Ghost Writing versus Co-writing

Ghost writing seems dishonest to me, even when disclosure is clearly visible in a book’s acknowledgements. I admit this is a personal thing. Surely a good idea has the right to be shared, even if it takes someone else to do the telling, right? Right?

Then again, who should be given public acclaim for the story – the source of the idea, or the one who records it? What about in co-authoring situations?

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Author James Patterson has written 71 novels in 33 years, and according to Wikipedia, “as the world’s best-selling author, his novels account for one in seventeen of all hardcover novels sold in the United States; in recent years his novels have sold more copies than those of Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined.” He is said to have earned $84M last year, and released ten books. In one year! How can anyone be that prolific?

Patterson openly acknowledges that he works with “a stable of co-authors.” An Irish Times article last Saturday said, “Rather than writing his own books alone, Patterson links up with partner writers to deliver the manuscripts. He justifies it on the basis that he is more skilled at coming up with the intricacies of the plots his books demand than he is at crafting sentence after sentence. This method means that he can churn out book after book.”

There’s no dishonesty intended. In an earlier Times interview, Patterson said his co-authors usually write the first drafts and he works on the next ones. The book covers are blazoned with his name, but the co-authors’ names are also there, albeit in a much smaller font. No deception there. Co-authoring, or franchising an author’s brand, is a well-established, legitimate business model.

But I no longer enjoy Patterson novels the way I use to. At one time I devoured them. Now, after two or three mediocre reads, I don’t snatch up his books, and it’s taken me a while to realize why.  It has to do with what writers call “voice”. Voice is what distinguishes our writing. Our choice of words and the way we link them together is unique and personal.

As a reader we may prefer contemporary novels or more literary ones in a wide variety of genres, stories that are character-driven or plot-driven, but whatever we read, it’s usually the author’s voice that transports us from page one to the end. There was something about Patterson’s voice that made his stories appealing to me, but I’m not hearing it in his co-authored books, and that’s disappointing.

Ghost-writing and co-authoring may be legitimate ways of producing a book, but I still prefer the authenticity of an author’s own words.

What about you? Do you feel gypped if you discover a book wasn’t written by who you expected? Are you more affected by how a writer tells the story, or by how the plot is developed? 


(I’ve posted the winner of the draw for Jody Hedlund’s book this morning, but it’s over here on Tuesday’s post.)


7 thoughts on “Ghost Writing versus Co-writing

  1. Do you feel differently about biographies? For some reason the idea of a personal story told through a writer who is able to knock it into logical shape seems much less problematic to me. In fact, I’ve always been quite tempted to try ghostwriting for the right person…

  2. For ministers and celebrities, co-writing is a sensible solution to the time factor. We all know the level of skill and time that’s required to produce a book. I don’t have a problem as long as credit is given.

    As far as voice, the selection of a writer is critical. Can they capture the style, cadence, and word usage of the person?

  3. I’m so glad you’ve written about this, Carol. I had lost interest in Mr. Patterson’s books a while back. It felt as if his stories reflected an author who had lost interesting in telling a good story. There was a measure of predictability to them.

    I’ve got through this with several other authors, Harold Robbins, John Grisham, Margaret Atwood. Their earlier works thrilled me, inspired me, motivated me. But lately, it’s been a struggle to get through their books. It’s not my job to judge, I just hope I have the good sense to quit before that happens to me.

  4. I think once an author is successful they can afford to hire help in many different ways. Sorry that the caliber of James Patterson’s books dropped, but I don’t see this as a huge stretch from strong critique partners or editors. It takes a village to produce a good book.

    I understand James Michener also had a lot of writing help, and certainly many authors have research assistants.

    I don’t care who writes a book if it is a good one. But I remember being disappointed in a famous romance writer as her writing seemed to be less engaging. I wondered at that time if the publishers were pushing too hard. I don’t buy her books.

  5. Bekay says:

    I’ve often thought about this, too. I just read Bristol Palin”s book which had a ghost writer, however, I never read anything Bristol wrote so have no comparison. I also recently read a book Unplanned by Abby Johnson for which she had a ghost writer for, but again I’ve never read anything she ever wrote. There was a series of books by a lady with the last name of Andrews which were very popular in the 90’s. She had started writing this one book but died before she could finish it. Her family hired ghost writers to finish the book and it ended up with book after book being published with Andrews name on it, but she was dead. But I do think, also, that if a book is co-authored as John’s are being that all the authors should be credited for it. The reason people start reading someone’s work is because they like the style of writing or the plots, but when they stop writing their own way, it looses something.

  6. Happy Wednesday to all of you. I’m enjoying your various opinions here. In answer to londonchoirgirl, I do feel differently when it comes to biographies… actually, to any non-fiction. I guess it’s the storytelling voice in fiction that’s important to me.

  7. davidebright says:

    I’ve abandoned popular authors that have taken on co-writers. I won’t post names, but the drop off in the things that made their stories & characters appealing to me “the reader”. I haven’t read anything by Patterson in years. I’m not very tolerant of clunkers, & the last couple that I’d read qualified as clunkers,

    Ghost writing — I guess its okay for non-fiction. Someone asked me to take on a writing project in that role – I declined (on the spot). No interest at all on my part, but I should have pretended.

    But I like writing ABOUT ghosts.

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