The Ghost in the Background


Is your favourite author really a fraud?

Is your favourite author really a fraud?


I was reading a book recently which was the twenty-somethingth in a series of high fantasy novels. The name printed on the front was a very well-known, extremely successful author and I have read all his back catalogue.
When I read his latest offering, I noticed something odd…
The writing is not quite what I’m used to. More specifically, I’m not sure it’s truly written by the man who’s name is on the cover!

I am suspicious because I’ve noticed lots of things wrong. In the past this author, as he writes in a series, will provide recap sentences or paragraphs to inform any new readers who are joining the world part way through. This is being done in this new book too, but rather than being slipped in subtly, they’ve been put in carelessly.

Then there are the repeated dialogues – and these are an entirely new detail. The writer writes a scene where some kind of event happens and things are said, a little later in the story the character who was involved in that scene tells a different character what happened to them, but in a poor show of writing that character retells practically the entire scene word for word. It’s infuriatingly boring because the reader has already read it and it’s entirely avoidable. The supposed author never used to do this and I really don’t see why he would start now twenty-something books in.

So I decided to look out for those trademark phrases that this author uses in all his writing. Yes, they are there. But they look like they’ve been forced in for apparent authenticity rather than in the natural rhythm of story telling.

The story is a bit poor, as well. The plot is basic and uninspiring. This is the first work credited to this author that I’m not sure I can be bothered to finish, whereas his previous work has been good, some of it excellent and all of it well worth the read. Just a bad idea this one then?

I see dead people...

I see dead people…

I don’t think so. The main character’s motivations are extremely questionable. He acts in very unlikely manner, and his introspective reasoning is highly flawed, and, dare I say it, he is quite characterless. And this too is a new element in this authors writing.
I’m just not convinced. I’ve read authors who have got lazy, but these aren’t the kinds of problems you get with that ( well, except for limited plots) – what you get are inconsistencies, continuity errors, editing mistakes, a character who’s injured right arm becomes his injured left arm a chapter or two later, but not this.

Could it really be that this author has handed over the task of writing his next novel to an apprentice, cutting a deal where this other person does the graft but they sell it under the established author’s good name?

It’ pretty common.
Everyone has heard of the ghost-writer – the secret man or woman that makes those lucrative celebrity biographies come to life. Personally, I hate all that cheap celebrity stuff, but it is what it is, and the publishing industry is a business after all. But people tend not to think of ghost-writers playing a part when it comes to fiction. We’re all familiar with another writer taking over a series once an author has died; Eric Van Lustbader, who continued Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series, for example, but while the famous author is alive? Sure.

James Patterson. He doesn’t write his books himself, at least, not all of it. It’s common knowledge that he often produces the treatment of a work and then hands it to a co-author to turn it into a book. Sometimes these co-authors are named as such and sometimes they are unnamed ghost writers and Patterson take all the credit. This allows his name to appear on the front of many new titles each year, and they sell, sell, sell!

It really isn’t that hard to imagine then, that other authors are doing it as well, when they want a break, when they want to retire, when they can’t face writing another book in the same universe they created forty years ago and have explored to death already. But that doesn’t mean that they’re going to let us in on their secret; it is usually stipulated in the ghost-writers contract that they cannot disclose their part as writer. That would dilute the credited author’s brand. And that’s what it is once your an established author – a brand.
Your name on that front cover gives a guarantee to prospective buyers regarding the quality to be expected inside those covers; or at least, it purports to. At the end of the day, if the buyer reads it and still enjoy it then what’s the problem? And many probably wouldn’t notice, or if they do, they probably would only get an inkling that something was ‘off’ without understanding why.

If you’re a bit more astute, however, you might catch on and decide not to buy the next book branded with that trademark, written by who know’s who?