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When do pseudonyms become deceitful?

A question of integrity

I found it quite interesting to recently learn that James Patterson doesn’t actually write all his own books, and the discovery led me to wonder how his fans actually felt about it.

In a recent blog, I highlighted a number of reasons why a writer may wish to use a pseudonym, but to optimise financial gain by allowing multiple authors to write under one umbrella wasn’t one of them, so I thought I’d try and add something to the topic here.

As much as I love crime stories, James Patterson is someone whose work has never really gripped me. I would describe his work as popcorn books – good for easy reading, but lacking in any real depth. Maybe this recent revelation is partly to blame.

As a publisher, and an author, I know as well as anyone how difficult it is to sell books, so the fact this guy sells books in their millions is certainly a noteworthy achievement. I mean, the guy made it into the top ten on Hollywood’s rich list, vying for places with superstars such as Tom Cruise. For an author, this is practically unheard of.

The way that James Patterson has built his brand, staffing his offices with over a hundred people whose full-time mission is to sell his work, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

As a business man, he has to be respected, but when I consider what it would mean to me if The Wasp Factory wasn’t actually written by Iain Banks, or The Kite Runner wasn’t written by Khaled Hosseini, I believe I’d feel cheated for two main reasons:

  1. Building relationships with writers is a deeply personal thing, and my feelings towards “the author” would suddenly feel false, making my loyalty seem foolish
  2. I’d want to know who the real writer was, because it was their work I truly bonded with and therefore, I’d want to know more about them

Yes, James Patterson gives his writers and overview to begin with, and maybe he also mentors them a little along the way. Yes, I’m sure – at least, I hope – these writers enjoy great financial rewards for working on a “James Patterson” novel. Yes, I’m sure these writers find ways to use the credit to their advantage in the future, so to call it exploitation is definitely too strong – but I can’t help but feel there is something morally wrong here.

To me, there’s a big difference between a writer opting for a pseudonym for one of the reasons stated in my recent blog, and essentially tricking the consumer within the rules of the marketplace. Because that’s what we’re talking about here . . . isn’t it?

Maybe people are happy to shrug this off because, as I stated earlier, these are easy-reading books. What would happen, though, if we discovered that some of the most famous works in our history were written by somebody who went uncredited? Or that life-changing white papers written by doctors and scientists were, in fact, the work of their interns and understudies? Surely then, the matter would be taken much more seriously.

When I was very young, I read a lot about how Steven Spielberg used to pay people off in order to take their credit. This is why today, when people harp on about him being a “great,” I can only agree that he’s a great business man, not a great filmmaker.

For me, the moment I have to start doubting what an artist did or didn’t create, all of their work becomes tainted, because how can I be sure what their actual involvement was? And if I don’t know that, how can I judge it?

Writers have fought for generations to ensure they receive the credit they deserve for their work, and this scenario seemly makes a mockery of such important efforts.

How do you feel? Whether you strongly agree with my views or simply believe that a brand is a brand, so any way the work is created is fair game, I’d love to hear your thoughts via the comments box below.

*Article image courtesy of Brittni Wood at Flickr.

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