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Big deal for ghost-written books

17 December 2012

 The recent news of a £15m (over $24m) deal between Wilbur Smith and HarperCollins worldwide, a new publisher for the author, has caused some controversy this week. The deal is for six books but the Sunday Times claimed that Smith will not write them himself. The author, who turns 80 next month, will concentrate on plot lines and characterisation, whilst others do the writing.

No ghost-writers have been named, but the practice is far from uncommon. The best-known popular writer who is currently conducting his writing this way is James Patterson, who is a veritable factory of new books, all written with the assistance of other writers.

Then there's Virginia Andrews and Robert Ludlum, both plodding on from beyond the grave, particularly successfully in the latter case because of a good 'replacement' writer. But what does this practice say about publishers, who seem more prepared to invest in books not even actually written by the big name author whose name they carry, but often much more reluctant to put money into publishing live new writers? It's certainly a cynical approach.

The truth is that successful international authors have attained the status of a brand, and once you're a brand people are buying your books because of the name on the front, rather than the writing. So the writing needs only to be moderately good and to consist of the kinds of books the bestselling author traditionally writes, and everyone's happy - aren't they?