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Old 10-24-2007, 05:03 PM   #1
kilohertz53
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Fiction Writers as "Brand Names"

Because I'll do almost anything to kill the “Guess Who Won the Nobel Prize” thread, here it goes:

I like to listen to audiobooks while driving or working around the house and yard. I usually choose thrillers, mysteries, or action-adventures because they move along briskly and don't demand much of me as a reader/listener. They're my junk food literature: tasty and filling, and of questionable nourishment. I base my selections on the quick plot descriptions on the CD case or online. Sometimes these wind up being books “written” by James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, or Robert Ludlum. At least those are the names in huge type over the titles. It's no big secret that much of their newer stuff is ghostwritten. The ghostwriter's name usually appears in smaller type somewhere on the cover. (And, yes, I do know that Mr. Ludlum died in 2001.) In a strictly legal sense, it's not fraud because the ghostwriter gets some credit. But it feels wrong to me somehow. It may not be dishonest but it's definitely disingenuous for a famous writer to turn himself into a trademarked brand name and allow his publisher to market ghostwritten books under his name. There's nothing like selling out and dissing the readers who made the writer popular in the first place if there's good money to be made.

The happy-face spin that publishers can put on this practice is that they're helping new writers get a foot in the door -- an apprenticeship in the craft (not art) of writing that could lead to bigger things after they “pay their dues”. Everybody wins (especially the Famous Author and the publisher.) Risk adversity and greed have nothing to do with it, right?

Now I suppose you could say that it's inconsequential because these books are just popular genre fiction. The ghostwritten books could even be superior to the famous author's actual works. After all, these aren't the writers who will be on the Nobel, Pulitzer, or Booker prize short lists. But their semi-counterfeit books will keep the brand names on the best seller lists for longer than they deserve to be, making it that much harder for new and creative writers to break through.

How do you feel about the trend toward “brand name” fiction writers?
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Old 10-24-2007, 05:19 PM   #2
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I don't feel too bad as long as it is obvious on the front cover. Often, though, the info is buried on the title page or copyright page.

After all, many great composers only provide(d) a sketch of a work that was then orchestrated by someone else.
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Old 10-24-2007, 05:20 PM   #3
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Wow. I had no idea this went on these days to the extent you imply. Sure sounds like fraud to me. I don't know about "everybody wins". Seems like some consumers would be unhappy - or should be. I don't read this genre so don't care myself. But wouldn't avid readers of a big name author prefer that that big name author make a sincere recommendation that this relatively unknown author is really quite good instead of having the publisher lie (I can't think of another term that applies) and misrepresent who the author really is?

Maybe there are analogies. Say, a well known actor is substituted with a ghostactor for a movie (not just for stunts - the whole thing). Or a politician you vote for and is elected is substituted with a lookalike during the swearing in session. Or, [giggle, giggle] some lookalike appears in Oslo to accept Al Gore's Nobel prize. (Sorry, I had to do that.)
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Old 10-24-2007, 05:22 PM   #4
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V. C. Andrews is another name that gets used over and over. As long as I know ahead of time it's written by someone else and not from the "name author" I'm OK with it. But if I was to purchase the book and not know and then find out after, I would be pissed at being ripped off.
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Old 10-24-2007, 05:36 PM   #5
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Not entirely on point, but related: I've always gotten annoyed when the author's name is printed in larger type than the title of the book. Always seemed a bit backward to me.
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Old 10-24-2007, 05:38 PM   #6
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Book Designer defaults to having the Author name larger then the title.
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Old 10-24-2007, 05:45 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JSWolf View Post
V. C. Andrews is another name that gets used over and over. As long as I know ahead of time it's written by someone else and not from the "name author" I'm OK with it. But if I was to purchase the book and not know and then find out after, I would be pissed at being ripped off.
Perhaps I'm incredibly naive, but I find this truly amazing. I see on Amazon.com several titles published in recent years with V. C. Andrews listed explicitly as the author and there's no hint at all that the real author is someone else. And yet I find on another site that this person died in 1986! I thought this sort of thing disappeared long ago. I can see why you would be irritated.
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Old 10-24-2007, 05:52 PM   #8
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I think this is fraud unless it's content written by V. C. Andrews before the death and published as it was.

All I know is if I purchase a book that's not writrten by the big name author and I cannot obviously find any indication of who really wrote it, I would email the publisher and claim fraud and see what they would do. They'd have to do more then just give me back my money and take back the book.
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Old 10-24-2007, 06:00 PM   #9
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Sometimes you get attributions like "By <big name author> with <real author in smaller type>", which I always find annoying. Most of these aren't really collaborations, and the "big name author" may or may not have even read the ms and offered comments. But not even listing the "lesser" author is beyond the pale, in my opinion. I prefer "Based on the works of...<big name author>" instead. It just seems more honest. (I suppose "presented by <big name author>" is ok.)

I understand sometimes first books by new authors are rewritten by other authors, too, but I don't know how much that happens these days.
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Old 10-24-2007, 07:48 PM   #10
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I saw the Ludlam book the other day
The cover said:
ROBERT LUDLUM'S
BEST SELLING CHARACTER JASON BOURNE IN
THE BOURNE LEGACY
<artwork>
A NEW NOVEL BY ERIC LUSTBADER
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Old 10-25-2007, 12:27 AM   #11
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And then there is Tom Clancy as well...



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Old 10-25-2007, 05:52 AM   #12
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"Ghostwriter" is by definition anonymous. These examples are not ghostwriters. "Guest writers" maybe?
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Old 10-25-2007, 07:43 AM   #13
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"Ghostwriter" is by definition anonymous. These examples are not ghostwriters. "Guest writers" maybe?
They are simply authors writing sequels to someone else's books. Much like L. Sprague de Camp did for Conan the Barbarian and John Gardner did for James Bond.
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Old 10-25-2007, 08:25 AM   #14
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At least Eric van Lustbader is an excellent author in his own right; some of these others, nobody's ever heard of.

It used to be very common for publishing houses to use "house names" for publishing the more "throw-away" kind of series fiction. Especially common for "juvenile" fiction Eg, "Franklin F. Dixon" for the "Hardy Boys" series, "Caroline Keene" for the "Nancy Drew" books, "Victor Appleton" for the "Tom Swift" books; these were all "house names" - the actual titles themselves were "farmed out" to be written by "hack" writers.
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Old 10-25-2007, 10:47 AM   #15
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At least on the current stuff they mention the actual writer. When the Tom Clancy stuff started coming out (OpCenter, NetForce) his was the only name anywhere on the cover, it wasn't until later that they started mentioning who actually wrote them.
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