Bookending Writers Syndicates
From Dumas to Patterson
In my previous posts, we explored the concept of Writers Syndicates and discussed one of publishing history’s most famous examples: The Stratemeyer Syndicate.
Today, we’ll dive into two more Writers Syndicates, arguably at two ends of the recent history of such syndicates and also diametrically opposed in their approach: two bookends if you like.
French author Alexandre Dumas was well-known during his time for his numerous historical novels, the most famous of which were The Count of Monte Christo and The Three Musketeers, both of which were serialised in the 1840s.
Dumas began as a playwright then moved across to long-form fiction after his play, Henry III, was successful. And as his works grew in popularity he began to employ a team of writing assistants to assist him in the writing of his novels. He established a ‘production studio’ which at one time numbered seventy-three writers who ‘turned out hundreds of stories, all subject to his personal direction, editing, and additions.’
James Patterson is one of America’s best-selling and highest paid authors of all time. He sold over 5 million books in 2020 alone and has written more than 200 books since 1976. That’s to say, more than 200 books have been released since 1976 with ‘James Patterson’ on the cover. According to a 2010 Forbes article, ‘one out of every 17 novels bought in the U.S. were authored by Patterson’. Patterson provides members of his writing factory with a detailed outline of up to eighty pages and they work up multiple book releases each year.
The differences between ‘James Patterson’ the Brand and the Stratemeyer Syndicate
Edward Stratemeyer believed that each of his series needed a single ‘author’ to ground them and establish trust with their readers. James Patterson, however, operates by the complete opposite method. It is an open industry secret that the man James Patterson cannot be the sole-author of all the books that bear his name, yet if ‘James Patterson’ releases a YA fantasy, a children’s series, a gritty crime novel and three romances in one year, he is purported to be so. And the books sell. Because they are ‘James Patterson’ products. By ascribing his name to every novel his writing factory creates, ‘James Patterson’ has become as much of a brand as Stratemeyer’s ‘Carolyn Keene’ and ‘Laura Lee Hope’.
Methods and Ethics
Dumas and Patterson employed similar methods with their ghost-writers to maintain their high output of work, although while most sources refer to Dumas’s suite of writers as ‘assistants’, Patterson has been known to extend the term ‘co-author’ to his ghost-writers. Dumas and Patterson participate in a novel’s inception and then the honing process, often writing detailed book outlines to give to their collaborators to flesh out, then editing and revising heavily.
Despite this, Dumas and Patterson do differ when it comes to acknowledging the work of their co-writers. Dumas published everything under his own name which became the recognisable ‘brand’ under which his books sold. Later in his career, however, Dumas was unsuccessfully sued for recognition by Auguste Maquet, an author/assistant he had partnered with many times across his career. Patterson, on the other hand, openly recognises his co-authors and places their names with his own on the book’s cover (albeit in much smaller font). It is possible that Patterson only began doing so after his name was well-known enough that his own brand’s success was assured, and he felt ‘freer to take the risk of sharing credit more openly’.
Acknowledgement has always been ambiguous when it comes to ghost-writing and, in most cases, it is still difficult to know exactly how involved the branded authors were/are in the creation of their books. Interestingly, despite the general understanding that Patterson uses ghost-writers, many articles delving into Patterson’s success focus on his detailed outlines and personal writing habits rather than the collaborative nature of his writing factory. Others say his success comes from formulaic novel structures, and multiple novel releases every year, and another article that did recognise his co-authors, referred to them rather negatively as ‘Patterson’s Elves’.
But here at conked.io we are excited to focus on the exciting opportunities that Writers Syndicates can offer authors if they are used as enablers and are not exploitive.