James Patterson Inc.

A couple of years ago, Fortune magazine had an article about novelists, dead and alive, who use ghostwriters and/or cowriters. James Patterson was featured in that article, and, according to the article, "Patterson--arguably the author of the megabrand phenomenon--is not the sole author of his books."

His publisher doesn't care who writes. "'The crux is, when I receive a manuscript, it's delivered to me by James Patterson,' says Michael Pietsch, his publisher at Little, Brown. 'And whatever the byline is, the quality is the same'." Publishers have, after all, "become addicted to megabrand names...'There's a degree of predictability with brand-name publishing,' says Peter Lampack, Clive Cussler's agent. 'Publishers are banking on this'."

"His piece of the revenue is $50 million. You need that kind of money to grease the machinery that churns out three bestsellers a year and keeps as many as seven books and three movie scripts in production at the same time." Even if you just look at the list of his books, do you think he can churn all of that out by himself?

"How many of his 23 books had handmaidens? Ask people in the publishing business and they say, plenty." However, "Patterson doesn't like discussing the subject." So I wanted to ask him for myself when he was at Borders this past weekend, since he wasn't forthcoming with the Fortune magazine writer. Instead of asking him if it was true, I asked him how he did it, so that I could get more than a "yes" or "no" answer (which I was assuming would be "no").

He didn't let me finish my question, and seemed to be defensive, including sarcastically offering me a job. But I did get an answer: he has "collaborators." Then he talked about how television shows and movies do it, and complained that Americans expect there to be a "lone writer."

The last time I saw a book that said it was written by James Patterson, I assumed it was written by James Patterson. When I see the credits of a television show, there is a list of writers. Note the plural: writers, not writer. I don't assume one writer has written a television show, unless there is only one listed.

Agents don't care. "'If you're stuck thinking of authors as 'writers,' you're never going to [understand branding],' says [Robert] Gottlieb, some of whose clients work with up to six people, including writers, book packagers and a business manager...'TV is a format, film is a format and books are a format'."

I understand branding, Mr. Gottlieb, and I'm sure a lot of other readers do, too. If novels are written by a group, then state it, just like those other fiction formats do. Of course, there are non-fiction books written by co-authors and ghost writers, but it seems a little weird when fiction is produced in the same way.

I don't have a problem with Patterson using co-authors or ghostwriters. But publishers should state that his books are penned by "James Patterson Inc." instead of just "James Patterson."

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