Along Came a Ghostwriter

Galleycat pointed me to this New York Times article about James Patterson’s money. In middle of the article is an interesting tid-bit about Patterson’s frequent use of ghostwriters and collaborators.

Although Mr. Patterson has been as good as any other top author at
marketing his own identity, he said his strength was in storytelling.
"I spin yarns," he said. "I love it. I have a folder with several
hundred ideas for stories. They just come and I’ll say: ‘There is a
story here.’ "

During a visit to Chapel Hill, N.C., for
example, he saw posters asking for help in finding missing women. That
led to the plot for "Kiss the Girls," a 1995 thriller about two
murderers who compete to kill girls. The book is in the Alex Cross
series, which is centered on the exploits of a black detective.

Patterson said he often worked with co-authors because he believed that
he was more proficient at creating the story line than at executing it.

"I found that it is rare that you get a craftsman and an idea
person in the same body," Mr. Patterson said. "With me, I struggle like
crazy. I can do the craft at an acceptable level, but the ideas are
what I like." He said the co-authors received a flat fee and, most
often, credit on the book cover.

In novel writing, as in advertising, Mr. Patterson wants the final
say. Once there is a first draft of a book that has a co-author, "I may
ask the collaborator for a polish," he said.

"Then I do the remaining rewrites," he added – sometimes as many as seven.


17 thoughts on “Along Came a Ghostwriter”

  1. The ironic thing about what he’s saying here is that the quality of his books has gone down from when he wrote them solo. His first few books were quite good (and supposedly they were written by him alone), but the quality has diminished in recent years as he’s taken on all these collaborators.
    There’s no arguing with his success, though, all of which belies the old publishing saw that marketing doesn’t sell books.

  2. I was thinking the same thing David said. I liked Patterson’s books pretty well until Pop goes the Weasel, which seemed like a good idea executed by a 6-year-old, and pretty much ended my relationship with Patterson as reader-writer. And Paul’s quite right. Ideas are the simple part.

  3. Are all of you saying, that given the opportunity to make gazillions of dollars, you wouldn’t follow the Patterson route?
    I’m a realistic guy. I know this business is about making money. If an editor tells me to change something, I change it.
    But I don’t know if I’d be able to let someone else use my name for their work, even if the work was based on my idea. I’m attached to my characters, in a very personal way.
    (long pause, which actually amounted to less than three seconds)
    I take it back. For a million bucks, you could have the rights to my characters, and to my wife and kids.

  4. No, I wouldn’t do what Patterson has done, publishing books under his own name that other people wrote. Not if I had the alternative, which he does, of actually writing and publishing my own books and still making a lot of money. (Keep in mind that Patterson was already very successful before he turned into James Patterson™.)
    I would whore myself for $5 million dollars a year. But I wouldn’t whore myself for an extra $5 million if I was already making $5 million.

  5. At least Patterson’s involved with the process, which is more than I can say for a lot of writers. And anymore, he credits his collaborators.
    If I had a property that lent itself to letting other writers take over, I’d release it as “James Winter’s OVERBLOWN THRILLER” or whatever you wanted to call it. A lot of writers do that to cash in on their brand when it’s someone else using their characters and situations, but they had very little input. In Patterson’s case, because he writes the initial story, then does the rewrites, calling it James Patterson and Writer T. Hackworth’s novel is a little more accurate.
    Not sure if I’d do it that way, but I’m kinda picky about these sort of things.
    Maybe when I start inserting myself into my stories like Clive Cussler…

  6. I wonder why we question collaborations on novels, but seem to accept them quite willingly in screenplays and TV shows, where you have teams of writers?
    I just find it interesting, not being accusatory or anything like that.

  7. That’s a good point. I’ve always wondered what would happen if three or four great novelists collaborated on one book. Not a “jam” but working together selflessly, trying to write the best story they can. Say like Saul Bellow with Phillip Roth and Joseph Heller. Of course, ego would probably doom it before it began but it would be nice to see.

  8. Screenplays and novels are two completely different mediums so comparisons between them aren’t particularly apt.
    However, if you do compare them, one obvious distinction is that people don’t read screenplays. They aren’t meant to be read, thus the words themselves are not as important.
    Novels are meant to be read. The language itself is a crucial component of the work. (And it is the language that suffers the most in collaborations.) Novels are much more than their plots; the part of writing that lends itself the most to collaboration.
    A novel should be the expression of a unique artistic voice. On rare occasions, that voice is created by two writers. But only rarely. Usually collaboration in prose results in an inferior, watered-down product.
    Really, though, it seems silly to compare the two forms.

  9. Actually, a good example of an effective collaboration is that of Douglas Preston/Lincoln Childs in their horror novels. Together, they are supreme; singularly, they don’t measure to their collaboration. Also, P. J. Parrish, author of the Louis Kincaid mystery series, is actually two sisters. The Kincaid series is hardly watered down and has collected some loyal fans.

  10. I didn’t say there were no examples of successful collaborations. As I said, on rare occasion it works. But only rarely. More often it doesn’t, which is why most people don’t even try.
    I’m pleased that you cited P.J. Parrish, though. They’re dear ladies and are contributing to the anthology I’m co-editing, so I’m glad to hear you enjoy their work.


Leave a Comment