Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bill Clinton and James Patterson - So Who Will Actually Do the Typing? By Andrew Crofts

Two of the biggest names in the world, Bill Clinton and James Patterson, are “collaborating on a novel”. But who is actually going to be sitting down and doing the typing? Will there be a ghostwriter involved? Would anyone care if there was?

So where does ghostwriting end and collaboration begin? And what roles will the two “big name” editors who have been announced play in the process?

I guess it all comes down to how many megawatts of star power each member of the team can muster. How far up the billing in the global media pantomime do their names appear?

Bill Clinton is about as high as you can get in the international fame game. Anyone who might be a potential buyer of this thriller will know who he is. His name will give the book credibility because he actually knows what goes on behind the scenes – dare we say, he actually knows “where the bodies are buried”?

He reputedly wrote every word of his autobiography, “My Life”, and unkind critics complained that it would have been a less tedious read if it had been written by a professional ghostwriter. Clinton himself has always claimed that one of his greatest ambitions was to write a “good book”, so maybe he is going to be doing the bulk of the work here. I guess he has some time on his hands – possibly more than Patterson, but would he have the ability to write gripping fictional prose?

Patterson’s name will resonate with anyone who has ever glanced at an airport bookstall and he probably has the biggest following of loyal adult readers in the world; so there’s another dollop of credibility for the project. He is also, however, known to collaborate with other writers who produce the books which boast his famous name in the boldest print face, and are reportedly based on his plot lines. The sheer number of books that he produces each year mean that it would be physically impossible for him to do all the writing himself and he doesn’t pretend otherwise. Is there any chance that he will have been able to find time to actually write this one?

Maybe they will both be relying on the two editors to do the necessary “re-writing”. If so, not many people will know about it. Sonny Mehta is a legend in the publishing world but his name would mean nothing to the book-buying general public. Likewise Michael Pietsch, also rumoured to be working on the project, runs one of the biggest publishing conglomerates in the world, which means to the man in the street he is just another anonymous suit.

Because of their star power, therefore, Clinton and Patterson will be the names on the cover, (and the publicity that the project has already received bears out the commercial wisdom of that decision). The names of the editors will only resonate within the publishing trade and I imagine that the name of whoever actually sits down and pumps out the words, if it is actually none of the above, will probably be known only to those in the inner circle.

There would be no point in broadcasting the name of the ghostwriter if it didn’t help to sell more copies, and my guess is that whoever might get the job is perfectly happy with that, enjoying the editorial meetings with these global figures and relishing the challenge of creating a good read from the ideas that they are firing out. Of all the advantages that ghostwriting offers, one of the greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet people of interest. The same holds true of “collaboration”.

Will the public care who actually wrote the words? Absolutely not. Why should they? A team as experienced and professional as this one will undoubtedly be able to produce exactly the sort of story that the readers want to buy. The nuts and bolts of how it was created will only interest other writers.

I may be completely wrong, of course. It is possible that Clinton and Patterson are spending long nights together, ties at half mast, ashtrays filled with brutally crushed butt ends, empty coffee cups covering the writing pads that are strewn all around the dimly lit room as they labour desperately into the small hours of the morning to meet the editors’ deadlines – I'd like to think that would be how it went.    



Reb MacRath said...

Great post, Andrew, with good questions and smart answers. I think Patterson will be content with a hefty payday and the sight of his brand on the cover. Clinton's a different story. He'll no doubt be up for some coaching. But he has a powerful ego and I can't see him turning the reins completely over to anyone else. Editors, I think, will need to tread pretty lightly.

Dennis Hamley said...

Fascinating post Andrew. My current experience of ghost writing is at the very opposite end of the spectrum but there are the same almost moral questions of attribution. I'd be content with a simple 'thanks for the help of' but then, who would notice or even care? Circumstances really do alter cases!