Artist or Brand?


As a green (novice not eco) writer, I gasped when I read that James Patterson does not write all of his own books.  I further gasped when I read about all the other writers who do not write their own books.  After I got over my initial horror, I felt foolish for thinking that one man could write seven books in a year. In my fantasy world, I thought writers without little people climbing all over them could produce that kind of work.

But no, not even nannies and cooks and housekeepers can allow a writer to produce seven books a year.  A team of trained co-writers with the same writing style and ideology as the “brand” writer produces seven books a year. 

I’m not comfortable with this.  It feels like lying.  (Keep in mind that I attended Catholic school for twelve years, so that colors every thought in my head–for better or worse. )  To me, writing is art.  It is a relationship–first with the self, then with the reader.   Readers are smart.  They can recognize formula.  They know when they are being put on. But do they care?

Apparently not, because Patterson sold 16 million books in 2007, with 19 New York Times bestsellers in a row.  16 million books in one year.  (I got really excited last week when I hit the 300 mark. :))

But maybe I’m being stupid. After all, writing is an art, but it’s also a business.  James Patterson did write some really popular books, initally.  He has the storytelling skills.  He has final word on all projects.  Books are his business and he’s damn good at it.

Which brings me to the question writers get asked all the time: Would you rather have commercially successful books or well-reviewed literary fiction?  Most of us want a perfect blend of both, but that’s just not reality for most writers.  It’s made obvious through popular television programming and box office hits that really terrible stuff can bring in tons of money.  (I understand this firsthand because every season I watch that horrible show, The Bachelor.  I disgust even myself with this confession.)

I judge Mr. Patterson and all those “brand” authors harshly, but it does bring to mind Jonathan Franzen who, after being picked up by Oprah for her book club, decided that her readers just weren’t the high-minded type he envisioned as his audience.  He also complained that Oprah’s corporation took over his life for the month leading up to his scheduled appearance.  He backed out, and a million writers put their heads in their hands and uttered a collective “yikes.”  To quote Pete Miller, a spokesman for Franzen’s publisher, “You just don’t do that.”

Being a booksnob is a waste of time.  If Franzen had thought of his literary message reaching and elevating general readership (not to mention that his great-grandchildren would be taken care of) rather than judging his audience, he could have done a lot of good.  He did recognize this later, but it was too late. 

For the record, I have no objections to Oprah taking over my life for a month.


*photo credit: Rankin


One thought on “Artist or Brand?

  1. Lara T. says:

    That’s a tough call Erika! lol 😉 I mean, the author they interviewed about it, the nameless “she,” said it was eerie, that she couldn’t talk to anyone unless she cleared it through Oprah’s people. Generally, I like Oprah. I can see she’s trying to do good things. But sometimes, the comments she makes on her shows….you can tell she thinks a lot of herself.
    You gotta give the guy some props; he took a stand to protect his work, whether it was warrented or not. He made a conscious choice not to be blinded by celebrity. As someone with an authority problem, I can’t say I’d be especially thrilled having someone else tell me what to do with my own creation for a month….tough call! But perhaps one I wouldn’t mind having to make! lol

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