When an author’s not an author

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Picture by Jose Mª Izquierdo Galiot via Flickr creative commons
Picture by Jose Mª Izquierdo Galiot via Flickr creative commons

In response to my post yesterday on my current collaborative writing experience, Brittany Zelkovich, who blogs under the fantastic title of I Emerged In London Rain, asked about whether I’ll be able to tell you guys about the book when it comes out. The short answer is no, but the long answer opens up some issues that interest me.

I’ve written before about the joys of working collaboratively and why I consider all writing to be collaborative. But the way that we view books, especially fiction, is that we expect them to be the work of a single author. Even in cases where this is demonstrably not true – there are several prominent fiction writers who work with collaborators but publish under only one name – it’s the way the book is usually marketed.

This obviously ties into the myth of the lone artist, creating from the magical art-space of their brain through magic and inspiration and pixie dust, but it’s also a matter of expectations. People expect to be reading a book by a particular, singular author, not a team, company or brand.

Like any books, the ones I’m writing with this great team are a business project as well as an artistic act. You can’t publish a book and not have business come into it. So to ensure the smooth running of the business side, the guy running the show has decided to just stick a single name down as the author and not to let people know that these books were actually created by a team in a fairly unusual process. I’m fine with that – at the end of the day I’m getting paid to write science fiction and that’s cool. But it’s interesting to think that how readers will react, or at least perceptions of how readers will react, are shaping this.

So I’m really curious to know, those of you reading this, do you read books by collaborative story writing teams? Has it ever made a difference to whether you bought or read a book? Do think it would be likely to? Do you have any other thoughts on the subject? Please share your opinions in the comments – they could be really useful for me and the people I’m working with.


7 thoughts on “When an author’s not an author”

  1. Mostly if I’ve read collaborative works, I don’t know they were collaborative. The few I can think of are Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman (loved it), The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, Louise Carey, and Nimit Malavia (I found the unusual writing style uneven), and Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey, who I’m told is actually Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. I enjoyed much of the Wild Cards series, which was written by many different authors, usually each taking a chapter or point of view character. I basically consider them no different than works by single authors and I read them with the same mindset. I do tend to read books by a an author whose name I recognize, even if it’s in collaboration with authors I do not recognize. The fact that you will not be able to tell me what this book is when it’s finished probably means I won’t learn about it to read it, unless I happen to through some other method, like it wins an award.

  2. Thanks for the mention and link!

    I try and pick what I read based on content, not authors. Though I obviously have favorites. I don’t think I own any that are coined as “Collaborative”, though. I keep an eye out for one that interests me!

    Best of luck to you!

  3. I avoid books by more than one author, even if it’s one of my favorites. I can’t exactly say why,but it seems like it’s an adulteration of the writing style I enjoy. The only team I’ve ever enjoyed are Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, who wrote The Mote in God’s Eye and The Gripping Hand, some of my favorite sci-fi.
    Generally I much prefer books by a single writer.

  4. I really don’t like when a ghost writer does chunks of a series of books, because the overarching character ideas and plots and world can be rather messed up (and I enjoyed the Wedge books for instance, but there was such a style difference between the different squadron series that it didn’t feel quite right). Plus I was burned as a teen by the ghost writer who took over the Virginia Andrews books who is massively inferior, and sadly now new readers can’t tell who wrote which books because they stopped calling him ‘the new Virginia Andrews’.

    But I think good collaborative writing can probably work really well. As you said before it’s how a lot of TV shows work and, well it works. Plenty of shows have now demonstrated that writing teams can be succesful in maintaining a long single plot arch without having to re-set every episode.

    I think perhaps the best way to approach it is to give the team a name, not a real name unless one member does most of the work, and publish under that. As a good uncle I’m sure you’re well aware of the Octonauts books, and that’s written by a duo under the pseudonym Meomi.

    I write collaboratively for work all the time and I’ve often thought if I had a good writing partner I could do it with fiction; I used to love ping pong stories with the right person. But then we get back to the old time/energy issue 😉

  5. This is an interesting question because I tend to avoid books with multiple authors on the cover ( unless it is an anthology, obviously ) but there isn’t necessarily a reason for that beyond the myth of the complete creator. I have no rational reason for it, except the general idea that books “created by committee” are going to be lacking something.

    This is weird in a way because:
    a) Most books are collaboratively created to some degree- editors and proof readers have an impact on the writing, absolutely.
    b) Some of my favourite books have a degree of collaboration at their origin too – I love the Malazan series which are based on a role playing setting created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont and I can think of several other examples. Even the big Dan Simmons sci-fi series, although very original in themselves, are also dialogues with Homer, Shakespeare, Proust, Keats and whoever else from the literary cannon he brings along.
    c) There is no other media where I apply this thinking. I wouldn’t avoid a film or TV show because it had more than one writer ( though having many rewrites may be a red flag ) and if I am listening to music I would say that bands who share creative duties are almost invariably more enduring. Most comics are collaborations between at least two people and that doesn’t have any detrimental effect.

    So clearly this is not a rational attitude to take, but if I was marketing a book written by a team I would certainly put a single name on the front.

  6. Thank you all for the replies so far – it’s been a fascinating insight into the different ways people view this. I’m not going to respond to each one individually as I don’t want to challenge or defend a position when I’m picking your brains like this, but it’s all very much appreciated.

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