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? 

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

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