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James Patterson: Genius or Cheat?

written by: Kaye Morris • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 1/5/2012

Each year, millions of fiction readers enjoy James Patterson's books, but it has been a long-known industry fact that Patterson employs ghostwriters for much of his works. So what exactly are readers getting for their hard-earned money?

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    The Patterson Reality Check

    3626032099 9b54d3c009 t No one but Patterson and his publishers could tell you exactly how many or which James Patterson books were actually penned by Patterson himself, but neither deny that the answer is not “all of them." While Patterson claims to maintain editorial input in the form of ideas, outlines and finalizing final copy, no one is certain how much of the actual writing is performed by Patterson himself.

    With ghostwriting help, Patterson produces five or more novels a year to add to his growing backlist and bank account. James Patterson books enjoy top placement on the New York Times bestseller list and put the author in the top echelon of high-producing, single-title, fiction authors currently working today.

    But is it really fair to compare the amount of books actually written by John Grisham or Stephen King to the list of novels for which Patterson may have only contributed his name?

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    Cheating? Use of a Ghostwriter

    Ghostwriting is not a new concept. Autobiographies are rarely written by the famous people themselves. Most work closely for months with a ghostwriting to pen their life stories. Even in fiction, ghostwriting is a common phenomenon in long-running series of books, such as the Nancy Drew series and the Sweet Valley High romances, but the Patterson situation is a whole different ball game.

    In the case of the Nancy Drew series, readers were buying the series name and characters, not the author. That is not necessarily the case with Patterson.

    Many readers, unaware of Patterson’s ghostwriting practices, purchase novels with the Patterson name on the front because they believe and expect that the novel is written by Patterson. Every author of any merit has an individual voice and style and regardless of how much effort a ghostwriter puts into imitating another writer, the effort will always fall short of the real thing.

    In some cases, Patterson’s name appears next to a “co-author" on the cover, but there is no way to know how much of the book’s creation and development was completed by Patterson. So is it fair to “fool" an uninformed public by charging maximum prices for the Patterson name when it may not be Patterson’s work inside?

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    Genius? Building Off of a Brand

    From a business standpoint, Patterson falls in the genius category. As a former advertising executive, he took the practice of creating a brand name into the publishing industry, then leveraged the name for profit. Many readers, however, may consider themselves cheated if they find out the James Patterson novel they just purchased may not have been written by Patters

    on himself. So what is the solution? Neither the publishers nor Patterson are hiding his ghostwriting business practices, but the general public still seems ignorant to the fact. Perhaps the solution is to place a notice on each non-Patterson written novel that informs readers that Patterson did not, in fact, actually write the book he’s placed his name on.

    But then, that would probably drastically decrease profits, so it’s not likely to happen. In the meantime, readers will continue to buy into a brand name, like Charmin or Jiff, and will be none the wiser.