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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Carrying on a dead author's brand

I'm involved in a debate on one of the forums regarding popular writers works being carried on after their death by other hands. This is not something new but these days the ghost writer is often not mentioned and it's difficult to tell who the actual author is, it can't be the name in big letters on the cover because he's long dead.

What do the Tainted Archive readers think of this practise?

(PICTURE - I took this picture of a Welsh Thistle to try out the Makro settings on my camera. I'm rather pleased with it.)


madshadows said...

Well I buy the Ralph Compton books written by David Robbins as I'm a big fan of David Robbins writing, I haven't even read an actual Compton book by the man himself !! - As long as it's made clear on the cover that its a someone else writing in the name of the original author (As they do on the Compton books) I don't have a problem with the practice.

It's a Western being published which can only be a good thing IMHO and the writer gets paid for writing the book as earns a living from it hopefully!!

Ray said...

I don't have a problem with this - a western is a western after all.
Most series westerns have 'ghost' writers i.e. Stagecoach Station has writers like D.B.Newton, Robert Vaughan, James Reasoner and William C Knott and three different female writers all writing under the name of Hank Mitchum.
With the exception of George G Gilman and John B Harvey's own books the majority of the Piccadilly Cowboys' series were written by two or three writers. Herne The Hunter by John J McLaglen, for example, was the work of Laurence James and John B Harvey.
As for carrying on a dead man's name the question that I ask is - is it a name that 'owned' by the publisher?
Even so, I still think that as long as the storyline continues in the spirit of the dead writer - what harm is done?
If you go with the arguement that someone else is profitting from a dead authors name then no one would buy the new Mickey Spillane novel because it was completed by someone else.

Danny-K said...

Well, 'brand', is the correct term as this type of novel-writing is now a mega-industry in it's own right and no longer can it be called 'in the style of ...'

The James Bond franchise successfully having had at least half a dozen authors writing 'in the style of Ian Fleming'.

As long as no subterfuge is used and the ghost writer is allowed a credit then personally I have no objection - the public then knows what it's getting. And the public is hardly going to call it literature either, which is the main criticism and failing levelled at this type of brand writing, in fact often derided as rubbish by art-farty critics.

Very lucrative 'rubbish' then, because in fact, the world's most popular author doesn't even write the books himself even though he's still alive; he's far too busy dishing out skeleton plots to up-and-coming writers. Who then go on to write up the plot into a short novel to his satisfaction. He makes sure his name is in GIANT letters across the top third of the cover, (that's what sells the book, not the story), followed in smaller type by the title and at the bottom he allows the 'ghost writer' a credit - so everyone knows what's what, up front. He's the most borrowed author from British libraries - Have you guessed who I'm talking about yet?

- James Patterson!

You can go into any MacDonald's in any town or city and you can be sure the taste and burger will be uniformly the same; and so it is with a James Patterson novel - the MacDonald's of fiction - you'll never be surprised and you'll never be disappointed - you'll get exactly what you expected and no more.

"Despite a relatively low profile compared with authors such as John Grisham and Tom Clancy, and a NEAR-TOTAL ABSENCE OF CRITICAL ACCLAIM, Patterson, 60, has had more number-one bestsellers in the past five years than Grisham, Clancy, JK Rowling and Dan Brown COMBINED. He reportedly sells more than £60m-worth of books a year, and last week it was revealed that he is the author most borrowed from British libraries."

(Tom Clancy has been known to use Patterson's ghostwriter method also).

As a former advertising executive, Patterson believes blockbusters can be boiled down to a strict formula.

He uses short words and short sentences, (on average no more than three sentences per paragraph), and each chapter is no longer than three pages, often one page only. No lengthy descriptive prose whatsoever.

As Patterson himself says, "These books are entertainments. It's a very different process than if you're trying to write Moby-Dick".

Get that market right and £60 million a year awaits you.

So if you haven't read any James Patterson books - what are they like? Well, when the chance came to buy a couple for a £1 each per hardback at the local bootsale I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about.

- Bloody exciting they were in my opinion. And I'm amazed to say that as I bought into the art-farty critic's line that they would all be rubbish. When a book's a bestseller you can be sure of one thing - it won't be a boring read!

But then again, having said that take into account I'm no stranger to a MacDonald's establishment either :)

Here's a link, don't know how to make it clickable so here goes -

- Or just Google: Inside the Fiction Factory, for the full Guardian article on Patterson.

(I've done it again haven't I? A long rambling post).


I recently heard an interview with Patterson on Radio Five and there was no mention of ghost writers. If this is not credited then I'd say it's wrong. This really does come as a surprise about James Patterson.

The recent Bond Book had the new author's name alongside Fleming so that was fine.

Danny-K said...

I heard about that Radio 5 interview; disappointed I only found out about it after the event.

It might just have been a poorly prepared interviewer, as all James Patterson's books feature the ghost writer's name, (or 'subcontractor' as Patterson is wont to call them) at the very bottom of each and every jacket cover; he's quite open about that aspect of his ahem, 'writing'.

He rarely writes one himself nowadays but still oversees a prolific yearly output of bestsellers via his 'subcontractors'.

£60 million a year. A YEAR!

Steve M said...

The debate that Gary refers to is - at the moment - just about the Ralph Compton books and those under the name William W. Johnstone.

Both these do carry the actual authors name - or in the case of the Johnstone books a pseudonym - so, to me, it's not a problem. In my opinion if you pass them by you are missing out on some terrific books, often better than the originals.

This kinda thing has been going on for ages, look at the Mack Bolan / Executioner books, each says with thanks to the real author inside.

