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The hidden authors

13 August 2007

When Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing announced recently that their newly-acquired mega-selling author James Patterson will nearly double his annual output to eight books a year, you might be forgiven for wondering how on earth he would do it. But 'James Patterson' is a brand and the publishers are talking about him 'extending' the brand to include romance, teen fiction, non-fiction and even graphic novels to add to his well-known thriller series which have been published by Headline.

But surely he can't actually write eight books in all those different categories in a single year, let alone every year? Well no, but Patterson is a brand who (or which) 'works with writing partners'. What this appears to mean is that the author comes up with the plot ideas and someone else is employed to write them, so that they can go out under the Patterson name.

It's hard to anticipate but this could misfire on the children's front, as the Patterson 'brand' is not known in this area and both children and the adults who buy for them are conservative where brands are concerned. But perhaps that's where the power of marketing will take over, as the company is intending to assign a full-time brand manager to work on the books.

The children's area does in fact already have many successful precedents for this kind of approach. In the States there are various companies which produce successful series such as Sweet Valley High, credited to Francine Pascal.

The historic precedent for this is the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which was launched in 1910 and went on to create many highly successful and enduring literary brands, including 'the Bobbsey Twins', 'the Hardy Boys' and 'Nancy Drew'. The Nancy Drew series alone has sold more than 80 million copies in 25 languages, and the children who have enjoyed these books over the years have no idea - and probably do not care - that they were not written by the author to whom they are attributed.

The UK company Working Partners, which is just about to open up an American office, is also in effect a series-producing factory, and a very successful one at that. Their Rainbow Magic books for 5 to 7 year-old girls have sold ten million copies, but the author Daisy Meadows is actually three people. Other series include Animal Ark, the Lady Grace Mysteries and Warriors.

All Working Partners' ideas come from editors rather than writers and are developed in meetings. MD Chris Snowdon says: 'We tell new writers our rules and that they shouldn't deviate from the story. If they have their own ideas, that's fine, but they should tell us. Our integrity as a business is the ownership of the idea.'

Not surprisingly, the books that result are not great literature, but nor are they intended to be. Snowden says: 'I don't know what great literature is... in this country there's a great snobbery about books, but we're creating a reading habit.'

As any parent of book-shy children will tell you, it's pretty hard to argue with that.