By November 12, 2010 5 Comments Read More →

Of Factories and Stables

Time for a little rant.

Janet Evanovich is looking for writers to publish under her name in the same way that Clive Cussler and James Patterson have done in recent years. Are you excited, readers? Will you be selecting these books for your next book group?

Those who tout this kind of arrangement argue that it helps new writers to find a large audience, to get a leg up in a modern marketplace that isn’t kind to new writers. They certainly do find readers quickly. Whether or not this will translate to breakout status is hard to say. It’s hard to find examples (yet) of factory writers who have found major success on their own. I have yet to have a reader ask at the library desk for the latest by Peter de Jonge, Andrew Gross, Michael Ledwidge, Howard Roughan, or Maxine Paetro. I doubt that most of Patterson’s readers could name these “co-writers.”

It’s disingenuous to promote this practice as a philanthropic gesture from writers and publishers who make millions of dollars by putting out an ever-increasing stream of product. The metaphors we use when we talk about the practice are telling: “factories” or “stables” of writers. I hope that it doesn’t make me a book snob to prefer not to compare books to horses, or to cogs in a machine, or perhaps most aptly, to the results that occur when factories grind up horse byproducts.

I preferred the days when publishing houses had enough artistic credibility that they could introduce new writers on their own terms instead of hiding their work behind bigger names. Yes, it was difficult for new writers in those days too, and the best talent didn’t always win out, but at least readers didn’t have to submit to monopolies and misadvertisement when they chose a book. It’s an uphill battle, but I’d like to think that some aspects of modern life can remain free of materialism and duplicity.

As a professional book person, I can’t help but feel that writer stables negate my role. When I try to introduce them to other genre writers–authors who I think are outwriting “Patterson” or “Cussler” these days–some of the readers at my library look at me as if I were trying to pull a fast one. Sure Patterson generates lots of circulation–mountains of holds–but he squeezes other writers off of our shelves in the process. In the end, to recommend him makes me feel not like an expert on books, but like a low level pusher selling dimebags on the corner for a nameless drug lord’s benefit. The readers of these books find endless distraction, but if that’s all that reading is, does it remain a more laudable activity than other kinds of addictive behavior?

Do you disagree? Am I missing the point? Am I a genre reader slipping into elitism and snobbery in my middle age? I’d love to hear your comments on this one. In the meanwhile, however, Evanovich will join Patterson and Cussler in the relatively short list of authors I’m not interested in reading anymore. They’re selling like crazy. None of them will care or notice if you or I no longer read their books. But perhaps they should.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

5 Comments on "Of Factories and Stables"

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  1.' Nancy Pike says:

    I agree with you, totally! I never read any of these stable books and the authors move down several notches in my estimation when they move in this direction. So much so that I also don’t read their single author titles anymore. I consider it a sign of degeneration in their powers as a writer and pure unadulterated greed. I may be missing the world’s greatest novel this way, but there are so many great books out there, I don’t have time to waste on production line duplicates.

  2.' Marlene says:

    I concur with both of you. I think greed is taking over the publishing field. I have never been a Patterson or Cussler reader and I only read one Evanovich book. Why read a book when the only thing that gets changed is the crime.
    I feel that the writers that I like to read will not get published because of the money invested in the “best sellers”. Did you read the New York Times magazine article about the James Patteson effect on publishing? Don’t recall the exact date but it was some time in the spring.

  3.' Bob Ritchie says:

    The first question I ask myself is why are these writers selling like crazy? I am an avid reader, and have read at least one book from all these authors, but not for sometime. Long ago I tired of their formulas. As I read what you wrote about their stabling my first thought was that it is in keeping with the disingenuous of their styles. Perhaps this latest novelty will do as you say and have more readers not reading what is already their combined questionable creativity.

  4.' Leah L White says:

    Yes! I couldn’t agree more. Publishers *and* authors should be ashamed of themselves. But mostly publishers for giving multi-million dollar deals to people who don’t write their own books and give book deals to The Situation instead of an up and coming author! It is just disgusting.

  5.' Chris Mills says:

    I agree with you in that I hate the co-author thing. If you are such a wonderful writer, do it yourself instead of “phoning it in” to someone else. I disagree, however, with dismissing the co-authors in their own right. They are looking for a paycheck just like everyone else and come on, who wouldn’t want a little piece of Patterson’s pie? In the uber-competitive world of fiction publishing, I can’t blame them. I will say that patrons in my rural branch library have enjoyed “The Blue Zone” and “Dark Tide” by Andrew Gross (without James Patterson). I usually suggest them when they can’t get the latest Patterson!

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