prolific authors

Authors Like James Patterson Who Release Tons of Books Each Year

After writing a post earlier this week about authors who release tons of books each year in the m/m romance genre, I spotted something interesting in a few places that gets into something I didn’t mention in that previous post. So I figured I’d follow up for those who might not be familiar with this sort of thing in publishing. I would imagine most readers aren’t. It’s not something you see publishers or authors advertise in the NYT. Yet at the same time it’s not something new.

In this article it talks about why bestselling novelists have co-authors. Basically what this means is that a bestselling novelist that’s creating his/her own brand (brand being the key word) at a relentless pace hires other authors to do the actual writing while he/she delegates the concepts and ideas…without actually writing the books. It’s a very interesting way for authors to produce more than a dozen books a year. And I would imagine these authors do some of the writing because they do all the edits…but don’t quote me on that. I’m just guessing this because I have never met an author who is happy with another author’s work no matter how good the other author might be. And when your name is going on a book…or anything…you want to make sure it’s going to represent you well.

Best-selling author Wilbur Smith signed a six-book deal with publisher HarperCollins last week for a reported £15m. But it was also revealed that some of the books are to be written with the help of “carefully selected co-authors”, so how common is it for writers to hire them?

That’s an interesting question to which I don’t think anyone knows the answer. In the same article it talks about authors James Patterson and Tom Clancy doing the same thing.

US thriller and crime writers James Patterson and Tom Clancy are two of the best-known authors who regularly hire co-authors.

Patterson’s use of them has helped him become exceptionally prolific, publishing 14 new titles in 2011-2012 alone. He typically sends 70-90 chapter summaries of around four lines long to his co-writers, who then send back drafts for him to edit.

It has also reaped huge financial rewards – the 65-year-old was the highest-earning author of the past year according to Forbes magazine, earning an estimated $94m (£58.6m).

It doesn’t just reap rewards for the authors. It reaps rewards for the publishers and the agents as well, which is something you won’t hear about on any publishing blogs. In the same respect, readers who love to read these authors get all the books they want. I’ve often said one of my favorite novelists, Anne Tyler, only releases a new novel every two years. It’s always worth the wait, I don’t think Tyler would ever hire a co-author, and yet I often wish she wrote faster.

In another article that’s linked to the article I just talked about, they go into more detail about James Patterson. And this dates back to 2007…again, not something new.

Patterson is effectively a brand manager, presiding over a production line of commercial blockbusters written with other authors. He maps out the fast-paced storylines, full of plot twists, and then ensures delivery of the staccato sentences and two-page chapters that have become his trademark style.

As Time magazine wrote last year: “Patterson is the world’s greatest bestseller factory, and depending on how you look at it, he’s either a damn good writer or the Beast of the coming literary Apocalypse.”

In all fairness, Patterson then goes on to explain how hard he works. I believe him. Frankly, I wouldn’t trust anything Time Magazine has to say because I think they are the “beast” of the coming journalism Apocalypse…but that’s another post, and Time Magazine is now about ten pages thick since that article was written. I’ve also heard…and don’t quote me on this either because it is hearsay…that a lot of magazine writers hire co-writers to do a lot of their articles and they keep this very quiet.

For those who are frowning right now, this really isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’ve posted before about how the Nancy Drew books were authored by more than one writer sharing one pen name…some of which were written by a man. They inspired a generation of young women. When something sells, any good business person wants to keep it selling, at any cost, not matter what. And I know from experience it’s not simple to put out more than eight novels a year alone, trust me.

In the post I wrote earlier this week about a naive blogger complaining that authors who put out too many books each year aren’t focused on quality books I tried to explain quality has nothing to do with quantity. I think this post right now shows that most readers would tend to agree with me. There’s no one complaining about quality with James Patterson’s books last I heard. Or any of the other authors I didn’t mention in this post who do the same thing. One issue I always have with the Internet is too many people with limited experience are talking about too many things they know too little about.

