in the same way that we support highly paid actors and sports figures. Do I want to go his route? No. I want to write, even though it means I will most likely write in obscurity.

  6. Laura, if I had the talent and business acumen I'd go this route in a heartbeat. He may not be writing for the love of the "art" anymore but how many jobs give us that luxury really? The man is just putting food on his solid gold, jewel-encrusted table.

    I don't think there's a question of "if"... if you could you'd be nuts not to, and do whatever other writing you want to in your "spare" time.

  7. Hmmm, intereting discussion. Do I want to be a best-selling author? You bet. Do I want someone else to write my books? Nope. Do I think it's right that Patterson makes a fortune off others' writing? Not sure. I wonder how much involvement he has once a draft is created. Is he involved in revision? Excellent post, Helen.

  8. Wow, he's got quite an operation going on there. I don't know if I'd call that being a writer, or running a writing business. Interesting angle on writing though, most definitely.

  9. I'd love to write one of his books, myself. I say, good for him!

    But I wonder if he misses the creative process.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  10. How do I comment on this without sounding like I'm jealous? But no, I see this as a book mill, not true authorship. He's more like the editor-in-chief than the writer. Nothing wrong with that from a business point of view, but not something I personally admire.

  11. Wow! This is news to me. I just reviewed his upcoming novel The Murder of King Tut. That was the first one of his novels that I've read.

  12. I had this discussion with another author and both of our conclusions were if it's your name on the book then it should be your writing.

    I appreciate and applaud his success. But I want my writing to be in my books. I'd rather be judged on my own abilities rather than someone else's. My name? My book.


  13. Not sure what I think, but if I got a chance to be a co-author with him I guess I'd jump at it.

  14. I actually auditioned twice to write for the Sweet Valley High series when it was still going on. And at one time I had information on auditioning to write for R.L. Stine's Goosebumps/Fear Street series. That was the early/mid-90s when both of them were big. A book packager did all that work...but now I can't find any information on ghostwriting for series. I would have loved to do it.

    As for James Patterson, I had no idea about all that. Sounds to me like he's a series producer, just as Francine Pascal and Carolyn Keene were. I saw Francine's actual outline...I'm not going to say it wasn't a lot of work to create that. She actually outlined beginning to end, how the book should go. It was several pages. But the actual writing part of the work was being done by people being paid $1,000 or $2,000.

  15. Interesting information. I still have a slight problem with people who get the full credit for saying they wrote a book they didn't:)

  16. I like Jane's answer!

    H P Lovecraft wrote very few of his stories - most were done by apprentices.

    Pretty soon it will say Patterson's name on the cover and in fine, tiny print below that - "...once looked at this manuscript."

    L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

  17. Patterson's a successful entertainer. His books provide readers with a lot of enjoyment and he deserves a lot of credit for accomplishing it. This isn't the first case of art being created by an artist and a crew. It's not even the first example of a novel being a collaborative effort.

  18. It doesn't bother me so much now that he acknowledges the writers. He didn't use to, but now he's upfront about it. My understanding is that he writes extensive outlines for the writer to follow. I have no clue what they get paid.

    If he asked me, I'd do it. Mostly to see if I could write in his style. The books I'm writing now are basically make me a writer for hire. I don't get royalties, just a set amount for writing them.

    And, yes, I'd love his money! I'd also like to write my own books, too.

  19. It doesn't bother me that he doesn't write all of his own books. The guy can write, after all--that's how he got famous/rich enough to do this in the first place.


    What I want to know is: who's writing Richard Castle's Nikki Heat book? :)

  20. PS thank you for the heads up on starting sentences with And or But--am doing a search and will rid my manuscript of them:) I never used to do that when I learned my grammar but noticed a few books had them in there. Will go back to the correct way:)

  21. I'm between's saying, hmm interesting that's really a truth to Anton's comment, and my visceral reaction of "eyew."

    But, I wouldn't call him an author - I'd call him a businessman who is in the book business.

