Friday, March 18, 2011


There’s a growing trend in fiction that leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m sure you’ve seen it. James Patterson seems to do it the most, but other bestselling authors are jumping on the bandwagon. They write books with co-authors. The co-authors are pretty much unknown or even totally unknown. I don’t know where they come from. I don’t know how the advances and royalties are split up. I doubt it’s 50/50.

What’s in it for either author? The no-name author gets a huge career boost by immediately winding up on the bestseller lists. The big name author gets someone else to do most of the work, then he or she goes in and spit polishes the manuscript until it’s worthy of his name. I suppose it’s a win/win for both. If it weren’t, the trend would die a quick death rather than be growing the way it is.

As I said, I’m not sure how I feel about this. At first I was leaning more toward being against it. In some ways it feels like cheating, but if James Patterson wanted to offer me a partnership, I’d probably jump at the chance. Really, could you turn down an offer to co-write a book with a bestselling author?

Lately I’m having second thoughts from the perspective of the bestselling author. Disclaimer here: I am not now, nor have I ever been a bestselling author. As much as I’d like to be, I have yet to hit a list, even an extended one. However, I began to wonder if maybe James Patterson and others were doing this co-authoring stuff not so much to see how many bestsellers one author could possibly have on the NY Times list at once but because there are just so many hours in a day and too many ideas.

That’s my problem. I have all these ideas for books, both series and stand-alones, spinning around in my head. I’m on deadline. I have books I’m contracted to write. I have proposals out for more. And I have still more I’d like to write. What I don’t have are enough hours in the day to write all the books I’d like to write. Maybe that’s what James Patterson thought, and this was his solution. After all, no matter how fast a writer you are, if the number of books you want to write outnumbers the time you have to write them, you’ve got a problem.

So what about the rest of you? Are there books you’d love to write but can’t find the time to write? Do you wonder if you’ll ever be able to write them? Would you ever consider a partnership with another author to solve this problem?


Pat Dale said...

Quite a tempting treatise, Lois. I would have to think a bit before jumping on the opportunity, but this is one way to gain some notoriety these days. Probably the gate-opener for me would be that my name appeared, albeit much smaller, on the cover of the book along with the 'name' author. Let's face it, we all want to be that best selling name everybody salivates for, don't we? LOL
Pat Dale

Lynn M said...

You know -- I hadn't thought about it that way in regards to the best selling author's POV, but it makes sense! Thanks for sharing!

Julia Buckley said...

Yes, Lois: the ratio of ideas to books is definitely heavy on ideas, light on books. :)

And my full time job is VERY full time (that is, I must continue to work on it when I get home), which makes it harder to let those ideas play.

But when I can play with them, it's fun. And fun is still my goal. :)

Lois Winston said...

Dale, having your name on the cover of a bestseller is definitely one of the pluses.

Lynn, we just need to become bestselling authors first.

Julia, I'm juggling 3 jobs if you include my writing, but I don't have little kids anymore. I'm amazed by women I know who juggle kids, a a full-time career, and manage to write. I'd be a zombie.

Darrell James said...

Nice post, Lois. I think I'd rather work to become the best selling author that co authors with others. Right, that's easy for me to say! And, of course,if Elmore Leonard offered me the chance to co-author a book with him, I think I'd jump! (Are you listening, Elmore?)

Lois Winston said...

Darrell, wouldn't it be cool if Elmore Leonard was a regular reader of Inkspot? Elmore, if you're lurking, post a comment!

Anonymous said...

Lois, I refuse to read anything with James Patterson's name on it because of this practice. I think it is really cheating.

Diana said...

This practice came about because Patterson is a "franchise". It's purely business and not at all a way to get his ideas on the page. Many wonderful authors such as bestseller Vince Flynn have come from this franchise.

I've heard Flynn discuss this business model. Patterson had no hand in Flynn's story ideas, plots, etc. Patterson read the ms at various stages of the draft process and signed off when it was completed.

I think this model is a great way to mentor authors and bring qualified writers into the limelight.

P.A.Brown said...

I would have to know what my fee would be. High enough and I might. It's not going to hurt my career as a writer, might increase my exposure and would get me some decent money.

But having said that, I wonder how much book buyers look beyond the James Patterson in huge letters on the front and my name much smaller underneath the title.

I also suspect the co-authors sign a non disclosure contract so they can't tell anyone what they make.

As a reader, I refuse to buy a James Patterson book with a co-author. If I buy a Patterson book, I expect Patterson to have written it. And boo-hoo if he can't write every idea he has into a book. It's not like he's writing great tomes that will change the Western world and must come out.

Lois Winston said...

