Monday, October 23, 2017

Will the real writer stand up?

I used to think that ghost writers only wrote for people who were not writers, such as footballers, reality TV stars, celebrity chefs and the like. But I recently realised this was the understanding of the uninitiated. James Patterson, for example, no longer writes his own novels. He hands a plot outline and a bunch of character biographies to a team of writers who do the line-by-line stuff. Presumably, this is how he's able to produce a book a month. Other big names, such as Stephen King and Peter Straub, are apparently at it too. Oh yes, and Wilbur Smith. Just the other month Mr Smith signed a contract for eight books with Harper Collins. He will contribute the plots for said books but a team of ghost writers will “flesh” the stories out.

I am disappointed. This smacks of cheating and, as my sister always says, no one likes a cheater. Being untruthful about who is the real writer of the words demeans both the author and the ghost writer and treats the reader with contempt. But when I told a writer friend this she said I was being harsh. After all, the big named writers still produce the golden acorns from which the story tree grows. Without their diamonds in the dust heaps there would be no stories. She has a point. As we writers know, having an original, fresh idea is worth its weight in gold. Or at least, it's worth as much as someone is prepared to pay for it, because guess what? Some famous writers can't even be bothered with plot ideas. Ideas take time, so why wait for one when you can buy a bunch instead? It seems the latest development in the book world is for big named writers to buy up the plots of existing novels by not-so-famous writers and pass them on to their writing teams to rewrite. Voila, a novel is born – again and again and again.

Now I am doubly disappointed. Surely, putting your name to a novel that you haven't contributed to creatively in any way, contradicts the very thing we writers are supposed to be about ie: the revealing of a truth? This is breaking the unspoken rule between the writer and the reader and at what cost? As more and more plot ideas are bought up and recycled by anonymous writing teams, isn't there a danger that the novels will become the same? What of us lesser-famous writers? How can we compete? It's hard enough to earn a living from our writing with our royalties being slashed to a small percentage of the book “sale” price, who out of us can afford to buy a plot line and writing team, even if we wanted to? 

What do you think? Is this the beginning of the end of choice for readers? Will we not-so-famous writers be out of a job sooner than we think? Or am I being a tad melodramatic? Would you sell the plot line to one of your successful novels (after withdrawing it from the market, of course) to a big name? Would you care if a famous writer took credit for a novel you painstakingly wrote with love? What if you found out that your favourite writer is in fact a bunch of other writers, would you carry on reading? 


Irene Bennett Brown said...

The whole situation of ghost writers/ghost teams stinks, in my opinion.

Sybil Johnson said...

I'm a bit gobsmacked about some of the things in the post. I've heard about James Patterson, but didn't realize some other authors had started doing similar things. I really did not know, nor do I think it's a good thing, for writers to buy up plots of lesser known writers and put their names on them. If I knew that about a writer, I'd probably stop reading their books.

Aline Templeton said...

Marianne, I absolutely agree. If the ghost writer's name also appears on the cover and the reader knows what the situation is, I suppose that's fair enough. If it doesn't, I can only echo your word, Irene - it stinks.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

I'm glad I'm not the only who feels this is wrong. Readers come to our novels ready and willing to suspend disbelief but not to be hoodwinked.

Susan D said...

Lots of reactions shifting around in my brain.

So yeah, James Patterson admits pretty readily that he's the project manager, not the hands-on worker. But-- Stephen King?? Really? Really?? Because he's so, well, distinctive. (Isn't he?) Say it isn't so.

But when you say, "What if you found out that your favourite writer is in fact a bunch of other writers, would you carry on reading?" I gotta think, well, Carolyn Keene, Franklin W. Dixon, even Laura Lee Hope. It's a long long tradition that most of us encountered, albeit unknowingly, in our earliest reading years. They were all staff writers and contract workers. Even my heroine, my go-to girl detective Trixie Belden, was handed over to team Kathryn Kenny after the first 6 books by Julie Campbell.

To answer your question, Marianne, no. I feel there's a bond between me and the writer. If it's an set of anonymous contract writers , then I'm suddenly on my own, and the bond is dissolved.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Gosh yes, Susan, I forgot about all those book series for teens. My daughter used to read the Goosebumps series written by RL Stein and friends. I agree, if the bond is broken, so is the willingness to suspend disbelief. Thanks for comment :)