The worrying new trend of ‘co-authoring’
Now, I do not wish to cause offence to any of my fellow writers with this blog so I will make my definitions clear from the outset. There are plenty of authors who write novels as a pairing – Nicci French (the duo Nikki Gerard and Sean French) or the Bridgestocks, for example. Their work is terrific and their collegiate style of authoring works brilliantly. There are also some writing and editing teams that like to share the billing on their book covers. This is good practice and highlights the important role played by editors in the process of producing a great book.
What I am referring to, is a growing trend that I have noticed in conventional publishing over the past couple of years. This is to take the name of a hugely famous celebrity or bestselling author and plaster it all over the front cover of a new novel. Then, when you look a little closer at said tome, you discover that in a far smaller print, is the name of another author who apparently assisted them in the task.
I noticed this phenomenon first, when shopping for books with my children in WHSmiths. I was surprised to see a shelf packed full of books by one particular, very famous US author. When I looked more carefully, I discovered that there was another attribute on the cover, a person whose name I didn’t recognise at all.
Am I just being horribly cynical to suspect that the big name author/celebrity didn’t play quite as big a role in the penning of these novels as the marketing might lead us to believe?
This sales tactic is certainly not new. For hundreds of years, great paintings were being churned out of the ‘workshops’ of painters such as Gainsborough or Rubens. A young student of the master would be responsible for the final piece of work – Michaelangelo certainly didn’t complete the Sistine Chapel all on his own.
However, in the modern world, with the trades description act and the dangers of miss-selling, I’m not sure the practice is entirely ethical. For many years, the so-called ‘ghost-writing’ of celebrity memoirs and ‘autobiographies’ has gone on. But in these cases, we are at least getting the genuine words of the celebrities and their reminiscences, even if we aren’t always reading their prose. In the case of fiction, I think it is a different matter entirely. The reader has a right to know who wrote the majority of the book they are about to read, or certainly not to be wilfully misled about it.
I write and publish my own books and I have nothing against traditional publishers, but this trend has made me cross. Writers are an honest bunch. We can spin a good yarn, but we like to maintain a good relationship with our readers. Their feedback helps us to write better books in the future. Us writers are avid readers and consumers ourselves for heaven’s sake!
If this is how publishers are defending themselves against the rise of independent authors I really think it’s a mistake. You have to treat your customers with respect. People aren’t silly. I really hope that this trend isn’t here to stay, but sadly, I suspect it might be.