In any event, this question below is the most interesting to me, as a reader and an author:

 So how much of a book is actually written by the author and how much is by the co-author?

“Publishers don’t like to reveal that kind of information,” Stone says.

Davis agrees there is sensitivity surrounding what is known and what is spoken about co-authors, but adds hiring one is a personal decision for writers. For some, the last thing they would do is hand over the writing to someone else.

I don’t even like to collaborate at this point in my life unless it’s for some type of anthology and the stories/novellas are separate. And I’ve never hired anyone to write for me; I work alone, as they say. However, I do think novels can be co-authored if done right. And all this leads me back to my original post about authors turning out too many books each year. Every author works at a different pace and some even hire co-authors. As you can see, there is not only a market for this, but the quality seems to be there as well. If that weren’t the case I’m sure Patterson and other bestselling authors wouldn’t have been selling as many books.

Not to mention the opportunities this is giving other authors who are co-writing the books. I know some would complain these co-authors aren’t getting full credit for it. But they are getting paid well to work in an industry that’s notorious for not paying well, for tons of rejection, and for limited odds of success on the most basic level in the smallest genre. I’m talking about professional career writers who love to write and get paid, not stars or divas who think they know it all. And I would probably stop everything and jump at a chance to co-author a Patterson novel.

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Do Some Authors Release Too Many Books Each Year?

I read an interesting blog post recently that sounded as though the blogger was complaining that there are too many m/m romance books released by some authors over the course of a year. It was worded with care, but very passive aggressive. And I can’t say I wasn’t stunned. I walked away with the feeling that this author/blogger is judging those who may be slightly more prolific than others.

It’s a flawed theory at best, to say there are authors writing too many books per year…in any genre fiction. One, because if the publishers are buying those books the books are obviously selling. Don’t pay attention to bestseller lists on Amazon. They don’t indicate actual book sales, not by a long shot. I’ve posted before how my own books on bestseller lists on Amazon don’t reflect sales…or compare to sales of books that aren’t on those lists. And two, because there are no set standards for writers when it comes to this. In the twenty years I’ve been in publishing, working as associate editor to published author, I have never once seen two authors who work the same way. All authors work at a different pace, which makes all this so wonderful.

But the one fact that the blog post I read missed so completely is that in genre fiction, which is exactly what m/m romance is, it’s been classic…if not expected from publishers…that authors produce more at a faster pace than authors who write mainstream or literary fiction. This is why romance authors typically produce at least three books a year. Authors working in genre fiction don’t have that wide fan base, at least not as wide as authors who write books like “The Help.” The odds of them getting a big book like “Fifty Shades of Grey” are limitied. Romance…and m/m romance as a sub-genre…are still niche markets and authors have to produce more each year in order to survive. In m/m romance, because it’s such a small sub-genre, it helps if an author is prolific and can produce quality work faster. And I find it odd that another author would judge that.

That’s the other issue with the post I read I’m not sure I get. The blogger made the assumption that because an author is prolific he or she might not be producing quality work. This not only shows me the blogger knows little about publishing, but isn’t seasoned enough to make generalizations like that in public. Most authors I know have pen names and write in other genres to make a living. These authors…and most hate the term author, me included…consider themselves career WRITERS. They are in this for the long haul, no matter what it takes, because it’s what they love doing and can’t imagine doing anything else. We love every single aspect there is to publishing, not just the writing part. We breathe it, which is why I’m starting a new project in 2013 I’ll talk about soon. So by making a broad generalized statement that m/m fiction might be lacking in quality because a specific author (or authors) produces a book faster, again, shows a lack of knowledge, experience, and common sense.

