My Name Is My Brand
Alerted by the Smart Bitches blog, I hopped over to the Palm Beach Daily News site to read this article where James Patterson is promoting his new "romance" novel. For reasons un-expressed, he insists it isn't a "real" romance.
But is it a real James Patterson?
Sundays at Tiffany's was written with North Carolina-based children's author Gabrielle Charbonnet in the collaborative style that Patterson developed about 10 years ago. It has been a key element in his increasingly prolific output.
"We're hung up in this country about individualism," said Patterson, who compares his collaborative process for writing novels to the traditionally accepted manner in which film and television writers develop their products. "Why can't a book be created this way?"
Patterson writes an outline, then selects a co-writer to write a first draft (which in my experience is the most time-consuming portion). Afterwards, he polishes, rewrites, or what have you the manuscript to his standards. He insists this is a great gig for the emerging writers he's discovered. They get to earn some bucks, gain experience by working with a bestseller, and see their output end up on the New York Times list. And this sort of thing is very common in screen-writing, where multiple scripts are often produced by different people and a more collaborative approach is the norm.
In the world of novel-writing, I've heard this kind of arrangement called a "master-slave" relationship, and I've heard plenty of rationalizations for it, but I've never been comfortable with the idea. Patterson may be open about both the fact and the identities of his co-writers, and at least in this case, he's giving Ms. Charbonnet credit on the cover. (I give him major points there.) He might pay his co-writers fairly as well (though Patterson makes the lion's share, as it's his name that makes the books bestsellers). I'm not privvy to the details.
However, in other cases I have seen, young writers are exploited for very low work-for-hire fees, with no royalties forthcoming and absolutely no acknowledgment on the cover or elsewhere. As a reader, this offends me, for an author's name on the cover of a novel isn't just a brand. It's the author's bond as well, a warranty that s/he has actually written the darned thing. The idea that one man or one woman wrote the book from start to finish is essential to the readers' unspoken pact with the author. This fact makes the novelist's name not only her brand but her word.
Or maybe the truth is, I am hung up about individualism. If I'd wanted a more collaborative art form, I would have chosen to write movie scripts or plays or annual corporate statements. I wouldn't have picked novels, where the readers -- by both tradition and experience -- have earned the right to expect both a singular vision and a singular voice.
So what about you? Do you think it's kosher for a writer to put his/her name on a book, especially without acknowledgment, that someone has partially or completely written?