  22. Good discussion.
    I'm not sure he retains the joy of writing, but, like J.M. said, it's hard not to sound envious.
    I can't fault an author for making money from the craft, after years of working on it.
    I've been approached to do ghost-writing, but I'm too vain...I want my name on the cover!

  23. That's a whole lot of writing from some of those guys. I can't imagine you have much of a life if your are pumping out ten books in three years. I wonder how that is even possible. Some people must be gifted typists with brains that never shut down.

    I think that kind of 'busyness' would kill the writing for me. But clearly not for them, so I guess each to his own.

  24. I have no respect for James Patterson.

    If he can't write the books himself, he needs to move over to give other more deserving writers a chance. He's just making money off of his name now, not his talent.

    It's a real insult to all of the unknown writers that put in the hard work but don't get published due to the fact publishers would rather invest their money with someone already known.

  25. Well, James is running a business, not finding the pleasure of authoring books. I agree with Benjamin, a book factory reminds me of the Starting Artists shows where multiple people paint on one canvas. Writing, to me, is art. Assembly line is not! I won't buy another James Patterson book.

  26. This is no different from Barbara Carland who "penned" all those early category romances. The story I heard was that she would brainstorm the stories then turn the actual writing over to a team. Sort of the same principal as television writing.

    Not that I agree that this is the best approach to creative writing, but it is certainly the best approach to making a lot of money and taking a big chunk out of the marketplace.

  27. Interesting article, Helen. Trademarked his name? hmmm.

    "Are you still a writer if you subcontract out much of the actual, you know, writing?"

    Good question and the crux of it, so far as I'm concerned. Business or no, that's not writing. It's doing outlines and assigning it to others to actually create the story. The "Others" should be classified as the author, IMO.

    Of course he's not the first author to do that, Barbara Cartland did too.

    I've seen authors who can put out 3books a year. I don't know if I could, consistently. Some debut authors have several books already written when they get a contract. One I know of had four and went on to 9 more over a three year period. but still, it's a matter of keeping your writing fresh and exciting. I've seen even some very gifted authors get tired and you can pick it up in their writing. It's missing a certain spark.

  28. Trademarked his name. Hee hee. Makes me giggle.

    Seriously, the writing effort is very collaborative. He takes it to a whole new level.

  29. This serves to remind me that publishing is no longer so much a creative endeavor as it is a business. Just the way it is!

    Thanks for the post, Helen. Thought-provoking stuff.

  30. Never read James Patterson, so can't comment on his factory.
    But as I see it, there are writers who write because they cannot do otherwise, and there are writers who write because they want to tell a story, and there are writers who write because they want to earn a living.
    And as long as each is upfront about why they write, and the reader gets a story she likes, everyone should be happy!

  31. As with other collaborative efforts, I think books should identify the associate author(s) as well as the author-in-chief. I can tell you anyone who contracts for such an assignment gets minimal compensation for their efforts.

  32. The other thing about the art of it is that in the actual art world this has been happening for decades, from Andy Warhol up to Damien Hirst, and I'm sure a lot more in between, who've had the bulk of their art mass-produced.

    Skeptical about the HP Lovecraft comment. A lot of his unpublished work was "hi-jacked" (in the nicest possible way... ) by August Derleth for publication (and copyright extension), and a lot of other writers were credited for stories written in his shared "universe". Don't thin khe had a team of minions scribbling away in the basement. He was a pulp writer of the highest order, of the sort we don't really see anymore.

  33. I guess as long as the authors are getting credit on the book cover...

    Personally, though, it really bugs me. As a writer, I know that an outline just doesn't cut it. It's the minute word choices and turns of phrase that make a book an author's. And that's what people love about certain writers. Sure, the overall plot is important, but this sounds like a rip-off to his readership.

    But I'm a hypocrite, because like most others, I'd accept the opportunity to write one of the books. So I guess I can be bought. :0)


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