I’ve said it quite a bit in my weekly articles. I read a lot. With the quantity of books I come across, a good number of them have authors who share the credit with co-authors. Do you ever wonder about who actually does the work? Is it really shared or what?
I’m not much on autobiographies. In fact, I usually scan them in the bookstore and jump right to the good parts. The ones I’ve actually bought and read are because I know the people and bought the books from them or pre-bought them and then had them personally autograph them such as Felix Meyerhofer and John “Drumbo” French. Then there are a very few I read like the one by wrestler Mankind Mick Foley. In that case, I believe he actually wrote it. Many are ghost written—co-authored so to speak. I feel for those co-authors who have to sit down with the celebrity and probably take on lots of ramblings and put them in some kind of logical order. On the other hand, maybe they’re dictated with an iron fist.
Then there are the autobiographers who write the autobiographies without any input from the celebrities. Those are not true co-authoring or ghost writing tomes. Another story.
The other celebrity case is in fiction. A well-known person decides to take up fiction and slaps their name on the book. It sells well while the schlub that does all the writing gets and microscopic mention on the cover. Hey, it’s a foot in the door! Maybe it’s even a bio at the back of the book. You have to wonder how much the celebrity had to do with the actual story.
The typical case might be that the celebrity does not have the writing skills but is brimming with ideas and wants to dabble into the world of books. So they hire a writer to express their ideas through the skilled writer. Nothing wrong with that. It’s worked for some of them who I won’t name because they took too much credit for the writing. On the other hand, there are those celebrities that just have too many pans in the fire and need the co-author to do the busy work. Nothing wrong with that either when the books are great.
The non-celebrity partnerships are where the chances are that both authors are most likely to be equal participants. In this case, each author contributes based on their strengths and expertise. For any successful partnership, each author has to be comfortable in the arrangement. That means they have to be able to share the work and be able to communicate. Without that, there is no partnership. The example I read the most is the Preston & Child series of Agent Pendergast novels. They’ve written a successful series as a partnership starting with Relic which was turned into a movie back in the late 80s. I just read Crimson Shore a few months ago. That’s a pretty good run!
I just read a spy novel by Valerie Plame and her co-author Sarah Lovett. Anyone remember Valerie Plame? Of the outed CIA agent fame? She has taken her five minutes of fame and turned it into a successful role as an author. In this case, I have no idea how much she participates in the actual writing versus supplying the CIA expertise. I’d be interested in seeing an interview one day to find out how these two work.
I can’t forget to mention two of the greats, Clive Cussler and James Patterson. Already well-established authors, they’re brimming with ideas and not enough time to write them all. In my estimation, by starting a sort-of mentoring program, they’ve taken on co-authors to do the grunt work and run with their ideas, different stories than what they’re known for. This not only keeps them in the forefront, but also gives these other authors a huge foot up front. I admire that.
Through my writer’s group, I know of several writing partnerships. Non-celebrities, these people just work well together. Neither has dominance over the other for writing credit. They share the roles. I’ve been asked to co-author books before, but I prefer to stick to my own worlds for now, though I’ve been tempted.
It takes a cooperative spirit, an agreement of ideas, an ability to say no and to take no from your partner and the ability to accept when your partner doesn’t like what you’ve done. You two need to agree to compromise if your ideas clash. Like anything else, if you’re going to work with someone else, you must have similar writing styles and methods or it will never work.
How about you?