It would be like me saying that just because an author works slowly and only publishes a book every ten months or so he or she is not as good as an author who is more prolific. That would make no sense. I would be the biggest jackasswipe of publishingville if I said something like that. Because there is no way to measure the balance between time and quality. But more than that, not every author has the same set of circumstances. For many years I wrote part time, edited part time, and ran my own businesses. I set goals during those years where I would try to get into at least ten anthologies a year with short stories. I loved what I was doing, and I reached a point where editors knew they could depend on me to deliver. Some of those same editors still contact me and I rarely say no even though I’m not making much money on the projects. I’m in an anthology coming out soon with Cleis Press that was edited by Shane Allison, an editor with whom I’ve worked several times over the years. I get calls for submission from him all the time. I still do those books because I LOVE doing them and I love working with Shane, not because I think there’s going to be money involved.

So when new authors make broad generalizations like the ones I’ve posted about above, take them with that proverbial grain of salt. Or, better yet, dismiss them completely. I don’t know why they do this. I’ll never forget the blogger or the comments. But I wish they would think before they put something in writing.

Do Some Authors Release Too Many Books Each Year?

I read an interesting blog post recently that sounded as though the blogger was complaining that there are too many m/m romance books released by some authors over the course of a year. It was worded with care, but very passive aggressive. And I can’t say I wasn’t stunned. I walked away with the feeling that this author/blogger is judging those who may be slightly more prolific than others.

It’s a flawed theory at best, to say there are authors writing too many books per year…in any genre fiction. One, because if the publishers are buying those books the books are obviously selling. Don’t pay attention to bestseller lists on Amazon. They don’t indicate actual book sales, not by a long shot. I’ve posted before how my own books on bestseller lists on Amazon don’t reflect sales…or compare to sales of books that aren’t on those lists. And two, because there are no set standards for writers when it comes to this. In the twenty years I’ve been in publishing, working as associate editor to published author, I have never once seen two authors who work the same way. All authors work at a different pace, which makes all this so wonderful.

But the one fact that the blog post I read missed so completely is that in genre fiction, which is exactly what m/m romance is, it’s been classic…if not expected from publishers…that authors produce more at a faster pace than authors who write mainstream or literary fiction. This is why romance authors typically produce at least three books a year. Authors working in genre fiction don’t have that wide fan base, at least not as wide as authors who write books like “The Help.” The odds of them getting a big book like “Fifty Shades of Grey” are limitied. Romance…and m/m romance as a sub-genre…are still niche markets and authors have to produce more each year in order to survive. In m/m romance, because it’s such a small sub-genre, it helps if an author is prolific and can produce quality work faster. And I find it odd that another author would judge that.

That’s the other issue with the post I read I’m not sure I get. The blogger made the assumption that because an author is prolific he or she might not be producing quality work. This not only shows me the blogger knows little about publishing, but isn’t seasoned enough to make generalizations like that in public. Most authors I know have pen names and write in other genres to make a living. These authors…and most hate the term author, me included…consider themselves career WRITERS. They are in this for the long haul, no matter what it takes, because it’s what they love doing and can’t imagine doing anything else. We love every single aspect there is to publishing, not just the writing part. We breathe it, which is why I’m starting a new project in 2013 I’ll talk about soon. So by making a broad generalized statement that m/m fiction might be lacking in quality because a specific author (or authors) produces a book faster, again, shows a lack of knowledge, experience, and common sense.

It would be like me saying that just because an author works slowly and only publishes a book every ten months or so he or she is not as good as an author who is more prolific. That would make no sense. I would be the biggest jackasswipe of publishingville if I said something like that. Because there is no way to measure the balance between time and quality. But more than that, not every author has the same set of circumstances. For many years I wrote part time, edited part time, and ran my own businesses. I set goals during those years where I would try to get into at least ten anthologies a year with short stories. I loved what I was doing, and I reached a point where editors knew they could depend on me to deliver. Some of those same editors still contact me and I rarely say no even though I’m not making much money on the projects. I’m in an anthology coming out soon with Cleis Press that was edited by Shane Allison, an editor with whom I’ve worked several times over the years. I get calls for submission from him all the time. I still do those books because I LOVE doing them and I love working with Shane, not because I think there’s going to be money involved.