Yes pseudonyms are used on many books, particularly series, yet we don't have a problem with them.

Ghost writers are those (I think) were we are never told someone else has written the book but there is no indication of that other than an astute reader picking up on the different writing styles. But then again a good ghost writer can write in the same style as the person they are pretending to be.

Personally I'm not going to pass by what could be a cracking read just because I'm not sure who wrote it.

BTW Gary did you know James McGee is a pseudonym?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I dislike this very much in, for instance, the case of Janu Austen, unless the series was always written by assorted writers. Or if the "voice" is not so important.

Joanne Walpole said...

If I don't know, then ignorance is bliss. However, if I came across a 'new' book by an author I knew was dead, I wouldn't buy it. Having said that, if it was a series I'd been following and it was being written by a new author and stated that, I'd give it a go. However, in my limited experience, series that are carried on by a new author are never as good (e.g Gone with the wind/Scarlet, Rebecca/Mrs DeWinter - sorry about the choices - I'm Jo today not the 'he-man' - tee hee).

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't have much of a problem with it, I guess. It's become something like a "house" name, which many series are written under by different authors. For me, though, since the book I origianly read by Johnstone was so bad I would probably more likely pick up a book under a different name.


Steve - I never knew James Mcgee is a pen name - for whom?


Oh and for the record - I'm OK with this but I do think the author working under the house name should be credited.


Dannk K - you can listen to the Radio 5 piece on their website.

Chap O'Keefe said...

Great debate! Surely, as some have said, much hinges on the degree of transparency. Today, it seems to me publishers allow more transparency than they once did, which I applaud.

As for living writers using ghost writers for work they pass off as their own, my views are coloured by the experience of having seen several hard workers denied careers under their own names/pen-names and ripped off in terms of both money and deserved credit.

When I got into this business, straight from school, it was disillusioning to say the least to see boyhood heroes excusing their use of the procedure for one reason or another.

The practice is not a modern phenomenon incidentally. It goes way back. When I was editing the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine in the 1960s, a minor British crime writer told me he ghosted Saint stories for Leslie Charteris in the late 1930s . . . a time when the practice was certainly not acknowledged and would probably have been unacceptable to the period's trusting readers.

James Reasoner said...

The situation with Ed Earl Repp wasn't exactly the same, because the impression I get from Frank Bonham's great essay/memoir "Tarzana Nights" is that while Repp's editors may have suspected what was going on, his arrangements with his various ghost writers were strictly private deals between him and them. In the Compton/Johnstone/V.C. Andrew/Lawrence Sanders scenario (other names added because the practice is hardly limited to Westerns), the books are produced with the full knowledge, participation, and approval of the editors and publishers involved.

As for getting rid of books that may have been written by somebody other than the author whose name is on the book, you'd better be prepared to dispose of a signifcant portion of your library. I've ghosted for at least half a dozen authors, ranging from bestselling big names to critically acclaimed award winners to friends who have gotten in a bind for a variety of reasons and have a problem meeting a deadline. Most of the writers I know have either ghosted books, farmed out books to other writers, or both. The practice is so widespread that at least once a month I read or hear someone complaining about how So-and-so's books aren't nearly as good since the publisher got somebody else to write them, when I happen to know that the same author has written all the books, regardless of which name is on the cover.

Although I still think of myself as just as much reader and fan as writer, I guess I can't really look at the situation from the same point of view as others, being on the other side of the desk, so to speak. I just like to read good books, no matter who wrote them.

By the way, the copyright page in nearly all the Johnstone books with a joint by-line carry a paragraph about how William W. Johnstone has passed away and a "carefully selected author" is carrying on the writing. I call this the V.C. Andrews acknowledgment, since her books were the first ones to carry it, as I recall.

No offense to anyone, I hope, as that's certainly not my intention. Just another country heard from.

(This was posted originally on the Frontier Times group, so some of it makes a little more sense in that context.)

Danny-K said...

James fascinating post; looks like you could tell a lot more than you're legally able to.


Gary - Thanks for the tip-off, found it (only 2 days left of replay left). You're right about the Radio 5 interview by Simon Mayo - he made no mention of Patterson not actually writing the books himself, however to the left of that link was another interview link to Radio 4 by the much more informed Mark Lawson; so listened to that as well, and Lawson, (for any listeners who were unaware), does at least make passing mention of Patterson's 'collaborators'.

Nice quote from Patterson on the Lawson interview when asked about his style/success, and he replied about dumping any pretensions at high lit and instead - "It all took off when I stopped writing sentences and started writing stories".

P.S. Is Glen Moy, James McGee?

msg said...


First of all,many excuses for my poor english,but,as we say here,each one gives what he can.
This invasion,this visit is to pay a debt-you help me to understand Chris,Tacoma.
Then,we have,apparently,something in common. When I was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne,School of Agriculture,in 1965,I had a professor that had got his doctor degree in Aberystwyth,my housekeeper had born in Wales,and,mainly,as I am portuguese,in my blood is able to run some celtic blood.
Finally, one question. Why THE TAINTED ARCHIVE?
Excuse me again for the very poor english, for any trouble that I cause to You,and last,but not the least,my gratitude for your help.
Good health and many books,wrote,overall.


msg - tainted archive because of the dubious pleasures lurking within the archives.

Steve M said...

P.S. Is Glen Moy, James McGee?

That's correct - at least that's the info I have.

Michael Martin said...

Didn't do Sexton Blake any harm. The bloke who created him died in 1898 but the character didn't really even get started properly until 1904. The occasional new story by fans of the character still appears today... (Only hours ago i was writing an outline for a tale called The Kaiser's Revenge, for instance XD)