Jeanine, Diana, and P.A., I haven't read any of the books Patterson co-authored with others, so I can't really comment on them. I've actually only read 2 of his books, neither of which were his thrillers. I used him as an example because he's been doing this the longest, but other authors are jumping on the bandwagon. Tom Clancy has done it. I attended a talk by Janet Evanovich a year ago, and she mentioned that she's going to be doing it.

Meanwhile, I don't know anything about how the money is split, whether the co-author gets a flat fee, an advance, a percentage of the royalties, or if they have to sign non-disclosures. I did read recently that Patterson made 70 million dollars last year. Personally, I'm not greedy. I'd settle for a mere million. :-D

Cricket McRae said...

Ludlum is dead and books are still coming out under his name. Patterson is indeed a franchise only, unlike Ludlum, he's still alive. I'm betting the publisher comes up with most of the ideas and finds authors to write them. Patterson has little to do with those "co-authored" books besides signing off on something his name will appear on and providing that name as a sales vehicle -- for which he is paid nicely. It's similar to doing work for hire, except the writer's name is actually on a cover with James Patterson. Good or bad? Hard to tell, when you have books by a fictional TV character (Castle) hitting the shelves along with the Lost manuscript.

Kayla Perrin said...

I agree with Jeanine. It's cheating. Especially if as another poster said, he really has no part in the writing. Readers typically like an author's voice. I read one of Patterson's co-authored books and with the motivations all over the place, and the heroine acting like a villain and NO growth (actually, she became a criminal after being a cop and fled the country with dirty money), it was clear that this book was published simply because Patterson's name was on it. Gimme a break. If you're not truly co-authoring (and I did this once with a friend), then it's cheating.

Look at Nora Roberts. I admire her because she writes her butt off, and wants to satisfy the readers who spend money on her books. Hats off to her.

MiaMarlowe said...

Actually, I have done exactly what you're talking about, Lois. I'm partnering with NYTimes Bestseller Connie Mason for two novels for Sourcebooks. It's been a great experience. Both Connie and I write sensual adventurous romance, so it's a good fit. Our first title, Sins of the Highlander, comes out next January.

Jenn Nixon said...

It's an interesting trend, but to be honest, I would rather co-write with you, Lois, rather than Patterson. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi folks,
I came over here from a SinC link - first time visit, think I'll add it to my roll.

I think there's a way to do this and a way not to. Regrettably, I think Patterson's way is wrong. I've never thought much of his writing (as opposed to stories) in the first place, but the last one I read with a co-author was fairly plain, and I wondered why a man with an ego that large (concomitant with the font size of his name) would be satisfied with it.

Would I write for hire, for a flat fee, so I could have my name next to his? No. Would I do it for 10% of his royalty? I'd have to struggle with that one.

Different answer for Leonard, too, or a bunch of others.

It seems there is little difference between Patterson's model and Frey's Fiction Factory.

Deborah Blake said...

I would hope that for some big-name authors, the motivation is giving the up-and-coming a leg up. Of course, I write fiction...

I don't know much about Patterson, but it sounds to me like in his case, it is just greed, which is too bad. But would I turn down a chance to get my name linked with a big-author, and get myself through the door that way...probably not.

I tend not to pick up books that I know aren't authored by the person whose name is on the cover. For instance, actors like William Shatner, who put out co-authored books that are clearly written by the co-author.

Oh, well. It is an imperfect industry.

Anne K. Albert said...

I've only read Patterson's solo attempts, and loved them. My husband, however, has read a number of the co-authored books and refuses to read another. In his mind they're not what he's come to expect from a Patterson novel. Reading the above comments as to how it's actually done, it seems he's correct to think that.

As to your question would I do it? Nope. I'm with Darrell...I'd much rather be the best selling author!

Jean Henry Mead said...

I thought collaboration was an accepted method of writing, but what do I know? I would love to collaborate on a book with Johm Grisham. :)

Deborah Sharp said...

I tried writing a script once with my husband, and we almost killed each other, so don't think I'm cut out for co-authordom. Coincidentally, my MWA-Fla chapter is hosting Andrew Gross on Mar 26 at our monthly lunch, and he's going to talk about being plucked from obscurity by James Patterson and rocketed into the stratosphere of best-sellers (He's since written five solo, but forever more he'll be ''best known as a collaborator with famous author James Patterson.''

Lois Winston said...

Thank you all for your comments! I was at a conference yesterday and unable to respond to the flurry of comments that came through after Friday night. As I suspected, this topic touched a lot of buttons. I love posts that do that!

Jenn, you're a sweetheart to suggest you'd turn down a chance to write with James Patterson to write with me.

Deborah, I hope you'll post about the Andrew Gross meeting the next time you're up to post on InkSpot.

And finally, for all of you who stopped by for the first time, I hope you'll come back to visit us at InkSpot.