So when new authors make broad generalizations like the ones I’ve posted about above, take them with that proverbial grain of salt. Or, better yet, dismiss them completely. I don’t know why they do this. I’ll never forget the blogger or the comments. But I wish they would think before they put something in writing.

So a Dude Wrote a Few Nancy Drew Books…


Last weekend, by accident, I turned on the TV around five on a Saturday afternoon to take a short nap. I love cooking shows for this reason. Nothing puts me to sleep faster. Instead of finding a cooking show, I wound up at PBS watching a half hour interview with the late Mildred Wirt Benson. She was one of the authors who wrote the Nancy Drew books that left such strong impressions on more than one famous woman. These Nancy Drew books were all written by ghostwriters and published with one grand pen name, Carolyn Keene, and no one ever knew it. In fact, this pen name was so well guarded the truth didn’t come out until many years later.

A good deal of the PBS show focused on Edward Stratemeyer, who founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate. He was a prolific author himself who figured out a way to get all his ideas into print, making money at the same time. The SS was responsible for other books like The Hardy Boys series. Mr. Stratemeyer would solicit authors with a short synopsis or plot outline and then contract them to write these books for a flat fee. The SS never paid them a dime over that flat fee and kept all royalties. This isn’t all that unusual, unfortunately. The ghost writers were paid a $125.00 flat fee, and during the depression the fee was reduced to $100.00. Small presses are still doing this today, so don’t be too stunned by this. I’ve been in more anthologies than I can count that paid a flat fee of $50.00, without mention of e-book royalties, and two free copies. At one point, about eight years ago, one small press actually sent out a mass e-mail informing the contributing authors they were reducing the flat fee from $50.00 to $25.00 due to economic hardship. I continued to submit work to them without complaining. As an author who only cares about writing I didn’t have much of a choice and the publisher was slick enough to know this. The authors who contributed to the Nancy Drew books had even less choices and they were happy to get their flat fee.

These authors who wrote books for the SS were all very prolific and they wanted to be career writers. I’m emphasizing this on purpose, because I see a lot of talk on the Internets these days that slam authors who have the ability to write fast. The speed with which it takes an author to write a novel…or any fiction…has nothing to do with the quality of the fiction. And in genre and sub-genre fiction the authors who can write faster usually get more work. The key word here is genre. Not every author is as lucky as Jonathan Franzen and can spend ten years writing a literary mainstream novel and make millions of dollars. Most career authors in genre fiction produce at least four new novels a year, which is a conservative number. It’s not because they are pressured or forced. It’s because they CAN do it and that’s what they LOVE doing.

I could spend days writing about the Stratemeyer Syndicate and all the good and bad it did for both authors and readers. But what I found most interesting was that a man, Walter Karig, wrote at least three volumes of the Nancy Drew series. Once again, Mr. Karig was considered very prolific and he wrote everything from military history to TV scripts. I doubt anyone who read the Nancy Drew books he wrote at the time would have guessed a man had written them. Good writers have little tricks they build with experience. And we’re talking about fiction, not non-fiction based on fact and real life. The Nancy Drew books, regardless of who wrote them, all did one thing: they provided entertainment to young women who couldn’t get enough of them.

The youtube video below is interesting because it gets into a lot of what I just mentioned with a little more clarity. I do find it interesting how surprised the guy is when he talks about how poorly authors were treated back then. Things haven’t changed all that much for career writers. Although I have to admit indie publishing and Amazon have given us more choices than ever before, authors do what they have to do in order to write. This is the main focus and the goal. Those of us who have been there, and are still there in many cases, fully understand why people like Walter Karig and Mildred Wirt Benson did what they did. And these authors prove, more than any other example I can find, that a good career writer can author any book, in any genre, he or she is contracted to do.